The 1911 A1 .45 ACP Surprise

A Deep, Grey Judas Goat From Geneseo by way of Ten Ring Precision

written & photographed by Mike Cumpston

edited by John Dunn

The Eleven A1, its kith and kin are often full of surprises. When they work, they work very well indeed. When they are accurate, they are up to just about any job you can imagine and inspire quite a bit of devotion in their adherents. Any discussion of them frequently erupts into a hate-filled flame fest of argumentation and venom. This would not, of course, be the case if most or all of the surprises presented by the design and its renderings by the various companies that produce it were pleasant ones. The realm of the Colt/Browning 1911 presents a landscape wherein “every prospect pleases and only Man is vile.”

The design is quite ingenious and the knowledge needed to produce a reliable and accurate rendition of it has been available for almost a century. In spite of this, many of the examples that reach the end-user are devoid of either of those cheerful features. The situation has given rise to a thriving industry devoted to making the pistol shoot as it should while providing for it all manner of gizmos of positive, negative and neutral utility.

In recent years, a couple of companies turned out a fair number of 1911s that incorporated many of the popular here-to-fore custom features and functioned reliably. This gave rise to the premature prediction that the Custom Smiths would have to diversify in order to survive since their services on the old Colt-Browning were no longer much needed.

Bolstered by this happy state of affairs and riding on the crest of several years of trouble-free shooting with a lightly accurized Series 80 Gold Cup, I decided that I needed a 1911 of traditional appearance that would be markedly more accurate than the usual expectation. It would perform all the chores expected of the handgun excepting organized competition--which I regard as a full-time career--one to be avoided. The ideal pistol would eat the center out of 25 yard bulls eyes, knock over cottontails at the same range, function as a concealed weapon and serve as a stand-by for Concealed Handgun License applicants who arrive with non- functioning semi-autos. In the Global sense, it would be a true Judas Goat, blindsiding fellow shooters who do not expect guilt-edged performance from a basic pistol while keeping me entertained with its wonderful accuracy and utility.

The most likely candidate for least-modified pistol seemed to be the Springfield Armory Milspec. Recent rave reviews in the shooting press stood witness that earlier metallurgical and quality control problems with were long corrected. The slide to frame fit was very tight and the parkerized finish made it a ringer for the old Remington-Rands that had come out of World War II. Factory equipped with high visibility fixed sights; it appeared that the only necessary modification might be reduction of the 7.5-pound trigger pull to something usable. If not, then a match barrel set-up would surely do the trick.

The new purchasers of a given handgun have every right to expect a functional pistol right out of the box.. In this respect the Milspec was no more nor less disappointing than would probably be the case with any other of the 1911 family. I loaded up the magazine for a dry function check and immediately learned that the extractor had been dropped into its tunnel sans tension. Rather than flipping from the port in a brisk manner, the extracted cartridges merely wallowed around in the open breach setting up a double feed should the slide be let forward. I tensioned the extractor and went to the range.

The Milspec, in spite of its 7.5 pound trigger pull, was trying hard to produce a 4.5 to 5” group from the bench with Remington generic ball. Unfortunately it was also creating another group of approximately the same size at a 12 o’clock remove and about 4” above the primary cluster. I could produce a breed of “ combat accuracy” at 25 yards and even lucked a full fifty rounds into a Texas Police Target at 50 yards. I got through 500 rounds of ball without any live fire malfunctions--a circumstance that would prevail until the cheap, metallurgically -challenged factory extractor went limp at approximately 900 rounds.

The next surprise came when I attempted reloads using CCI primers. The firing pin strike was visibly light and presented occasional failures to fire. The direct cause of this was the skeletonized titanium firing pin. This is a piece of gee-whizzery that is supposed to improve the lock time of the auto making it more accurate. The probable real explanation is that it helps the gun pass some ridiculous drop test the State of California has initiated.

I replaced it with an Ed Brown Heavy-Duty pin configured for the Springfield Armory. This fixed the light strike problem.

