March 06, 2019
The Beretta Model 84 Cheetah pistols have been around since 1976 and are immediately recognizable. These pistols, also known as Series 80 or Series 81 pistols, have an open slide and exposed barrel like the Beretta Model 92 pistols. They are, in fact, scaled-down versions of the 9mm Model 92 and are chambered for .22 LR, .32 ACP, and .380 ACP. Even though the Cheetahs are considered full-size guns for these calibers, they are midsize pistols.
I’ve admired the looks of the Cheetahs for as long as I can remember, and the nickel-plated guns are, to my eye, the sexiest. I’ve admired them from a distance because I’ve never owned one. Until now. I just bought the matte nickel-finished Model 84FS used in this report.
The .380 ACP Model 84s are made in Italy and imported to the United States. Curiously, the Cheetahs are not listed on Beretta’s U.S. website, but they are on the Italian website. New pistols can be found for sale, but some searching might be required. The Model 84 traditionally has a 13-round magazine, but Beretta also sells them with 10-round magazines to accommodate local restrictions. The gun comes with two magazines, and extra magazines are available from Beretta.
The blowback-operated FS designation is the current version, and it has a double-action/single-action trigger mechanism, an aluminum-alloy frame, a frame-mounted ambidextrous decocker that is also the thumb safety, a magazine safety, a firing pin safety, “two-dot” sights, a reversible magazine release, a combat-style trigger guard, a hard-chromed bore, and a loaded chamber indicator. Because it is a double-action hammer-fired gun, repeat strikes are possible.
Model 84FS pistols are available in matte black Bruniton or matte nickel. The Bruniton guns have black plastic grips, and the nickel guns are available with plastic or walnut grips, according to Beretta’s website, although photos on the Internet show nearly all with walnut grips. The grips are checkered, and the front and rear of the frame are grooved.
The front sight has a red dot, and the rear sight has a single red halfmoon under the center cut. The front sight is machined into the slide; the rear is dovetailed and is drift adjustable for windage. The sight radius is 4.9 inches.
The fit and finish of my Model 84FS are excellent. There is minimal play—vertical and side-to-side—in the slide-to-frame fit, and the slide moves smoothly on the frame. The finish is attractive, and its matte look gives it a utilitarian appearance.
Part of the aesthetic appeal is the gun’s visual balance. The barrel does not look too long for the grip/frame height. Also, it does not have an accessory rail on the dustcover, which I think ruins the sleek look of many pistols. The Model 84FS feels balanced in my hand. The open slide reduces its weight in the front compared to a full-profile slide, so it does not feel front-heavy like some pistols.
As I said earlier, the thumb safety is a decocker. A red warning dot is visible when the safety lever is down, indicating it is ready to be fired. You can leave the lever up, like a thumb safety on a Model 1911, which disengages the trigger from the hammer. When you’re ready to fire, thumb the decocker lever down.
My pistol’s decocker was stiff and required substantial effort to push it all the way up. I hope it will get easier with use, but it didn’t in the time up to writing this report. One thing is certain: It will be nearly impossible to accidentally decock the gun.
Additionally, the decocker lever, when pushed up, would stop at a halfway position just before it decocked, and deliberate pressure was required to push it past that point to activate the decocking action. When the trigger was squeezed with the lever in this halfway position, the hammer fell all the way onto the firing pin. I was concerned that this might fire, and if it did, the gun could be damaged because the decocker is up far enough that it blocks the slide’s rearward travel.
So I tested it by using primed cases with no gunpowder or bullet. The primed case was loaded in the barrel, the decocker was thumbed up until it stopped at the halfway point, and the trigger was squeezed. The pistol fired. Thus, it is extremely important to make sure that the decocker moves all the way up to decock the hammer and to never put your finger on the trigger during this action so you will not accidentally fire it. There’s no room for error here.
Ergonomics on the pistol are superb. It reminds me of a Model 1911, a Browning Hi-Power, or a CZ75. It feels great in the hand. Many guns are noted for their natural pointability, and this one must be among those at the top of the list. The grip angle is ideal, and the pistol points where the shooter points.
This being a midsize pistol, the grip is not especially long. Part of my pinky finger is unsupported by the frame even with the magazine inserted. Still, it falls into the “just enough” category. This is exactly how a Glock 19 or an S&W M&P 2.0 Compact fits my hand. The Model 84FS is close to the same size as a Glock 19, but it is a little shorter in length and height.
The Model 84’s double-stack grip is wide, and the grip panels are thick, producing a width of 1.37 inches, which is wider than many pistols. For example, my Glock 19 grip is 1.18 inches wide. The 84’s grip is comfortable and fits my hand well, but it might feel a bit much for shooters with smaller hands. The single-stack Beretta Model 85, with its grip width of 1.18 inches, might appeal to those shooters.
Field stripping the Model 84FS is easy. Make sure the gun is unloaded and remove the magazine. Press the disassembly latch release button on the left side of the frame, then rotate the disassembly latch on the right side 90 degrees counter-clockwise. Pull the slide/barrel assembly forward off the frame. Remove the steel guide rod and spring and then remove the barrel. That’s it. Beretta recommends that further disassembly be done only by a qualified gunsmith.
