Technical Discussion of 1911 Style Pistols in 9x19 Chambering


July 19, 2013, 10:07 AM
I've had my eye on the Springfield EMP for years, but their cost has been out of my reach, and their availability has been nil in my area.

Preferring workingman's (a wonderful euphemism) firearms generally, I've been curious about 1911 pistols chambered for 9x19, particularly in the Officer's configuration, for use as a carry piece. I've had my eye on the STI Spartan III, for example- a near perfect amalgam of price, manual of arms, and cartridge, for my needs.

It's commonly perceived that 1911 style pistols chambered in .45acp have reliability problems with barrels shorter than 4.5". The reasoning behind this is well documented and not particularly relevant for further discussion here, especially the particular flavor that revolves around the 'J HOVA Browning designed it that way, so don't blaspheme his Great Works' argument (sorry for the cheap Shawn Carter reference).

Anyway, to the point:

What factors will affect the reliability of a 1911 style pistol with a sub 4.5" barrel chambered in 9x19, assuming a known quality manufacturer?

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July 19, 2013, 10:44 AM
Magazines are critical, as would be the case with any auto loader, but in the case of a 9MM 1911 the mag body is longer (front to back) than the round. The EMP you were considering doesn't count since the entire gun is shrunk down to 9MM/.40S&W size.

There are a variety of ways to get those short rounds to work in a mag size designed for a .45ACP length cartridge. Some have a spacer in the back of the tube. Wilson and Tripp use this technique, but each do it slightly differently. The Springfield/Metalform mags use an indentation at the leading edge of the mag to shorten the tube for the shorter rounds. Some believe the Springfield/Metalform design is a better one, but others will say Wilson and Tripp build a better product. I don't know what style the STI pistols use.

Todd Green spends some time covering magazines with his 9MM 1911 test. He is using a fullsize gun, but makers should also cover the smaller gun you desire.

This article discusses the Metalform mags.

July 19, 2013, 11:31 AM
OK, thanks for the heads up and links to articles on magazines.

Anyone have any thoughts on things like action timing of a 3.5" 1911 in 9mm? What would be different between this variant and the issues created by a 3.5" 1911 in .45acp?

July 19, 2013, 03:20 PM
Lemmy, A few thoughts and some experience. I have owned and operated a number of 9MM 1911s since the '70s, to include Colt, Kimber, Dan Wesson, Springfield,etc. I have not personally owned any 9MM 1911 types smaller than the Commander. As JTQ mentioned, magazines tend to be even more critical in the small 1911 types than in full sized guns. Mechanically, the slides of the small guns are lighter, recoil springs tend to be heavier to compensate, slide velocities are higher due to lighter slides coupled with stout recoil springs,barrel geometry is different on locking/unlocking due to the short slide. These factors all effect the action timing you mentioned. All issues certainly, but manufactureres seem to have figured it all out now days. BTW, one feature of many 9MM 1911s in production now, is the ramped type barrels. Within my humble experience, this is a big plus for feed reliability with all bullet shapes in the 9MM 1911s. As to 9MM 1911 magazines, all except one type I have used or examined over the years were of the same basic design. The may be of different quality, of different materials,use different followers, springs, feed lips,etc, but all but one used some form of spacer in the rear of the magazine body. The one that is different in design than all others is the Metalform "Springfield Front Ramp" type. This is the one that I have come to prefer in my current 9MM 1911s. While mine are the full sized, I believe they make one for the mini 9MMs too.

A couple of the most unreliable 1911 "types" I've ever had experience with were the Colt Officers ACP, not in 9MM, but in the original .45aCP caliber, that one might think would be reliable. Both thankfully owned by other people. A family member's 9MM EMP, did require a trip back to the factory, but since has been totally reliable with every type of ammo we've tried.

July 19, 2013, 03:24 PM
It's actually 1911 pattern pistols with barrel's shorter than 4.25" (and Colt & most other manufacturers modified the frame and barrel design nominally to maximize slide travel). That's probably the biggest reason (outside of the Colt Officers Model) most design's 4" or less use bushingless barrels.

They also use specific dual recoil spring setup's, and hopefully properly tuned extractors & ejectors. Timing becomes more critical. There's just less margin for error getting the spent case out, not outrunning the magazine, etc.

Add to that a cartridge that is both shorter, narrower, and typically less powerful energy-wise than what the pistol was designed around - the margin gets even smaller. I even read awhile back about configuring extractors to "push feed" or snap over the rim if necessary to help avoid feeding problems.

9mm pistols with 3" barrels, funky recoil spring things, push-feeding, ramped barrels and magazines with a ramp (like the MetalForm's) - man, at some point is it really a 1911-type pistol anymore?

