1911: Modern Advancements
In today’s environment of rapid firearm development and oft-unwarranted innovation, it can be difficult to understand and fully grasp the significance of a product that has remained not only relevant, but in demand — for over 100 years. Such is the case of the 1911 pistol.
As discussed in our last post, the development of the Colt 1911 was no small task. The payoff, however, was immense — as was (and in some cases still is) the handgun’s tenure in the US armed forces.
The gun’s presence was pronounced during every military engagement through Vietnam and beyond. One needn’t look too far to find anecdotes and stories of soldiers performing incredible feats, with the M1911 in center frame — all of which lend credible proof to the gun’s efficacy and permanent station in American history.
Now, while the 1911’s track record in military service has certainly helped, what has made it such a permanent fixture in the firearms industry? There have been many combat arms that have made the jump to the civilian market without experiencing the longevity and commercial success experienced by the 1911.
Several factors have gone into this phenomenon, and while we’d feel incapable of making an exhaustive or complete list, there are a few things that stick out:
The advent and popularity of competitive shooting have been instrumental in the life span of the 1911. Remember what was said in our last post about the M1911’s reliability during the military tests of 1911? Well, the same applies in competition, with the added advantage of retaining your life in the event of a malfunction. The person with the best score or fastest time wins, and fewer malfunctions mean paydirt. The reliability and accuracy of the 1911 pistol make it a great choice for competition, and its popularity in shooting circuits has helped keep it alive, relevant and desirable through the years.
The steep price of .45 ACP ammunition kept many away from shooting pistols like the 1911 in any meaningful way until advances in the world of reloading drove down the cost of shooting it. Once that hurdle was cleared, those that had been kept away by price could now afford to shoot the 1911, and do so proficiently.
With competition comes the drive to shave milliseconds, ounces and liabilities — anything to gain a competitive edge. The 1911 offered an accurate, proven steel frame — the perfect skeleton upon which to create a masterpiece of engineering and design.
Understandably, the market for custom 1911s exploded as far back as the 1960s, with gunsmiths far and wide competing in their own right for innovation, success and notoriety. It was in this race that we gained features now taken for granted, like prominent sights, checkered grips and front straps, barrel innovation, and many others. Internal components and engineering like headspace and magazine designs have bubbled up from the custom 1911 and benefited the firearms community as a whole.
Those looking for the ultimate in 1911 engineering will find many custom 1911 manufacturers to choose from — Nighthawk Custom®, Wilson Combat®, Les Baer®, and even ourselves, Christensen Arms.
What can you expect from a custom 1911? Every manufacturer may do things differently, but one can expect a hand-matched slide and frame, match grade barrel and custom-tuned trigger. The trigger will generally be hand-adjusted to remove creep and over-travel. In addition, many of the ancillary parts that in many production pistols will be made of plastic or other materials to save cost, in custom 1911s will be machined with precision for further dependability.
To top it all off, many custom 1911s will feature high-end furnishings like tritium night sights, custom grips and custom etchings — all to create the ultimate blend of function, reliability and aesthetics.
All of these things and more have promoted the 1911 in a way that has truly kept the pistol at the forefront of the industry, never allowing it to fade into obscurity or disuse. For every outspoken Glock® fan looking to pick a fight in a forum, there seem to be five men and women willing to speak up in the 1911’s defense — loyalty stemmed from seeing the gun’s benefits and performance in action.
And until that changes — until something else comes along that is as practical, well designed and frankly “sticky” as the 1911 has been — we expect to talk about it for many years to come.