Basic 1911 education please...


March 28, 2003, 10:06 PM
I am looking for a 1911 and am entirely overwhelmed by the variety and features, not to mention the numerous manufacturers.

Used is perfectly fine, all I want is a basic 1911 with decent sights with no front cocking serrations, ambidextrous safety etc..
In fact I'd prefer one with character. I intend on upgrading as I feel I need it.
On with the questions.
What is a good price for a basic 1911 new/used?
I had a Springfield 1911 Loaded. I was not impressed, the 1911 feel was great, ergonomics were perfect. Full size yet very concealable.
But, I could also use any edges of the pistol to shave. The rear sight fell out after less than 200 rounds. It did not feed reliably at all. After I sold the problem child, the next owner had the treat of having the hammer shear off shooting bullseye target loads. So I don't want another Springfield.
What is the difference between series 70 and 80 Colts? What should I look for in a Colt?
Are Norinco or Rock Island Arsenal any good?
Full length guide rods, are they necessary?
I read about a US Army Armorer who makes custom 1911's and he recommended the original style guide rod length for better reliability.
Any advice would be great.

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March 28, 2003, 10:18 PM
Well, I'd agree with your position on the SA weapons. Mine was a lemon and I don't regret parting with it, either.

The Series 70 Colt differs from the Series 80 only in that the S80 has a firing pin block that prevents an accidental discharge if you drop the weapon from 30 feet. It's a lawyer-thing and only adds three small parts to the firing mechanism. I have one and don't feel that it makes the trigger-pull any worse than a straight S70. The only downside is that those three extra parts are small and can be hard to control when you do a detail strip. I like mine plenty and will be getting another just as soon as possible.

If I was looking for a cheap S70, I would look at the Argentinian Systema. This is an exact Colt replica made in Argentina by Colt-trained machinists, on Colt machines. They can be had from cdnn-investments for around $300 and they are great weapons. The only downside is that the rollmarks will be in spanish. Great start-up piece, though, and probably something that'll make it's way to my house soon.

Rock Island and Norinco aren't my favorites. Norinco is from Communist China and I don' t like that at all. RI is from the phillipines and a lot of folks talk about shoddy parts/fit/finish when they talk about RI. I don't have any personal experience with them and feel that it's better to save a bit longer for a weapon from a known maker like Colt, Kimber, Springfield, Baer, Wilson, Yost, et al.

Prices vary considerably but you can find great deals at where I bought my Colt. Great prices and selection if you search around some. Depending on what you look at and where you live, you can expect a used price in the range of $400-600. Everything depends on brand-name and specific features like target/tritium sights.

March 29, 2003, 09:58 AM
Once again I'll recommend a used Kimber.
You can get over its front slide-slashes; just don't look :what:

March 29, 2003, 12:53 PM
If you decide to sell, you'll take a lot less of a beating (if you bought new) and it'll be 'way easier to sell quickly.

Norinco and RI are questionable. Stay with Colt or Kimber. I've not heard many bad things about SA, so your experience surprises me; they'd have been the other company I'd have recommended. I've heard good and bad about Para Ordnance.

The Series 70 Colts are much more desirable than the Series 80(in the public's mind) and demand a higher price; the Series 80 safety can be converted back to a '70, but the rollmark and serial number will always declare the gun as a Series 80.

The jury's hung on FLGR's. Some people like them and think they allow uniform contraction of the recoil spring, and others say they don't hurt, but it makes disassembly in the field impossible without a bushing wrench.

What to look for in a Colt? this advice is for any 1911: A very tight slide-to-frame fit is highly touted by Les Baer and his customers, but the general consensus among most'smiths I talked to, is that barrel-to-frame fit is much more important. Estimates are that the barrel-to-frame lockup contribute anywhere from 90-95% of the inherent accuracy. Years ago, I had a Colt Government Model slide rattle on the frame and still give me 2" at 25yd. (I went back to the 'smith and apologized for being overly picky about slide-to-frame fit. But the barrel didn't move hardly at all in the slide, it was tight as a snare drum. He smiled and said, "you wanted a combat gun".) A smooth trigger with a little takeup and no backlash is ideal, but some takeup (more) should be desirable in a combat gun. It should break fairly cleanly; like glass is not necessary. Hair triggers are for play. Out to 15-20yd (even 25yd) fixed sights are fine; some kind of 'melted' sight that won't snag, yet gives a good, easy to acquire sight picture. The rest of the custom accessories--beavertail, extended thumb safety, etc., is up to your personal tastes. You'd be better off deciding what features you want on your gun and buying it that way; adding accessories later is a money-losing endeavor. That's a lot like building your own street racer; you'll never get your money back for the labor, and just barely for the parts. Buy it how you'd like it if you can. Maybe you can try out different models at the range if you approach the shooters right.

