My love/hate relationship with the 1911 – The Hate

Did you ever go out with someone that you were absolutely crazy about, only to find out somewhat later that she was actually crazy? You manage to get clear of the meltdown without getting burned too badly, but even though you know that moving into a little flat in Chernobyl would be safer than getting her back into your life there’s still this completely irrational attraction you can’t shake off. Every now and then you go to a party or an event and she’s there, and heavens does she look amazing. In the moment you see the smile and the cute way she brushes her hair back behind her ear when she’s flirting…and things start to happen. Your olfactory receptors are catching the subtle scent of her perfume, triggering all sorts of memories to the point where you can practically feel the dopamine hitting your brain like a warm summer breeze. She is beautiful, isn’t she? Didn’t you two have some amazing times together? The few neurons in your head that aren’t bathing in all the feel-good chemicals swirling around up there remind you that she’s actually quite mad. She may be blushing slightly and smiling innocently now, but you know from hard experience that she’s capable of pulling your still-beating heart from your chest, taking a great big bite out of it, and then spitting it in your face…all while wearing the exact same smile. Yet there you are, still talking to her. Agreeing that yes, you really should get together and catch up sometime…

Oh, right. This is a gun column. Well, that perhaps slightly too biographical description works pretty well to sum up my feelings on the 1911. I spent my formative years in the closing era of gun magazines as an authority on firearms, which means I was routinely exposed to centerfold quality pictures of finely crafted 1911 pistols. I developed a particularly strong attraction to Colt Gold Cup and Delta Elite pistols that had been customized. Sometimes when I’m sitting in a meeting I’ll Google image search “Gold Cup custom” (I have such a window open right now…yes, I have a problem) and gawk at the results until I’m as glassy-eyed as all the other people in the room…only I’m thinking about 1911’s while they’re just feeling the life force being sucked out of them into the gaping maw of pointlessness caused by listening to the most boring human being on planet earth give a mandatory lecture on information nobody in the room really cares about. motivational1911

I also happened to be doing a lot of shopping as the 1911 was seeing a renewed popularity in the market due to a liberalization of concealed carry laws and the ridiculous Clinton assault weapons ban limitation on magazine capacity. If you’re stuck with 10 rounds in your pistol suddenly the appeal of the wonder-nine guns was somewhat diminished. Kimber and Springfield Armory started producing 1911’s with desirable custom features like extended thumb safeties, beavertail grip safeties, and Novak sights for less than the cost of what you’d pay for a plain-Jane Colt 1911 that would need to have all that work done at a custom shop.

Armed with all the quality knowledge about the 1911 you could get by drooling over gun magazine centerfolds, drawn by the allure of the custom 1911 praised to high heaven by gun writers, and now with the added consumer idea that everything you could ever need in a 1911 was available on the cheap, I plunked down the (still quite large) amount of money for one and absolutely loved it. Right up until the moment I tried to shoot it. When it couldn’t cycle through a magazine without a stoppage and the rear sight flew off, I started to wonder if perhaps there’s a reason why this was cheaper than a Colt customized in a competent shop. I fettled and futzed and sent the gun back to the manufacturer and they returned it to me saying it was working. Fantastic! Except it still didn’t feed harball reliably on the next range trip. Worse, somehow the plunger tube had been dented enough to freeze the safety plunger in place, allowing the poorly made/fitted safety to flop around like a fish you just pulled in the boat. Turns out that the plunger tube was made of metal so soft it bent like the silver wrapper on Wrigley’s chewing gum.

That pistol was replaced by a couple of others…and, predictably, they didn’t work right either. I learned the hard way that while there were certainly a lot of 1911 pattern pistols on the market, there weren’t a whole lot of people out there building them properly. At first I thought it was just me, that maybe there was some ancient 1911 ritual wherein you anointed the pistol and the Wilson magazines you bought for it with the blood of a virgin conceived during a full moon that I wasn’t doing right. Research and talking to people much smarter than me led me to the conclusion that if you want a reliable 1911 with no problems, you had to go custom. So I did…and I finally got a 1911 that worked! It cost more than 3 times what a Glock was selling for, but by gum I finally had my 1911 and I now knew the key to the 1911 universe. Just go custom and it’ll work!

At least that’s what I thought until I started attending training and saw other guys packing custom 1911 pistols that cost even more than mine did who couldn’t get them to work. One individual showed me a gun he paid over three thousand dollars for that had been back to the smith he bought it from six times without positive result. Worse, the smith had basically told him to go pound sand and that he wasn’t going to do anything else on the gun. I found this very disturbing and asked around and it wasn’t long until I’d compiled a list of people who had somewhat similar experiences with custom 1911 pistols. Buying custom, then, wasn’t quite the magic bullet I originally thought.

