By John Taffin, American Handgunner
I’m not sure when the first “replica” or non-Colt 1911 appeared, but for more than 75 years 1911 and Colt were synonymous except for wartime emergencies. Today we not only have excellent examples of 1911’s from Colt we also have several handfuls of other companies producing the legendary .45 ACP. With that in mind we herein look at Taffin’s Top .45 1911’s from “other” manufacturers.
When it comes to .45’s on the 1911 platform we have dozens upon dozens of choices and new manufacturers continue to enter the market. I certainly have not tested every manufacturer’s offerings, however over the past 50-plus years I’ve had the great good fortune of testing a good sampling of .45’s.
The first 1911, in fact my first big bore handgun, was a military surplus, government-issued Remington-Rand .45. It has been replaced many times over by everything from a circa 1914 Commercial Model to highly customized Commanders by Jimmy Clark and Bill Wilson. When I first met Bill Wilson too many years ago he was a watchmaker turned pistolsmith. Over the years he has provided high quality 1911 parts and is also a manufacturer, Wilson Combat, producing his own line of quality 1911’s.
My Wilson .45 is a Commander-sized Professional. It’s fitted with 3-dot night sights, Beavertail grip safety, skeletonized trigger, Commander-style hammer and a tapered cone-shaped barrel instead of a bushing. Both the front strap and flat mainspring housing are fine line checkered. I have added Herrett’s skip checkered walnut grip panels making this a highly attractive pistol. More importantly it’s totally reliable and exceptionally accurate. It would be hard to find a better example of a Commander-sized fighting handgun than this Wilson Professional.
In between my first 1911 and Wilson Professional have been .45’s from Colt, Kimber, Springfield Armory, Auto-Ordnance, USFA, Dan Wesson, Taurus, Smith & Wesson and recently, Iver Johnson and Ruger. In the early 1950’s the standard Government Model was given a shorter barrel and the alloy grip frame to become the Commander, which was soon offered in a steel frame as well.
Several companies have vied with each other to see who could make the smallest 1911, and even double action versions have been offered by several companies. Whatever one desires in a 1911 is readily available and it’s second only to the AR15 in the number of add-on and custom parts being offered.
Iver Johnson is the latest manufacturerto offer 1911’s. Pictured are the Eagle, Hawk and 1911A1 all chambered in .45.
Spares And Pairs
In the early days of GUNS Magazine, Kent Bellah taught me the idea of “a pair and a spare,” that is, if you have a good gun make sure you have backups. Actually I now have several examples of the pair philosophy with several manufacturers represented. Several companies have gone back to the original roots of the 1911 offering their version of the original pre-World War I 1911’s. Those I shoot on a regular basis are the Auto-Ordnance 1911, Iver Johnson 1911A1, Springfield Armory Mil-Spec and USFA 1911. These can be combined for several pair-and-a-spare combinations.
The Springfield Armory TRP .45 is classified as a Tactical pistol, it says so right on the left side of the frame, and is not only a great shooting semi-automatic it also has everything anyone could possibly want in a combat-style .45 and is one of the best looking .45’s I have. The looks come from the fact it’s brushed stainless steel set off by an exceptionally attractive set of Herrett’s checkered stocks. These grip panels are checkered dark wood with smooth yellow diamonds. Combined with the checkered front strap and flat mainspring housing they provide an exceptionally secure gripping surface. Standard features include ambidextrous safety, Commander-style hammer, Beavertail grip safety with memory bump, low riding 3-dot sights, skeletonized aluminum trigger and beveled magazine well. I would have no trouble whatsoever choosing this Springfield .45 for self-defense use.
Two other Springfield Armory .45’s rank high on my favorites list. One is the no-frills Mil-Spec. As the name implies it’s a military-styled .45 with no doodads. Sights are upgraded to give a good square sight picture, however, everything else is pretty much standard 1911. I bought this .45 as one of a pair of Mil-Specs, the other being in .38 Super. They both shoot so well and to point of aim I have done nothing with them except apply good looking Herrett grip panels.
Next comes one of Springfield Armory’s latest 1911’s, the Range Officer. This is not a bare-bones .45 but rather a pistol with everything needed for competition or otherwise and no unneeded extras. I especially appreciate the fully adjustable sights. Whether it’s the TRP, Mil-Spec, or Range Officer .45 from Springfield Armory they are high on my favored list of 1911’s.
Plain and fancy .45’s from Springfield Armory, TRP and Mil-Spec. Stocks are by Herrett’s.
The number one producer of .45’s is Kimber. They are constantly innovating as they produce some exceptionally fine 1911’s. I recently acquired a Kimber Stainless Target II chambered in .45 and it’s an excellent .45, but my Kimber of choice for carry is the Custom CDPII. This is a full sized 1911 different from most any other 1911 in that it has a lightweight alloy frame. It’s a full-sized 1911 — which carries like a Lightweight Commander. In addition to being about 10 ounces lighter than a standard 1911 it’s also fully melted.
