|I've been "playing .45 automatic" a bit more lately since gathering in another one earlier this year. It's an older Colt commercial Government Model, nice but lacking in modern 1911 refinements, features, and appearance. I've probably put about 750 rounds through it since acquiring it in late January. It has remained unfailingly well-mannered and dependable as have my other 1911 guns. It got me to thinking about the uneven reputation that the 1911 currently has, both around the "hot stove" and within internet forumland. Some love it and some loathe it and the two differing opinions don't necessarily follow generational lines. I personally view the pistol to be as completely reliable as many view their Glocks. That is, if it is properly manufactured and produced in much the same manner as the original military models.
What Would John Browning Have To Say...
... if he could see the 1911 today, a century after introduction? Of all the so-called design improvements to the Model of 1911 that have been advanced over the years, it would be curious to know of which Browning would approve. Of course this also requires the question: Does it really matter whether he would approve or not?
The fortuitous combination of Browning's native genius along with the advent of self-contained metallic cartridges and smokeless powder, both items being perfected during his lifetime and early career, advanced the development of practical repeating and self-loading arms immensely. Browning's concepts are still the foundational basis for modern small arms design. The Model of 1911 .45 automatic is one of his most endearingly popular pistol designs.
Design Enhancements Browning Might Approve Of
Front/Rear sight improvements, both in visual efficiency and in durability.
The comfort of the beavertail grip safety for the high-volume shooter though it could be argued that such a modification is less important in a pistol intended for the battlefield.
Browning might have approved of the more secure grip as provided by Pachmayr and other makers of practical, durable rubber grips.
Bobtails. It may be a passing fad. I view it as an offense to the eye though it might have practical applications for concealment.
The arched mainspring housing and frame cuts for repositioning of the hand and for shooter comfort. Browning may have had input in the 1911A1 modifications to the design.
Improvements Browning Might Think Were Daft
Forward slide serrations
Full-length guide rod
Extended feed ramps on barrels
The perceived need for +P .45 ACP ammunition.
The use of lightweight aluminum alloy or cast steel for frames; though Browning might have deemed both as suitable materials if he'd been given opportunity to examine the results of modern steel casting and aluminum fabrication technologies. Aluminum in particular was not much used for industrial purposes for most of Browning's life. It was even once considered a precious metal until improved mining and extraction processes were developed and manufacturing techniques were devised.
1911-type pistols shorter than Commander length; though Browning might have relished trying his hand at creating reliable shorty versions.
These are only speculations and one could come up with his own list, differing from the above. Who's to say what is right since Browning is unavailable to ask. Besides, he "tendered the check" in payment for his efforts and may not have cared about the 1911 past that point, going on to other projects.
1911 reliability is enthusiastically debated in print and especially on firearms forums as it relates to more modern pistol designs. Despite all this debate the 1911 is wildly popular with the shooting public. If so many new 1911-type pistols received by the shooting public are really so trouble-prone out of the box, could it be that some manufacturers are simply sending out shoddy pistols? Should this be considered a design failing or rather is it the result of some manufacturers cashing in on 1911 popularity with scant regard for the suitability of their products for the intended purpose?
It is submitted that it is the later rather than a failing of the basic design.
How many modern 1911 makers would have passed the military acceptance inspectors' specifications to be accepted into military stores of the 1912-1945 time period?
The military inspection and acceptance process was all-encompassing and included specifications for raw materials, manufacturing methods, and functional reliability standards rather than only final inspection of individual pieces of the finished product. Small arms production for the military was monitored every step of the way. And, the 1911 pistols worked well, both under the extremes of wartime conditions and despite the use and excessive abuse given them in the training of military personnel. A reputation for reliability that was real was earned by the 1911 in its military configuration.
Beyond the very real possibilities of inferior parts, shoddy workmanship, and inadequate inspection prior to shipping, how could changes in design tolerances along with outright design modifications play a part in the 1911 reliability controversy? Could a modern 1911 clone destined for the civilian market pass the military inspection process of yesteryear and would it even be important that it be capable of doing so?
Special consideration must be given to the after-market parts and accessory suppliers. This cottage industry has mushroomed over the past 40 years, all clamoring for the attention of the 1911 fan and all fiercely marketing parts, gadgets, and gimmicks as "must-have" improvements and additions for the discerning 1911 owner. The relevance of all this marketing deserves close scrutiny. Frequently custom parts and accessories advertised as "drop-in" are anything but and owners who monkey with their 1911s frequently come to grief. This discourages some from further contact with 1911 guns.
Consider the favored "new crop" brand of pistol of your choice. If all patents covering it were expired and every mother's son and his blind and deaf uncle was producing clones, each with his own interpretation of the original design, along with the introduction of sometimes questionable "improvements," and aftermarket suppliers were also capitalizing on the market by hawking their own wares, then any design could be given a black eye! Uneven reliability would be a given in such a circumstance, same as it is for the poor 1911 gun.
In my admittedly limited experience it has been observed that military contract 1911 and 1911A1 pistols are dependable as well as are the Colt Government Models. No experience has been had with Colts of current production though. Other discerning pistoleros report good service with them though. The rest of the 1911 clones? Reading folks' comments would seem to indicate that reliability is a crap shoot that spending for high-dollar semi-custom guns occasionally avoids. The inexpensive Rock Island has actually impressed me with its adherence to the "spirit and intent" of the military originals. My son purchased one several years ago and it has given very satisfactory service. So has another Rock Island owned by a friend for even longer.
Browning, along with the Ordnance Department and Colt's design department, produced the Model of 1911 as a pistol that conformed to government requirements. This included a grip safety. It's debatable whether or not Browning considered a grip safety as needed but he did a workmanlike job in providing a pistol design that had the caliber, features, and endurance that the Ordnance Department had specified. It is certain that Browning knew the 1911 design intimately by the time it was accepted for general issue.
Would Browning be "laughing up his sleeve" at the aggravation and headache we bring on ourselves with much that represents the 1911 market today; what with the many modern manufacturers and their revisions, resized versions, aftermarket parts and accessory suppliers, some gunsmiths' claims, along with owner tinkering?
Do we do it to ourselves?