The Star Firestar M-43 9mm Examined

I only have room in my collection for one practical pistol, and it's a GLOCK 19. Now that I have all the angles covered, I can focus on on digging up weird old shit and playing with it in the woods. Which is what brings me to the Star Firestar M-43 9mm, imported by Interarms of Alexandria, Virginia more than 20 years ago.

The story of Interarms is really what makes Star firearms so interesting. The founder of International Armament Corporation, Samuel Cummings, was a real life Lord of War. After serving in World War 2, he bought up an enormous quantity of surplus arms from across Europe. In the 50s he set up Interarmco, and began importing military surplus to the United States. At the same time, he started exporting American firearms to hotspots around the world; notably supplying Armalite AR-10s to Dominican revolutionaries and General Trujillo at the same time, which went over about as well as you'd expect.

Interarms imported a number of high-quality firearms from Europe, including the Mauser HSC, the Walther PP series, various and sundry Luger pistols, and seemingly the entire range of Star pistols like the 9mm 1911 clone Model B, the Megastar, and this:

The Firestar M-43. Samuel Cummings sure knew how to pick 'em.

Star's Firestar is a weird mechanical hybrid of their classic Model B, and the later Model 28 series of Wondernines they designed to appeal to military contracts. As a result the Firestar is something of a transitional firearm. It uses a Browning Hi-Power style cam block instead of the swinging link used by their 1911 clones, but is still single action even though it was designed after the DA/SA Model 28 series. The Firestar has a 3" barrel with a flared muzzle, and it locks to the slide with two recoil lugs.

It's a very heavy, steel on steel pistol, made at a time when the gen 2 GLOCK 19 was an option. At the same time the Firestar is extremely compact, cornering the single stack pocket 9mm market 20 years early.

The three models of the Firestar are the M-43, M-40, and M-45, chambered in 9mm, 40 S&W and .45 ACP respectively. The M-43 and M-40 are nearly identical in size, and most parts and magazines should be interchangeable between the two. The M-45 is, predictably, chunkier to accommodate the girthy 45 Auto cartridge. The M-43 model won the 1993 Handgun of Merit award from the National Association of FFLs. Wow!

This one is in Star's "Starvel" electroless nickel finish, but Star's contemporaneous pistols were also offered with a matte black phosphate coating. The Starvel finish looks tremendous when in good shape, but when it starts to go it looks like hammered shit. Everything else on the Firestar is quality. Most surfaces on the gun are satin nickel, except for the flats on the slide which are polished and have a brushed look to them. The checkering on the front and backstrap, the front of the trigger guard, and the controls is sharp and clean. The only negative from an aesthetic standpoint is the mediocre soft rubber grips. After some fevered internet searching, I found some custom wood grips sold by Grips4U. These are checkered walnut with a cool Star logo. If you had told me five years ago I would get so obsessed with stainless pistols and wood grips, I would have laughed in your face, and maybe kicked you in the nads. I guess I got old, all of a sudden.

The Firestar is not a duty pistol. The small size means a small magazine capacity of 7 rounds for the M-43, and 6 rounds for the .40 caliber M-40. Extended 10 rounders are available from Triple K and ProMag, but the Firestar is a concealed carry gun through and through. Reloads could certainly be faster; ejected magazines only drop a short distance if empty. This is a side effect of the magazine disconnect, which relies on the magazine impinging on a tab to allow the trigger bar to travel rearwards and trip the hammer.

The whole magazine disconnect assembly is easily removed with a brass punch, but it's pulling double duty as a stop for the bottom of the mainspring. When the disconnect is removed, the mainspring drops in the housing by about 3/4 of a centimeter. I modified my Firestar in this way, and haven't had any issues with reliable ignition, it's just something to be aware of. With the magazine disconnect removed, pressing the mag release causes the magazines to leap from the bottom of the gun like a 2 dollar bill getting rejected by the vending machine in my office (damn you, PepsiCo, I need a Dew and I don't have any friggin' quarters!)

I haven't bothered with the Triple K magazines, partly because their AMT Backup magazines are shockingly poor, but mostly because they have star shaped witness holes which is tackier than wearing Birkenstocks and tube socks (sorry Dad). And don’t even get me started on the ProMags.

The rest of the controls work just fine. The magazine release is oblong, and the extra length front to rear makes it very easy to reach. The ambidextrous safety actuates cleanly with a nice click and stays where you put it. The sloping, textured surface and the position of the safety make flicking it off very easy. The large surface of the slide release is just as easy to actuate, which comes in handy as the Firestar has reversed slide rails like a CZ-75 and there's not a lot of real estate for a powerstroke.

I am a large handed individual, who finds the grip of a GLOCK 19 (if anything) too small, and the Firestar fits my hand perfectly. The grip is exactly as short as I would ever want from a concealed carry pistol. Any shorter and you have to make a no-win decision about where to keep your "extra" finger, any longer and they might feel the need to put some unnecessary finger grooves on it.

