Kimber Solo Carry 9x19mm Pistol
By David Tong
It is a long-standing view of mine that sub-compact handguns are expert’s weapons. Compared to a compact, the smaller handguns generally have smaller grips or grip frames, smaller sights, shorter sight radius and smaller internal parts. Generally speaking, they also are chambered in smaller and less effective calibers, which means that the shooter has even a greater onus to produce quick accuracy on demand with the limitations of the platform.
Thus, the old axiom of “There’s always a trade-off” is a particularly apt one. While many of the small handguns may be mechanically quite accurate while either shot from a Ransom Rest or over sandbags on a nice warm sunny day, the practical accuracy, governed by the shooter’s interaction with the piece, may become problematic.
The continuing march toward nationwide concealed carry continues. While states such as California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and the Washington District of Columbia continue to Lord over their populace as subjects, rather than the citizens they are, legally packing a handgun has been shown over the past two decades to reduce violent crime in every state or city in which it is allowed. For many, this means that a very discreet firearm is desired, both light and small.
It is fair to say that Kimber designed a new pistol from scratch, borrowing some common operating features, but shrink-wrapping it into a quality package with some unique characteristics. What makes the Solo stand apart is its 1911-like ergonomic package, including grip angle, rounded contours and thumb safety placement. The Solo’s 1911-style ergonomics have been enhanced by milling a high hand hold area for one’s middle finger under the rear trigger guard and a small inset radius is cut into the rear strap to shorten the reach to the trigger. Bucking the trend toward plastic frames, the Solo’s 7075-T7 aluminum alloy frame provides another 1.5 ounces of weight compared to the plastic-framed Kahr PM9 (See the Kahr PM9 / Kimber Solo Comparison article on the Handgun Information page), but with nearly identical dimensions.
It resembles the “DAO” Kahr in its trigger, as well. Kimber states that the Solo’s trigger is “single-action,” but in operation and feel it greatly resembles the Kahr. The Solo’s striker is pre-cocked by about 90% and the approximately ½” length of pull completes the final 10% as well as depresses the firing pin block to allow the striker to fall. It is said that much of the “take-up” before the striker falls is the feel of the block being depressed. Its pull of a stated seven pounds is functionally equivalent to the Kahr in feel, while shorter in stroke length. It can be considered interchangeable to most shooters. It feels lighter than this because of its smoothness.
In my world at least, a single action only trigger means that a crisp release of a striker, as on a bolt-action rifle, SA revolver, or a hammer drop on a 1911, is the result of a sear that only disengages its seating surface on that striker or hammer. There should be no noticeable difference in feel of that pull when it gets to the point of release and no tactile warning to the shooter that it is about to transpire.
While the Solo is not a “double action only” design, it simply does not qualify as SA, as most of us understand that term. Like a true single action, there is no ability to trigger cock the piece or second strike capability, but neither is it DAO for the same reason.
Kimber Solo Carry Specifications
The more rounded shape on the top and rear of the slide remind me of the old Colt Pocket 1903 and 1908 .380s, not a bad design to emulate for CCW. It will not snag when drawn from a pocket.
Much has been bandied about on the Internet about the ammunition sensitivity of the Solo. Its requirement of 124 - 147 grain bullets in order to provide the proper pressure curve for reliable function is essentially correct, though warmer 115 grain loads can also be used successfully.
An abbreviated range trip to the Albany Rifle and Pistol Club range in Shedd, Oregon illustrated this well. Ammunition fired included Sellier & Bellot’s 124 grain FMJ, PMC 115 grain FMJ and Remington Golden Saber 124 grain +P JHP. Only one failure to lock the slide back was noted and this with the 115gr ammunition.
While that was the only malfunction, 3”-5” five shot groups at 25 yards could be considered barely acceptable, compared to a standard full sized service pistol, or even a compact version of same. The Golden Saber, unsurprisingly, turned in the best group.