A couple of years ago, Kimbers were touted as making the best 45acp for the money, comparing gun for gun with any other manufacturer. Lately, some folks think that Colt is starting show 'old world' quality again; I haven't seen a new Colt. I prefer the old ones anyway, both for style and appreciation of value.

I'd take a long look at the auction sites before buying, and give myself 2-3 months to look at the offerings just to educate myself on current prices. That way, when the right deal comes up, you'll be confident jumping on it, knowing you paid the right price. There are some fantastic bargains out there in this economy, but you also have to know who's so in love with their 45 they want top dollar.

I'd look at these auction sites to find average prices:

Gunbroker (the EBay of guns--some buyers get really carried away)

GunsAmerica (generally, more realistic prices, at least from the private parties)

Auction Arms

If you don't mind buying outside of auctions from private internet sales, you can find better prices here:

March 29, 2003, 01:01 PM
Another vote for a used Kimber.
Especialy a Series I
Lot more goodies for the money IMO

Don't like front serrations either.

Tip: electrical tape over VCR clock...clock is never showing wrong time...cover serrations for that 'T' look ...kidding ;)

March 29, 2003, 02:58 PM
Well, I've had nothing but positive experiences with Springfields so I can't agree with your anti-SA sentiments. I think the latest Springfields (with ambi thumb safety) are probably the very best value today if you're wanting the so-called 'custom' features. But your experience is your experience and I understand not wanting to go through it again.

If I were looking for a 1911 platform gun on a budget, I'd probably look for an early 80's Colt 1991A1. I'd try to find one under $400 that wasn't in too bad a shape. I'd buy it, clean it, and put a couple hundred rounds through it. I'd get on a good well-known 'smith's list - I like Ned Christiansen, he's excellent and prices are reasonable - and have him change what you'd like changed. A new trigger and trigger job, basic reliability package, all new springs should be $250 or so and we're still around the price of a new Springfield Loaded. If you have problems with hammer bite, you could have the hammer bobbed and get a lighter firing pin so another $100.

For a NIB in box that is pretty much good to go as is, the new rollmark Colt 1991A1 is a good bet.

March 29, 2003, 03:29 PM
Like others have said, buying a name brand 1911 is a good way to go. I agree that used is a good decision since someone else takes the loss selling a pistol bought as new, and your cost will be less. Since you do not want a Springfield Armory pistol, I would look at Colt and Kimber specs. See if one of the pistols from either of those companies is what you want. Once you make your decision, hit the local shops, the pawn shops, the gun shows, and GunsAmerica to see if you can find it.

My personal choice would be one of the stainless original rollmarked Colt M1991A1 pistols; the new rollmark pistols are getting all of the attention, and the older pistols are selling at a nice discount. Stainless allows you to work on the pistol without the need for refinishing, and scratches can be polished out of the steel. Colt forges both the slides and frames, which many people believe is the best way to do it. Colt barrels usually shoot very well, so you should have a the basis for a nice pistol.

It may be a good idea to take your new purchase to a reputable pistolsmith to insure it is safe; one of the perils of pre-owned 1911's is figuring out what work the previous owner did or had done.

Good luck and have fun.

[eta]I do not believe a full-length guide rod is necessary or even preferable. The GI spring and plug design works just fine.

March 29, 2003, 03:48 PM
Whatever I get I am planning on taking it to Evolution Gun Works for a going over and the defense package since they are 10 min from my house.

March 29, 2003, 04:14 PM
He may help with your decision.

March 29, 2003, 07:30 PM
If your looking for a new 1911 good luck there is not much out there worth buying and here is why.

The original 1911 built to John Browning specs with quality parts was without a doubt the ultimate fighting handgun with nothing in recent times that even comes close to rugged reliablity or ease of maintenace.

But you will not find any new ones for sale because they are not being made anymore to John Browning specs.

Most of the 1911's made today are being made with junk MIM Cast parts and this now includes even the old line prestige companies like Colt. Kimber crames every MIM cast part into it that they can. Even new high end guns that cost $2,000 or more are using cast parts instead of quality forged parts and one must pay them even more to have the cast parts replaced with quality forged parts.

Even high end guns that are what we would call semi-custom
guns are not fully finished often requiring the owner to break in the gun just to get it to work because it was not completely finished at the factory due to the high labor costs of fitting the frame to the slide. They make the fit tight of course but then do not finish the job of hand fitting the slide to frame for proper functioning. A properly made custom target 1911 does not need to have 2,000 rounds put through it just to make it function properly.

