A word for the shooting enthusiast: This review is geared toward novices in general and writers of fiction in particular. If you’re a shooter or a fan of the M1911 you’ll still enjoy it, but please bear with some of the more extraneous background stuff. For someone looking for a review of the M1991A1 with a purchase in mind, read through to the end for a detailed look at the fit, finish, and other particulars for this model.
Last Monday we took a look at John Browning’s handgun masterpiece — the Colt Model 1911 — and later advancements made to his original design by the company that commissioned him to develop it. Today we’ll take a look at what it’s like to operate and actually fire a modern version of this century-old design. But before we do, let’s make a size comparison of the M1911 with another favorite of mine, the Walther PPK/S. The PP-series of pistols are much smaller, and they are straight blow-backs designed for smaller calibers such as the .32 ACP/7.65mm and .380 ACP/9mm kurz.
That “ACP” designation in .45 ACP, .32 ACP, and .380 ACP stands for Automatic Colt Pistol, and all ACP cartridges were designed for either Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FNH) of Belgium or the U.S. Colt’s Manufacturing Company by one man — again, John Browning. Other Browning designed ACP cartridges are the .25 ACP and the all but discontinued.38 ACP.
If you compare the size of the M1911 to something considerably more concealable you’ll find that the M1911 is by no means a small pistol. It is in fact quite large and very heavy. The PPK/S you see below weighs in at around 22.4 ounces/635 grams, including an empty magazine. The M1911 on the other hand tips the scales at almost 2½ pounds — 39 ounces/1.1 kilograms with an empty magazine for the original government model. The modern M1991A1 in standard configuration beats that, but just barely at 37.78 ounces/1071 grams according to my kitchen scales.
Does that make the standard M1911 impractical for concealed carry? Not at all. I know several people who conceal the full-size version, and others who pack smaller versions. Despite it’s 8.6-inch/217mm length the M1911 is particularly well suited for inside-the-waistband carry because it is relatively narrow — around 1.34 inches/34mm at the grip and an almost unbelievably narrow .91 inches/23mm at the slide. The only real downside to concealed carry would have to be a hefty weight which requires a very good belt.
The M1911 is normally carried in the cocked-and-locked configuration (also called “condition one). Cocked-and-locked means that there is a live round in the chamber and the hammer is fully cocked and ready to fire. A thumb-operable external safety is engaged in condition one to prevent accidental discharge.
So, should you consider adding an M1911 to your collection? Absolutely. It’s the iconic U.S. semiautomatic, and has been since, well, 1911 (see: Historical Firearms — The Colt Model 1911). It’s simply a wonderful range toy even if you opt to carry something more modern — intuitive to aim, fun to shoot, easily controlled despite being chambered in .45 ACP, and it’s one of the most accurate handguns ever devised.
Which brings us to some of the features incorporated into the M1911. In addition to the external thumb safety there is an additional safety built into the grip. If the grip is not properly held and the grip safety depressed, the weapon will not fire. In what has become a familiar standard here in the U.S., the magazine is released via manipulation of the magazine release button located on the frame just aft of the trigger. Internally, at least since 1983 on Colt Series 80 pistols such as the M1991A1 depicted here, there is also a firing pin block that only disengages when the trigger is pulled, which in turn can only occur if the external safety is disengaged and the grip safety is squeezed into the grip.
That last Series 80 feature is a bit controversial. Some claim that it unnecessarily complicated the original design, degraded the trigger by making it stiffer and adding an almost imperceptible (in my view) amount of trigger creep before the hammer trips, and gunsmiths complained that the new design is more difficult to tune to competition standards. My personal opinion? It’s still one of the best triggers out there, and according to my research any gunsmith worthy of the title will be able to tune your trigger with just a bit more effort. But even out of the box, I’d be hard pressed to understand why anyone would think this weapon needs any tuning whatsoever. If the shooter can’t hold this weapon on target, then it’s the shooter who has a problem rather than the trigger and firing system on this weapon.
