Purchasing a 1911 Revised-12-26-2009
1911 Buyer's Reference Guide - Revised 2009-12-26 (Part 1)
So every now and then (every other week) it seems someone asks for input on which 1911 to buy, or which 1911 is best
. This is going to cover most of the bases on 1911s. This is not meant to be the most elaborate description of every 1911 ever made, or a piece of propaganda for any one make and model. This is just a brief or rather not so brief overlook of various makes, models, and features of the more popular 1911 brands available.
Some of you may be reading this and thinking “Why should I give a hoot what this guy thinks or has to say?” We’ll let me just say it now, I’m no expert, I’m not a gun smith, I’m not a professional shooter, I’m not some ex-Navy seal that’s killed umpteen million people with a 1911 and one arm tied behind my back, I’m just a prior Marine Corps Radio Tech that has had over a dozen 1911s from different makers, some have been good, some great and some horrible, the wife and I had have had the following 1911s.
One Llama, two Colts, four Para Ordnances, four Kimbers, one Springfield, one Les Baer, one Wilson Combat, and one Ithaca from 1944. I’ve learned a lot about 1911s, shot plenty of other 1911s, and heard many a horror story about them as well has lived my own horror stories. Having spent the last six years handling, shooting, studying, and researching I AM STILL learning more and more about this type of pistol and I’m the last person that will give a hoot what you have to say about what I have to say, so let’s get to it shall we.
To say that one 1911 is better than all the others is just not accurate, some are better than others, but there is no "One 1911 to rule them all"
Before we get started, let’s take a minute to familiarize ourselves with some 1911 terminology.
The original design, patented in 1911 and the 1911-A1 which began in 1926 are different pistols than what we are seeing on the shelves today, while not much
has changed, there have been some “enhancements”. Please understand that when I say “1911” I am referring to the genre of pistols based on John Browning’s original design, this is why I refer to them as 1911 pattern pistols. There are multiple books and websites covering the history of the 1911 so I see no need to cover that information.
Firing Pin Safeties:
Series 80: In most terms this refers to the Colt series 80 and mainly it reflects that it has a firing pin safety, most makers of 1911s incorporate this type of firing pin safety in their design. The series 80 firing pin safety incorporates a firing pin block that prevents the firing pin from moving unless the trigger is pulled. Personally, I can’t tell the difference in trigger pull, but that’s just me and I don’t obsess over what my trigger pull is provided I can hit what I’m aiming at in an efficient manner.
Here is a picture of the series 80 firing pin system.
Colt Series 80 Firing Pin Safety
Kimber uses a different firing pin safety known as the Swartz Safety that was originally used in Colt pistols (briefly) but was abandoned, this design is actuated by the depressing of the grip safety and care must be used in assembly that the grip safety is not depressed as that will cause the lifter to protrude from the frame and can be damaged by the installation of the slide.
Kimber Swartz Firing Pin Safety
Of the two, I prefer the Colt series 80 design as removal of it does not require the removal of the rear sight like the Swartz safety, not that I would ever advocate the removal of a safety device. Given a choice I would not have a pistol with a firing pin safety.
Some prefer the Swartz style safety as it does not effect trigger pull like the Series 80 mechanism, however as the Swartz safety is activated by the grip safety, if the parts are not fitted well, it is possible to deactivate the grip safety but still have the firing pin block in place.
Government Model (Gov’t): This generally
refers to any 5” 1911 in standard configuration, it has the full 5” barrel with bushing, (although some models do exist with the 5" bushing-less bull barrel) and full frame which will hold with modern magazines 8 rounds of ammunition.
Commander model: The original Commander model has a 4.25” bbl with bushing and full frame, several makers do not use the bushing barrel, but instead have a 4” bull barrel instead with a full frame, for Kimber this is the Pro model, and Springfield refers to it as the Champion.
CCO: This was the Concealed Carry Officers model since discontinued by Colt; this was the 4.25” upper from a Commander mated to the compact frame of the Officers model which with modern magazines hold 7 rounds. For Kimber this is the Compact model, several others make guns in this configuration or a similar variation and their nomenclature differs.
Officers: Originally this was a 3.5” barrel on a compact frame which is .5” shorter than the full frame of the Gov’t model and Commander. With modern magazines this will hold 7 rounds of ammunition. Springfield refers to this size as the “Compact” model.
