Zenith is a word used to describe something when it is at its height of power or success. How fitting that this is the name chosen for a company which stands behind some of the most unique weapons around. Not many modern firearms manufacturers use the roller delayed-blowback system (which was previously made famous probably due to H&K’s line), making some of Zenith’s weapons truly stand out, in the best possible way.
Based in Afton, Virgina, Zenith is a family-owned business, which specializes in importing and distributing roller-delayed firearms. Zenith works together with the Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation (MKE) of Turkey, in order to deliver their innovative products to the American market.
MKE has a long and prestigious history of producing military products and weapons for various groups within the Turkish Armed Forces. The MKE was established in 1950, but its origins go back all the way to the 15th century, when the Ottoman Empire was in control of the region, and as it was approaching the height of its power. The Royal Arsenal (as it was known at the time) manufactured mortars, cannons, gunpowder, and round shots for the Turkish military, and this is the foundation on which MKE rests.
Nowadays, MKE produces weapons of all scales and sizes, and part of its small arms division exports weapons for Zenith Firearms. MKE first began importing ammunition from Turkey in 2013, when there was a need for more ammunition in the U.S.
Metal stamping – rather than cold or hot forging – is used to create many of the fundamental components of the Zenith Z-series, and this contributes to the line’s noticeable lightness.
Here is a look at some of Zenith’s selection.
I am not a physics major by any means, but from what I gathered, the idea is that the bolt on such firearms is not locked into place when the primer is struck. When a round is fired, the bullet quickly exits the barrel.
Meanwhile, the gas buildup in the chamber continues to operate as it would with any ordinary firearm – it pushes back with a force equal to that which was created when the cartridge ignited. Instead of the bolt blowing back like a straight blowback, there are actual rollers which form a millisecond of delay, and gives you some advantage in the weight department. That delay is provided so the gases involved can become safer and more manageable, before the spent cartridge is ejected and a fresh cartridge is loaded, whereupon the cycle repeats itself.
These rollers (two of them) take in that hit of energy when the bullet flies out, and are blown back by the sheer force of it. Because it’s the rollers which are most affected by that process, other components can afford to be lighter. It’s not a perfect system, and like all actions, it has its drawbacks, but it is one which Zenith (and H&K as well) are seeking to perfect. Sometimes this operation method is called roller-lock, but in reality, no actual locking takes place, which is how the mechanism works to begin with.
In September 2017, Zenith made a press release stating that 3 of their former lines (Tisas, Girsan, and Tedna) are going to be eliminated, in order to make room for the company to focus its efforts on roller delayed blowback models. They also stated that in 2018, they will focus on manufacturing “new, hard-to-find, and 922(r)-relevant accessories”.
Zenith strives to keep the weapons – their own Z Series – as authentic as possible, while still complying with relevant U.S. gun laws regarding capacity and possibility of civilian conversion. They remain true to the same models which are being used by the Turkish Armed Forces, and which are being exported to militaries all over the world.
Their line of Z-5 pistols includes 11 models, the most famous of which are probably the Z-5RS “Pistolman” 9mm (MSRP $2,399), and the Z-5K 9mm (MSRP $1,794).
Only one rifle is currently featured on Zenith’s lineup – the Z-5. The rest of their products – including the Z-5 line itself – are pistols which do not come in a carbine configuration.
Here are some of the specs:
The Z-5, by Zenith (made by MKE)
Caliber – 9x19mm Parabellum
Action – semi-auto, roller delayed blowback
Length – 34.5 inches (A2 stock)
35.7/26.2 inches (Choate stock/folded)
Barrel Length – 16.1 inches
Weight – 7 pounds (A2 stock)
7.9 pounds (Choate stock)
Sights – rear drum for elevation and windage
Capacity – 30, includes 3 magazines
MSRP – $2,199
The Z-5 comes with a 3-lug mounted flash hider, Picatinny rail, sling, and two extra takedown pins, as well as a cleaning kit, five-year warranty, and manual.
Parts & Accessories
From internal parts through cases and external accessories, Zenith offers a variety of parts for the different models they offer, as well as standard AR platforms. They also offer optics by Trijicon and Holosun, and 30-round magazines (9mm, 5.56mm) made by MKE, which come in metal or polymer.
Zenith began importing ZQI ammunition in 2013. They had a contract with Walmart, who were selling low-cost boxes of their 5.56mm, 7.62mm, and 9mm cartridges. When the contract ran out, Walmart and ZQI parted ways, and – perhaps due to the situation in Turkey – the contract was not renewed. For a time, ZQI was selling their cartridges on their own website, but now everything is out of stock. Perhaps 2019’s SHOT Show will reveal if and when these rounds are going to make a comeback. Time will tell.
Reviews of the product are very mixed, with some people reporting ZQI cartridges were spot on, and others reporting that they are sub-par and could not handle their firearm. Maybe when ZQI continues selling or distributing them again, we will be able to know more.
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Tradition and authenticity are important to Zenith firearms, which is why they chose to work with MKE. Their Z-series firearms are considered by some to be the closest thing to the legendary H&K models, and particularly the MP5, a gun which was developed in the 1960s and now has over 100 variants in circulation.
Zenith’s guns don’t come cheap, and like many enthusiasts, I agree that this is something that needs to improve. If they lowered their prices a little, I have no doubt it would open up a whole new share of purchasers. But on the other hand, you get what you pay for, and quality costs money.
Some lament the fact that Zenith chooses to work with foreign manufacturers, but – all patriotism aside – foreign builders have different ways of producing firearms, and they draw inspiration from different places and people. This is not a bad thing when you think about it. It means that the American market becomes more diverse and full of potential. Obviously, Federal and State restrictions apply, and it is up to the individual to place the right type of order, but Zenith Firearms is a quality distributor, who is working closely with their partner MKE to make sure that their firearms are unique and up to par.
Zenith Firearms works with local dealers all over the country, so make sure to check them out if roller delayed-blowback guns are something you are curious about.
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