An out-of-the-box 1911 pistol that shoots 3-1/2- to 4-inch groups at 25 yards might be suitable for personal protection. However, such a pistol isn’t even close to adequate for formal target shooting, such as a bullseye match. To be competitive, you need a pistol that is at least capable of 2-inch groups at 25 yards. A handgun that will produce 1-inch or smaller groups at that distance would be ideal.
Several custom pistolsmiths make very nice, extremely accurate target pistols, but these guns are priced in the $2,000 to $4,000 range. What do you do if your checkbook can’t take that big of a hit? The answer is simple. Buy a factory-made match pistol that will only cost you an arm, instead of an arm and a leg.
The subjects of this test are three factory pistols billed as being match grade. They are the Colt Gold Cup Trophy, the Springfield Trophy Match and the Kimber Classic Gold Match. Each of these handguns are 1911-style .45 ACP pistols that retail for around $1,000.
The Test Pistols
The Colt Gold Cup was introduced in 1961, replacing earlier match pistols made by this manufacturer. Since then, it has been the standard by which all other bullseye pistols have been judged. The Gold Cup Trophy is finished by the Colt Custom Shop. It utilizes an internal firing pin block safety and a standard-length recoil spring guide. Other features are a rubber grip, a beavertail grip safety and a flat mainspring housing. The stainless steel model we tested retails for $1,116. A blued version sells for $66 less.
Springfield offers many different versions of the 1911 pistol, and they are quite popular on the competition circuits. The company’s bullseye pistol is the Trophy Match, which was introduced in 1994. The gun has a two-piece recoil spring guide, walnut grips, a High Hand grip safety and an arched mainspring housing. The stainless steel model in this test retails for $997, while the blued version sells for $28 less.[PDFCAP(2)].
Kimber is the new kid on the block, but it is quickly building a good reputation. Introduced this year, the hand-fitted match version of this manufacturer’s Classic line of 1911-type pistols is the Gold Match. It features a full-length recoil spring guide, rosewood grips, a high-ride grip safety and a flat mainspring housing. The blued model we bought for this test retails for $1,019, and the stainless steel version sells for $149 more.[PDFCAP(3)].
The stainless Colt Gold Cup Trophy had polished sides and bead-blasted edges. The slide had a serrated sighting rib on the top and functional gripping serrations at the back. There were no serrations on the frame’s frontstrap, under the wraparound grip, but the flat mainspring housing was serrated. The grip safety was of the newer, enhanced design with a straight beavertail. The one-piece black rubber grip was covered with molded checkering and wrapped around the front of the frame. It was held in place by four screws, two on each side.
Two stainless steel single-column magazines were provided with this Colt. The 8-round magazine had a flat follower and a nonremovable floorplate. The 7-round magazine, which the instruction manual said was designed specifically for semi-wadcutter ammunition, had a flat follower that provided a different feed angle. It, too, had a non-removable floorplate.
Like the Colt, the stainless Springfield Trophy Match had matte edges and polished sides. The slide was serrated on the top to provide a no-glare sighting plane, and had good gripping serrations on the back. The frame had a slightly undercut trigger guard. Its frontstrap was serrated, as was the arched mainspring housing. The grip safety was an upswept design with a memory groove, for those who use a high thumb grip.
The Springfield’s grips were nothing special. Both panels were made of walnut with full checkering, which was neatly cut. The grips covered the sides of the frame only, and were held in place by two screws apiece. One stainless steel 8-round magazine was furnished with this pistol. It had a flat follower and a fixed floorplate with an extended black rubber base pad.
Our blued Kimber Gold Match’s steel frame and slide had lightly polished sides and matte edges. The top of the slide was smooth, but non-glaring. There were gripping serrations on both the front and the rear of the slide. The frame’s smooth frontstrap wasn’t serrated, but the flat mainspring housing was checkered. The grip safety had an upswept beavertail and a raised area at the bottom, intended to make the safety easier to disengage.
Both of the Kimber’s good-looking grip panels were made of rosewood. We thought the dark reddish-brown coloring of the grips contrasted nicely with the rest of the gun’s blue/black finish. Except for a nearly diamond-shaped area at the top and bottom, each panel was completely checkered. The cut checkering was well done. The panels, which covered the sides of the frame only, were held in place by two screws each. This pistol came with two blued steel 8-round magazines. Each magazine had a flat follower and a fixed floorplate, which had two holes for the installation of a base pad.
Fit And Finish
We could not find fault with the fit and the finish of the Colt Gold Cup Trophy. Metal parts had a uniform finish and no cosmetic imperfections. The slide was so closely fitted to the frame there was no movement, either vertically or horizontally. When in battery, there was no movement of the barrel. The lockup was very tight. Both magazines were well constructed.
Springfield also did a very good job in fitting the moving parts of the Trophy Match. There was no noticeable movement in the slide-to-frame fit. The barrel-to-slide fit was equally tight, and the barrel lockup was perfect. The magazine had no sharp edges or other shortcomings. The polished and matte finishes on metal parts were well executed and had no inconsistencies.
We considered the slide-to-frame fit on the Kimber Gold Match to be about as good as it gets. The barrel lockup was solid, and no movement between the barrel and slide could be felt. Construction of the two magazines was faultless. The matte blue finish on the edges of the pistol was evenly applied, and the polishing job on the sides showed attention to detail.
Since all the guns in this test were a 1911-style pistol, they should have felt and pointed the same. Right? Wrong. The differing shape of the grips, grip safeties, underside of the trigger guards and mainspring housings all had an affect in this department.