Ten Ring Precision

Alex Hamilton, a guiding light of the American Pistolsmith's Guild ( has been working on 1911s since the 1960s. He has a complete custom gunsmith operation in the hills of western San Antonio. His prescription list for my Milspec was quite a bit longer than I had anticipated:

1. The trigger pull - no problem. It could be set at 4.5 pounds with the expectation of a safe and long service life.

2. The slide, as it turns out, was bored crooked and overlarge for the barrel. He would fit a match bushing and weld up the barrel lugs on the bias thus swinging the barrel into proper alignment.

3. Just for good measure: a four pronged trigger-disconnect spring and an 18 pound main.

Alex saw no reason why the stock Springfield Armory magazine should not be made as reliable as the Metalforms he had recommended for my other pistol. He adjusted the magazine lips to effect an earlier release and replaced the flat follower with a rounded unit that would promote feeding of the last round.

A few weeks later, the Fed Ex dude debauched the finished pistol on my doorstep. Alex had found nothing out of sorts with the factory lock work and predicted that his welded up stock barrel would provide match accuracy. It did in fact, produce sub-two inch groups with the generic UMC ball. It got consistently astounding 25 yard five-round bench groups with 185 and 200 grain lead bullets with loads ranging from the low 800 fps range to the middle 900s. One-hole groups of one inch happen on a fairly regular basis.

With the front sight tooled down to the proper elevation, I am able to produce headshot accuracy off-hand at 25 yards with 50-yard strings clustered tightly in the torso of the TXTP silhouette.

The 4.5 pound trigger release is just about perfect and shooting results are both pleasant predictably the same from one shooting session to the next. The expectation is that a significant percentage of one-handed, 25 yard shots will land in one of those ten ring sized voids that seem so easy for the match shooters. The remaining rounds cluster closely enough to allow the shooter to enjoy both the results and the shooting experience.

The final touch came shortly after the 900 round mark when the new-tech factory extractor, modeled out of some crapulous pot metal that no doubt festered under the slag heap of Sodom, relaxed and quit working. I ordered a replacement from Wilson. None of our local gunsmiths are rocket scientists so, I looked up Bill Austin who, as it happens, is a rocket scientist as well as a 1911 enthusiast. He fitted the Wilson extractor and expressed disgust at the flimsy excuse for an out-of-spec extractor that had come with the pistol. He was very impressed with the bushing wrench tight, barrel fitting provided by Alex and approved mightily of the action work.

Several hundred additional rounds down range find the pistol functioning 100 percent with my hand loads and the occasional batch of premium factory load. All it took was: (1) The initial purchase; (2) replacement of a couple of major parts; (3) a detailed accuracy job by one of the top custom pistol smiths; (4) a visit to the rocket scientist who built the first titanium rocket motor cases and designed a great many of the drive components of the original Space Shuttle.

It would appear that the sun has not yet set on the Pistol Smith who specializes rather heavily on the 1911 design. The CEO of L.M. Burney Distributors told me that none (and he emphasized NONE) of the manufacturers of the pistol and its variations are immune from sending out periodic runs of pistols that are not ready to shoot. He said that this had been true since he entered the industry four decades ago and will probably remain true pretty much forever.

The prospect of buying a new pistol and then having to have it finished by experts is understandably disgusting to many. Care and a bit of luck in choosing your experts can make it a pleasant experience. Hamilton is a true gentleman and an encyclopedia of the arcane art of the handgun. The people at Brownell’s are good enough to keep a comprehensive stock of parts to replace those that fall victim to the devolution in the 1911 marketplace. Retired Rocketdyne Engineer Bill Austin knows the Colt /Browning from stem to stern and is also a piece of walking living history in regard to twentieth century rocketry and the space program.

The end product is an amalgam of history that will shoot every bit as well as the match pistols at Camp Perry and can even keep up with the best of my center fire target revolvers.

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