First introduced to the Bersa line at SHOT Show by friend and colleague, Mike Detty, author of "Guns Across the Border," I held my first BP9CC, an eight-shot, single-stack 9 mm. It was love at first sight. When I learned that Discovery Channel would be shooting the second season of "Treasure Quest" in Argentina, Michael Sodini, president of the Bersa’s US importer, Eagle Imports, Inc., made arrangements for me to visit the factory just outside of Buenos Aires after my work on Discovery’s production.
Raw castings and bar stock comes into the company's main manufacturing facility outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
As it turned out, the spry and young-for-his-age Argentine who chauffeured me to the factory was one of the founders who spends his retirement helping the company with duties to keep himself busy. Benso Bonadimani, many years an Argentine, is an Italian by birth. He’s the “B,” from Benso, in Bersa. The rest of the company name was constructed from his two partners' names: “ER” from Ercole Montini of Brescia, and “SA” from Savino Caselli of Turin, all three of them mechanical engineers.
Raw blanks in the process of transforming into pistol frames.
Just the fact that Bersa, an arms company, has continued to remain viable through a variety of government changes intrigued me enough to visit the headquarters last year. The fact that it also builds one of my favorite easy-to-conceal, relatively inexpensive, 9 mm pistols was another attraction.
Several frames are machined at once on these CNC mills.
When I arrived, at the Bersa factory, of course I was keen on seeing how the company manufactures the pistol that I love to carry for personal protection: the BP9CC. But I can be easily be distracted by the new and interesting. The company's TPR9 was placed in my hands as I was offered coffee that would rival an Italian café’s (Buenos Aires has one of the largest, if not the largest population of Italian immigrants outside New York).
Benso Bonadimani, one of the company's founders, shows off a purple-anodized frame.
Sadly, I will not be able to get my hands on one in the US until 2018. When I do, I’m sure I’ll be as impressed with the firing of it, as the sample I was given felt perfect in the hand. We will all have to wait and see until 2018.
After coffee, Bonadimani took me on a tour of the facilities. Like many factories that have lasted more than half a century, this one has seen the encroachment of an ever-increasing population. Originally constructed in the countryside outside of Buenos Aires in 1958, it is now surrounded by homes and other buildings.
The pistols undergo assembly on the factory floor.
Bersa has also seen some major improvements to its technology. A variety of precisely controlled computerized machinery, replacing many of the older, manually operated lathes and other types of cutting equipment for milling, stamping and grinding of various parts of their lines of handguns. Other parts, such as castings, are fabricated by third-party manufacturers.
At one time, Bersa even offered shotguns and .22 rifles, but soon went back to what it does well. Its various offerings derive from the Thunder 380, Thunder Pro and BPCC designs, which are produced and hand-checked from parts like triggers, and slides to the final and complete pistols.
Each pistol produced by Bersa is test-fired and checked for quality before leaving the factory.
Each pistol goes through a final check in the company's two-lane firing range at factory. Once the pistol has gone through the assembly line, it receives a complete quality assurance test, it’s packaged and then readied for shipping to fulfill orders around the world. The Thunder Pro 9 mm and .40 S&W mainly go to military and law enforcement as a duty pistol. The Thunder .380 ACP, Thunder Pro Ultra Compact in 9 mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP, and the BPCC 9 mm and .40 S&W draw the attention of the concealed carry crowd. The Thunder PRO XT has garnered applause from competition shooters.
Bonadimani surveys guns being packaged and shipped out for sale around the world.
What I’m waiting for is the TPR9, which I was shown again, as I was preparing to leave the factory, a whole line of them being packaged and readied for shipping. Seeing it again, as I was leaving, in complete form and parts, the TPR9 and reminded that, though the US leads the way in mass-producing firearms, there are a few proven companies in South America that do a pretty good job, too.
About the Author Cork Graham has covered guns and hunting since 1983, when he asked for an leave-of-absence from his NROTC squadron at UC Berkeley, and headed to southeast Asia to cover conflicts as an 18-year-old photojournalist. He’s presently the team leader on Discovery Channel’s "Treasure Quest." For more on his articles and books, visit his official site at corkgraham.com.