For well over a quarter-century, the Bersa SA of Argentina has been heavy into the market of small, compact, .380ACP caliber blowback-action pistols. The only thing about these Walther PPK-esque pistols, well made as they are, is that they only have a 6-7 shot magazine. Well, about that.
Back in the mid-1980s, Bersa redesigned their Model 383 series pistol, which by and large was a clone of the Walther PP series. As an improvement, the company replaced the external slide catch, which was also a snag when carrying concealed. This they replaced with an internal mechanism where the user would pull back a locked slide in order to release it, removing extra surface controls, and streamlining the gun.
This model was renamed the 83, after the year it was created. This double-action semi-auto, with its natty walnut grips and 3.5-inch barrel was soon to prove popular on the export market.
However, when compared to the new guns on the block, the Glocks, the S&W wondernines, and the SIG P-series, the 6-round magazine capacity of the Model 83 was behind the curve.
The Model 85 is born
(The M85 came standard in a blue finish with walnut grips inlayed with a gold-tone Bersa logo)
To fix this problem, they stretched the M83s magazine well to allow a flush-fit 12-shot double-stack magazine, which, depending on the load used, could often accept 13, giving the small 6.6-inch long pistol, an impressive 14 rounds of ammo when loaded with one in the chamber. Sure it was about a half inch thicker around the grip than its predecessor was, and weighed 30-ounces (about six more than the single stack), but it had twice the firepower on tap and was still compact enough for concealed carry.
(And you have to love the double-stack magazine there...sure it made it a little beefy, but increased the rounds available to the user by a factor of two)
The rest of the story
Bersa began production of this little gem in 1986 and started importing those two years later through K-Max in Glenview, Illinois (this is before the Eagle Arms days). Well, by 1991 the gun was joined by its half-sister, the M86, which was the same specs but included a wraparound composite grip rather than the standard walnut. Retail on these was $340-$370, but they were often sold for the magic $299 price point.
These guns were imported to the U.S extensively, but were also a big hit in Latin America. The reason being is that many of these places, such as Mexico, restricted handgun calibers to no larger than .380ACP.
Sadly, the whole 80-series was replaced in 1994 and the Model 83, 85, 86 were all discontinued in 1994. Today they are well loved by those who have them and know of them. Parts for the upper half are easy to come by, but internals for the lower, which are not interchangeable with other Bersa models, are a little scarcer.
(A few M85s, such as this one with aftermarket grips, were imported in a hard nickel finish and matching magazines)
The main problem today with these guns is lack of original magazines. They run $50-$85 apiece currently, which means if you have a couple of spares, that is a good investment as these guns are now all over 20-years in age and these mags will become even less available moving forward.
(The M86 was the same gun, but in a matte finish and wrap-around plastic combat grip)
On the used market, these guns run $275-$350 depending on how many mags come with the pistol and how good of a condition it's in.
But hey, if you want a Bersa Thunder with about twice the mag capacity, these guns are your best bet.