The 1911 pistol is a ubiquitous and recognizable handgun that has become synonymous with power, reliability, and durability under adverse conditions.
Most of us have learned that a rifle or shotgun always beats a sidearm; however, the 1911, loaded with seven hard-hitting .45 ACP cartridges, was so lauded for its stopping power that some gun authorities have suggested that pistol vs. rifle gunfights are not as uneven as previously thought.
Comparison of the Best 1911 Pistols
History of the 1911
By the end of the 1800s, during the Spanish-American War, the US military noted that their service revolvers (the Colt New Army Model 1892 chambered in .38 Long Colt) did not have enough power to stop attackers in their tracks.
The US Army considered two possible cartridges, the .41 and .45 calibers, and after extensive testing, they opted for the new .45 ACP round. At the invitation of the government, Mr. John Moses Browning, a genius known for creating and developing some of the best firearms ever made, sailed from Europe to help with the situation.
Using the Colt Model 1905 as a foundation, John Browning developed a final version of the soldier’s sidearm, the Model 1911. The name of the handgun was originated from the time when the U.S army officially adopted the pistol as their official side carry. The first modification of the Colt .45 M 1911 was carried out on the 15th of June 1926, and since then it has been officially dubbed the M 1911 A1. After it was standardized in 1926, the .45-caliber M1911A1 became the longest-serving US weapon until the Beretta M9 pistol phased it out in the late 1990s.
While at the beginning of the century the 1911 was made primarily by Colt or Springfield Armory, nowadays you can find over 100 different companies manufacturing 1911s all over the world. One of these manufacturers is particularly interesting. In the 1980s, the Argentinian manufacturer HAFDASA offered a copy of the Colt .45-caliber M1911A1 pistol under the name Ballester-Molina 11.43mm Modelo 1938 pistola as surplus in the US market.
The marketing campaign in the gun magazines claimed that the World War II production Modelo 1938 pistols were made of steel salvaged from the sunken German “pocket battleship” Graf Spee. That claim was a clear fabrication, given that the structural steel of this armored ship (Panzerschiffe), as well as armor plates, would be inadequate for firearms manufacture.
Who Uses The 1911?
Designed as a combat pistol, the .45-caliber M1911A1 is primarily geared for the armed professional market. As a top choice of professionals, a 1911 pistol in .45 ACP caliber is unparalleled in efficacy. When properly set up, it is equally reliable with G.I. hardball ammunition as well with modern ammo of softpoint, hollowpoint, or semi-wadcutter construction.
Considering that the 1911 is an easy gun to customize, it is an ideal handgun for self-defense and concealed-carry, due to its narrow slide profile, slim grip housing, and single stack 7-round magazine. Besides being used normally for home and personal defense, current applications of the 1911 include the target shooting and the major shooting sports.
Aspects to Consider Before Buying a 1911
As with all other firearms, the 1911 pistol has some advantages and drawbacks. 1911 pistols come in four main formats that differ in barrel length; they are Government, Commander and Officer Model, and Match Target (“Long Slide”).
As the first choice for a base gun, some gun writers advise choosing a Government-model carbon steel Colt. They also recommend avoiding pistols with a stainless slide and frame because most of these handguns have non-stainless parts and the gun will not match.
For the barrel length, you should choose a 5-inch stainless steel barrel, as it will offer fine performance, reliability, and corrosion resistance.
The guide rod should be a shorter standard length one (GI) instead of an aftermarket full-length guide rod (FLGR).
Much like every other semi-automatic of the time, the 1911 originally had small, mediocre sights; so, you should look for a slide already cut with Novak dovetails. This will enable you to upgrade your 1911 with unique sights according to your preferences and intended use.
While the 1911 is available with four trigger options (long, medium, short, and flat), for practical use you should primarily focus on the length and weight of trigger pull and look for one that is no lighter than four pounds.
The 1911 is a workhorse pistol, and the addition of a Picatinny MIL-1913 rail might be of crucial importance. Therefore, you should opt for a frame with an integral rail that will enable you to attach common accessories like lights or lasers to the gun.
The timeless design of a 1911 pistol is inextricably linked to the .45 ACP as the standard caliber, but you can choose 1911s chambered in smaller calibers than the traditional .45 if you so desire. In fact, you can purchase 1911s chambered in a number of different calibers, including .38 Super, .380ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W, and 10mm. There is also a steady demand for .22 rimfire 1911s, either through a conversion kit or a dedicated rimfire firearm.
Review of the Best 1911 Pistols
There is a 1911 for almost everybody, with many options ranging from those for the budget minded to those who want the absolute best in terms of refinements and upgrades. Regarding that, we have compiled the following list that will guide you to choose your best 1911 pistol.
Springfield Armory Pistol 1911-A1 9mm
Though the Springfield Armory that sells firearms today is not the Springfield Armory that served as the arms manufacturer for the military, they are still a reputable brand known for their well-made 1911s.
