Two obscure South African pistols

Dmitriy got hold of photos of two relatively unknown South African pistols.

The ugly looking VARAN pistol was developed in the 1980s. Because South Africa was subject to an arms embargo at the time, its creators falsified documents and unsuccessfully tried to smuggle it into the United States.

This pistol is made by South African firm Musgrave. It is chambered in 9x19mm.

It is an interesting design. The barrel moves forward when the bolt moves back (or visa versa).

Many more photos here.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Other Steve

    That second pistol looks absolutely ripe for an integral suppressor! The moving barrel could have too much wiggle/tolerence to avoid baffel strikes, but I can’t imagine anything closer to a MKIII in 9mm than that.

  • Vak

    Talk about high bore axis !

  • Aurelien

    The weird thing is, they never issued handguns made locally to LE and military. In the 70s they had a copy of the STAR B and STAR BM (compact) and since the 90s they use the Vektor Z88, and that’s a copy of the Beretta 92.

  • Lance

    Sa pistols look so ugly. Even the Vector STAR which is a M-92 with a full covered slide looked awckward. Heck with the pistols why cant they tried to import the R-4?

  • El Duderino

    Mega-ugly pistols. Musgrave looks like it was designed by an out of work flare gun engineer! The VARAN looks like a warmed-over Star, not exactly the company I’d want to copy.

    Those South African Vektors that were around for awhile were alright (perhaps a bit busy-looking). I hear those got recalled to SA for cash and never returned though…

  • Ruzhyo

    Other Steve,

    I agree with you about the second pistol. It looks a good deal (in places)like the WWII Welrod:

  • Nordland

    Still sexier than anything Hi-Point…

  • Crabula

    I know absolutely nothing about it, but the second one looks pretty frickin cool to me.
    I love South African guns. From what I have seen out of that country, their engineers don’t shy away from unique and unusual designs.

  • Thomas

    On the second gun.. Look at the 2 pictures.. The barrel is not moving forward.. The whole upper receiver tube is moving back.. Strange.. I wonder how this works ?

  • Sudza-Snake

    SA had a small, ever hopeful cottage industry in handgun manufacture in the 1980’s.

    Two that I can remember were the Mamba – this was a highly touted stainless steel automatic in [from memory] 9mm. This was hyped to the skies in about 1980 but never made it to much more than pre-production status on account of funding problems and development cost blow-outs and delays. Another was the Republic – a totally conventional reverse engineered 38 Special revolver for the self-defence market. I can remember seeing this advertised by SA gun dealers in the mid 1980’s so presumably it did make it into small scale production.

    The main challenge for SA handgun entrepreneurs seems to have been: limited capital, small domestic market, limited export potential [so high prices and small margins] and a local consumer who could get very good deals on second pistols in a highly competitive retail market as well as off-the-shelf access to a wide range of new modern handguns imported [via devious means].

    Nice article – thanks for putting it up on your blog!

  • Sian

    @nordland the second one there could be a Hi-point that went on a diet.

  • sharky

    Very interesting, a collector friend of mine owns both of those models.

    The Musgrave never made it past experimental stage, only a handful ever made.
    The VARAN PMX is actually modelled after the Browning Hi Power. You would never believe it until you look at the way it works.

  • I’d love to check the Musgrave and its mechanism out. If it had a combination blow forward and blowback mechanism (barrel moving forward while the bolt moves back) it would be VERY interesting to check out how it works. And Musgrave made some solidly performing rifles, which suggests that the pistol should have been a decent performer. My guess from the pics is that this is a design that should not cost much to reproduce if someone wants to – and that it should be possible to do this cheap. Would be unusual but interesting, and, perhaps, better suited to adaptation to a pistol caliber carbine.

    • Mehul, I too would love to get my hands on it.

  • me

    Speaking of SA and handguns, would you believe that for a time in the 1990s, a polymer frame (with steel slide rails, of course) was produced so that people could use them to assemble imported Belgian Browning Hi-Power kits?

    I’d like to see these imported into the US, but any importer would surely want the design to incorporate a rail for a light, etc., etc.

  • Peter

    I would really appreciate and be thankful to get some hints to disassemble the weapon (the second one on the picture). The manual offers no help at all, it only showas the parts in an explosion sketch.

    By the way, the weapon appeard not reliable throughout my shooting-tests, and pulling the trigger is very hard.


  • ruben

    if u look at the picture closely the barrel doesnt not move but the entire slide moves to the rear.

  • Lukas

    I am looking for PMX 90 mags. The gun is not to bad.