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SCCY’s The Limit: We Review the SCCY CPX-3 Pistol

[This Article originally appeared in CONCEALMENT #13]

SCCY'S THE LIMIT

You Shouldn’t Need to Be Well-Heeled to Go Heeled

You shouldn’t need to be well-heeled to go heeled. Like all of the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment belongs to every American, whether they can drop cash for a new Nighthawk Custom without batting an eye or whether they’ve had to scrimp and save tip money to shop the bargain section. When money is tight, someone who lives in a state that requires them to pay for a training class for a permit and then shell out for the permit itself is already as much as a few hundred bucks out of pocket.

This end of the handgun market spans a fairly narrow price range, with Hi-Point staking out the lower end and Kel-Tec Industries, as well as some of Ruger’s less-expensive offerings, marking the upper. SCCY, a relative newcomer, entered the market in the early/mid-2000s, with an initial offering called the CPX-1, a small 9mm broadly similar in appearance and function to the Kel-Tec P11 with an aggressive price tag.

The CPX-1 was followed to market by the CPX-2, which was the same thing sans thumb safety. (Given the length and weight of the true double action only trigger pull, these were fairly extraneous anyway.)

This brings us to the most recent offering from the company, perhaps unsurprisingly dubbed the CPX-3. Externally similar to its catalog-mates, except very slightly smaller, the CPX-3 is distinguished by its 380 ACP chambering, a cartridge that’s witnessing something of a renaissance lately.

This resurgence first began in tiny pocket blasters like Kel-Tec’s P3AT and the Ruger LCP. Pistols that small and light could only be chambered in .380 both by being recoil operated, which helps slow the slide by the mechanical action of unlocking the barrel, and by being hammer-fired, where the slide’s rearward motion is further braked by the action of having to override the hammer against the tension of the mainspring. Blowback-operated .380 pistols tended to be larger and have heavier slides or much heavier recoil springs.

More recently, however, larger .380s have begun hitting the market. The Walther PK380, Smith & Wesson 380 Shield EZ, and the (now defunct) .380 versions of the SIG SAUER P250 Compact and Subcompact all exploited the combination of hammer-fired and recoil-operated systems making these pistols easier to operate than their 9mm cousins for people with less grip or upper-body strength.
Not only are the slides easier to cycle by hand, but recoil and muzzle flip is dramatically reduced with the .380 round in a larger package. The CPX-3 slides neatly into this useful market niche.

Ode to TLG

But how would it hold up to extended, hard use? Is this the sort of gun that could, despite its price point, be taken to a 500- to 1,000-round weekend class without worries, just like a Glock or SIG? Trainer Claude Werner, former instructor at the Rogers School and currently writing under the moniker The Tactical Professor had reported cautiously optimistic results with a CPX-2 a couple years back, so we were curious to see how a CPX-3 handles a decent volume of shooting.

The CPW-3 features a recoil-operated, hammer-fired system.

The “2,000-round Challenge,” publicized by the late trainer Todd Louis Green of pistol-training.com, is something of an unofficial benchmark. As Green put it:

“It’s really pretty arbitrary. The Challenge was begun after so many people balked at my, shall we say, “less-stringent” maintenance habits. In my experience, just about any serious modern handgun, using something like Miltec, should be able to reach 2k without cleaning, without needing more lube and without stoppages.

The thing many people forget is that the 2,000-round Challenge included absolutely no [additional] lubrication to the gun during the whole 2,000-round cycle. You clean and lube before you start, and then do nothing but shoot the gun until you hit 2,000. If you add some oil or grease during the 2,000 rounds, it’s disqualified.”

SCCY seemed certain that the CPX-3 was indeed up to this level of use and sent a pistol, as well as 10 spare magazines. Considering that the CPX-3 ships with three magazines already, this meant we could arrive at the range with 130 rounds loaded up and ready to go.

Hornady anted up 2,000 rounds of its 90-grain Critical Defense .380 ammunition, with its distinctive FTX bullet. Just as the test was about to go live, SCCY realized the gun they sent was a preproduction model and asked to swap it out for a production version.
So, we did, although that did crowd things uncomfortably toward the deadline for this issue.