Like all of the pistols tested here, the Colt was moderately muzzle-heavy and afforded good muzzle stability. The front sight aligned evenly when pointed. The rubber wraparound grip provided a nonslip gripping surface. However, the top front edge of the grip created a ridge just under the trigger guard that some of our shooters said was annoying. The shape of this pistol’s grip safety didn’t allow as high a hold as the others. Also, the bottom portion of the grip safety was straight, so some shooters had to pay special attention to how they gripped the gun to ensure they depressed and disengaged the safety.
Everyone felt the Springfield sat well in the hand. However, some of our shooters found that it tended to point a little high, due to the arched shape of the mainspring housing. The checkered grip panels were fairly comfortable and, along with the serrations on the front and back of the frame, afforded a solid no-slip hold. The grip safety permitted a high hand position, and its raised bottom made the safety easy to depress when the gun was grasped.
The Kimber’s grip safety also afforded a higher than normal grip, though not quite as high as the Springfield. Nevertheless, the larger raised area on the bottom of the safety made it the surest to depress. The grips felt good in the hand. However, since the panels weren’t completely checkered and the frontstrap wasn’t serrated, maintaining a secure grasp took an extra bit of effort. We thought this pistol was a natural pointer.
Colt equipped the Gold Cup Trophy with standard controls. None of them were ambidextrous or oversized. The slide catch lever was at the top front corner of the left grip panel, while the magazine release button was at the left rear of the trigger guard. Both of the controls worked smoothly.
Like all of Colt’s currently-made 1911 pistols, the Gold Cup had three safeties. When pushed upward to the engaged position, the two-position thumb safety on left rear of the frame blocked the trigger and the slide. The grip safety on the back of the frame prevented firing if the shooter didn’t depress the safety while gripping the gun. The internal safety passively blocked the firing pin until the trigger was pulled all the way to the rear. This was the only pistol in the test that had a firing pin block, because Colt has the patent on it. All of the safeties worked as they should.
The operation and location of the controls and manual safeties on the Springfield Trophy Match and the Kimber Gold Match were the same as those of the Colt. However, each of these pistols had an extended thumb safety lever, which right-handed shooters found easier to operate with their dominant thumb. The controls and safeties on both pistols worked positively.
All of the single-action .45s tested were equipped with aluminum match-grade triggers with grooved 1/4-inch-wide faces and overtravel adjustment screws. We weren’t satisfied with the trigger movement on any of these guns, because they released at more than 4 pounds.
The Colt’s trigger pull released consistently at 4-3/4 pounds and had no creep or overtravel. The Springfield’s trigger pull weighed 5 pounds, according to our self-recording gauge, but released crisply and had no creep or overtravel. After a slight amount of creep, the Kimber’s trigger released at 4-1/2 pounds with no overtravel. Although the Kimber’s trigger pull wasn’t the cleanest, our shooters found it easier to control than the others.
The Gold Cup Trophy was equipped with a Colt-Elliason rear sight, which had a smooth medium-size face and click-adjustable windage and elevation screws. The front sight was a fixed patridge-style blade with a straight face. The front sight nearly filled the rear’s notch, providing a precise sight picture. However, this arrangement was the slowest to acquire.
Our Trophy Match had a fixed front blade with an angled face and a Bomar-style fully-adjustable rear sight. Our shooters liked the rear’s large serrated face. The height of the sights made them easy to acquire, but obtaining a consistent sight picture was more difficult.
The Gold Match came with a Kimber rear sight that was much like the Springfield’s, except for the addition of a windage-locking setscrew. The front sight was a tall dovetailed blade with a slightly angled face. None of our shooters thought the rear sight’s locking feature was especially useful. However, this arrangement provided a decent sighting reference.
At The Range
Functioning of the Colt Gold Cup Trophy was troublefree with the three brands of ammunition we tried. However, in our opinion, its accuracy was unacceptable for a match-grade pistol. This .45’s smallest average groups of 2.55 inches at 25 yards, produced with Federal match semi-wadcutters, were equal to or larger than the groups of the $489 Ruger P-90 with standard ammunition tested in the February 1998 issue. Groups produced with Winchester and UMC ball ammunition were even larger, averaging 2.78 and 3.78 inches.
Evidently, Colt’s testing department couldn’t get the Gold Cup Trophy to perform any better than we did. A test target included with this pistol had a 1-7/8-inch group that was fired at 15 yards. We were puzzled by why this group was produced at such a short distance, since bullseye shooting with centerfire pistols is done at 25 and 50 yards. We were also appalled that Colt knew this $1,116 pistol wasn’t very accurate, as shown by the target, and shipped it anyway.
In 200 rounds, no malfunctions were encountered while firing the Springfield Trophy Match. We were not impressed by the five-shot groups it produced with Federal match 185-grain semi-wadcutters, which averaged 2.25 inches at 25 yards. However, we considered its accuracy to be acceptable with the other two loads used. Winchester and UMC 230-grain ball ammun-ition was good for 1.70- and 1.90-inch groups, respectively.
In our opinion, the Kimber Gold Match’s functioning was disappoint-ing. It worked reliably with ball ammunition, but failed to feed 50 percent of the time with Federal match semi-wadcutters. We tried using the semi-wadcutter magazine supplied with the Colt, but that didn’t solve the problem. A few days after testing this pistol, we talked to Kimber’s marketing director on the phone. He readily admitted that this model would not feed semi-wadcutters. So, we concluded the shortcoming was not limited to just our test gun.
On the positive side, the Gold Match produced the best groups of the test. These groups, which averaged 1.55 inches at 25 yards, were obtained using Federal match 185-grain semi-wadcutters — the same ammunition this pistol wouldn’t feed properly. With the Winchester and the UMC 230-grain ball loads, the Kimber produced 2.13- and 2.18-inch groups.