The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

The tale of Trinity’s carry gun: The Beretta 80-Series

In 1999, I was sitting in a movie theater watching The Matrix, when I noticed one of the characters had a Beretta that looked like someone shrunk a 92FS. It turns out that was a Beretta Model 84, part of the 80-Series, also known as the Cheetah. The most popular Cheetahs were the 380 ACP versions, Models 83, 84, 85, and 86. The 80-Series, also had 32 ACP versions, and a pair of target pistols in 22 LR. Production of the 80-Series starts in 1975 with the Beretta Model 81 and 84. The Beretta 81 was a medium framed 32 ACP that held 12 rounds in the magazine. The 84 was a 9mm Short, better known as 380 ACP. Oddly, it held 13 in the magazine, which…is more than the 32 ACP gun holds. Police culture in Europe was quite different from in the USA, and a medium-framed 32 ACP or 380 ACP made perfect sense as a service pistol for law enforcement across the pond. That was the original market for the little 80-Series: European law enforcement agencies.

Design changes over the years

In 1980, Beretta introduced the first change to the 80-Series design, designating the new guns with the “B” suffix. The B-suffix guns introduced a firing pin safety, disconnected the trigger when the safety was engaged, and of course had some cosmetic changes. These were the first 80-Series guns widely available in the United States, as importation had started 2 years prior. 1980 added two new models to the Cheetah lineup: a 22 LR called the Model 87, and another 380 ACP.

The new 380 ACP was the Model 85, which differentiated itself from the 84 by feeding from a single column, 8 round magazine. Another iteration of the 80-Series dropped in 1982, with some additional safety enhancements and better sights. The most important model jump for the 80-Series occurred in 1988, when the F suffix models were introduced. This upgraded added a combined safety/decocker feature to the Cheetahs, but retained the frame mounting position. Now shooters could safely lower the hammer without having to manually decock the gun. The F suffix guns lasted for a decade, then were replaced in 1998 with the current generation of the 80-Series, the FS. The changes from F to FS were focused on the safety/decocker function. My personal gun is an FS, manufactured in 2017. From 1977 to 1997, Beretta also manufactured the Browning BDA, which was the same gun as the 80-Series but with an enclosed slide and slide-mounted safety/decocking lever.

Beretta Model 84 Cheetah

A 380 and an OTF knife for EDC?

Hollywood and Cops love the Beretta 80-Series

The Cheetahs never sold as well in the USA as Beretta would have liked, but they did enjoy two interesting niches of popularity. First was Hollywood, and for whatever reason, the Cheetahs were a movie darling in the 90s; almost always showing up in the hands of a secondary character who needed a cool looking gun. Perhaps the most memorable use, at least for me, was Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity in the original Matrix film. In one of the best scenes in the movie, as an agent is about to execute Neo, Trinity surprises the agent by slamming her Model 84 into his head and saying “Dodge this.” It's a great scene, and a cool use of the Model 84.

The second demographic that enjoyed the 80-Series were switched-on undercover cops. For most of the consumer market the caliber offerings in 32 ACP and 380 ACP, coupled with the gun's odd size for such a small caliber didn't make it appealing. Since it arrived before wide-spread legalization of concealed carry, Beretta didn't have the ability to market it for that purpose either. Undercover and plainclothes cops of a certain mindset appreciated the gun's compact size and considerable round count advantage over a J-frame. 14 rounds of 380 ACP out of an easily concealable package makes a lot of sense when your other choice is 5 or 6 rounds of 38 Special, and so the little Cheetahs found a small niche.

little guns are fun to shoot

Not the end of the line

Unfortunately, the year before the FS models arrived, the Beretta 80-Series' executioner also arrived: the Glock 26. As the concealed carry market exploded in the late 90s and early 2000s, the Cheetah had a perception problem. Consumers wanted their 380 ACP pistols smaller. Guns the size of the 80-Series should be 9mm, not a puny mousegun cartridge. The other problem with the Cheetahs was the price. A brand-new Model 84 is priced north of 750 dollars, which is a lot to ask for a heavy DA/SA gun with kind of bad sights chambered in a mousegun round.

The 80-Series is still around, though. Contrary to what you read on wikipedia, it hasn't been discontinued. Prior to publishing, I contacted Beretta and asked them about the future of the 80-Series. It's staying around, but Beretta USA only imports them from Italy once a year in limited quantities, and once those are sold out, you're waiting until next year to get another. If you want one, there are a couple options: you can find a Beretta dealer and have them put one on backorder for you, but it might be a year. Or you can go get a surplus one off Gunbroker right now for $400, which is a really appealing price. Either way, the wonderful little Beretta 80-Series is staying around, and that's a good thing.

Enter Your E-Mail to Receieve a Free 50-Target Pack from RECOIL!

NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOIL

For years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included).

Get your pack of 50 Print-at-Home targets when you subscribe to the RECOIL email newsletter. We'll send you weekly updates on guns, gear, industry news, and special offers from leading manufacturers - your guide to the firearms lifestyle.

You want this. Trust Us.

One response to “The tale of Trinity’s carry gun: The Beretta 80-Series”

  1. Stanley Fernblatt says:

    Yes, it the Cheetah 86 with tip-up barrel certainly HAS been discontinued. For quite a while now. All you can find now is the boring, stock, standard version. If the Cheetah is in production, fine… but the Cheetah with tip-up barrel is not. You need to be more specific when publishing like an expert. This article is misleading.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

View Comments

  • Yes, it the Cheetah 86 with tip-up barrel certainly HAS been discontinued. For quite a while now. All you can find now is the boring, stock, standard version. If the Cheetah is in production, fine... but the Cheetah with tip-up barrel is not. You need to be more specific when publishing like an expert. This article is misleading.

Subscribe to the Free