Shooting the Firestar is extremely pleasant. The gun is damn heavy; unloaded it weighs more than a fully loaded GLOCK 19. I have it on my lap as I'm writing this, and I think it's cutting off the circulation to my lower extremities (all three of 'em). The upshot is that recoil is mild for a gun of its size, which makes speed shooting fun and easy. I would love it unconditionally if only I could out shoot a Stormtrooper at 7 yards. What a twist!

The single action only trigger is not 1911 style, and I have a hard time with it. For one, it pinches gloves and prevents the trigger from resetting until you pull your finger completely out of the trigger guard. That's not likely to be a concern in a suburban defensive role, but I wouldn't carry it camping. Even after spending a few lengthy sessions snappin' caps while watching Bob's Burgers, I still can't predict the break. Careful target shooting slowed to a crawl at the range while I tried to slowly increment pressure to find the break. It was cranking out fliers like a kid with a missing cat.

The Firestar has adjustable 3 white dot sights. The rear sight has a generous gap for the front dot, which makes getting your sights on target very fast, but getting your rounds on target a bit harder. Some glow in the dark sight paint would make them a bit easier to pick out. For that matter so would a fresh coat of white, since the M-43's sights have gone to beige in the last 25 years.

Standing between you and carrying the Firestar is a dearth of available holsters. The only one I could find that is still in production for the Firestar, is a Bianchi 6D with a host of minor problems. For one, it only "kinda" fits the Firestar, as well as several other models of pistol. I really don't like using a holster that only fits my gun by coincidence. Second, it has a retention strap with a thumb break which I think is unnecessary for an IWB holster. Not only does the thumb break just get in the way, but it also doesn't fit the M-43 properly. I modified this one by cutting the thumb break off on one side, and sliding the adjustable strap completely out of the other side. This left a big strip of useless Velcro on the inside, so I cut out the stitching and removed that as well. Unfortunately the Velcro was also held on with contact cement, and removing that was a pain in the ass. I also trimmed the leather on the bottom of the holster by about a half inch so it didn't overlap the muzzle so far. It's not a great holster and rides slightly high, but it works well enough when modified this way.

The other impediment to carry is the all-important width. From every other angle the Firestar looks on par with a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9, but it's a beefier gun. The ambidextrous safety stabs at thee from anywhere you try to tuck it, and those with larger hands will even feel it while shooting. Reliability will not be a concern. My Firestar has literally never malfunctioned. I don’t mean “almost never,” I mean literally not even once. It always shoots, it always cycles, it always ejects. I've put several hundred rounds of hollow-points, cheap ammo, and even steel cased Tula through it without a single failure.

I really love my Firestar M-43, and the understated panache of the rest of Star's lineup has me wanting more. The rest of the Star/Interarms story kind of sucks. Spanish arms companies Astra, CETME, and Star all went bankrupt in the 1990s. Star went out kicking with a torrent of new models before the end, but none of them really caught on and the doors closed on this excellent small arms company in 1997. Samuel Cummings had no one to take over his company, and when he died in 1998 Interarms died with him.

The last years of Star were impressive, though not financially. The Firestar M-43 got a late-life upgrade to the appropriately named M-243 "Firestar Plus," a double stack version of the same gun. It boasts a chunky GLOCK-like grip width to accommodate a larger magazine, and a lighter alloy frame. More impressive was the Megastar, a big double stack, double action combat pistol chambered in .45 ACP and 10mm. In 1992 it was probably the only 10mm pistol that wouldn't destroy itself under normal use of full power 10mm loads. There was also the Ultrastar, their first polymer framed pistol. The Ultrastar honestly looks like a legitimate carry contender, and knowing what I know about the Firestar I'd take one over an M&P Compact or GLOCK 26 any day of the week just to be different. If I ever find one, you'll read about it here.

The Firestar represents an interesting enigma.
On one hand, it's not a combat pistol. The capacity is too limited, and the controls too slow (especially ejecting spent magazines). But on the other hand, the Firestar shoots well. The weight keeps it controllable, and the uncomplicated single action trigger is capable of combat accuracy if you can learn to stop anticipating the break.

On the other other hand, that weight and that single action manual of arms make it a less than stellar carry pistol. And on yet a fourth hand, the Firestar's small size makes it a carrying contender after all.

Compared to the modern polymer single stack, the Firestar just doesn’t compete. It’s too fat, too heavy, and it has a manual safety and a single action trigger. In the early 90s though it was ahead of its time, and today fills a niche as a good looking and affordable curio.

The size and weight allow it to fill an unexpected role: a great handgun to introduce new shooters to centerfire handguns. It might not be useful anymore, but it's fun for everybody at the range. If you'd like to know more, here are a few resources I've found to be invaluable. Hi-Powers and Handguns - Star Pistols Star Firearms - Firestar Series