The Colt 1911 Government Model handgun was the result of more than a decade of painstaking development. The .45 Automatic Colt Pistol cartridge was developed in a shorter period with input from many of the great minds of the day including General John T Thompson. John Moses Browning introduced his first self-loading service pistol in 1900. The Colt .38 ACP automatic had interesting features but needed further development. The 1905 .45 automatic likewise needed more refinement. Thus, it was a combination of events led to the adoption of the Colt 1911 Government Model in 1911.
In firing over 6,000 rounds of ammunition—trouble free—the Colt established new standards for reliability. The improved 1911A1 quickly followed. The Colt served well for many decades. The pistol saw service with the FBI and Texas Rangers. The only legitimate complaint concerning the 1911 was that it was large and heavy.
Colt had experimented with shorter and lighter pistols prior to World War II, but it was the maturity of aluminum technology that made the Commander pistol possible. The Colt Commander featured an aluminum frame and a barrel and slide ¾-inch shorter than the Government Model. The result was among the best-balanced and fast handling pistols ever developed.
The 28-ounce Commander kicks more than the 39-ounce Government Model but also carries much easier. In 1970, with the advent of the Series 70 pistols, Colt introduced the ‘Combat Commander.’ This is the Commander with a steel frame. This pistol is even better balanced than the original and easier to use well. Today, all Commander-marked Colt 1911 handguns are steel frame guns. The aluminum frame Colt 1911s are marked LW Commander.
The issue of longevity has been settled by firing trials with the aluminum frame. The real problem is 10-thumbed handling. Attempting to pry a safety lever from an aluminum frame, snapping the slide lock in place too forcefully, and especially, attempting to polish the feed ramp of an aluminum frame pistol may damage the frame. For most, the steel frame Commander is an ideal carry 1911.
I recently acquired a new model steel-frame Commander. The first thing that I noticed about the pistol was that the blue finish is very nicely done, evenly applied and well polished. The grips are nicely checkered cocobolo. The pistol features several important improvements made in the Series 80 line. This includes high profile sights, a positive firing pin block or drop safety, and a well polished feed ramp design that ensures the pistol will feed everything from lead semi-wadcutter bullets to exotic bullet styles.
The ejection port is larger than the GI pistol. This allows sure ejection of a spent case and also the removal of a loaded cartridge during administrative handling. The barrel plug features a dimple to prevent the plug from taking flight during disassembly. The trigger action is smooth at five pounds even with minimal take up.
A self-loading pistol must have some take up or creep, and a noticeable reset for safety, but this is a good trigger action for personal defense. The trigger may be termed both tight and smooth. A straight to the rear trigger compression, a low bore centerline, and a grip that fits most hands well makes for a formidable defensive handgun. The low bore axis limits muzzle flip, there simply isn’t any leverage for the muzzle to rise.
Prior to firing, the Colt the pistol was disassembled and lubricated. There were no visible tool marks and an overall impression of good fit and finish. The pistol was lubricated along the long bearing surfaces, barrel hood, barrel bushing and loading block. I loaded several Chip McCormick magazines with HPR ammunition’s 230-grain FMJ loading. This is the traditional .45 ACP ‘break in load.’ If the pistol doesn’t function with hard ball, it will not function at all.
Some pistols require a modest break in period; the Colt came out of the box running. Drawing from a long-serving Don Hume belt slide holster, I familiarized myself with the pistol by firing at man-sized targets at 5, 7, and 10 yards. The pistol’s sights were well regulated for 230-grain ball ammunition. The bullet struck the target above the point of aim at 10 yards for the 6 o’ clock hold. Later, I discovered the 200-grain loads struck slightly high and 185-grain loads dead on the bead—ideal for personal defense. The Colt’s 3-dot white beads are a good touch for accurate shooting.
During the initial firing tests there were no failures to feed, chamber, fire or eject. The Colt is reliable and brilliantly-fast on target. There is no handgun faster to an accurate first-shot hit than the Colt 1911, properly carried cocked and locked. During the test, I added a few magazines of HPR 230-grain JHP. Accurate, mild to fire, but using a well-designed JHP bullet, this load gave good results. I also fired a quantity of my personal lead bullet loads. For economy, the pistol must be both reliable and accurate with handloads, and the Colt passed the test. At this point, the Commander was taken home, cleaned and lubricated for another range session.
During the second range session, I explored both absolute accuracy and the pistol’s reliability with JHP defense loads. I was not disappointed. The Federal ‘Classic’ line offers an affordable, but high quality, combination with bullet weights of 185 grains and 230 grains, respectively. The 185-grain load proved particularly accurate. At 920 fps, the Federal Classic 185-grain JHP delivered a 2.0-inch five-shot group from a solid bench rest at 15 yards. I also fired a few of the Federal 230-grain HST, a popular law enforcement load. The powder burn was clean and the load exhibited a five-shot group of just over two inches.
Moving to the Hornady 185-grain Critical Defense, I found a pointed bullet with a red tip. The FTX load broke 974 fps from the Colt’s 4.25-inch barrel—solid performance. A 15-yard group initially printed a 4-shot cloverleaf with the fifth shot opening the dispersion to 1.5 inches. This dog will run. The Hornady 200-grain XTP is a loading preferred by many professionals on the basis of reliable expansion and a balance that favors penetration. This load settled into 1.9 inches.
The Commander is reliable with a good mix of ammunition and accurate enough for personal defense with any load. At seven yards, any of these loads will cut a single ragged hole. The Commander is an excellent concealed carry handgun and a good service pistol as well. It is compact, short enough for concealment, and fast on target. This pistol is among the best Colt 1911 handguns to date.
Which size Colt 1911 do you prefer? Why? Share your answer in the comment section.
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