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The firearms world is a diverse universe of companies, some of which are huge conglomerates while others are more boutique. Some focus on a few specific products, and others try to make everything under the sun. That’s the simplified, general lay of the land in the firearms industry. One company may leap into an “industry leader” role for a while but is usually replaced in short order as Company X releases its new blaster. All the while they seem to be chasing each other, and in many cases copying what seemed to work for someone else.

However, there is one company that stands apart from this sometimes predictable framework. A company that has charted its own path and decided that it is capable of truly being the epicenter for shooters. This innovator is ZEV Technologies.

ZEV Foundations

From its start with aftermarket drop-in triggers, ZEV built its business with the philosophy that any part it made had to be the best product available on the market. In short order, its customer base expanded from competitive shooters to elite military and law enforcement personnel, and ultimately into leading gun stores and ranges. Other companies have entered this space, but only ZEV products have won world championships, and go through the most extensive testing by top-tier military clients. While some companies would consider that the pinnacle of achievement, ZEV hasn’t been content to sit on its laurels.

It became apparent to the engineers at ZEV that their ability to innovate in the handgun realm was limited by the base products they had to work with. Instead, it would be much more effective if they could get their hands on a gun in earlier stages of its design. It is this idea that motivated ZEV to make a very bold move. In January of 2019, after three years in development, ZEV announced that it had begun manufacturing a complete pistol. This move embodies the company’s unrelenting commitment to quality, and the result is the OZ9.

Origin Story

The OZ9 (Original ZEV 9) is the culmination of tens of thousands of research and development hours. Ballistic received its first hands-on look in October 2018 at Athlon Outdoors’ second annual Rendezvous shooting event. Shortly thereafter, we had the opportunity to visit the mad scientists at ZEV’s Centralia, Wash., facility and got an even better behind-the-scenes look at the new pistol.

The OZ9 is a polymer-framed, striker-fired 9mm that is absolutely more than the sum of its parts. At first glance, it screams “ZEV” simply because of its exceptional fit and finish. But the core of the OZ9 is the frame that ZEV completely manufactures in-house, a product of more than a decade of experience. Dave Roberts, ZEV’s vice president of marketing and business development, shared how they came up with the design. “Over the past 12-plus years, we have performed thousands of Glock modifications for customers. We looked at what was most commonly requested and used that as a base to work from.”

ZEV OZ9 Features

After working with the OZ9 and putting rounds through it during my Washington visit, I found it to be everything I could want in a striker-fired pistol. It has a full-sized grip with texturing that provides good purchase without chewing my hands up. There’s also a good-sized Pro Plus magazine well for quick reloads, and unlike some other designs, it’s mounted using a single retaining pin. The back of the frame has a full dovetail, which is a welcome addition to those who suffer through “slide bite” from their Glocks.

One of the most interesting aspects of the frame is that it has an 18-degree grip angle. This is different from a stock Glock, which comes in at approximately 22 degrees. In fact, the 18-degree grip angle feels more reminiscent of a 1911, and the gun points more naturally. The OZ9 also has a double-undercut triggerguard as well as ambidextrous magazine release. The trigger for the OZ9 is ZEV’s Pro Flat Face unit, which seems right at home here, and wrapping up the lower assembly is a dust-cover rail for mounting accessories.

I’m sure there are more technical descriptions that could be used, but the slide on the gun is just damn sexy. Made from stainless steel, it comes from the factory pre-milled for a Trijicon RMR, and ZEV has included patented mounting points with posts that better support the optic. In terms of iron sights, you’ll notice a fiber-optic front sight and a ZEV Combat rear—perfect for fast targeting.

A Look Inside

The OZ9 uses one of ZEV’s well-known barrels and a captured recoil spring on a stainless steel guide rod. The gun can be taken down just like a Glock, but this is where I did a double-take.

As I broke the gun down, I came across what makes it different and game changing. ZEV houses the trigger, trigger bar and all of the other fire control components in a self-contained receiver unit that pulls free from the gun. The benefits of this design are numerous and make it truly a modular gun. The first wave of OZ9s will all be full-sized, but ZEV is ramping up to offer shooters a variety of frame size and color options. All you’ll need to do is pull the receiver and drop it into your new ZEV frame.

Each serialized receiver is made from 4140 alloy steel and has what ZEV describes as “lube reservoirs” on top. These also act as a place for debris to fall into and help keep the gun running flawlessly. The rails on the gun are extended and provide 50-percent more engagement than factory rails. The major upside to this is improved accuracy. In that the receiver houses the trigger, the pin is essentially captured and does not require a cut for retention. This will undoubtably add to the life of the pin and save the shooter from the frustration associated with broken pins.

The trigger bar is worth a special note, as it too is made in-house by ZEV. Once again, the engineers looked at what people have requested over the years and made a unit that fits all those parameters. Visiting with Dave Roberts, I discovered the design and development of the ZEV trigger bar was a monumental undertaking — one they are extremely proud of.

Behind the Bullets

I’ve had the pleasure of running several ZEV-upgraded guns, and I’ve been impressed each time. Getting the opportunity to walk the floor and visit with the team helped me to understand just why ZEV products are so good.

One of our stops was at the inspection room, which turned out to be a fascinating visit. One of the inspectors, Randy Pratt, shared that, “We have exacting quality standards. Parts are measured and checked by three people, then loaded into a precision robotic measuring system and following that are measured yet one more time by an inspector. All to make sure the product is perfect every single time.”

The shop space was hospital-ward clean and well organized. Most shops having their fair share of pallets and general manufacturing debris around, but that was not the case at ZEV.

I did come across a series of rifle builds and was quickly reminded that in 2017, ZEV stepped outside the handgun market with the purchase of Mega Arms. Mega had also built a similar reputation for excellence. Right out of the gate, Mega became renowned for extremely tight tolerances and meticulous quality. So it was a perfect fit for the team at ZEV, and the result of the purchase is a complete line of rifles with the ZEV magic. Like their work with Glock handguns, ZEV takes a great rifle and makes it exceptional. With an offering ranging from complete rifles with carbon-fiber barrels to uppers and a variety of parts like charging handles, they have it all.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of what we were talking about on the tour, my mind kept going back to the OZ9. To the uninformed or pedestrian gun owner, it may look like just another tricked-out Glock. It is so very much more than that. But the quality and innovation in this new design will be most appreciated by people who know what they are looking at. The exact machining, design focus and attention to even the most minute detail make this an exceptional firearm.

One of the last points Dave Roberts shared with me was that “The new OZ9, with its extensive design process and meticulous finishing, reflects our commitment to quality and excellence.” I have had the fortune of seeing behind the curtain at many shops around the country, and each had their own unique attributes and products. But I’ve never been as excited about a new product coming to market as I am about the OZ9. It takes guts to make the jump that ZEV has made, and the shooting community will benefit from it. For more information, visit ZEVtechnologies.com.

ZEV OZ9 Specs

  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Barrel: 4.48 inches
  • OA Length: 8.04 inches
  • Weight: 28 ounces (empty)
  • Sights: Fiber-optic front, Combat rear
  • Grip: Polymer
  • Action: Striker-fired
  • Finish: Matte black
  • Capacity: 17+1
  • MSRP: $1,679

This article is from the spring 2019 issue of Ballistic Magazine, on sale Jan. 1, 2019. Grab your physical copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com. For digital version, head over to Amazon.

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