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The Battle of the American .45 ACP Pistols, late 80s to early 90s edition.

Discussion in 'Handguns: Autoloaders' started by Miami_JBT, Nov 22, 2020.

  1. Miami_JBT

    Miami_JBT Member

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    The late 1980s and early 1990s was an era of rapid transformation and transition. The last final gasps of the Revolver as the Primary Duty Sidearm of American Law Enforcement was being heard. Criminals, Cops, and Citizens alike were rearming themselves with the latest and greatest of the Wonder-Nines. This article is in no way about those guns. Instead, this article is going in a different direction. The same direction that some Police, Citizens, and Ne'er-do-wells went. Today, we're talking about the .45 ACP, or more importantly. Two pistols of the era that were chambered in them.

    Yes, you read that right. We're goig to discuss the two guns chambered in the cartridge that Americans romanticize about but has always been treated as the stepchild in the Law Enforcement world. The biggest hurdle that the .45 ACP has always faced has been its size. Many love the 230gr behemoth because it harkens back to the days of cavalry charges with sabers and shooting a horse out from under its rider. But that also was its detriment. The size of the .45 ACP meant it was and is a big mamajama of a cartridge and to fit it in guns, you need a big old honking chunk of steel. And today we're looking at two massive chunks of American made steel.

    Colt's Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company of Hartford, Connecticut has been making guns in .45 ACP since 1905. They invented the bloody thing. So it makes since that one of the guns we'd be looking at is a Colt. I know, some here are gonna ask, "is it the Colt Series 90 Double Eagle?" Alas dear reader, no it is not. For you see, I am poor and have not found one yet at poor people prices. No, the gun we're discussing today is a gun made for poor people like me; the Colt 1991A1 Government Model.

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    Colt took the basic MK IV Series 80 Government Model 1911 and looked at what could be changed to lower manufacturing and production costs. One of the things Colt learned from their competitors was that at the time, the no-nonsense military look was actually selling well. Both the Norinco and Springfield Armory made guns looked like WWII era USGI contract guns. Luckily for Colt, that meant less time finishing the guns. Instead of the polishing and blueing; a "no frills tough guy attitude" set of features was included. A matte parkerized finish was applied, black plastic grip instead of woods, a nylon mainspring housing and trigger pad instead of alloy, a set of plain black sights, and they shipped from the factory with two seven round magazines.

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    Also, with a bit of clever marketing, a simple "COLT M1991A1" slide rollmark and the serial number range picked up where the original USGI contract pistols left off in 1945. Colt even cashed in on the general gnashing of teeth that former service members and gun aficionados had towatds towards the adoption of the 9mm and the Beretta as the new military service pistol and had it all ready for release by it's name sake, in 1991.

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    The other gun we're looking at is a gun of 80s Reaganesque Awesomeness that comes to us by the Smith & Wesson Company of Springfield, Massachusetts. S&W had some history with the .45 ACP, but prior to 1985, all of the company's endeavors with the cartridge was with N-Frame Revolvers like the M1917, Model of 1955, and the Model 25 & 625. S&W was doing fairly well with their 1st and 2nd generations of their DA/SA 9mm guns. But the market was demanding something in .45 ACP. So after some fiddling around with math, science, and gun alchemy. The Mod 645 was born in 1985 and replaced in 1988 by the 3rd generation Model 4506.

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    Taking everything S&W learned from their 9mm guns, they produced a hell of a gun in stainless steel. Everything on it is stainless steel except the plastic orange insert in the front sight and the carbon steel rear sight. Shipping from the factory with two eight round magazines and wearing a set of plastic checkered grips. You got a hell of a gun.

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    But this gun was not cheap new, even in 1980s Cocaine Fueled Economic Stimulus Money. S&W pushed this gun heavily and it even became the "star" of Miami Vice in season 3 & 4. This gun was marketed as being so cool, it required a windbreaker.

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    Yup, that's what is being compared to today. A 1980s Movie Star and a 1990s Grizzled Old War Vet. But both have their share of charms in their own way. The Colt weighs in at 2.3lbs and the S&W just tops it at 2.4lbs. Both sport a five inch barrel and have been slightly changed by me.

