In 2019, one of the hot-topic surplus handguns on the market was the Star BM. Manufactured in Spain by Star Bonifacio Echeverria from 1972 to 1992, the Modelo BM was used by Spanish police and military forces. During its two decades of production, it also found its way into service in Europe, Latin America and parts of Africa. Last year, they were being imported by Century Arms, but they’ve also been brought into the country by other companies in the past.
This surplus import caught my eye because of its 1911-inspired design, 9 mm chambering and old-school, all-steel construction. I appreciate the combination of 1911 features in pistols with grip frames that have been compressed to match the smaller size of 9 mm cartridges. Although some Star pistols have had a reputation for on-again, off-again quality control, the BMs have been reported to be solid operators. I've been looking for a chance to work with this gun and finally laid hands on one in great condition.
The Star BM is a compact, single-action, locked-breech, 9 mm semi-auto pistol that accepts an eight-round single-stack magazine. These pistols have blued finishes ranging from polished to matte. The left side of the slide is stamped "STAR EIBAR ESPAÑA" with an eight-point star. The right side is marked "CAL. 9 m/m NATO".
The original serial number is located on the right side of the frame above the trigger guard with the number 92 stamped into the left side of the trigger guard and the initials BM stamped into the base of the grip frame. Unfortunately, the importation data and a new serial number have been roughly tapped into the right sides of the slide and frame. It would have been nice if these markings could have been added more subtly so as to preserve the original appearance.
According to the serial number information I could find, the pistol I received was among the last 400 units to be made before production was shut down. It arrived in an original clear plastic case, along with the factory-issued manual, a cleaning rod and a single magazine. On the back of the case was an "X" sticker, indicating that this pistol shipped in ‘Excellent’ condition. It definitely was. In fact, I wonder if this one was ever even issued.
Just as many of today's polymer-framed striker pistols emulate the Glock's features, the Star BM borrows heavily from John Browning's 1911 design without actually being a 1911. The compact slide is flat along its sides with a grooved, rounded top. The front sight of this model is a serrated ramp style with a square notch rear sight which is drift adjustable for windage. Canted cocking serrations are located behind the ejection port, which sports a 1911-type external extractor.
The 3.77" linked barrel is supported by a removable barrel bushing and a recoil assembly consisting of a full-length guide rod and a captured round-wire recoil spring. A rounded trigger guard houses a curved, grooved trigger. Unlike the 1911, Star BM's trigger is pinned at the top to the frame. It still has a light, single-action feel to it, but it swings back from the top instead of pressing straight back. The frame behind the trigger housing has been beveled for improved reach and comfort.
The 1911-pattern controls are all found on the left side of the frame, including the textured slide stop, checkered round button magazine release and thumb safety. The thumb safety has a hook on it that engages slots cut into the slide at two different locations. One is located under the rear sight, which is the Safe position. The second notch is closer to the ejection port and serves as a takedown notch.
The hammer spur leans towards the hatchet-like G.I. configuration and rests above a modest beavertail extension, which may or may not protect your hand from hammer bite. The grip frame is a solid piece of steel with a straight, rounded front strap. The black plastic grip panels have molded-in diamond pattern texturing, and they are secured to the frame using standard grip screws.
The backstrap is curved, un-textured and does not have a 1911 grip safety. But this pistol does have a magazine safety, which prevents the trigger from moving when the magazine is removed from the grip. The magazine well has a slight finger extension at the base of the front strap and it is lightly beveled to aid in reloading. The blued-steel magazine, which showed no markings, has an aluminum follower and a pair of witness slots on the right side.
Some surplus guns are rough, tough and utilitarian. Like the folding trenching tools of WWII, they get the job done, but they're not something you look forward to working with. That's not the case with the Star BM. I was impressed by how enjoyable it is to shoot. The grip frame is slim and well-rounded, making it a great fit for my somewhat smaller hands. The slide was smooth right out of the box, and the controls worked cleanly. The 3-lbs. 15-oz. trigger pull is short and crisp with no overtravel after the break.
Weighing in at 34.1-oz. with the empty magazine, this pistol is on average over 10-oz. heavier than modern polymer-frame striker guns in the same size and caliber division. Although the added weight is not much of a plus for daily carry, it does give the pistol an authoritative feel while soaking up the felt recoil nicely for practice sessions at the range.
Some folks are excited about using the Star BM as a concealed-carry or home-defense platform. It certainly could serve in those roles, and there is support gear available. L.A.G. Tactical offers the sleek Liberator MKII Kydex holster for this model for around $50 and Triple K offers compatible factory-fresh magazines for a bit less.
However, this pistol does have some noteworthy characteristics to keep in mind. The magazines do not drop free from the grip but must be manually removed. The magazine-release button on this gun had to be depressed when inserting the magazines as well or they would stop about halfway in (most likely a small modification to the magazine release would resolve this). With this particular pistol, it was necessary to drift the rear sight all the way to the right in order to bring the groups over to the point of aim.
Semi-autos this old are not usually rated for +P ammunition, so it's a gamble to use ammunition that produces higher levels of pressure. When in doubt, I opt to leave them out. The sample I had would not cycle reliably with any of the hollow-point ammunition I had on hand. It only ran 100-percent of the time with full-metal-jacket bullets. As for downrange accuracy, I would say it's solid at 15 yards with 5-shot group sizes ranging somewhere between 2.50" to 3.25" in size. But groups opened up too much for my personal preferences at longer distances.
Accuracy was checked for five 5-shot groups from a bench rest using full-metal-jacket loads only. The pistol demonstrated a preference for heavier bullets. Winchester USA Ready 115-gr. tapped out a best single group of 2.98" with a five-group average of 3.18". Federal American Eagle 124-gr. loads printed a best group of 2.55" with an average of 2.69". Browning's 147-gr. option yielded a best group of 2.41" with an average group size of 2.56".
The Star BM is a cool, 1911-ish pistol that has an interesting history while being enjoyable to shoot. As with any surplus offering that's garnered as much attention as this one, affordably-priced examples are vanishing quickly. Prices will only go up from here. I'm glad to add this one to the collection, and I look forward to taking it to the range and enjoying it as a bit of shooting history.
Manufacturer: Star Bonifacio Echeverria, S.A., Spain
Model: Modelo BM (1972–1992)
Condition: Surplus, Excellent Condition
Action: Single-Action Lock Breach Semi-Auto Pistol
Caliber: 9 mm
Finish: Carbon Steel Frame and Slide with Blued Finish
Front Sight: Fixed Serrated Blade
Rear Sight: Square Notch, Drift Adjustable
Grips: Checkered Black Polymer
Barrel Length: 3.77", 6-Groove Rifling
Slide Width: 0.85"
Overall Length: 7.10"
Weight: 34.1-oz. with Empty Magazine
Trigger Pull: 3-lbs. 15-oz. (As Tested)
Capacity: 8+1 Rounds
Accessories: Original Case, One Magazine, Owner's Manual
Suggested Retail: $235.89 (At Time of Purchase)
L.A.G. Tactical Liberator MKII Kydex Holster $49.95
Triple K Star BK, BM, & BKM, 8-Round Magazine, Blued (965M) $44