By Barrett Tillman, American Handgunner
It’s hard to believe: there are action shooters who have little if any idea of who Jeff Cooper was. It’s as if baseball players never heard of Abner Doubleday (who may not have invented the game). But the comparison is valid.
Jeff’s influence was enormous. He was published for almost 50 years, and most of his books remain in print today. So does his advocacy of the M1911 .45 cal. pistol, of which he said, “Try as we may, we just do not seem to be able to surpass it.”
The November 1987 issue of Guns & Ammo contained a seminal article. Jeff wrote “The Serious Pistol,” describing the basic requirements for a defensive 1911. It was based on the then-new Gunsite Service Pistol (GSP) which, in Jeff’s words, had “everything you need and nothing that you do not.” The necessary features were high-visibility sights, a crisp four-pound trigger and all sharp edges “dehorned.” The “nice to have” features included a lowered ejection port, beveled magazine well, throated and polished feed ramp and tuned extractor.
Today the ROBAR Companies in Phoenix are working with the Jeff Cooper Legacy Foundation to produce two Jeff Cooper Legacy Pistols. The Serious Pistol (TSP) follows as closely as possible Jeff’s original concept while the Jeff Cooper Pistol (JCP) duplicates his own carry 1911.
History With Cooper
Nobody is better qualified to produce the Jeff pistols than Robbie Barrkman, principal of Robar. Jeff and Janelle sponsored him to immigrate to the US from South Africa where he had been a leading IPSC competitor. Robbie settled at Gunsite in 1977, serving as an instructor and the company gunsmith.
Today Robbie says, “Jeff’s influence went far beyond equipment and doctrine. He is the genesis of training today. I think every leading instructor either learned from Jeff or from his first generation of instructors. But he also inspired all the action shooting sports, and his financial influence is enormous. Just look at all the 1911 clones and the after-market parts and leather. That’s Jeff, almost entirely.”
The Design Elements
The Legacy Pistols are based on Remsport frames and slides, produced on CNC machinery from heat treated 4140 forgings. Remsport also provides the national match barrels and bushings fitted to the slide. Barrels are produced from 416R stainless steel with a 1:16 left-hand twist. The innards are a combination of Ed Brown, C&S Tactical Match and Wilson products. Both pistols use Wilson springs.
Fit and finish are superb on both guns with meticulous attention to detail. The slide to frame fit is perfect and there’s no lateral wiggle as the trigger sits in the receiver. Run a finger over the rear of the slide and you’ll feel no gaps or ridges at the extractor, and almost none with mating of the slide to the rails. Similarly, the Ed Brown memory-groove grip safety has only the minimal clearance necessary to operate inside the frame.
When engaged, the Gunsite low mount thumb safety leaves a smidgen of fore-and-aft play in the slide as is needed, a touch often overlooked by 1911 gunsmiths. It’s strictly personal preference, but many shooters like the Gunsite low configuration thumb safety because it doubles as an ergonomic rest for the right thumb when the safety is disengaged.
The Remsport slides on both versions have forward cocking serrations, a feature absent on the GSP but I don’t remember if Jeff’s two-tone Sunday go-to-meeting gun had them. As per Jeff’s specifications, surfaces on TSP and JCP pistols are thoroughly rounded. You can run a hand over the entire gun without feeling any edges other than the front sights and hammers.
Both 1911’s have straight mainspring housings, finished differently. The beveled magazine wells are expertly finished, though not as acute as later iterations. Triggers are Greider/Videckis with a short length of pull. The release on both pistols is sublime: extremely crisp without creep or over-travel. The JCP’s trigger is blessed by the ballistic angels, a perfect 3-pound weight. It provides more than a surprise break — I’d call it an astonished break. The TSP is almost as heavenly: 4 pounds but just as crisp.
Jeff’s carry guns had ramped front sights because he always wore a Yaqui slide, but both legacy guns have conventional front posts. The stocks are VZ Grips Double Diamond rosewood with beveled bottom, including a thumb groove on the left panel for easier access to the magazine release.
Neither model requires a bushing wrench, so you can disassemble either by hand. It’s further proof a tight pistol needn’t be difficult to manipulate, anymore than close tolerances affect reliability. The Legacy pistols achieve a near-perfect combination of reliability, accuracy and usability.
The Serious Pistol
The Serious Pistol is at once a working gun and an attractive artifact. Robar calls the overall Poly T2 finish “Gun Metal Grey,” resembling Parkerizing. It’s highlighted by the NP-3 hammer, slide stop, thumb and grip safeties. The frame is stippled on the front strap and on the straight mainspring housing.
Like the original GSP, Robar’s has a bobbed hammer and short trigger, with TSP engraved on the slide. Robar’s general manager, Freddie Blish (like Jeff, a former Marine lieutenant colonel) says, “We couldn’t find any grip safeties that aren’t duck tails, so that part of Jeff’s concept isn’t possible.”
Purists might want to install a GI grip safety to avoid the duck (aka beaver) tail anachronism. Jeff, who insisted he’d seen both types of tails, preferred the avian description. In another Cooper variation, the straight mainspring housing is made with an indent and crosspiece at the bottom for attaching a lanyard.
The Serious Pistol has Novak sights with Trijicon three-dot inserts. They work as advertised in the dark, with a greenish glow.
The Jeff Cooper Pistol
The JCP comes in Cooper’s “patented” two-tone IPSC finish: Robar’s NP-3 electroless nickel frame and blued slide. Jeff’s personal pen and sword logo appears on the right side of the slide, in gold. The Robar emblem is etched on the opposite side, non-contrasting with the deep bluing.
