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Varan PMX90: Ambidexterity in South Africa

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The Varan pistol was developed by two Rhodesian designers, Tony Blackshaw and Stewart Beecham, and was originally designated the PMX-80. Development would take nearly a full decade, however, and mostly took place in South Africa. The goal was simply to create a good domestic service handgun, as such things were relatively difficult to obtain in these countries at that time. When it was finally completed in 1990, the Varan PMX-90 would fill this role reasonably well. It was not an exceptional handgun, but it was serviceable and reasonably high quality, and about 2,000 were produced before it become commercially unable to compete with the Vektor Z88 and SP1.

The PMX-90 offered substantial ambidextrous features, including a top-facing ejection port in the early models. These would also allow the safety lever, slide release, and magazine release to be swapped to either side to fit the shooter’s preference. In time, several of these features were discarded, and the later versions had a right-side ejection port and fixed slide release lever.

The gun included several interesting features from a manufacturing point of view as well. The magazines were made of a transparent plastic, although it tended to turn to an opaque yellow with exposure to gun oil, and cracked easily. A later black plastic magazine partially solved the cracking problem. The frame was a hybrid milled and stamped assembly, presumably to reduce fabrication costs. Otherwise, it was mechanically a copy of the Browning High Power, including a single action only trigger mechanism.

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