I've messed with 9mm & .38 Super on the platform for awhile. The furthest away from the original design I'm willing to stray (and assume I can reach carry-type reliability) is a 4.25" gun in .38 Super. My opinion anyway.


July 19, 2013, 04:30 PM
I bought a Rock Island compact in 9mm a while back. I was surprised that it did not have a ramped barrel.

So far I have about 500 rounds through it and have not one single malfunction. Even using really light reloads. The gun just flat works. And it's really easy shooting.

July 19, 2013, 06:15 PM

Thanks for the info. Very helpful, even as anecdote. It would seem that a 3.5" 1911 style pistol in 9mm from a reputable manufacturer would be good to go, barring the occasional lemon that all manufacturers seem to put out once in a while.


There seems to be a contradiction in what you're saying here. The .45acp pistols in barrels fewer than 4.25" in length have reliability problems because the cartridge is too powerful for the reduced slide weight, thus requiring stronger recoil springs, resulting in reduced dwell time due to faster movement of the action on both strokes. The 9x19 cartridge, being less powerful and having lower recoil energy, would not require quite as heavy a spring, and would result in a longer dwell time. Would this not seem to be the case?

The conundrum with magazines would seem that in the non-Metalform mags, with the cartridge forward in the magazine, one is actually increasing the effective dwell time, as the slide has to move all the way to the rear, then forward the extra length of the spacer, before picking up the round. This theoretically should reduce the chance of magazine override. But the explanation of the design of the Metalform magazine seems to imply that nosediving due to odd feed angles in the 9x19 is more of a concern than overriding caused by short dwell time.

And, yes, at a certain point it isn't really a 1911 anymore, which is why I have been careful to call them '1911 style' pistols. I have no specific attachment to the purity of the design. The ergonomics of the design and the manual of arms suit my hands, the way I shoot, and my safety mindset. 9x19 meets my needs as a defensive caliber, including the budget necessary to train. And the Officer's frame suits my small stature and desire to carry concealed. I'm trying to balance those demands. The Springfield EMP meets those needs and has an excellent reputation, but to date has been beyond my means. If an STI Spartan III offers the same ergos and reliability, at half the price, it becomes more of a possibility for me.

Double Naught Spy
July 19, 2013, 06:25 PM
I have an EMP and Springfield Loaded (full size) 1911s in 9mm. The loaded is okay but the 9x19 doesn't have the power to work through a dirty action after a few hundred rounds, but works well until then.

The EMP is non-standard size 1911, but the tiniest of the EMP series, shoots great, conceals great, fits my hand like a dream because of the smaller grip, and is a joy to shoot.

Getting to your query, it does not appear to have cycling issues. In fact, cycling issues should not be a problem in guns with shorter slides when using 9x19 given that the less powerful cartridge (than .45 acp) works in better harmony (timing issues) with the shorter and lighter slides.

If you buy an EMP or Springfield in general, take advantage of the coupon that comes with the gun and order a bunch of factory mags with the coupon and whatever other spare parts you think you might want. It is a good deal (or used to be).

July 19, 2013, 06:29 PM
STI sends the Spartan with Meralform mags, with the indentation JTQ was talking about. I also have some checkmate mags with the same, and I like them.

I have Mec Gar mags with the spacer behind the rounds, and it will not feed hollow points. It nose dives the rounds into the feed ramp every single time.

One thing about 9mm 1911's is the extractor. There's not much rim to the 9mm, so extractor tension needs to be on the tight side. My Sparran IV was too loose from the factory, causing FTE. Easy fix if it needs to be fone

July 19, 2013, 10:41 PM
Really any 1911-type shorter than 4.25" with the aforementioned frame and barrel mods. Good point on smaller (ergo lighter) used with less powerful cartridges. That would make sense though I still believe the margin for reliable function gets narrower (is that even a word?). Earlier (many up to & through the 70's anyway) 9mm & .38 Super Commanders had slide lightening cuts. I don't know if Colt or other mfr's. continued the practice (my newest Cmdrs. are all pre 1980). I suspect not, but again, these had an inherently better shot at functioning properly. Using the Super, a variety of spring weights and magazines have proven reliable. More than one, but it's still anecdotal so take it FWIW.

The 9mm on the other hand has addl. issues. I don't give a lot of credence to the tapered cartridge thing, but it's there. Plenty of single stack 9's that work fine and those of mine I've never had a problem with. I think it's a combination of things stemming from the shorter, smaller cartridge.

You are basically counting on the magazine design AND consistency to cover for a pistol designed for bigger stuff. The magazine is usually the most disposable part the weapon system. Even if they're well manufactured and held to consistent tolerances, they're still one of the less durable components.

Also FWIW, in my usage, I haven't found the MetalForm "ramped front" magazines to be any more reliable than the original Colt design.