Sights are 3-dot combat style, front strap and flat mainspring housing are fully checkered, I’ve added checkered cocobolo grip panels from Herrett’s, the safety is ambidextrous, trigger is lightweight aluminum and the Commander-style hammer is mated up with a Beavertail grip safety. It not only shoots very well it also packs easy.
Kimber’s Compact Aluminum model of the V10 has a 3″ barrel and short grip frame making it also very easy to conceal. It has a skeletonized trigger, low riding combat sights, Beavertail grip safety and of course, Herrett’s grip panels now, this time in the checkered double-diamond pattern. What makes it different from the steel V10 is the fact the frame is aluminum making it quite a bit lighter. We often hear complaints from those who say the small-sized pseudo-1911’s are not reliable. I have not used either version extensively, however what use they have seen has never put their reliability into question.
Compact Aluminum and full-sized Kimber CDPII .45’s; stocks are by Herrett’s.
Life used to be so simple. Ruger made single action Blackhawks, Smith & Wesson produced the world’s finest double action sixguns, Iver Johnson made inexpensive .22’s, and then Dan Wesson came along producing the most used long range silhouette sixguns. Now all of them, along with Taurus, produce 1911’s. The Taurus PT1911 really shook up the market offering a 1911 with all the custom features normally found on more expensive guns and did it with a price tag of under $600.
Dan Wesson made some of the best long-range revolvers ever offered, however they discovered they could produce 1911’s with less machine time and sell them for more money. Their Patriot is an excellent 1911.
Iver Johnson is importing 1911’s made to their specifications from the Philippines. I have tested, and subsequently purchased, their full-sized Eagle, Commander-sized Hawk and 1911 Models, all of which have proven to be accurate and reliable.
Smith & Wesson now has a long line of 1911’s. Mine is one of the earlier models purchased from a friend who needed money for a hunting trip. It has proven to be exceptionally accurate.
In 2011 Ruger joined the ranks of the 1911 manufacturers with their SR 1911. Everything about Ruger’s SR1911 is basically the same as the original design from John Browning. It’s a basic 1911 carried out in stainless steel with “RUGER” on the slide. As expected, Ruger did just about everything right and shooters began waiting to see what would come next.
Well, next arrived two years later and it was the Ruger SR1911 Commander. The sights on the Ruger 1911 are excellent and the same sights have been carried over to the Commander version. Both the front and rear sights are set in a dovetail and can be adjusted for windage. They are Novak-style set low, and there are no sharp edges on the rear sight to injure the hand when a quick positive operation of the slide is used to chamber a cartridge. Sights are black with white dots and provide a good square, easy to see (for me) sight picture.
Once Ruger had both the 1911 and the Commander exceptionally well carried out in stainless steel, the next step was a second Commander which, like the original Colt, has an alloy frame. This cuts seven ounces off the weight of the stainless steel Commander. This may not sound like much but comparing them side-by-side it feels like a significant amount and definitely does so when either one is carried all day. The lightweight Ruger Commander has a polished titanium feed ramp; this cuts down on wear as cartridges enter the chamber.
Old line revolver manufacturers are offering 1911’s, as seen by Dan Wesson’s Patriot and the Taurus PT1911. Stocks are by Herrett’s with leather by El Paso and the Leather Arsenal.
A Special Edition
Ruger has been a major part of my shooting life since I bought my first .22 Single-Six in 1956. Thirty years ago I started a group called The Shootists and for a celebration of the 30th Anniversary Ruger, through Lipseys (a wholesale distributor), provided 1911 Rugers specially marked and wearing night sights and custom grips. These have already become favorite .45’s not only for the connection with a group which is very special to me but also due to the fact they are quality 1911’s. My Ruger 1911’s will eventually be passed on to my grandsons or perhaps even future great grandkids. These 1911’s are simply timeless and always up-to-date.
Who could have ever predicted the 1911 Colt (left) would be joined by examples from Smith & Wesson and Ruger? Mastodon ivories are by Gary Reeder.
Taffin really does like the Ruger 1911! A pair of Shootists 30th Anniversary Rugers flanked by a lightweight and steel Commander, and the basic 1911 .45 ACP.
Old School Gun
Finally we come to my “beater” 1911. A good friend of mine who was a WWII veteran passed on a few years ago and I wound up with his two pistols. One was a High Standard HD Military .22 and the other his .45 ACP 1911. His wife did not know where the .45 was but I did and told her to just look under the bed. It is a relatively inexpensive Auto-Ord-nance and I call it a beater gun meaning it is one, unlike my fully engraved Colt, which I or anyone else in the family can carry without worrying about scratching or hurting the finish, which is typical military dull. With rubber grip panels it’s not what one would call an attractive pistol, however it always works and shoots to point of aim; plus it belonged to someone pretty special.
It’s been a long ride with the 1911, both Colts and others. I wish there were as many shooting years in front of me as there are behind, but be that as it may I’ve been totally blessed and if I never get to shoot another 1911, I have definitely been fulfilled.
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