Springfield uses a two piece silver soldered together barrel and I believe it is either they or Kimber that does not even bother to pin the ejector to the frame anymore but just glues it in place with locktite.

I have seen even Colt use junk plastic mainspring housings and junk plastic triggers.

Kimber and the new S&W 1911 use the Swartze grip safety that operates a passive firing pin safety. As reported by "Gun Tests" it takes about 6 lbs of pressure to deactivate the passive firing pin safety that renders the gun completely useless for target shooting and many people cannot even make this type of weapon fire half the time without remembering to put the grip safety in a death like grip that would rival the grip of Arnold Swartzenegger. A trial lawyers special if there ever was one.

I personnaly was looking last year for a 1911 and rejected all the modern made garbage and bought an older Colt that was unfired. It was made of quality forgings and the only change I made to it was to put in some heavy duty springs from Wolf and have a professional trigger job done on it. Accuracy and reliability were outstanding and the outside finish rivaled any of the rough finishes one gets stuck with on the clones being made by other companies that produce look alike 1911's.

I would buy today an early G series 70 Colt ( the G being at the begining of the serial number not at the end. ( late G series 70's , had problems with accuracy and reliability.

A pre-series 70 Colt is also a good buy and when you consider what big bucks they are asking for todays junk the asking price for pre-series 70's and eary Series 70's are a absolute steal.

If you do not have the patients, time or money to buy an original 1911 be prepared to have your new gun completely rebuilt with quality parts just to make it work, not to mention having the barrel fiitted to the slide to make it shoot accurately.

If money is no object an alternative would be to have a custom smith of long standing reputation build a 1911 from the ground up using quality parts and a hand fitting match quality barrel. There are a lot of smiths around who do such work and some of the small part time smiths often do a better job than some of the rush them through big name boys. You just have research the reputation of the smith in question before forking over any money. I like to be able to talk face to face with any smith that is going to work on my guns because if there is a problem or disappointment it is often far more easy to remedy it than trying to get ahold of a big name smith on the phone.

Also remember the more bells and whistles you put on the weapon the more it will cost. If you are like most people and are going to use the gun for recreation , really all you need is a good set of high visibilty adjustable sights, a good trigger pull, and of course a pistol that was built to shoot accurately. Anything else is just bells & whistles.

I personnaly do not need front and back strap checkering. It abrades the hand during long firing sessions. I hate wild beaver tale grip safety's (they prevent you from holding the hammer back when running the slide forward). I do not need front of the slide checkering ( a good way to blow your hand off). I do not like speed hammers, in my opinion they are less reliable in ignition, I do not need electric clocks inletted into the slide or pictures of scantily clad women engraved on the slide. I try and stick as close to the original John Browning design as is possible.

Chuck Dye
March 29, 2003, 08:15 PM
Anyone interested in 1911's should read the books by Jerry Kuhnhausen. Buy locally if you can, or check out for new copies, and for new and used copies.

March 30, 2003, 02:30 AM
You should read everything BHP9 has said.

It is mostly true - but also only one of many points of view. I would throw him in the "purist" bin.

It is true that most 1911s are not made to JMBs specs - but that is really only a bad thing if you are trying to research what the original 1911s were like. I think there are many newer guns that are as goos as the originals. However, I do not believe you can get theses for under $1k and even in the teens, you gotta be careful.

Also - many people are very emotive about the evils of Metal Injection Mold parts. From talking to one of the best custom smiths, he does not have a problem with them as long as they are made right.

What I would do - kind of what I did do - buy a used piece and use it for a while - shoot it a LOT. Figure out what you like and dont like and then either replace it or have it changed to your liking.

Oh, and if you want the best 1911 for the money, check out

Thats $1300-$1400 that you will not regret spending.

Jerry Morris
March 30, 2003, 04:47 AM
Go for the recent Colt's 1991A1. I like them better than my Kimber Custom Target II. I don't care for the slide serrations, either. Front aren't needed and the rear Kimber style are slippery to my hand.

Colt's uses fewer MIM parts. I believe they may have quit them altogether. The Nylon main spring housing and trigger shoe are ok with me. They are not highly stressed and Nylon is self lubricating. Only thing i can't abide on the 1991A1 is the white dot sights. My eyes are getting too old for them.


March 30, 2003, 05:31 AM
Heh, I paid to have the white dots added to mine :)

Everyone has a different idea of how a 1911 should be setup.

Personally, I like the 1911 "system" more than "tradition" - that is, I like the modernized sights, grip checkering, etc.

The mil-spec ones I do not care for much...

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