I started to see the 1911 as the kind of gun that would take a giant bite out of your wallet and then spit it in your face. The very idea that you can spend north of 2 grand on a pistol that doesn’t work properly just about makes me break out in hives…but that’s the reality of the 1911 market as a whole. You don’t have to know Glocks terribly well to get one that works, but if you want to get a 1911 you’d better hit the books (Kuhnhausen would be a good start) and learn the important stuff so you don’t end up sinking a bunch of money into a lemon.

Yes, some people talk absolute nonsense about the 1911…but the fact remains that there’s still a lot to hate about the 1911 as it exists in the market today. To paraphrase The Animals…it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy, and God, I know I’m one…



  1. Buy a Ruger SR1911 and all your problems will disappear. I’ve put 2,500+ rounds through mine, FMJ and JHP, and never a FTF or FTE. In many ways the perfect pistol.

    1. Yep, my Ruger always runs & is amazingly accurate! Everyone who shoots it wants to buy it.

    2. My dad has four 1911s. First was a Sig Scorpion 1911. It works well enough with factory ammo, but won’t work worth a damn with reloads.

      Second was the Ruger SR1911. That gun is a dream. Occasionally, a reload may not feed right, but it works 95% of the time with them. Plus, it just feels a lot better in your hand. The Scorpion has more sharp edges while the Ruger is more polished.

      He also has a Colt Gold Cup .22lr that’s great.

      The Armscor 1911A2 is a 9MM/22TCM convertible that works great, but 9MM is just better all around, plus 22TCM is impossible to find and there are no reloading dies.

  2. Sorry, young’un, you’re just trying too hard to be modern. You find it hard to internalize that Henry Holland perfected the shotgun in 1893 and JMB perfected the fighting pistol in 1911.

    I’m sorry, your tale just doesn’t wash with me. I currently own 1911 pattern guns from Colt(2), RIA(2), Sig, and Taurus. Every one is bone stock and every one is more reliable than you report. They all feed ball ammo and my carry ammo (Gold Dots) and the worst one has less than one failure in 800 rounds. And this is with pistols in 45, 38 Super, and 9mm. Yes, the 9mm is the one with 1/800 failures. It doesn’t get carried much.

    No, I’m not a fanatic about cleaning and lubing them. I don’t know enough about them to do any more than field strip them. I just shoot them and shoot them and shoot them.

    Obviously, your mileage has varied, but you pays your money and you takes your chances.

    All the best.

    1. Yep over 100 years nobody can figure anything better out. We should all go back to biplanes and model T cars.

      1. Change just for the sake of change is silly. If it’s better, or you think it’s better, switch. Otherwise, leave well enough alone.

    2. I agree wholeheartedly, I own a couple 1911s and have never had an issue. One is a WWII hand me down that has so many rounds through it with my grandfather and uncle it had to be rebarreled and fitted with a new slide. Springfield took care of that and my father and I have put over a thousand more rounds through it without a hitch.

    3. Your experience is not typical. Maybe you have just been lucky. I found the article to be spot on with my own experience.

  3. I too have noticed the mileage varies. My brother has a Kimber (spit upon the name) from Clackamas, OR and it has yet to fail. My personal Caspian 1911 that I built myself has had a few hiccups related to getting all the right parts into spec. And then I see somebody with a single stack STI at a match who has a jam every third round. The real problem is that there is not a “1911 company” like say Glock makes the generic 9mm gun that has populated holsters everywhere, but the market share for 1911’s has been split between springfield, colt, kimber, rock island, rock river, wilson, brown, baer, remington and hell even taurus makes a 1911. They don’t all use the same specs and that causes the differences.

  4. I didn’t really “grow up” in guns with the 1911 as a desirable. Carried one for Desert Shield/Storm and on watch duty. Bought a Glock 17 as first full size semi auto. Dad brings his very-worked-on Colt Commander last week and I run it at speed through stage 1 of the IDPA classifier. Magazine failure on the 7th round.

    1. That’s not the gun’s problem. Magazines are a consumable. I rebuild/replace magazines regularly and have no major issues. Usually I can re-spring a mag twice and then it goes into the vice before being discarded.

  5. You’re right, and it doesn’t matter. I’ve seen all the problems you describe above happen to other people. You’ll get a bunch of replies that all say, basically, “That never happened to my gun!” “Mine’s great”, etc. Including this one.

    Newer designs work better and cost less. Stil doesn’t matter. The Commander or CCO sized 1911 is my favorite carry gun. In 9mm, if I can get one. (The Horror!)

    I would never recommend a 1911 to a new shooter, but when you get a good one… it’s realy good.

  6. After researching 1911s on the net numerous times for days and days in the past I have come to the conclusion that unless you get lucky what makes a 1911 run is fairy dust and magic.