I looked at the EMP when it first came out. They apparently had some teething problems (probably not unexpected), but by all recent accounts Springfield has them working well now. My trepidation comes from being locked into a sole supplier for parts (so far) and i believe magazines. I have had my fair share of issues with SA small parts over the years. Maybe they're better now. I guess it's no different with many pistols but tough for some reason with a 1911. And you're right, they are overpriced.

Even so, if i really wanted to carry a small 9mm 1911-type pistol, I'd spring for an EMP or find a nice Star BM, BKM, or BKS. Hard to find parts for those too though.


July 20, 2013, 07:27 AM
I think it's problematic to consider the magazine as a separate part from the weapon. It has to be viewed as a system.

We're butchering JMB's design plenty in other regards- shorter frame, shorter slide, smaller round. What makes a magazine different enough to count it as a special deal breaker? A Colt made in 1911 and personally hand inspected by JMB is going to have issues if you stuff a bad magazine in it.

The EMP is certainly the right approach. Take the best things about the 1911 design and create a derivative new design built from the ground up around the ammunition you want to fire in it.

But this isn't to say that it's impossible to do an excellent job retrofitting the existing design to new criteria. The Commander did exactly this, and had the good fortune to have worked reliably early on. The Officer had more teething problems, but people seem to have those running reliably enough to trust them for SD use.

But I guess short of having the mechanical designer who developed a 3.5" 1911 style 9mm come on here and explain exactly the R&D process that got the pistol to pass the QA process and make it to market, we're just going to be speculating, and would be better off trading anecdotal notes on reliability of pistols in the wild.

July 20, 2013, 01:09 PM
Regarding the magazine - that's exactly what I meant. You can't separate them. I hear and read scores of accounts about the 3" 1911's saying "x" pistol has "never had a failure..." often followed by "that was the guns fault", "unless I limp-wristed it", "except for this ammo", "with this type if bullet", and "except with this magazine".

I've got a couple Govt. models in .45 that have never had any type of failure. I've used magazines with notably different spring strengths, feed lip designs, etc. I've used heavier and lighter recoil and hammer springs, and finally about every possible bullet type. I don't think a mini-size would tolerate some of those variables, in combination or not.

I do think a fair amount of work has gone into making the "mini 1911" weapon system reliable. My std. practice is 200'ish trouble free down the tube (alternating magazines) before I'll carry it. With a mini, it'd be 200 through with EACH magazine and probably 20-50 after every change of the recoil assembly.


July 20, 2013, 04:28 PM
10-4, funnel-

I concur. Looks like the next time I'm up to the local STI dealer, I'll be placing an order for a Spartan III in 9x19.

Jim Watson
July 20, 2013, 11:12 PM
We started out here at a 4.5" barrel, which was ok, because a real Colt Commander has a 4.25" barrel and was originally designed as a 9mm for 1950 NATO interoperability.
Rear spacer magazines, shorter slide travel are ok because the cartridge is shorter. Plain two part feed ramp is ok because it was meant for hardball, not fancy hollowpoints not then invented. (But my 1991A1 does ok with hollowpoints.)

Now we are down into the subcompacts, which are more problematical.
As said, maybe the lesser recoil of the 9mm makes them easier to set up with their lower slide mass and spring space.
But one thing about a short 1911 mutant can't be escaped. The barrel drops at the breech to unlock. It has to drop the same distance in all guns of the design. But it drops at a greater angle with the shorter barrels. This has the effect of making the steep integral feed ramp common in smallbores, effectively even steeper as the round is coming out of the magazine.
For example, I have a Springfield Ultra Compact 9mm, one of the last made before they were discontinued in favor of the even smaller (and higher priced) EMP. Its integral barrel ramp, a generally good idea in an aluminum frame, took some serious recontouring to make it a reliable FEED ramp with JHPs. A five inch 9mm of the same make took some attention but not as much change in shape and angle.

July 21, 2013, 12:05 AM
Jim W-

Do the shorter slides in fact travel a shorter distance? I would have assumed that the slide on any model would only travel far enough to eject a .45acp round.

But the barrel tilt angle is not something I'd considered. Thanks for pointing that out. I suppose I'd have to look carefully at the construction of the feed ramps to understand why they couldn't inherently be made to accommodate that increased angle at the factory. Though I guess that a shallower angle feed ramp would also imply a longer feed ramp, which might interfere with a rear blocked magazine with the rounds pushed up front. The Metalform mags wouldn't necessarily have that problem, but they were a later design, and apparently unique from more commonly available 9x19 mags.

July 21, 2013, 12:40 AM
They do travel a shorter distance.

Good choice (IMO) on the STI/ Armscor hybrid. I don't think there's a comparable shorty 9mm variant at the price point. Also, STI is reputed to have excellent customer service.


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