Defender or Micro: This is a 3” upper on a compact frame, these models in most if not all cases will have a 3” bushing-less bull barrel. Kimber refers to this as the “Ultra”, while Springfield refers to it as the Micro, other makers have different nomenclature for guns of similar size.
Long Slides: Long slide models have 6” or longer barrels on full frames, these pistols are mainly used in competitions and for hunting, as the purpose of this piece is geared mainly for defensive use, I am not going to cover these models, they are only mentioned here to show the variety of options available.
The following is a common question, and a good one at that.
“I know that there are 1911 pistols with 3 inch, 4 inch, and 5 inch barrels available. Which length is the best choice for a balance of reliability, accuracy, proper ballistics performance, and concealment?”
Looking at the factors listed:
- Ballistics performance
A Government Model gun will generally have the most mechanical accuracy, the longest sight radius, and the highest muzzle velocity, but the least amount of concealment. The Gov’t is historically the most reliable size of 1911 as it is the original design and the geometry of the pieces were designed around the .45ACP cartridge.
A 4" will generally be more mechanically accurate than a 3” gun, but less accurate than a 5” gun, have less muzzle velocity, a shorter sight radius, but is easier to conceal than a 5" gun. Reliability wise, the 4.25 models with a bushing barrel have a good track record. Some of the 4” bushing-less models have had some issues.
A 3" Has the least amount of mechanical accuracy, muzzle velocity, sight radius, but will be the most easy to conceal. Of all the sizes, the 3” 1911 has the worst reliability record from almost all manufactures. Current models are getting better, but they still have a tendency to be buggy creatures.
Now looking at my statements, please understand that concealing a 5" gun is not a hard thing to do; great number concealed carriers do it every day.
So to answer the question, a new in the box, 4"-4.25" 1911 will most likely
be the balance of reliability, accuracy, ballistics performance, and ability to be concealed.
The Commander sized guns are the happy man in the middle so to speak, they are not as long as the 5" so they will clear the holster more quickly, and still offer more recoil absorbing mass, while still maintaining a longer barrel and sight radius while being able to carry a full length magazine.
So here's where it gets tricky, the hardest thing to conceal on any gun, is the grip area of the firearm. While the smaller Officers size guns have a shorter grip to ease concealment, you're cutting your slide mass, sight radius, barrel length, and capacity. While some have no problem concealing the grip (see my bit on the 5" guns) some do, if you want the benefits of a Commander sized gun but also want the benefits of an Officer's size gun you need to get a gun with the Commander length slide and barrel, but has the officers size frame like the Colt CCO, and the Kimber Compact. There are other makers of this style 1911 which will be discussed later in this text.
The original magazines for the Government Model held seven rounds, while the Officers model held six rounds, so how do you get eight rounds in a seven round magazine? You chop the skirt of the follower. Generally I prefer the Tripp Research Cobra mags, Wilson 47D mags, or the newer version of Chip McCormick mags, I could probably do a whole other section on 1911 magazines, and probably will so I won’t go into detail, all I’m going to say in this piece is in most cases, you’re better off ditching the magazines that come with your thousand dollar shooter and spend about $100 on good magazines. Recently I’ve began using the Wilson Elite Tactical Magazines (ETM) and I’m happy with them.
Guide Rods and Spring Guides:
There are different types of guide rods, the original design which consisted of a short spring guide and plug is thought to be sufficient and the easiest to manipulate when it comes to field stripping the gun. Full Length Guide Rods (FLGR) come in different varieties, mainly one and two piece rods. The two piece rods require a tool to take the rod apart during field stripping while the one piece rods should be short enough to manipulate the barrel bushing (if applicable), the two piece rods have a tendency to come apart at inopportune times such as when shooting and the once piece rods can be kind of a pain sometimes during maintenance. There are also specialized recoil reducing assemblies on the market which will not be addressed in this text. Bushing-less guns generally have one piece rods that require even more tools (commonly just a piece of stiff wire such as a straightened paper clip) to remove the spring assembly from the gun.
There are proponents and detractors of each type of rod, it is thought that a FLGR will prevent “spring bind” and improve accuracy. I will offer the following: Most of the match grade bullseye 1911s that I’ve seen win competitions both in the past and currently usually have a GI style plug and guide. Your Colt National Match pistols which are a gun of choice for accuracy competitions as well as the Les Baer PPC and National Match guns have a GI Style plug. The models I’ve had that came with a one or two piece rod usually end up with a GI Style plug and rod and I’ve never had an issue with a recoil spring not working properly. As with most things, it’s a matter of preference.