    1. You could certainly get that impression from looking online for 1911 info because so few people understand it. It’s almost treated like a dark art. What really makes a good 1911 is quality engineering, quality materials, quality people building them, and quality control before the gun gets to the consumer. There’s a lot of compromise in that recipe that varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Every mass producer of any product has issues, but I’ve seen guns from well-known custom brands that were visibly wrong to anyone who knows even a little bit about, say, extractor tension. Or so you would think. A 1911 that’s built correctly runs very well and for a very long time. Guns that are being made by those who don’t really understand the original specs of the gun as designed, why those specs existed, and who don’t carefully engineer any changes to the design to make it more ammo or user friendly are a much riskier proposition.

    2. I think because so many outfits make them, many are mediocre quality and there are a lot of cheap, crappy mags out there. Some of them probably ran better before they were “tuned” and “customized” as well.

      I don’t worship 1911’s, they aren’t my favorite pistol, but I owned several. None of them, including the Colt, would feed lead semi wad cutters. Any rounded profile bullet- hollow points, FMJ or RNL worked fine. I’ve run many thousands of rounds through them with extremely few stoppages and no broken parts.

  7. Count me among those whose 1911’s work and work well. None are custom. All are at least a generation old. I had one slightly worked at Orange Gunsite about 1992 or so, but that was a parts gun to begin with.
    OK, I gotta say we finally busted the barrel-bushing on my GrandDad’s 1911 – the commercial pistol he took to France in 1918, damn pistol didn’t even last a whole century without breaking! I know it had a lot of rounds through it because I shot two full cans of GI ball through it growing up.
    My first MOS in the Marine Corps was Armorer; I can’t remember a 1911 failing except due to cheap-ass low-bidder magazines, later service using USGI pistols (the last one had been built in 1945) showed me a reliable weapon still superior to the on that replaced it.
    I’m not against tupperware either; I regularly carry an XD in .45 for it’s light rail, fat magazine and tritium sights -and because my Bride the southpaw has one.

  8. Guns are like cars…some folks just want something to get them back and forth with no drama. Others demand super great mileage and plenty of legroom. Some go for the racy sportscar while others want a rugged SUV that never gets stuck. Then there are those few that just loving driving those classic cars from the past. Yes, they are hard to keep running because parts are hard to find and their mileage is not the greatest…but they sure do turn heads when you drive by. I view the 1911 like a classic car. Yes there are cheaper models out there made of modern materials. Yes there are models that you never have to clean and they just keep running. But there are those classics as well…just say’n.

  9. I’m a 1911 fan. Had GREAT luck with two different Colt Commanders (one a plain Jane “1991” model, the other an “Enhanced Combat” model), a Norinco Gov’t Model, and a Rock Island Arsenal “GI” model. Only three mechnical replacements needed — the Norinco had slightly too long firing pin and weak FP return spring (designed to reliably light hard-ass Commie primers, a bit TOO hard hitting on US civilian primers), the RIA I swapped out the barrel bushing, because it was REALLY tightly fitted (great accuracy, but I hate _having_ to use a bushing wrench), and I swapped out the Series 80 crap in the Colts for shims (and it was like getting trigger jobs, all by itself).

    I’ve done external stuff that doesn’t affect reliability — prettier grips (just ’cause), a lanyard ring MSH on the RIA (to make it more GI, along with Gi style grips), and a S&A falred magwell MSH on the enhanced Colt (I never had any trouble hitting the hole before, but since I use Pachmeyer slam-pads, it doesn’t make the gun any harder to conceal either, and I think it looks cool). I’ve considered fitting one of those memory hump beavertails that buries the hammer for the newer Colt, mostly “just ’cause it looks cool” (but I have a VERY short list of places who I trust to do that fitting). I’ve considered replacing the sights on the newer Colt, but the factory standard ones (which are basically GI sights, only taller, crisper, and with dots) still get the job done for me.

    However, I’d have happily carried any of those guns unmodified (except the Norinco). And I have. I’d happily carry any of them (or any of the WWII-procured 1911s I was issued at government expense back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth and the Soviets were around) into combat without hesitation.

    But ALL THREE of those companies knew how to built a straight forward, reliable 1911, at a price point I was happy to pay (MUCH less than a Kimber, which is a terribly inferior gun, IMNSHO). They didn’t come with a lot of bells & whistles (hey, the GI safety, slide release, and mag release are all plenty big enough for me). They don’t have questionable design alterations like full length guide rods, shock buffers, etc.

    And I DON’T use the cheapest magazines I can find. ALL of my mags (except 3 USGI surplus I keep for the “GI” RIA) are marked Colt, and ALL of them (even the ones built as 8-rounders) have Colt 7-round stainless followers. (I’d use Wilson 47 mags without hesitation, too. Just too cheap to buy some yet, since teh Colts work great.)

