February 2011

1911 Range Showdown: Colt Has Heritage, but Places Third

In this roundup of target-sighted 1911 handguns, the Colt Gold Cup Trophy demonstrated why it deserves accolades as a paper-puncher, but our team preferred two other pistols over it.

When it comes to 1911-type handguns, most of us think of personal defense or tactical versions of the old warhorse; however, many are used for recreational shooting and informal target shooting. Recognizing that fact, our paper-punchers wanted to burrow down into the details of target-grade 1911 pistols to see what target sights, very tight slide-to-frame fit (some Army gunsmiths weld the barrel, slide, and barrel bushing to create a new standard of tightness, an option not available to most civilian shooters), and better trigger and barrel can produce in terms of accuracy. The goal was to choose which handgun was the most accurate and best suited for informal shooting and as a base gun for upgrades to more demanding competitions.

What we learned generally is that the primary advantage of such handguns are their adjustable sights. Adjustable target-grade sights allow the shooter to adjust his sights for a wide range of bullet weights. (The 45 ACP may be useful with bullet weights of 152 to 260 grains, but the 180- to 200-grain bullets are generally the most useful for target shooting.) Also, target-grade pistols offer a fine sight picture necessary for firing good groups at longer ranges.

We tested three target-sight-equipped pistols from Colt, Kimber, and Springfield. One was the Colt Gold Cup Trophy 05070X 45 ACP, $1050 MSRP, but which we found at a counter-retail price of $963. Kimber’s Eclipse Target II was the next gun, priced at $1345 MSRP and counter price of $1160. The third gun of the trio was the Springfield Loaded Model Target P19132LP, MSRP $1069 and retail price $973.

We were lucky to be able to obtain two loads especially designed for accuracy, the Federal 185-grain full-metal-jacket semi-wadcutter and the Cor-Bon 230-grain Performance Match. We also used a handload worked up just for this project, using the Oregon Trail 180-grain SWC. With these rounds we used an established method to zero a pistol with adjustable sights. If the pistol is close to the zero you want from the factory, minimal effort is required to zero the sight. If not, more work is needed. First, however, the shooter must determine click values, which will vary from sight to sight. To measure click value for each gun, we took a good benchrest position and fired a three-shot group. Next, we clicked the rear sight wedge notch five clocks to the right, then fired another group. We then measured the amount of adjustment, allowing us to precisely calculate the exact number of clicks needed to zero the piece, or the exact movement made by a single click. It doesn’t matter whether you do the vertical or horizontal clicks first, but both directions need to be measured.

Also, before we get into the guts of these guns, it’s worth noting at this point that some target pistols get battered to death by firing full-power ammunition—an easily avoided problem. The oft-repeated advice of fitting a full-power Government Model recoil spring to the Gold Cup is a non-sequitur. The recoil spring is full power. It is the hammer spring that is clipped and lightened to provide less resistance so that the slide will cycle with lighter loads. The Gold Cup is also supplied with a second lightweight recoil spring. Hardball or 230-grain FMJ loads usually break 830 fps. It is possible to work up a load using a 185-grain bullet at 750 fps with a proper lightweight recoil spring. Naturally, a handgun sprung in this manner would quickly batter itself into a rattling wreck with hardball loads.

With ammo of appropriate power, here’s how the guns did at the range:

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