A second trip to the range in fading light, firing Winchester White Box 115 grain FMJ, Cor-Bon 115 grain +P JHP (using the Sierra truncated cone hollow cavity bullet) and Federal Classic 147 grain JHP confirmed that the Solo is fairly accommodating in its ammunition digestion, eating them all, but bobbling the last full ejection of the weaker 115 ball round. 115 grain ball is largely an American innovation, while the official NATO load and the original German 9x19mm load was always 124 grains and loaded to higher pressure and velocity than our homegrown interpretation.
Shooting from a carpeted tripod rest in poor light, three 5-shot groups with the Cor-Bon and Federal loads produced some pretty rotten 5” to 6”groups. While the pistol’s high visibility sights appeared fairly well regulated for point of aim and point of impact, I believe the designers of this pistol would consider this beyond the intended use and range.
There is an old and well-known saw that FBI statistics indicate most self-defense shootings occur at seven yards or less. Actually, and what should be particularly frightening to those who carry in a clumsy or slow way, or do not practice to a high level, is that most of these shootings occur at 7 feet or less.
If the pistol has not been presented on target from start of draw from its carry location within about one second, one might not have enough time. It may be nice to believe that you are so situationally aware that you will always have it out and ready to go, but this may not be the reality. One should always train to deal with the worst case scenario.
I admittedly did struggle with the long trigger stroke and my amber shooting glasses well after dusk. The Solo’s trigger is best managed by using one’s first joint, rather than the pad of the index finger, again much as a double-action trigger would be used. One does run the risk of less precise control and feel using it this method.
I did not note any peculiarities in function when trying a slightly looser grip instead of the “firm handshake” grip. This indicates that the Solo does function well, given its size. One should simply use a locked wrist, same as any other pistol. However, recoil control is easier when one’s grip is tighter.
While there is no question that the Solo can be used effectively in so-called center of mass shooting and reasonably well controlled in rapid fire, the human being pressing the trigger had best practice with it a lot. As it sits, even given my experience with a lot of other designs, I do not feel confident in my ability to execute a “hostage rescue” type head shot with the Solo beyond 10 yards or so.
Another thing became quite evident. While the hot 9mm rounds fired certainly barked and recoiled, especially the Cor-Bon 115 +P, even these felt less intense against the web of my hand than the less capable .38 Special 125 grain +P in the Ruger LCR snubby revolver. That revolver's recoil felt punishing, even with the standard pressure 158 grain RNL police service round and it only weighs about an ounce less than the Solo.
The fast slide cycling means that the short, six round magazine has a very stout spring, as does the relatively lightweight slide. Kimber recommends replacing the recoil spring assembly every 1,000 rounds. At retail this is a $35.00 expense.
I would not wish to be fumbling around trying to rack the slide from Condition Three if I found myself in a defensive shooting situation, because of the difficulty in doing it against both of these springs with this small and slightly clumsy arm. When starting from a fully loaded magazine and a closed slide, overcoming both springs to chamber a cartridge, dropping the magazine, topping it off and re-seating it all require above average effort.
Unsurprisingly, the short sight radius and trigger pull four-to-five times the weight of the pistol means that one’s basic shooting skills had best be good. Other subcompact pistols I have fired, including the Glock 26, Kahr CW45, S&W Shield and Taurus 709 Slim, were easier to obtain first-round or fast repeat hits with than the Solo at first blush. I would like another ½” of barrel length and sight radius, to produce a tad more velocity and sighting precision. The easily seen sights have the usual three white dots and allow plenty of light around the rear sight notch.
Field stripping is straightforward for anyone familiar with a CZ-75. Remove the magazine. Clear the chamber. Racking the slide back to the disassembly notch and removing the slide stop from the frame, pulling the trigger and push forward to remove the slide group. The recoil spring and barrel are removed from below.
However, the key point of reassembly involves ENSURING that the slide stop’s return spring, a very tiny music wire part held captive in the frame by a small stainless machine screw under the left grip panel, must be engaged in a small slot on the rear of the slide stop when the latter is pressed into place. I found this rather difficult and needed to press the spring outwardly from within the magazine well to make sure it protruded enough for the slide stop to capture it. If this is not done, there is no stopping the slide stop from “popping up” under recoil and locking the slide open. If there is an Achilles’ heel to the Solo design, it is this issue.