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    My Colt is wearing a pair of period Hogue wrap around grips the the S&W is wearing a pair of Pachmayr Signature grips. I also swapped out the main spring housing on the Colt for an arched one. You can clearly see the 1911 inspiration in the 645. The slide profile and general layout shows it, but with the modern touches like a ambidextrous slide mounted safety/decocker and squared off combat trigger guard that was all the rage then. The sights are similar too, but the S&W just has a little bit more flair in theirs.

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    Neither are bad and my blind self is able to see the sights clearly and feel confident and comfortable in using both.

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    Another difference between the guns is the extractors. The Colt has the ever classic internal extractor while the S&W has an external one. Both guns are reliable enough that they feed and extract empty shell casings.

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    Capacity is what you'd expect. The factory shipped the Colt with seven round mags, but I have a pile of Colt eight rounders. So both guns are equal with an 8+1 capacity. Also, both mags are all metal with metal floor plates.

    Both guns take down in a similar fashion too. Unload, remove the magazine, pull the slide back about half way, and drift out the takedown/slide stop pin.

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    The Colt breaks down into nine parts. The Colt likes to eject the recoil spring plug half way to the Moon.

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    The S&W breaks down into seven parts. It has no recoil spring plug and no removable barrel bushing. But it sure does love to launch the guide ride to Pluto.

    Okay, now that we got the nitty gritty techno junk out of the way. Let's look at what's really important. Worthless personal opinions from a cop who's professionally carried nothing but GLOCKS in 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 GAP in his entire decade and a half career!

    So, the Colt of course being a Series 80 1911, it has the firing in block safety installed and that is something true dyed in the wool 1911 aficionados hate. Why? Because they claim it ruins the sweet succulent pull of a 1911's trigger. Me personally, I don't care much and can't really tell the difference. Having cut my teeth as a wee pup on guns like a Beretta 92FS and a S&W Mod 64. I pretty much don't begrudge what some consider a bad SA trigger pull.

    Honest, I don't mind the factory trigger on a Series 80 1911. The gun shoots fine to me for its intended task. Being able to sling 230rd chunks of copper jacketed lead at paper and bad guys. Being a SAO gun, I'm fine with that too. But I can tell you this, Agency Administration would have a heart attack for the most part in seeing a cocked and locked 1911 in a Patrolman's holster. Yes, I know some agencies allow 1911s to be carried for work. But some agencies also allow Firemen into the squad room for some reason and it isn't fornhazing or ridicule either. So for the most part, a 1911 is verboten for police work. But I wouldn't feel under-gunned with one if allowed.

    Now, the S&W was made specifically for Law Enforcement and the Agencies that have mental conniptions towards 1911s that rival those of a college student when you tell him he actually has to get a job and pay for his own things.

    The S&W being a 2nd generation DA/SA from Big Blue means that there was still a lot of refinements needed to be made. Those were fixed with the 3rd generation. But I feel there were more issues with the 9mm guns than the .45 ACP guns. Comparing my 645 to my 4506-1.

    SG82mtJ.jpg

    The changes were not as dramatic with the .45 ACP guns as they were for the 9mm guns. The 645 and 4506-1 are pretty much the same except the 3rd gen gun was a post 1998 model so the trigger guard was rounded instead of squared off and the sights are Novak pattern. The original 4506 had a very similar appearance to the 645, except it had the one piece wrap around grips that also worked as the mainspring housing instead of the two piece panel grips and a separate mainspring housing. I actually find the grip profile of the 645 to be better than the 4506-1.

    Another good thing about the 645 was that since it was replaced by the 4506, that means in the early 1990s. You can get a new 645 for a good price since dealers were trying to clear out their inventory to sell the new hotness that was the 4506.

    The trigger pull on the S&W is very good for a DA/SA. Smooth in DA and a very short reset and pull in SA. And that means the gun can be carriered with one in the pipe, hammer down, and safety off. And for police work, that's damn good because there is no safety to fumble with. Sure, I personally feel confident with a 1911 and having to disengage the safety. But we all know that not every cop is a gun guy just like not every soldier is a Green Beret.

    Personally, the S&W edges out the Colt on the fact that it is a DA/SA gun. Like I said, I grew up shooting them and I like not having to fiddle with a safety if I don't have too. Not that I have anything against the 1911, I'd feel completely confident with it and I do carry them off duty from time to time. But the S&W to me just had that little bit of difference enough that if I were poor and broke rookie in 1992 and could only afford one gun. I'd go with a S&W 645.

