I’ve always had somewhat of a love hate relationship with 1911s. I’ve never had a pistol that was so comfortable, accurate, and had a light crisp trigger. They are a lot of fun to shoot. I’ve also had a few problems with a couple of 1911s in the past. Malfunctions that would randomly occur every 100 rounds or so and malfunctions that are unique to 1911s. These unique malfunctions are things like over inserted magazines and inertia feed. Having shot mostly glocks, m&p, and sig pistols reliability is something that is taken for granted. 1911s can be very reliable but this ranges widely depending on manufacturer, ammo, mags, and many other variables. I am not a fervent fan of any one pistol and I like to think I have some objectivity. I use my pistols for more than just the range or competition so the first priority in any pistol is reliability.
The 1911 was revolutionary when it was made. It was ergonomic, accurate, reliable, and easy to disassemble and maintain. Over a 100 years later there are dozens of companies that now make 1911s. With any product that is reproduced by many different manufacturers some do a good job and some don’t. For example take the glock. This was also a revolutionary pistol when it was created and continues to have an overwhelming market share. They are great pistols but only one company makes a “glock” pistol. This sigma pistol was created in 1994 and was similar enough to the glock that glock sued for patent infringement. The companies settled out of court and Smith and Wesson agreed to make changes to the pistol. The point of this is that the historically reliable glock was mimicked in the sigma close enough that there was a law suit but the sigma is regarded as a sub par pistol. Smith and Wesson came out with the M&P in 2005 which has been very successful and is a peer of the glock.
Problems with current production 1911s is compounded by the problem that the 1911 has a reputation for accuracy. To eek out every last bit of accuracy companies may make the pistol tighter than the original design which can lead to higher malfunction rates. This isn’t a guarantee but a tighter pistol, if not built correctly will not be as forgiving.
Another major factor that impacts the reliability of 1911s is the production price. When the 1911 was made current manufacturing processes did not exist. The parts for a 1911 were produced and then a person would individually fit each part to a pistol. Once fitted these parts were not interchangeable to other pistols. This hand fitting greatly contributes to the feel and accuracy of the pistol. Modern pistols like the M&P and glock are not hand fitted. The parts are produced by a machine and should be able to drop into any pistol. For example if you shoot out a barrel in a glock you order a new one and drop it in the slide. For a 1911 you order a new barrel and then take a trip to a gunsmith, or maybe you watch a few you tube videos and get out your dremel, not recommended by the way. The result of this is that the raw materials for a M&P and a 1911 might be similar but the 1911 will cost much more because of the labor costs. At a similar price point for a M&P and a 1911 there will have to be compromises on the 1911.
If you are a 1911 person you probably already have an opinion on mim parts. If not I will give you a brief overview. Mim stands for metal injection molding. It is one of those modern manufacturing process I mentioned. In simple terms mim takes powdered metal and binder and pushes it into molds. It is similar to how plastic items are pushed into a mold but the product is made out of metal. Mim contrasts with the traditional bar stock parts that were used in 1911s. Barstock is simply taking a solid piece of metal and then milling out the desired part. Glock, Smith & Wesson, Sig, H&k, and almost all manufacturers widely use mim parts. This is because mim parts are cheaper and quicker to make than barstock parts. A mold can hold many copies of a specific part and be made in bulk. Barstock parts can also made with automated machines but they still can only make or cut one piece at a time. The summary of this is that traditionally 1911s were made with barstock parts. Modern 1911s can also be made entirely with barstock parts but there will be an associated higher price. Mim parts work very well if they are done right. Some companies do it right and some don’t. Conversely just because something is barstock doesn’t mean it will be better. But because there are only a few companies making barstock 1911 parts end users tend to be picky about which parts they use and substandard parts wont be purchased. Companies that make inferior barstock 1911 parts wont last long.
Choosing a builder
Some people like fine watches because of their craftsmanship and beauty. A mechanical rolex doesn’t keep time better than a g-shock but they cost a whole lot more. I happen to like pistols and not watches. For most people an expensive pistol doesn’t offer more practicality than a glock. A 1911 may be a little more accurate and have a better trigger but a glock or M&P does everything a pistol needs to. I enjoy the handwork that goes into great a 1911. For me a pistol is a practical tool but in the case of a fine 1911 it can be a tool and a thing of beauty at the same time. At this point I am being a little existential (yes I had to look up the word). What follows isn’t going to get any better. The analysis of this pistol is based on my personal opinion. I am not a 1911 expert in any way. I don’t know how to measure feed ramp angles, how square the trigger and sear are, or the throat depth. Most of the technical aspects that involving measuring, contact areas, etc are internal to the pistol and can be demonstrated through firing. If the trigger feels good and the pistol is accurate and reliable than all the internal stuff is working correctly. The following are my opinions and that is all.
Wilson Combat is a semi custom pistol as opposed to full custom pistols. A full custom pistol is typically built by one guy in some magical workshop. The gunsmiths that build these are some of the best in the world and they produce works of art that just happen to fire bullets. Semi custom pistols are typically smaller companies that produce high end products. The amount of customization varies with a semi custom pistol. Wilson Combat has a product line called super grade which could be considered a full custom pistol. There are only a few gunsmiths at Wilson that build these pistols and the wait time from order can be 2 or more years. Some of the best gunsmiths have wait times of 5 years or just arent taking anymore orders. One of the things that made me choose a Wilson pistol is their philosophy. They have focused on continually making a better product. They are proud of the fact that the pistols they make today are the best they have ever produced. The pistols from their past are still very good but they have continued to improve. This isn’t just a claim they make. Some very well respected 1911 guys have backed them up. It the end it shows in their pistols. The next article will examine the Wilson CQB elite in depth.