NP-3 parts include a Commander hammer, grip and thumb safeties, and barrel bushing. In a concession to modernity, the JCP has an Ed Brown rear sight (Jeff’s had a Bomar) with a brass plug in the front. Both sights fit solidly in their dovetails.
A sidebar about the IPSC finish. About 1985 I obtained a .380 Colt Mustang for seasonal wear in the Great Sonoran Desert. Ernie Hill even made an inside the pants holster for it. But Robbie and API operations officer Russ Showers relieved me of the new acquisition — I mean, they took it away from me, saying, “We’ll get back to you.”
Time passed. So long in fact I forgot I owned the thing. Then one day a box appeared at my office in San Diego. Dang if it wasn’t the missing Mustang, with blue-over-nickel finish and high visibility sights. Cute as could be. I don’t know for sure but suspect it was one of Robbie’s early IPSC custom finishes. I still have it.
Reliability And Accuracy
Let’s face it, an accurate defensive pistol is nowhere as desirable as a reliable defensive pistol. But it’s really nice when you can have both, and the Legacy .45’s deliver that combination.
I began functioning tests with empty cases in two magazines. Both pistols chambered the hulls without a hitch — definitely a good start.
Next, with three friends I tested six types of ammo in both guns: two types of hardball and a bullseye match round, plus Winchester, Speer and Remington hollow points. The Winchester HPs were from a box of 230-grainers Jeff gave me for my 50th birthday in 19 mumble-mumble. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to use the “legacy ammo” in the legacy pistols. Every brand and configuration of ammo functioned flawlessly, about 350 rounds total.
The Winchester Clean-Cutting 185 semi-wadcutters performed very well, putting five rounds into 1-1/8″ to 1-1/2″ at 15 yards in both pistols. The fixed sights on the pre-production TSP shot about 5″ high at 15 yards, grouping hardball into 1-1/4″.
Back at 25 the elevation in the TSP shot 9” high, confirming the need for a taller front sight (which has been done on production guns). But accuracy held up with groups of 2-1/4″. We also tried Speer Gold Dot 230’s which, with a hotter load, printed 5-1/2″ at 25 yards, with a 3-1/2″ spread.
Normally I sight my pistols at 25 yards since it represents the minimum width of most urban streets. We adjusted the JCP’s rear sight so it was centered for deflection and a bit high. At 25 I expended some of Jeff’s Winchester HP’s in the JCP, putting all five into 4″. With two other shooters, Federal Match from the same gun ran about 3-1/2″.
Then we moved to 50.
Target photos from the 1980’s show the original GSP could shoot hardball into 6″ at 50 yards. The TSP’s high hits at 15 and 25 discouraged us from trying it at 50 so we limited that test to the JCP. Using a police photo target, my pal Rick Furr shot for center of mass and put four of five into 6″. With my own 62-year-old eyes the front sight looks like a used gray Q-tip. Then he tried an off-the-table head shot and placed that round as if by hand: in the geometric center of the hostile sunglasses’ nose bridge.
At that same distance, squinting around my cataract, five rounds from the JCP went into 6″ extreme spread. I held on the neck for a better aim point and plunked three in the optic region with brackets on either side.
Some people wonder if Jeff were here today whether he might consider a rail on one or both pistols. That’s doubtful. He did not advocate lights on firearms in most circumstances because that unavoidably means pointing the gun at a potential target to identify it. In his era, before lights were routinely affixed to handguns, he taught the Harries technique with the light in the support hand. It was the same reason he recommended binoculars for hunters — to avoid “scoping” an object which might be non-hostile.
Then And Now
In typical prose, Jeff began his 1987 GSP article by defining the mission: “The purpose of a pistol is to stop fights. Therefore, the ‘service’ to which a service pistol is properly put is that of instantaneous self-defense, at short range, without advance notice.”
Twenty-eight years later, the definition and the equipment endure. If I may insert a personal note, when I took my Gunsite basic pistol class in early 1978 (the second full year of operation), Jeff was an imposing 57-year-old. When he died in 2006 I was a 57-year-old beneficiary of his instruction and friendship. Holding the Legacy guns, it’s easy to default to the classroom where Jeff held forth, his GSP cocked and locked in the Milt Sparks yaqui slide.
Not many shooters will carry a $3,000 pistol where it might be used. In that case the authorities will take it for the investigation and you might not get it back for years, if ever. However, I know a severely serious practitioner who often carries a $2,000-1911, one of about 40 he admits owning. But there’s something satisfying about having a custom-built firearm. I had Robar build me a celebratory New Detonics when my first novel was published, and Robbie even added custom engraved stocks. Earning a present for yourself is rewarding on multiple levels, including the pleasure of having an heirloom for your posterity.
The start-up Legacy guns are built as orders are received, first come, first served. Robar estimates a four-month delivery time, though the company hopes to have some in stock as orders accumulate, and should by the time you read this.
The JCP retails for $2,995; the TSP for $2,895. Every Legacy Pistol sold will generate $100 to the Jeff Cooper Legacy Foundation, which provides Gunsite scholarships to deserving students, whether individual citizens, police, or military personnel.
Jeff’s daughter, Lindy Wisdom, says, “We of The Jeff Cooper Legacy Foundation are grateful to everyone at Robar for undertaking this project with such obvious care and attention to detail. The TSP and the JCP are terrific products and are definitely weapons of which my father would approve. The gift of a donation to our Foundation is an added bonus for which we have reason to thank Robbie and Freddie even more. You can be sure we will put it to good use in preserving, protecting and defending our Second Amendment.”