Best starter 1911 for around $500-$650?

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Aug 26, 2009
Seattle, WA
Hey all,

After reading so much on the forum I finally registered and now I have a question of my own. I searched for some of the previous threads posting this question but prices and supply fluctuates so damn much these days.

So, I'm in the market for my first 1911 and I've been doing tons of research on a good starter 1911. I'm basically torn between a Springfield Mil-Spec stainless and a Rock Island tactical stainless. I like the classic look of the mil-spec and am hoping to upgrade to a beavertail, skeleton hammer and skeleton trigger. Does anyone have an idea how much those three upgrades would cost? Or where to find a decent priced Springer mil-spec? Thanks! Any input on a first 1911 with either simple tactical upgrades or a vanilla stainless I can upgrade for less than an arm and a leg would be helpful!

out of those 2 id go Springer. if you look around you can get yourself an STI Spartan which is an amazing 1911 esspesally for the price
A lot of 1911 first timers buy the Mil Spec pistols. If they are shooters, most want to upgrade to better sights, hammer, and beaver tail at a minimum. By doing this they have as much or more invested in the gun that already has these amenities. Go with something range ready. The Spartan, Springfield Loaded, and the Taurus PT1911 all have these features. All good guns. Haven't owned a Spartan, but know a couple of guys who own them. They speak highly of them. I still own a half dozen 1911s more expensive than these. None are a better value for the money. Paid under $500 otd for the Taurus. Best $500 1911 I've owned. I reluctantly traded for a problematic RIA Tactical. I think I have it where it will run now. Gotta get out and test it. Many swear by the RIA, My experience has not been good. But it's the cheapest way to get into a 1911 with the basic amenities. Good luck! May your experience be a good one.
Thanks, seems like STI is pretty popular. Does it come in stainless or just the standard gov't style?
Is changing out the trigger, grip safety to beavertail, and hammer, pretty difficult? Or would I HAVE to go to a gunsmith for it?
For the price, Rock Island Tactical for sure.

I have a couple, and love them. They eat anything I feed them without
a hic-cup.
RIA Tactical, without a doubt. But FYI, it's not stainless, it's a brushed/satin nickel plate finish. Put some pretty grips on it and you're set!


I thought Rock Island wasn't making 1911s anymore.

RIA's are actually made by Armscor, same as the High Standard 1911's, some frames for STI, and formerly the Charles Daly 1911's.
Is changing out the trigger, grip safety to beavertail, and hammer, pretty difficult? Or would I HAVE to go to a gunsmith for it?

All pretty basic if you don't have to do a lot of fitting. I'd go ahead and buy the hammer with the matching sear and disconnector. The grip safety often requires the most fitting of the parts mentioned. A jig is available from Brownell's for that purpose. It'd hardly be worth it tho for just one job. I'm sure you could get a "Drop In" to work to your satisfaction. There's lots of information and "How To" videos out there to learn from. Good luck!
I figured it out. I bought a bare bones SA at a gun show and studied how to fix it up. I am not a gun smith but if you check out some of the old threads here you can find a lot of info on how to change all that stuff. I would however recomend you get what you want without having to do all that work on it. I did it because I just wanted to learn as much as possible about how the 1911 works and I just like tinkering with stuff.
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PM waterhouse for an STI Spartan. He's an authorized dealer for STI and got me mine for WELL under the MSRP.

Barrel lock-up is fantastic, trigger is a crisp 4lbs with minimal creep, and frame/slide fit is very nice.

Here's what it looks like now:


A THR member did the color work, and the grips are VZ gatorbacks.
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If you're planning on upgrading it, you should just buy the gun that has the stuff on it that you already want. It's a lot less $. Trust me, unless you're building a high dollar full custom 1911 you don't want to be paying a gunsmith to fit a whole bunch of parts onto a $450 gun. What you end up with is a gun that is still worth $450 but you spent twice that on.

Now, if you are looking for an inexpensive pistol that you want to tinker with and you are comfortable with fitting new parts and customizing it yourself, go right ahead and get a base model and tinker away. I say go for something like the STI spartan or search for a deal on a SA Loaded. They are the guns that already have the features that you want, but won't cost an arm and a leg.
I've never fired a Rock Island so I can't offer any advice on that piece. I have owned a Llama, aka Firestorm and would advise to stay away from that piece of junk. I have a SA GI .45 and it's performed flawlessly. I've had it for years and for a starter pistol it's great. If you want the white dot or night sights you're going to pay a little more, so be prepared. There are many pistols out there that might suit you. I'm in Law Enforcement and my agency carries Glocks. A nice model 23 .40 S&W carries about the same ballistics as a .45 but a little more velocity. I wasn't a fan of Glock until I actually fired one and now I love them. Never had an accidental discharge and they'll perform great even in the rain and haven't been cleaned in a few weeks.
I'd recommend any of those mentioned, and I can second the Taurus 1911. It's functionally a very good piece of work. There IS a small problem with some of the ambidextrous safetys breaking off, but apparently you can get a wilson combat replacment for very cheap and be done with that.
For $500 to $650, get a used Colt - a Series 70 (hard to find in that price range), or a late model (post 2000) 1991 80 Series. Great quality, great reliability. I've bought maybe three in that price range the last few years, two in the last year. You can find barely shot, like-new late model 1991s all the time in that range.
I can't say enough good things

about my Taurus 1911. Over 1800 rounds through it with only 3 failure to feeds all of which were were bad reloads. If I were yo buy another budget 1911 it would either be another Taurus or the RIA tactical. I like the bells and whistles. Plain jane guns with skimpy sights don't do it for me. Replacing a lot of parts on a new gun is expensive. The STI spartan also has a lot going for it. If you want plain Jane I might also suggest the Para GI.
That's a lot of positive comments for the Taurus. I might have to try one out. I do like the ambidextrous safety. Being a lefty is very inconvenient at times. How does the PT1911 do with +P ammunition? I know it won't be fed box after box but some pistols don't like those hot rounds.
For less than a C note above your price you can get a new Colt.

If your price is a hard set price, I'd strongly reccomend a Springfield GI.
Thanks for all the info, the only reason I'd want a vanilla mil-spec or something is so I could make a project out of it and learn to upgrade it, but I guess if it's going to cost me so much maybe I'm better off going with a basic upgraded one.

Also, my local gun shop dealer has a used Kimber Stainless TLE II he wants to sell me for $899, exactly HOW good of a deal is that? It's listed at the store for $1099, so he's knockin off $200. I'd say about 200 rounds have gone thru it and it shows a little bit of wear and tiny rust spots mostly from carrying I think. any thoughts? should I just go for it at that price?

STI Spartans don't come in stainless do they :( I'm hard set on getting a stainless or nickel 1911
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