Springfield models range from workhorses to match-grade custom pistols, and their Range Officer Model combines the same precision as the competition models with the compactness of an Officer model, at an affordable price. The competitive nature of the 40-ounce Range Officer means that it can hit targets with less than 1” grouping at 25 yards.
Since it is chambered in the hard hitting 9mm Luger, this powerhouse is also a formidable self-defense pistol for concealed carry or home use. While the Springfield pistol under manufacturer number PI9122L boasts frame and slide made of forged stainless steel for better corrosion resistance and durability, its match-grade steel barrel measures five inches for an extended sight radius. The barrel has incorporated steel dovetail to receive adjustable target sights with a shielded fiber optic tube as a front sight.
A long aluminum match grade trigger is skeletonized with a serrated face and provides a crisp, clean trigger pull of 5 pounds, but you can adjust it if you want to lower it further. Aside from its durable all-steel construction, to add an aesthetic appeal, the Range Officer comes with cocobolo double diamond checkered wood grips with the embossed Springfield Armory logo. However, these wood grip panels are not very durable; you can expect to get some scratches over time.
Model PI9122L is the 9mm caliber version and has a 9+1 magazine capacity. The handgun offers mild recoil that doesn’t affect your performance.
The Springfield Armory Range Officer 1911-A1 is an excellent choice for new shooters and for everyday carry but is also perfect for free-range shooting, as its name suggests. A Range Officer in 9mm is created to enhance comfort and control in an easy to carry and conceal 1911 package.
Best 45 ACP Under 1000:
Sig Sauer Pistol 1911 XO .45 ACP
Sig Sauer is a famous small arms manufacturer renowned for making only the best handguns. Adding a breath of the spirit of the old continent to this classic American design, Sig Sauer has offered a sort of handgun you can buy for a lifetime of use.
The model with number 1911-45-B-XO comes in durable black Nitron finish that seems to resist any kind of scratching or marking during use. Like most of the top tier 1911s, the 1911 XO from Sig Sauer does not have front rails. Unlike the classic Colt 1911, the Sig Sauer XO has an external extractor, which puts a lot of hook onto the case rim.
It has a 5" match grade barrel, hammer, and sear, and utilizes a half-length guide rod rather than a full-length guide rod. This “Government” size model is “Series 80” style, meaning it has a hammer intercept notch and a firing pin safety.
The stainless steel frame and slide are machined to exacting tolerances and hand-fitted to provide rugged and long-term hard use. While this Sig XO is a full-sized, 41.6 ounce, all steel gun, it also uses a minimal number of MIM parts due to the price level control.
Rather than an aluminum trigger, the 1911 XO has a steel trigger featuring heavier trigger pull (about 5 lbs) than some of the competition triggers; very appropriate for a law-enforcement firearm. The Sig 1911 is equipped with contrast sights and Ergo Grip XT extreme use grips. Since Sig Sauer does not skimp on magazines, their XO .45 caliber package includes two 8-rounds steel magazines made with invisible welds and quality followers.
The 1911 XO from Sig Sauer is certainly one of the best 1911s available on the market today. Combining hand-fitted internals and match quality construction with a finely checkered magwell and comfortable polymer grips, Sig Sauer has managed to produce a top quality 1911.
The 1911 style semi-autos chamber in many calibers, but the Colt Delta Elite in a hard-hitting 10mm is a longtime favorite amongst combat pistol shooters. The Colt Combat Elite is a Government-style, single action Series 80 Colt 1911 pistol re-engineered to fire a more powerful and faster cartridge.
The Delta Elite has checkered composite grips and grip safety with upswept beavertail to allow more comfortable shooting as it keeps your hand very high on the gun. The Colt Delta Elite model O2020XE sports an extended single-side tactical safety lock and lowered ejection port.
Overall, the Colt Gold Delta Elite 10mm pistol features stainless steel slide and forged frame with a brushed finish, as well as a stainless steel 5" barrel with a polished finish. A proven 1911 design, the Colt Delta Elite iteration comes with wide slide serrations and somewhat sharp edges on the slide and frame of the weapon.
Combining Novak white dot front sight and Novak low mount carry rear sight, the Delta Elite 10mm provides the customary sight picture intended for the quick combat shooting. An enhanced 3-hole aluminum trigger with 4.5-6 pound pull is optimized for law enforcement and personal defense use. The gun comes in a nice box that includes two 8-rounds magazines, cable lock, and the instruction manual.
As a piece of firearms history, for many Colt aficionados, the Colt Delta Elite represents love at first sight and a valuable collector piece. It was the first commercially successful semi-auto chambered in 10mm and it is easily recognizable by the wrap around composite grips with the unique Delta medallions.
The first thing that catches your attention when examining this pistol is its impervious Decobond Brown finish that resists corrosion, chemicals, dirt, and abrasion. Furthermore, the Colt's model O1070M45 features a durable forged stainless steel 5” barrel and tan stainless steel receiver/slide, matched with flat, serrated mainspring housing with a lanyard loop.