Range review: I’ve fired other M1911 models in the past, including a Series 70 Gold Cup with National Match barrel. And while it’s been awhile since then, I have no complaints concerning the current M1991A1 Series 80. Trigger take-up is in the neighborhood of ⅛ inch/3mm. The aforementioned trigger “creep” is less than even that. As such, the hammer trip is very clean and exceedingly crisp, especially when compared to most modern trigger designs. Trigger reset is equally short with a very positive tactile feedback and audible “click.” Reliability is superb with the two ammo types I fed through it — full metal jacket and jacketed hollow points. As for accuracy, this pistol without any modification whatsoever is capable of better accuracy than most any shooter who will fire one, and you can’t ask for better than that. Indeed, take a look at this demonstration video from one of my favorite handgun reviewers, Hickok45:
Don’t Fear the Recoil: Many people unfairly in my view criticize the .45 ACP cartridge as being “uncontrollable,” and thus fairly inaccurate especially on followup shots. A lot of that is not born out by the physics, however. The original .45 ACP design called for a 230-grain/.526-ounce/14.9-gram bullet traveling subsonically at around 830 feet/253 meters per second. That works out to around 352 foot-pounds/477 Joules of force. Compare that to the original specifications of the “much more controllable” 9mm Parabellum. That cartridge was designed around a 115-grain/.263-ounce/7.45-gram bullet traveling at the supersonic velocity of 1,300 feet/390 meters per second. Total energy from that round is 420 foot-pounds/570 Joules. Bear in mind that 9mm weapons are for the most part considerably lighter than the M1911, yet as you can see they transmit more recoil force back through the weapon and ultimately to the shooter’s hand. In my opinion the 9mm has a sharper, quicker recoil whereas the .45 ACP imparts a steady, even, thrust-like reaction. Recoil management is thus easy to accomplish and target reacquisition is very quick.
A little side story on that slower .45 ACP velocity. Back in my younger uncorrected vision days I could actually follow with my eye a .45 ACP bullet heading downrange, especially when shooting in bright sunlight at long ranges against a light-colored backdrop. It was a truly bizarre experience, and I cannot recall being able to do that with any other bullet I’ve ever fired.
But back to what it’s like to fire an M1911 in .45 ACP (fiction writers in particular take note): The noise from a .45 ACP is unlike most smaller caliber handguns such as the 9mm in that it imparts a slightly deeper, almost cannon-like “boom” rather than a sharp “bang.” That’s not to say the .45 ACP is louder. It isn’t. What I’m describing is just a slightly deeper, lower frequency with less “crack,” probably as a result of comparing a subsonic round (.45 ACP) to one that will emit the “crack” of a sonic boom (9mm). Recoil is surprisingly light. Muzzle flip is negligible, especially with a proper grip. Target reacquisition is quick and efficient, and followup shots are easily managed.
Now a look at the current fit-and-finish of the “New Roll Mark” post-2001 version of the Colt M1991A1: If you’re considering adding an M1911 variant to your collection you can do a lot worse than this particular version. This is first and foremost a real Colt and not a pretender. Slide-to-frame fit is extremely tight with almost no perceptible play. Barrel-to-bushing tolerance is so tight that I cannot induce any wobble at all in my example.
As for finish, the satin bluing is one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen in recent years, and light-years beyond the Parkerized finish of the original “Old Roll Mark” version of the M1991A1:
The grips that come with the Colt M1991A1 are nicely textured, beautifully stained, semi-gloss rosewood:
- Length: 8.54 inches/217mm
- Barrel Length: 5.03 inches/128mm
- Slide Width: .91 inches/23mm
- Maximum Width: 1.34 inches/34mm
- Weight with empty magazine: 37.78 ounces/1,071 grams
- Capacity: 7+1
Pricing: This particular Colt M1991A1 with blued finish and rosewood grips is Colt model number O1991. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) is $974, but you can find them available for under $900 and Bud’s Gun Shop is listing one at $834 as of this writing.