    What would you choose between the two?
     
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  2. Drail

    Drail Member

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    Ummm.... Colt did not "invent" the bloody thing. That would be John Browning.
     
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  3. jdh

    jdh Member

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    Have had one of each since the late 80s.
     
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  4. bannockburn

    bannockburn Member

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    Miami_JBT

    Interesting article in that both guns are seldom mentioned nowadays. I remember both of them very well. The Colt M1991A1 was sort of disappointing, especially if you were well acquainted with previous versions of the Colt Government with their polished metal and deep blued or nickel plated finishes. I guess I just didn't buy into the advertising hype where Colt tried to tie this dull matte finished M1991A1 into the same lineage as the original M1911A1 series. It seemed like Colt was still trying to deal with their short-handed skilled work force due to years of labor unrest and this was the best they could come up with.

    While the S&W Model 645 was a well made pistol it was also a rather large pistol, much too big for someone like me with rather small hands. Every thing on it was a bit of a reach for me, from the trigger to the slide release lever and especially to the slide mounted safety. I did toy ever so briefly with their SAO version, the Model 745, but it still was the overall size of the gun that did that attraction in.

    So my choice in the "Battle of the American .45ACP Pistols of the '80s and '90s" would have to be the M1991A1. And while I may have disparaged the fit and finish of the M1991A1 I still thought enough of Colt's 1911 offerings to pick up a standard Colt Government Model some 10 years ago and have to say it's one very well made gun.
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  5. Dragonfly

    Dragonfly Member

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    Miami_JBT, thanks for a detailed, informative and fun-to-read write-up! I’d have a tough time choosing between the two. Back in the late 1990s I had a Colt Combat Target that I liked, and that wasn’t night and day different from the M1991A1, but the Miami Vice connection of the 645 is appealing, too.
     
  6. NIGHTLORD40K

    NIGHTLORD40K Member

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    Love my 645-
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    Pretty fond of my 1911 too-
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    Either one would work for me in a firefight (assuming a rifle wasnt wasnt available). If I HAD to choose one, well........I guess Id go with the Smith, but thats a toughy.
    Id rather dual-wield!:D
     
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  7. jmr40

    jmr40 Member

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    I had various 1911's back in the day and one Smith 4506. Don't forget the Ruger P90.
     
  8. bannockburn

    bannockburn Member

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    jmr40
    Also the HK P9S and the Browning BDA .45 (a rebadged SIG P220). The trigger in DA mode on the P9 could be a bit of a stretch at times but the trigger on the BDA was very nice. In SA mode it had no problem keeping up shot for shot with a Colt Gold Cup I had at the time.
     
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  9. SwampWolf

    SwampWolf Member

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    My vote is for a third party candidate: the fabulous Smith & Wesson Model 945.
     
  10. DocRock

    DocRock Member

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    Great write-up @Miami_JBT ! I enjoyed that. Two great pistols in the manly, all-American 45acp. Have never had anything in 45acp that wasn't a 1911, so that was informative. Thanks for posting.
     
  11. Gordon
    • Contributing Member

    Gordon Contributing Member

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    Very good article you wrote ! I have a 4506 ever since I switched pistols (I had a stainless Gold Cup ) at a ITTS course with a female CHippy who was rather cute . Her trigger was so smooth in DA I shot it well and low and behold when I returned I had to find one. It is a Tank of a hand gun IMHO.
    Another American , kinda ,it was at first Canadian made , is a Para Ordinance P-14 . Suddenly you have double the magazine capacity, a ramped fully supported barrel and good old 1911 size and ergos. I built mine up with genuine USGI AMU surplussed 1911a1 parts except for grips, and afore mentioned barrel and magazine . The gun has been faultless with good or reconditioned mags .
     
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  12. jmr40

    jmr40 Member

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    The Georgia State Patrol carried Smith 4506's briefly. A few years after they moved to Glock 22's one showed up used at a local gun shop with the GSP logo engraved on it. I should have bought that gun when I had the chance.
     
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  13. WestKentucky

    WestKentucky Member

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    Purely on design specifics I’m going S&W on this debate. Cocked and locked works for some but if given the choice I would take SA/DA any day. Better sights, stainless, and decocker all are icing on the cake. It would be a tough choice though, and in all honesty if I were in a position to be buying a .45 duty gun around 1990 I would be looking at the used market and pick up a used pistol, preferably a sig p220.
     