Another thing that makes the M45A1 stand out is a MIL-STD 1913 accessory rail which has more actual surface area for an accessory to grasp on it. This rail gives the handgun slightly more heft at 40 ounces, compared to a standard Government Model 1911. Besides weight, the soft gun recoil is also compounded by using a dual recoil-spring system, similar in a Colt's 1911 Delta Elite chambered in 10mm.
The Colt 1911 .45ACP Rail Gun M45A1 pistol is outfitted with genuine Novak tritium front and rear 3 dot night sights that enable the shooter to acquire targets in low-light or at night.
Because the long, solid aluminum trigger measures 5.3 pounds on average, it is evident that this gun is not made for precision work; that said, the accuracy is fine considering this pistol's intended purpose. This Colt Rail Gun does utilize the Series 80 trigger system, Upswept beavertail grip safety with palm swell, and extended ambidextrous tactical safety lock.
It is shipped with two Wilson Combat seven-shot quality magazines. Designed in a full-sized Government profile and featuring an ability to attach a tactical light, the Colt Rail Gun is an ideal candidate for the shooting enthusiast and the personal defense user.
With more than 100 years of supplying America’s armed forces with quality firearms, Colt's Manufacturing Company, LLC has received a new contract for its timeless battle proven M1911 pistol updating. After a rigorous selection process, the Colt .45ACP Rail Gun was adopted by U.S. Marine Corps as their Close Quarters Battle Pistol (CQBP). The pistol is named M45A1 and is intended to be used as a secondary weapon when conducting CQB operations.
Kimber Manufacturing is an American company that has become synonymous with mid-to-high level 1911 pistols designed to suit just about any taste, from their basic large-frame Custom II models, down to the very compact models. The name "Custom" means that Kimber's 1911s leave the factory including many features that were considered the field of custom-built pistols. To be more precise, each part is machined to the tightest tolerances and fit together by hand.
While the Kimber offers their 1911 variants in matte or polished finishes and your choice of fixed, adjustable, or night sights, a model 3200015 comes equipped with fixed Meprolight tritium night sights and the 5-inch match grade barrel machined from stainless steel.
The full-size steel frame and slide feature a matte black finish that match the nice black synthetic grips with double diamond details. Like the barrel, barrel bushing, and trigger, the slide is machined to exacting match grade dimensions, providing a great fit to frame with minimal wobble.
This Kimber 1911 Custom II .45 ACP pistol sports a full-length guide rod, which is supposed to help improve accuracy. Whereas most of the Kimber’s parts are made traditionally, Custom II also incorporates a few metal-injection molded parts.
Both the three hole trigger and hammer are skeletonized, maintaining weight at 38-oz for the empty gun, which is about average for most full-sized 1911s. The aluminum match grade trigger breaks crisp and clean at between 4-5 lbs, which is also normal for a gun carried for self-defense. Unexpectedly, the Kimber gun package includes only one steel magazine that leaves a bad impression.
Indeed, the government-style Custom II is Kimber’s flagship model, which combines the slim nature of the 1911 with top craftsmanship and reliability making this handgun the cornerstone in carry and concealability.
How to Assemble a 1911
Assembling a 1911 is not as hard as most people think. You just have to be careful not to miss any minor parts while assembling and using the right tools. Before you start assembling the weapon, make sure you have a pair of tweezers, a brass punch, and a rubber mallet.
- Start with mounting the sear over the disconnector and set it inside the frame so the top of the disconnector protrudes slightly. Now use the takedown pin and secure it in place by wiggling the sear to get the spot.
- Now place the hammer inside the frame and secure it with its pin. Followed by mounting the leaf spring properly, or else the gun’s not going to work.
- Now slide in the mainspring housing, followed by the grip safety and hammer through the retainer pin in the bottom.
- Cock the hammer in the fire position and install the safety. Followed by mounting the grip panels.
- Put the barrel inside the slide, install the guide rod and mount the slide over the frame. Keep the slide racked and install the slide lock. Keep the lever cocked while doing this step.
- Install the barrel bushing and put the recoil spring in place. Be careful while working with the recoil spring, since it can bounce back and hit you in the eye.
To find more interesting details and a comprehensive guide for assembly, check out the video below.
Along with Colt, the .45ACP owes the numerous 1911 manufacturers a vast debt of gratitude for keeping the caliber from being relegated to obsolescence. However, the five semi-autos listed above are the cream of the crop in the category of .45ACP and will serve you well if you're looking for more horsepower in your handgun.
While the space-age polymer, striker-fired designs, and ubiquitous wonder nines have made the 1911 pistol obsolete in its role as a combat sidearm, the .45ACP movement once more gains traction making 1911-style pistols a must-have for shooters and Colt M1911A1 aficionados alike.
Compared to modern pistol designs, the 1911 is not a plug-and-play platform, but no matter which 1911 you choose, you are investing in a time-tested auto pistol that has defied the ravages of time like few mechanical objects in history.