Springfieldís 1911A1 "G.I." Model 1911 Pistol

By David Tong

Springfield 1911A1
Illustration courtesy of Springfield Armory, Inc.

As most regular readers of Guns and Shooting Online know, I have owned and shot the Model 1911 for over thirty years now. I used to work for one of the premier "old school" pistolsmiths in the country, Mr. James Hoag of Canoga Park, CA, so in all honesty, itís sort of tough for me to be impressed by many 1911s, especially as delivered from the factory. In a lot of ways, the basic design and its human engineering overcomes the manufacturing deficiencies and shortcuts in which several companies engage.

In the "old days," one bought a Colt; there was simply no other choice. Then one might spend anywhere between 2-5 times as much as the pistol itself to render the piece more suitable for its envisioned usage.

Mostly, this was driven by the labor-intensive nature of the piece itself. It simply costs more to manufacture the 1911 than it does to injection mold a Glock frame, for instance, and the Colt factory at that time seemed uninterested in building specialized combat, defense, or target pistols. Sadly, in that time, this grand old firm saw its market share of 1911 sales diminish, and later outright plunge to the point that in todayís market, probably over 90% of the 1911 pattern pistols one can purchase at your local gun shop arenít even "the original."

I had purchased my first Springfield "1911A1" in 1986, and was immediately taken by the slide to frame fit, the out of the box trigger pull, and the fairly smooth machine work inside and out. It also didnít hurt that the price of this parkerized, G.I. style handgun was about 60% of a Colt Government Model.

After many thousands of rounds of shooting, not only was this pistol even smoother operating, there was little wear evident, as the lockup and slide and frame fit was still consistent with the way it came from the box. This indicated to me that Springfield had taken the time to use properly hardened steel in its construction. The only thing that sort of bothered me was their use of angled cocking serrations, instead of the original John Browning vertical ones, but this is a style issue.

I purchased another one of these rather basic military models again in 2006. Now, even Springfield is not immune to the rising costs of manufacture. They do employ modern CNC machining, the current barrels on their less expensive models are two piece, silver soldered together in the fashion of Browning Hi-Power barrels, and there were more sharp edges on the slide than I like, requiring some dehorning to keep my leather holsters and fingers from being chewed-up during use.

It is pretty well known that IMBEL of Brazil has forged the slides and frames for Springfield for most of their production. Lest anyone think this is a negative, let me say that my earlier experience with their first generation pistol, along with IMBELís experience in formerly building the FN-FAL rifle for the Brazilian military, indicates a consistency of quality assurance procedures that must make it pretty easy for Springfield to create a cost effective arm for the American shooter at a low price point.

The later pistol also features vertical cocking serrations and a barrel feed ramp that approximates that of a Colt Series 70-80. It has been partially "throated" from 4-to-8 oíclock to enhance feed reliability with ammunition other than G.I. round nose hardball.

From the box, Springfield pistol had a trigger pull of 5 pounds 1 ounce, with minimal take up and over travel. This, with some shooting, disassembly, and application of Tetra gun grease on the sear and hammer, has dropped to about 4.75 lbs.

There have been a number of other additional technical changes. Among these is the use of a titanium "9mm/.38 Super" diameter firing pin with an extra power firing pin spring, in order to provide some "drop safety" against accidental discharge without adding a spring loaded plunger as Kimber and Smith & Wesson, among others, use. The half-cock notch has also been eliminated on the later pistols, and now is simply a flat machined onto the hammer which will allow one to pull the trigger from this near "at rest" position to drop the hammer without discharging the pistol. The use of their patented integrated locking system, or "ILS," which is a key that can lock the mainspring to render the pistol, allowing the pistolís sale even in the Peopleís Republic of California, which mandates a lock be sold or equipped to any arm sold there. There are no plastic pieces used in the construction of this pistol at all, which is a refreshing change from todayís typical cost-cutting model.

After decades of shooting 1911s from different manufacturers, returning to a W.W. II G.I. pattern pistol meant dealing with the old thumbnail front sight and diminutive rear sight, which are hard to see under any but daylight use. The stock thumb safety is fairly stiff operating, plus it was also a 1950s era part in style, so I replaced it with the "proper" piece with a tiny thumb piece and stamped checkering. I also fitted GI style plastic stocks, more for correct aesthetics than feel or function.

The pistol functions perfectly with either 230 grain "hardball" or the Federal Hydra-Shok JHP rounds of the same weight. Both rounds, unsurprisingly, shot to the same point of aim. 5-shot groups run about 3 inches at 25 yards with Federal/American Eagle ball from a sandbagged bench rest.

There were no malfunctions of any kind. Those tiny sights would have made actually hitting with the piece difficult if it hadnít been for the wonderful 1911 trigger, whose minimal travel and fast reset have made it a favorite with both civilian and military users for nearly a century.

When I returned home, after cleaning the pistol, I detail stripped it and through some judicious tuning of springs and re-lubricating, I was able to reduce the trigger pull to about 4.25 lbs. without touching the sear and hammer notches. Simple, and easy to do if one is familiar with the operating system, unlike so many other more modern designs which require an armorerís manual, specialized tooling, and three hands to accomplish the same task.

When you consider rising labor costs, the costs of fighting both frivolous lawsuits and anti-gun legislation, along with the rising liability insurance rates that plague the firearms industry, itís amazing to me that the price of this pistol has little more than doubled in over 20 years. While Iím not so sure Iíd like to have one of the G.I. models as my only 1911, it does present one with the same "blank canvas" we shooters had 30 years ago. It's ideal if one wants to customize and personalize a government model .45, instead of buying a semi-custom pistol for more money.

In any event, itís a splendid pistol for the money, and makes me fondly recall the original G.I. pistol my assistant Scoutmaster handed me in 1975 that was my first acquaintance of the grand old sidearm. In the final analysis, one can surely do worse than acquiring one of these pistols for a fine self-defense handgun for minimal outlay.

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Copyright 2007 by David Tong. All rights reserved.