June 2013

1911 Value Shootout: Standard GI, or Kimber Custom Eclipse?

A difficult question often posed to the staff concerns subjective aspects of the handgun. Is the Italian Beretta a better handgun than the U.S.-made pistol? Is the pinned and recessed Smith & Wesson revolver the better shooter than the modern slip-barrel revolver? Among those that seem to invite the most comments is the difference between GI 1911 pistols and the semi-custom factory pistols. By semi-custom we mean pistols with high-profile sights, a custom grade beavertail safety, extended controls, and claims of superior fitting in the barrel, bushing, and barrel hood. The plain old GI pistol that served without complaint in two world wars is seen as the underdog in such a match up. The GI pistol cannot possibly play on an even field with the modern enhanced 1911, can it? The answer is, it depends.

It depends on what you are doing and what you expect from the pistol. How many shooters can take advantage of the advanced features, and how many of these shooters can shoot up to the pistolsí capabilities is the question. But there is also the bottom line, and the bottom line is often personal defense. Many shooters swear by the 1911 GI pistol and want nothing else. One of our raters is quick to point out he knows the 1911, and as much as a person can feel emotional attachment toward an inanimate object, he loves the 1911, including all its eccentricities.

The 1911 is individual enough that hand-fitting can make a difference. The closer the tolerances, the less slop and the less eccentric wear on the pistol. On the other hand, the GI pistols were fitted well in the locking lugs and barrel bushing, and that was all that mattered for acceptable accuracy. One of our testers had a conversation with an importer regarding the Philippines-made pistols. The businessman did not like the raterís review of a certain pistol. The importer noted that the rater liked the RIA pistols, but not another pistol brand with more advanced features. The importer noted that the pistols come off the same assembly line ó or at least the same factory, and the more advanced pistol went on for special handling. Also, the more expensive pistol had more features ó yet, our tester did not like it. Our tester replied that yes, the RIA was a fine GI pistol, mainly because what features were on the pistol were done well. The other pistol included more stuff, but it took more finesse and greater skill to fit a custom beavertail and ambidextrous safety, and the pistol with superior features just didnít come out as well, in the opinion of our testers.

In other words, you may purchase a good GI-grade pistol on the cheap, but if you are going to obtain an advanced-grade 1911, then it may not be advisable to go cheap. So can the discriminating 1911 shooter be happy with either a bargain-basement 45 ACP or a customized factory pistol at three times the price? To answer a number of questions concerning the performance of the 1911 pistol, our South Carolina test unit obtained both a Rock Island GI pistol and a Kimber Eclipse Target II. There are plenty of other pistols that could have stood in for these choices ó the High Standard GI pistol might have just as easily been selected as the baseline, or the Springfield Loaded Model as the advanced pistol. But, in the end, we wanted to know if the Kimber Eclipse II would so outshine the RIA GI that buying the more affordable handgun would seem like a waste of money. Or would the simplicity of the GI show us that spending more on the Eclipse was just spending more?

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