Shooting the Beretta Model 84FS Pistol
When I first tried the single-action trigger pull, it was heavy. Pull weight measured 7.5 pounds. This made shooting for group a bit challenging. My hands were visibly shaking as I slowly applied pressure to the heavy trigger pull. That’s something I don’t normally experience, but this might rank as the heaviest single-action trigger I’ve shot in a long time. I was sure it was affecting group size—and not in a positive way.
Either the trigger got better or I became accustomed to it as the session progressed. It turns out that the trigger got better! I measured the pull weight again after putting a couple hundred rounds through the gun, and it was down to 5.5 pounds. That’s a big improvement after just a couple hundred rounds.
The trigger has creep, too, but that’s a common characteristic of many pistols. I’m accustomed to the fine-tuned triggers on my Model 1911s, and every time I shoot another pistol I’m temporarily disappointed until I remember that 1911s can have exceptional triggers, and it usually takes special attention to get that.
The Model 84’s double-action trigger pull measured 10.5 pounds before and after shooting, so it did not change over the course of my shooting session. It’s very smooth with some stacking.
The pistol operated flawlessly at the range, feeding every type of bullet profile: roundnose, flatnose, and hollowpoint from 10- and 13-round magazines. Accuracy at 25 yards, which is a long distance for what this gun is intended for (self-defense and casual plinking), averaged 4.50 inches for five-shot groups. I have no doubt that the stiff trigger pull made the groups larger than they should be. The Speer 90-grain Gold Dot ammo produced the smallest average group size (3.26 inches), with one five-shot group measuring a tight 1.55 inches. Overall, the accuracy is more than adequate for defensive use, and point of impact was dead-on elevation-wise with most ammo hitting the center of the target with a six o’clock hold, but about 2 inches to the right.
The .380 produces roughly half the recoil of the 9mm when fired in a gun of the same weight. Thus, it makes sense that the .380 should be pleasanter to shoot. However, one big difference is that many .380 pistols, and this includes the Model 84FS, are blowback operated, whereas many 9mm pistols are locked-breech designs. The barrel is fixed in place in blowback guns, or at least it’s not locked with the slide. When fired, only the slide moves to the rear. In locked-breech guns (like the Model 1911, Glock pistols, etc.), the barrel is locked with the slide, and when fired, both the slide and the barrel move rearward for some distance. The barrel then unlocks from the slide and the slide alone travels fully to the rear.
This difference in action often means that blowback guns have more felt recoil than locked-breech guns of the same caliber. Compared to a locked-breech pistol, the Model 84’s recoil is snappier. It’s not a huge difference, but recoil-sensitive shooters need to be aware. I’m not saying the Model 84FS is unpleasant to shoot. In fact, it is comfortable to shoot, but don’t expect it to feel like it has half the recoil of a 9mm pistol.
Another reason the .380 is recommended over the 9mm is that some shooters believe a .380 pistol takes less strength to rack the slide. That’s true if the cartridges are compared in the same gun design; however, blowback guns tend to have stiff recoil springs. This holds for the Model 84FS, and it’s not easy to rack the pistol’s slide. I measured the weight required to retract the slide fully to the rear with a Timney trigger tension scale, and it took an average of 18.25 pounds to retract the slide. For comparison, my .380 Taurus PT-738 TCP subcompact pistol (it has a locked-breech action) required 12.5 pounds to retract the slide; my 9mm Glock 19 took an average of 14.12 pounds to retract its slide; a full-size 9mm S&W M&P9 2.0 required an average of 16 pounds to retract its slide; and a 9mm S&W M&P9 2.0 Compact required 18.5 pounds to retract its slide. The Model 84FS required as much strength or more to rack its slide as several 9mm pistols.
In addition, the Model 84FS’s slide serrations are not tall. The serrations are only 0.38 inch tall, whereas the serrations on my Glock 19 are 0.75 inch tall. This gives you half as much to hang onto on the Model 84FS. A heavy recoil spring and a short gripping surface on the slide make the .380 Model 84FS more difficult to rack than many 9mm pistols. In short, if you’re looking for a .380 pistol with a slide that’s easy to rack, this is not it.
The 84FS has a retail price of $815 for the Bruniton finish and $915 for the nickel finish. That’s a bit pricey, but the Model 84FS is a high-quality gun. If you shop around, you can find new guns for less, and used Model 84FSs are going for less than half the MSRP of a brand-new one.
Although some people would put the .380 ACP on the lower end of usefulness for self-defense, it can do the job, and there is a wide range of ammunition on the market to appeal to discriminating shooters. The gun’s 13+1 capacity provides a lot of firepower for a midsize pistol. It’s a little big for a pocket gun—though it will fit some pockets—but is a good size for legal concealed carry.
The Beretta Model 84FS is well made, reliable, and shoots comfortably. It’s a natural pointer and is a good choice for casual shooting, concealed carry, and home defense. I’m glad I finally bought one of these little gems. I like it a lot. I only wish I’d done it a few decades earlier.