  14. psyopspec

    psyopspec Member

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    Top notch post, thank you!

    I came up in the pistol world a bit after you. 1911s were fun to shoot, but seemed very hit and miss for reliability. Though I've never owned a steel automatic from S&W, if I were forced to choose between that and an untuned 1911 the Smith would be my pick.
     
  15. Miami_JBT

    Miami_JBT Member

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    ;)
     
  16. Miami_JBT

    Miami_JBT Member

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    7QZvEMs.jpg

    My original Jackass Rig from Galco.
     
  17. SeanSw

    SeanSw Member

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    The P90 is a great pistol if you hate everything about the 1911 except the capacity :rofl:
     
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  18. vzenmn

    vzenmn Member

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    I had a Ruger P90. Heavy, clunky, and ugly but was it accurate. Same thing with the P97 I had. Regret selling them and would replace if given a chance. Never tried the P345.
     
  19. Miami_JBT

    Miami_JBT Member

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    I have a P345 too. It is nice.
     
  20. jdh

    jdh Member

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    Star PD
    Llama Omni
    CZ 97
    Sig P220
    Astra A80
    Ruger P90

    Some of the non-1911 I have owned it the last century.
     
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  21. Nacho Man

    Nacho Man Member

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    Minty lnib MKIV Enhanced I picked up at lgs a few years ago for $650.
    Colt website dates it to 1993.
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    I saved the grips, stashed em' away in the box and got some VZ 320s
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    Last edited: Nov 24, 2020
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  22. SeanSw

    SeanSw Member

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    I concur. Even though I'm poking fun at the gun I bought a NOS Ruger P90 a few years back at a tempting price and it has worked flawlessly since the first day. Realistically it only has ~500 rounds down the barrel but it really does shoot well. Very light recoil for .45acp. Both the DA and SA trigger are far superior to my p89. Thick and chunky.

    I always cringe when sticking my finger down the chamber as part of the takedown procedure.
     
  23. Richard Jay King

    Richard Jay King Member

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    I have owned three different new Colt Series 80 .45's and a 645 and a 4506-1. Out of the box accruacy was pitiful wilth ALL the Colts and excellent with the S&W's. It is much easier to get a good clean trigger pull with the 1911..The out of the box single action pull on the S&W's was not the best. However...as a hunting gun (I deer hunt with my 4506-1 shooting .45 Super loads) I feel the S&W autos are superior due to the hammer drop safety that the 1911 does not have...I do NOT like to let down the hammer on a 1911 in a tree stand. I will say that the firing pin block system on the Colt series 80's is superior to the gritty system on the S&W....My two current Colts have very good single action trigger pulls. Although I AM NOT RECOMMENDING anyone to do this...removing the firing pin block device on the S&W's WILL allow the single action trigger pull to be improved dramatically. I like both guns!
     
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  24. Reinz

    Reinz Member

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    In my hands nothing beats a 1911/2011 and I’ve tried and own(ed) a few other 45’s:

    SW-645
    SW745
    CZ 97
    Taurus PT series from the 90’s
    Star Megastar
    SA XD
    SW MP
    Glock 21 and 30
    HK USP
    Sig 220, including an Earnest Langdon model
    Bren Ten Marksman Special 45, and I LOVE Brens.

    I’m sure I left some out, and I look forward to trying the Walter PPQ.

    But the worst of all for ME was the SW 645. But hey, choices is what makes things interesting.
     
  25. Gladius

    Gladius Member

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    I purchased this 645 from a police officer who wanted something lighter. I ended up carrying it when I wore a blue suit. That cop wasn't kidding; it was like carrying a brick. The gun was completely reliable until I became a police officer; then it started choking during qualifications. I'd take it to the armorer, he'd work on it and send it back, and worked fine, until it started jamming during qualifications again. I did this a couple times until, in frustration, I bought a Glock 17 (which was the standard issue pistol of the department). I quit the department before I could get the Glock transition training, so I never carried it. The weird thing is that after I quit, that 645 once again worked like a charm, without a single jam since. I can't explain that...

    2011-05-18 11-57-11_0047 a1.jpg
     
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