UNBOXING

In due time the replacement pistol arrived. Opening the box revealed one SCCY CPX-3, black slide on black frame, with the magazine in the gun having a pinkie-rest floorplate and the two spare mags nested in the box wearing flush-fit floorplates.

The gunships with the trigger lock affixed and locked. There’s no separate storage slot in the blown plastic tray that lines the cardboard box to hold the lock, either; just the gun, mags, and two keys. The subtle message this conveyed was that if it wasn’t stored in a quick-access safe, then SCCY was nudging the gun’s new owner to store it with the lock on the gun. (The lock is apparently of the one-size-fits-all-SCCYs variety, since it warns to store the gun with the safety on, and the CPX-3 doesn’t have one of those.)

A quick perusal of the pistol itself revealed a fairly conventional small double-stack pistol; a little shorter and narrower than a Glock 26, although a bit longer in the grip. The backstrap isn’t scooped out as radically as the subcompact Glock’s either, causing it to sit somewhat higher in the hand, although being chambered for .380 this shouldn’t make for much of a noticeable increase in muzzle flip.

The sights on the CPX-3 are conventional three-dot sights; the rear is adjustable for windage by loosening a set screw and drifting it left or right in a dovetail slot. The slide serrations are a sort of swoopy curved shape that give surprisingly good traction and combine with a light recoil spring to make the slide easy to run.


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The slide release and magazine release are easy to reach and operate with the thumb…if you’re right-handed. They’re not ambidextrous, however, nor are they reversible. They’re not too difficult to operate the magazine release with the trigger finger of your left hand (which is generally what I do on guns even if they have reversible mag catches, should I have to shoot with my wrong hand). Running the slide release with your left trigger finger proved next to impossible, though, so it’s an over-the-top whole-hand slide release for southpaws.

The trigger was … well, it’s no target trigger, OK? On the other hand, there are double-action pulls that are much worse, and on more expensive pistols, too. The trigger on the test gun broke consistently at a little over 8 pounds, with a bit of overtravel before bottoming out against the frame. There was no reason I shouldn’t be able to take this thing out of the box and hit 3×5 cards at 7 yards cold; the trigger was manageable, I could see the sights, and the grip fit my whole hand.

I was cautiously optimistic. Initially, loading the magazines proved a little challenging. The 10th round could be inserted with thumb pressure and maybe a little bit of cursing, but with 13 magazines to load, an UpLULA loading device made it much easier.
Thoughtfully, the production CPX-3 arrived with an extra tube of TW-25 grease rubber-banded to the box. So, we generously lubricated all the bearing surfaces on the barrel and rails before the first round was fired. We then pulled a bore snake through the barrel a couple times for good measure, all in an effort to ensure the gun was squeaky clean before getting it good and dirty.

RANGE DAY ONE

In a pistol bay at my local indoor range, Indy Arms Company, I ran a QP-T target out to the practically customary 7 yards, and began banging away at the 8-inch circle, initially at a fairly sedate pace. I wanted to get a feel for the trigger and see where the Critical Defense rounds hit relative to the sight picture.

The rounds were hitting an inch or so to the left at 7 yards. Looking closely at the rear sight, it was also very slightly off to the left in its dovetail. It wasn’t loose, however, and lacking a tool to loosen and re-tighten the set screw, I left it alone and continued to hold on the center of the target. Even with the slight misalignment of the rear sight, the pistol’s accuracy was quite acceptable. While we didn’t bench the gun for groups at 25 yards, shots could be kept on a 3×5 card at 10 yards without much effort, and even in rapid-fire, nothing strayed out of the 8-inch circle at 7 yards.
Everything was going along just as breezily as could be until I stuffed the sixth magazine in the gun, dropped the slide, and fired the fifty-first round of the test.

The gun suffered a failure to extract, with the claw popping off the rim of the spent case, leaving it only halfway out of the chamber while the slide continued to the rear before trying to cram a fresh round into the still-occupied breech.