The way to ensure that the slide stop return spring is in its correct position after assembly is to push upward on the slide stop to verify that spring pressure is pushing down. If you don’t feel this, take the Solo apart and reassemble it properly.
Another matter that came to my attention was the sheet metal trigger bar could jump its seat when the trigger is pulled for disassembly, before the slide is removed. I had to remove the left side stock and push it gently back into place with the slide in battery, using a large Allen wrench as a lever. The portion of the trigger bar that depresses the firing pin safety plunger cannot be placed back into its seat unless the slide is in battery. This is a semi-circular, skeletonized tab just visible above the right side grip panel.
The problem is that the trigger needs to be pressed, with the magazine removed for safety’s sake, as per the manual, before field stripping can commence. When the trigger bar jumps its seat, the pistol cannot be stripped. It seems to me, with this particular example anyway, that the pistol’s (EMPTY) magazine should remain in place to keep the trigger bar against the inside of the frame during dry fire practice.
Operating within these parameters and accepting that the Solo is more difficult to shoot accurately than a larger gun (that might be left home by many shooters) is the trade off one makes when choosing the Solo for concealed carry. In addition, while 124 grain FMJ practice ammo is available in theory, in most stores one will only find the far more ubiquitous 115 grain 9x19mm fodder that may not work reliably. This means that, for those who do not handload, practice with the Solo will require using the premium grade JHP defense ammo called for by Kimber, which will quickly become prohibitively expensive for many.
I noticed some loss of the sprayed on “Kim-Pro II” black finish on the inside of the dust cover, due to the recoil spring rubbing on this area. Although this is not be a functional, or even aesthetic, issue, I would prefer a more durable, military-grade Type III hard-anodized finish, or a Cerakote finish.
The instruction manual states that the pistol’s design does not require much lubrication. The recommended lubricant is a light oil, such as Shooter’s Choice Firepower FP-10, which is a CLP type lube that does not remove copper fouling. I used this and it worked fine in my testing.
The manual cautions against using grease. However, I used a small amount of my preferred Tetra Gun Grease without ill effect on functioning and it should reduce the wear on the frame rails. There were no functional issues with my use of the heavier lubricant during my test firing sessions.
The pistol’s magazine release has a very stout spring. With the short butt, releasing a fully loaded magazine can be difficult. The extra heavy recoil spring and the heavy magazine spring make it difficult to rack the Solo's slide to chamber a round. To avoid extractor damage, one should not simply drop a round into the chamber and drop the slide onto the case rim.
Field stripping and reassembling the pistol is also quite a bit more difficult than most other modern sub-compacts. While it does not require tools of any kind, one had best use your right hand to hold back the slide, using the rear sight as an abutment and your thumb around the top of the backstrap, before attempting to (precisely) replace that slide stop; no easy task against the super heavy recoil spring.
While the Solo shoots and functions well for a pistol of its type, the combination of very light weight, heavy long stroke trigger and somewhat coarse sights means that it is not a pistol for stand-off situations or precision shooting. It would be best used in “normal” self-defense situations at ranges from the muzzle to, perhaps, 15 yards. This would include the vast majority of legally defensible self-defense scenarios, so the Solo covers its intended purposes pretty well.
In many ways, the Solo is a pistol that is perplexing in the modern age of autoloading pistols that do not require a detailed maintenance regimen, do not require above average hand strength to operate, and function reliably with virtually all types of ammunition. It is also one of the few Browning style, short recoil actions that still use the original locking lug and matching slide recess to allow the slide to unlock only when pressures have dropped to a safe level.
For all of that, the Solo is a viable choice where its flatness, non-snag profile and adequate power are compelling assets to those willing and able to put up with its quirks. The 9x19mm cartridge is sized appropriately for a sub-compact carry gun that is no bigger than it has to be to get the job done at close range. Only you can decide whether the Kimber Solo Carry's attributes and operation floats your boat.
Note: There is another review of the Kimber Solo Carry on the Product Reviews page.
Copyright 2012 by David Tong and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.