There is much to hate about the 1911 as it exists in the market today. Shoddy materials, poor quality control, incompetent assembly…it’s all pretty easy to find if you look at enough pistols. If, however, you look beyond the modern marketplace’s perversions at what the 1911 is really supposed to be, there’s quite a lot to love.
People don’t seem to grasp that the 1911 comes from a completely different era of manufacturing. Try this: Name 5 current products off the top of your head that are made of high grade steel parts, hand fitted into an assembled product by people who have decades of experience building them. Yet that’s how you manufactured things at the turn of the 20th century. They didn’t have injection molded plastics. In the 1880’s cast aluminum had the same value as silver because the tech necessary to produce en masse was still being developed. The 1911 is a product of an era where anything durable was made by forging big chunks of steel, beating them into the rough shapes you needed with enormous hydraulic presses and then carefully whittling away at the forging with a series of ever more precise machines until you had the shapes you needed. Then skilled assemblers took all the parts and worked them over with a file to make them all fit together properly. Today you’d be hard pressed to find another product mass produced in this way.
When you pick up a good old 1911 it’s sort of like shaking hands with the past. You can almost feel the history in the gun, the places it went, the lives it (or its brothers) took and saved…but more than that you can almost see the slight grin on the face of the guy who had this at the polishing wheel, proud of what he was making. Lest you think me to be weird, stop and ponder for a second how many people out there are willing to pay eye-watering prices for things made the old-fashioned way. Watches, Coke vending machines, guitars, cars, motorcycles, hell even toasters from that bygone era of manufacturing are collectors items that can command a small fortune because of the craftsmanship invested in their manufacture. Even from their earliest days firearms have always been more than just tools, serving as valuable examples of fine craftsmanship…and the 1911 pistol sits in a pretty special place as an example of what craftsmen can do with wood and steel.
Of course, it’s not all nostalgia. The slim profile of the 1911 makes it great for concealed carry either inside the waistband or in a slim outside the waistband holster. Even a full sized 1911 conceals pretty easily under a t-shirt or a sport coat because you can tuck it so close to the body. A double-stack gun in the same sort of holster can be just wide enough to be noticeable where the 1911 disappears.
Despite being over 100 years old, the 1911 still has the best manual safety of any semi-automatic handgun. I like manual safeties on carry guns if they aren’t an obstreperous pain in the keister to disengage when you’re presenting the pistol. Sadly most manufacturers seemed to eschew John Moses’ ideas on the placement of the manual safety…and that’s a darn shame because it works superbly. It’s so easy to use the 1911’s safety that it’s widely considered a best practice to leave the safety engaged until you’ve made the decision to shoot. When people are handling guns under high levels of stress having that extra deliberate act to be performed before launching a bullet can prevent tragedy.
The 1911’s relatively light, relatively crisp trigger makes it very easy to shoot well. If there’s one outstanding feature that has kept the 1911 alive as a serious sidearm for all these years, the ability to get an excellent trigger has to be it. On multiple occasions I’ve run my 1911 against other (better trained, I might add) shooters with double-stack guns on courses of fire and despite having to reload more than twice as much and moving slower, I’ve cleaned house because I always got my hits. Having a 4.5 pound trigger that moves straight back into the grip of a 2.5 pound handgun keeps the amount of torque you have to apply to the pistol at a bare minimum, preventing a sideways push on the gun. With such a short trigger travel most people can cycle through the trigger pull deliberately but still very fast, making quick accurate hits easier than they would be on pistols with longer and heavier triggers where they might go faster and anticipate. Whether you’re competing for a trophy or to fighting to continue in this plane of existence a gun that makes it easier for you to get the hits is going to have enormous appeal.
When you blend the intangible attributes of a good 1911 together with the practical benefits of the design like the excellent trigger or the amazing durability you can get out of the major components with sensible maintenance, the lure is strong. It’s very easy to see why so many people are interested in owning one and why there are more 1911 variants on the market today than there were 30 years ago. People love what the 1911 is supposed to be and rightly so…because when it’s done right it’s a pretty darn good handgun.