Okay, these things happen. I locked the slide back, removed the magazine, and tipped the gun muzzle up to let the spent case fall free. It didn’t. I flicked at the case rim with a fingernail, but it still refused to tumble out. Closing the slide to pop the extractor claw back over the rim and manually cycling it solved the problem. The shiny nickel-plated case of the Hornady Critical Defense round was free of obvious pressure signs and didn’t appear to be scuffed by a rough chamber, so I resumed shooting.

A couple magazines later, round number 75, I experienced a classic stovepipe failure-to-eject, where the slide closed on a spent case that hadn’t exited the ejection port cleanly. OK, that can be caused by limp-wristing, we’ll just clear it and … the very next round, #76, was another one of those weird failure-to-extracts, with the spent case left halfway out of the chamber when the claw popped off the rim.

Clearing the gun, I locked the slide back and used the rim of a spent case to pull the takedown pin. The extractor claw looked good — there was nothing under it and there were no rough spots in the chamber visible to the naked eye. The remainder of the first 130 rounds went by without further incident, except for another failure-to-eject on round #124.

RANGE DAY TWO

The next day at the range began with another 13 loaded mags and a determination to get the test at least to the 350-round point. Things went well for about 30 rounds, and then came a failure-to-feed as the nose of an FTX bullet ran aground on the feed ramp. Thirty one more rounds and another one of those weird, sticky failures to extract. Forty more rounds and then another failure to feed on #235.
And so it went. By round #350, I’d experienced seven failures to extract, four failures to eject, and three failures to feed. The gun wasn’t even notably dirty yet; I’ve been in training classes where I expended that much ammunition before lunch. I contacted my editor and we decided that we’d give it one more day to shake out the bugs. Failing that, the gun would go back to SCCY.

NOPE

Sure enough, the next 350 went pretty much like the first. Ten, 20, maybe 50 rounds without an incident and then another few failures. I’d marked certain magazines to see if they were the culprit, but that didn’t appear to be the case. As a last resort, I called off the no-cleaning protocol of the test and scrubbed under the extractor claw with a toothbrush. I made one last range trip with some different ammunition, a box each of SIG SAUER Elite Performance 100-grain FMJ and 90-grain V-Crown JHP, but the weird random failures to extract continued, one from each box. While I’m no gunsmith, I noted that the spent brass was free of the sort of scuffs that are indicators of a rough spot in the chamber. This tells me that, if I were to bet, the issue was with the extractor. Whether an issue with claw geometry or extractor spring tension, these could cause the issues with the test gun.

As of this writing, the CPX-3 has been sent home to SCCY in Florida, hopefully for repair and redemption. Per the company’s statement in the sidebar, they’ll look it over and diagnose the problem. We have the remainder of the Hornady ammunition waiting to see if the fix does in fact fix the gun.

As delivered, unfortunately the CPX-3 was unable to deliver

SCCY sent us this response:

RECOIL, We appreciate you reaching out and providing feedback from your 2,000-round torture test on our CPX-3 model handgun. The model sent to you is a production model, nothing custom built for a torture test, but we felt comfortable because we have run 1,000s of rounds of Hornady Critical Defense through this model. That being said, it comes as a surprise to hear of the failures you experienced in testing. This result is unacceptable, and we will put corrective actions in place.

Our engineers and gunsmiths are testing the CPX-3 now, not only to see what caused the failures in your test model, but also to ensure the quality and integrity of all of our handguns. Although we are disappointed with how it performed, we are sure this isn’t indicative of our entire production line. We will report back with further findings as soon as we have them, and return your CPX-3 to finish the test, in what we are sure will be a better outcome.

There are always many factors in a torture test and mechanical failures can happen to any machine, which is a major reason why we always recommend owners thoroughly test their carry gun before calling on it to protect their lives. We stand behind our handguns with a lifetime warranty and an unmatched service team to make sure that if these failures do happen, our owners are protected.
Sincerely,
Nick Olko
Director of Marketing

But we have some redemption—check it out here.



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