February 2010

Fine Factory 1911s: S&W, STI, Springfield Armory Battle

The three 45 ACPs all performed well, but each proved to have its own personality. Your choice between them comes down to which bells and whistles you prefer—and the size of your checkbook.

No pistol in current production has evolved into as many variations and price points as John Browning’s 1911. We have looked at some entry-level models (July 2009) costing around $500. This month we look at three 1911s that occupy the upper tier of the factory-gun category. They represent some of the top-end production models of each company, offering significant upgrades to a standard 1911, but are normally available as off-the-shelf stock. All of our test guns had 5-inch barrel models and featured niceties such as front- and back-strap checkering, adjustable sights, stainless-steel match-grade barrels, front and rear slide serrations, skeletonized triggers, and hammers with cocking serrations.

The three contestants in our match up were the Smith & Wesson Model MSW1911 No. 108284 ($1256), their top end stock model; Springfield Armory’s TRP Light Rail Model ($1919), a burly gun in basic black; and STI International’s ISPC- and USPCA-legal Sentinel Premier. The hard-chrome model came in at a wallet-draining $2413.

Testing was conducted in two locations. Our first stop was the indoor range at Bass Pro Shops in Grapevine, Texas. There we conducted our team inspections of the guns and our accuracy testing. A second and third round of reliability shooting, along with our chronograph work, was performed at the Arlington Sportsman’s Club, www.arlingtonsportsman.com, one of the largest member’s-only clubs in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

We started our evaluation at the time we opened the case, checking off what accessories were (or were not) included with our pistols. Next, we field-stripped each gun and lubed and prepped them for use, noting the ease or difficulty of this process. Once our guns were ready for use, we fired some initial rounds to get some break-in time for each weapon, and to get a feel for each gun. We used three types of ammunition for our testing: Winchester USA 230-grain FMJs, Monarch Brass Case 230-grain FMCs, and a Winchester USA Personal Protection 230-grain JHP load. Our choices were limited to what we could scrounge off the shelves after visiting a number of sporting-goods and gun stores in the area.

Also, we ran a few hundred rounds through each gun in an effort to get some sort of malfunction. Each gun ran smoothly, exhibited good accuracy, with zero malfunctions. Based on these facts, one might think this evaluation was easy to perform. However, it actually proved to divide our testers over each gun’s ranking. This was due to the fact that each gun had a distinctly different feel when operating it. None of them were bad, but it was apparent that there were three different design philosophies in place for each gun. We’ll discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each gun, and how these characteristics would factor into your decision in purchasing one of them.

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