December 12, 2012

Kimber SIS Custom RL 45 ACP

The Kimber SIS Custom RL had several distinctive features. Most notable were carving the initials "SIS" into the slide as cocking serrations front and rear. Striking fancy knurled wood grips adorned this pistol, and they accented the gun’s slick gray KimPro outer finish, which had an element of metal flake sheen. We did spy a small chip or wear through on the slide just above the slide stop pin on the right side.

The SIS Custom RL came with night sights. The rear unit, windage adjustable via drift, was mounted in a dovetail aligning its rear face precisely with the back of the slide for maximum sight radius. Its forward edge presented a vertical surface reaching about 0.2 inches upwards from the top of the slide. This was to provide a catch point on one’s belt or other edge in case the slide needed to be racked without using two hands. Today’s pistols commonly feature a rear sight with a ramped profile front to back. The ramped profile is much less likely to snag clothing than a tall and sharp sight blade. But if the slide must be racked and the support hand is not available, the operator might wish for the sharp edge of the old-style rear sight. Kimber’s SIS-style rear sight meets this need without the worry of hanging up on the inside of a jacket or shirt.

The accessory rail front sight was a modern era feature, but the solid profile trigger (adjustable for over travel) gave the SIS a throwback look. The hammer was heavily serrated for grip, and its overall profile was modern, but the relief was small compared to our other pistols. Another custom touch was the 30-lpi checkering on the front strap. The mainspring housing showed deep vertical lines, and the raised surface of the grip safety was engraved with three wavy lines.

Courtesy, Gun Tests

Its sights were some of the best we’ve found, and well coordinated ergonomics helped the gun respond to the shooter like a magic wand. But how do we add real cocking serrations without ruining its looks? The Kimber SIS Custom RL had several distinctive features. Most notable were carving the initials "SIS" into the slide as cocking serrations front and rear. Striking fancy knurled wood grips adorned this pistol, and they accented the gun’s slick gray KimPro outer finish, which had an element of metal flake sheen. We did spy a small chip or wear through on the slide just above the slide stop pin on the right side.

Thumb safeties were ambidextrous, with the right side being slightly reduced in contact area. A standard-length guide rod was in play, and the spring cap could be compressed by hand. Initially, we found the barrel bushing too tight to be turned without using a wrench, which was supplied. But by the fourth time we had broken the gun down, field stripping could be achieved completely by hand.

Elsewhere, the SIS represented a return to more traditional construction. First, the extractor was housed inside the slide. This not only protects the extractor but strengthens the slide. Furthermore, the suffix "II" was missing from the gun’s nomenclature, signifying that the Schwarz safety system was not part of the design. Type-II Kimber pistols contained a firing-pin lock that was released as the grip safety was compressed. We prefer non-Type II pistols because there is less chance of interference with the trigger press. At the bench we found that the trigger was consistent, letting off with the application of 5.25 pounds shot after shot.

In our accuracy tests the Kimber favored Winchester’s 185-grain Silvertip HP rounds. We measured a best overall group of 1.1 inches while producing 369 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy. Only a single shot that ruined an otherwise tight group increased the average group size towards the 2-inch mark. Consistency was remarkable with all three test brands.

In our rapid-action tests, we learned much more about the Kimber SIS pistol. To start, we liked that the SIS arrived with three KimPro magazines that held eight rounds. Also, two base pads of different sizes were included, and they help seat the magazines during reloads. One set added approximately 0.3 inch to the overall length, and the other set added about 0.6 inch. These were rebuildable magazines, so they could be taken apart for cleaning, and the springs could be replaced when necessary.

Courtesy, Gun Tests

The accessory rail front sight was a modern era feature, but the solid profile trigger (adjustable for over travel) gave the SIS a throwback look. The hammer was heavily serrated for grip, and its overall profile was modern, but the relief was small compared to our other pistols. Another custom touch was the 30-lpi checkering on the front strap. The mainspring housing showed deep vertical lines, and the raised surface of the grip safety was engraved with three wavy lines.

In our first attempt at our rapid-action course of fire, our elapsed time was 9.79 seconds. We noticed the gun shot to point of aim, and the desired sight picture of a centered front sight with the top edges of the blade leveled within the notch was very easy to pick up. Our next run took only 9.02 seconds, and from then on elapsed times dropped below 9 seconds, with a best run of 8.14 seconds.

We thought the Kimber SIS Custom RL was the easiest of our three guns to point. Because the sights were precise and clear, we always knew when was the gun was lined up. The checkering was a big help, but we think matching the proper-width grip panels had a lot to do with finding the target and quickly loading the magazine. The Kimber’s magazine well did not appear to be extensively beveled, but we could find the proper angle for a smooth reload every time. What we didn’t like was the lack of grip supplied by the letters SIS on the slide.

Combined with the slick finish (and whatever oil seeped out from beneath the slide), we were surprised every time we grabbed the slide that we were able to move it far enough to pick up a round. We think the only reason it worked every time is that the SIS was well tuned and willing to feed ammunition. Combined with a heavy recoil spring, this also made for a very uneasy feeling whenever we needed to pull back the slide to clear the chamber. Those seeking a quick fix may be happy to know that as slick as the Kimber KimPro finish was, we tried applying 3M grip tape and yes, it did stick. The jury is still out on the toughness of Kimber’s new finish.

In our estimation, the Kimber SIS Custom RL is just a few good cocking serrations away from being one of the best over-the-counter 1911s we’ve tried.