    OTOH, if I was advising someone on a defensive gun to buy as their first defensive gun, 1911 is WAAAAAY down on the list of guns I would recommend. It has its virtues that an experienced 1911 guy can take full advantage of, but it has its flaws that can really screw up someone less esperienced. Most Plastic Fantastics are a better choice, honestly. (Hell, these days, I carry Combat Tupperware more than my 1911s. . . in 9x19mm to boot! {grin})

  10. The 1911 is finicky. I took a Colt 1911 to the range last week, have not fired it in 2 years. I don’t use it but figured I would check it out since it has been so long. When the gun was put away it had 6 magazines with it that all worked flawlessly when last shot. The mags were stored unloaded since then, mind you. Upon 100 rounds fired, 2 of the 6 magazines caused repeated malfunctions. The other 4 were fine.

    This is the issue with the 1911. Every time you pick it up there are no guaruntees. I think it is a weapon only suited for an avid shooter who shoots it often, becuase it has to be constantly tested. I used to carry and shoot 1911s exclusively, so at least then I was on top of the situation. But, since I rarely shoot them anymore, I certainly won’t carry one. When they are tuned and being used regularly, they are awesome though. Unlike the classic car, which is a good analogy, the amazing thing about the 1911 is it still performs at a top level. But it requires a lot of maintenance.

  11. “Your Mileage May Vary” is the only accurate statement about the 1911. There are so many people who make them with differing tolerances and subtle and even big differences that it’s hardly fair to lump them all in as one single gun and say “you’ve seen one you’ve seen ’em all”. By contrast, Glocks are made by Glock, Sigs are made by Sig. 1911 is made by almost everyone and anyone, including bubba gunsmith. That said, the 1911 was designed with hand fitting in mind. It was not designed for modern mass production techniques. It’s amazing that some modern manufacturers are able to churn out mass produced 1911s that work as well as they do at all.

    1. Hand fitted… well, not really. The original was designed to use gauged drop in parts put in by draftee armourers and still be reliable. Thus the original, GI 1911, a loose gun with so-so accuracy, terrible sights, a tendancy to draw blood, but really reliable.

  12. 100+ years and counting, two world wars, Korea and Vietnam and still there are doubters. So none of you have ever seen a stove pipe, double feed or FTE in a plastic pistol…oh please.

  13. When I got my 1911 there were only a few manufactures making them. So I chose one of the more reputable companies which was Springfield Armory. I used that pistol for 3 years in IPDA & IPSC competition without any problems and still use it today. I even had a round (from a reload someone gave me to try) blow out the bottom of the pistol destroying the magazine and jamming the slide back, After taking it a part and going through it with a fine tooth comb I found no other problems and no other damage. So I can honestly say that pistol the way it was built save my hands or my life.

  14. My personal S&W bought used has a couple thousand rounds through it with nary a bobble. I have friends with Ed Brown and Colt with tens of thousands (on Special Forces closing in on 30K last I knew) that function excellent. Some hard use at Front Sight caused a few hiccups but it was also reported that EVERY gun in that class had a malfunction. Now maybe you should try holding it like a man and doing some wrist strengthening exercises. Between the trunches of WWI, sandy beaches in the pacific durring WWII, the bone chilling cold of Chosin reservoir, and the muddy Mekong delta I think the 1911 has proven its reliability.

  15. I love 1911s. I shoot them in IDPA. You will NOT find one in my hand if something goes bump in the night. Yes I have made it thru a match without an issue, but the very next match may not go so well. I shoot reloads almost exclusively in them, dirty unique hard cast lead releads, and that may be the problem but given the data that I have available to me they are not reliable enough to trust my life to them.

    I do not think of them as the psycho girl, more like the friend that is awesome to hang out with sometime. You have a blast when you are hanging out having a good time, but you know that they are not the one to call if you trouble and need serious help. I have other friends for that.

  16. I’ve never seen a malfunction on a 1911. Not saying you’re lying, but I think the reported problems are sorta like shrill, loud socialist wackos at Occupy events; in your head you know they’re fringe political cultists, but they’re so in your face that it’s hard to ignore them. I think a lot of the reliability issues that people run into are caused by taking them to gunsmiths who work on everything and don’t know the 1911 as well as they should; it’s like the difference between a guy who upgrades his motor with a few performance parts in his garage and the people who build race motors for GT endurance racing.

    For example, I read horror stories all the time about original Delta Elites being plagued with cracked slides. My understanding is that it was only an issue on the initial production run, related to a very specific part of the slide, that was corrected. I learned to shoot pistols with my dad’s DE using Norma-spec ammo and I never observed or experienced so much as an FTF, never mind a cracked slide. As an aside, it’s my opinion that the 10mm’s reputation for brutal recoil is overstated.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: