June 1999

.45 ACPs: Springfield, Kimber Beat Colt; Glock 21 Surprises

When we bought and shot three full-size 1911-style semi-autos, the “Loaded” Springfield showed the best features and make-up. But the Compact Classic ran a close second.

Recently, a friend of Gun Tests® named Bruce decided to buy himself a .45 auto. Although he had been a revolver shooter for several decades, Bruce recently received some intense instruction in the un-gentle art of rapid-fire shooting and handling of a 1911 .45 auto. His eyes were opened to the many possibilities of the caliber, so he went shopping and examined eight different .45s. Now, picking a .45 for some of us is a simple task because we impose a few personal requirements on the gun that greatly limit our choices.

However, there are many different kinds of full-size .45 autos available, and our friend didn’t have our strict prejudices, so he had a harder time choosing. He considered the qualities of fit and finish of the different guns. His final choice also had to have a good trigger pull. Price didn’t make a lot of difference, but he couldn’t see spending extra money for features he wouldn’t need, like adjustable sights or checkered steel. He was willing to accept a double-action first shot, so he looked at the SIG and Ruger offerings, but he didn’t look at the Glock Model 21 because he wasn’t willing to accept its double-action-only trigger style. The Glock trigger takes more pressure than is required to fire a fine-tuned 1911, but it is by no means as hard a pull as the typical double-action effort. However, Bruce had another complaint about the Glock that nothing can change. He didn’t like its looks. At the end of the day, our friend ended up buying a Springfield “Loaded” 1911 A1.

We thought it would be interesting to compare a few of the full-size .45s guns our friend looked at, to see if we’d come up with the same choice, or another. We had a major advantage in that we could test-fire the guns for accuracy and reliability, and we’d try the triggers and look at the fit and finish of each gun individually along the way. Following his trail, we chose some of the most commonly encountered 1911-style breeds. They were the full-size Kimber Classic Model Custom, $657; the Springfield “Loaded” Model 1911-A1, $565; and the Colt M1991A1 Series 80, $556; all full-size .45 ACP semi-automatics.

We also decided to see what our friend missed by not trying the Glock Model 21, $668, a gun of the same overall size as the 1911. The Glock is lighter and has a drastically different grip angle and, of course, its unusual trigger. Similarities: The feel and function of all three 1911-types, Colt, Kimber and Springfield, were identical. They all had 5-inch barrels, and magazines that held 7 rounds. The back of the chambers of all their barrels were widened to ease or improve feeding. They all had flat mainspring housings and smooth front grip straps. The sight pictures of all three were identical, and they all had checkered grip panels. Here’s how we evaluated the quartet.

Springfield 1911A1 “Loaded”
Our recommendation: With a list price of only $565, the Springfield had the most to offer, in our opinion. Its all-steel construction and good looks were matched by a perfect trigger pull and outstanding accuracy with all loads, plus complete reliability. It’s our first choice.

Click here to view the Springfield 1911A1 ?Loaded? features guide

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The strikingly attractive Springfield had fully checkered wood stocks and a high polish to the sides of its blued receiver and action. The slide top and the rest of the gun was matte black. There were no plastic parts on this gun. It had a long aluminum Videki trigger, a beveled magazine well, extended safety, a skeletonized Commander-style hammer, a Novak rear sight and a highly visible front sight. The gun had a flat steel mainspring housing with vertical serrations. The beavertail grip safety had a big, hand-filling bump on the bottom, which we liked a lot. The Springfield came in a fitted plastic storage/carry case with a spare magazine, cleaning rod, and full instructions. Although it looked great, the Springfield front sight was not dovetailed into the slide. We feel dovetailing is the most foolproof, if not the best-looking, method of attaching a front sight. The Springfield had the now common front slide serrations. The top of the slide permitted easy stovepipe clearing. Like the Kimber, the Springfield’s feed ramp was highly polished and the chamber throat was widened to ease feeding. This gun had a much higher polish in these areas than the Kimber.

At the range, the Springfield handled all ammo with aplomb. There were no problems whatsoever. Our average five-shot group size was 2.5 inches at 15 yards, and the smallest was 1.4 inches with the Winchester hardball. This gun didn’t like the Speer Lawman 230-grain FMJ, getting a 3.5-inch group as the smallest. We were quite impressed with the Springfield. In spite of its having a half-pound heavier trigger pull than the Kimber, the Springfield’s pull felt lighter. There was absolutely no creep, and overtravel was minimal yet adequate. The gun felt precise.

Kimber Classic Custom
Our recommendation: At a competitive $657 price tag, this gun offered lots of good features, making it one of the top two guns in our test.

Click here to view the Kimber Classic Custom features guide

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During our testing, we noticed the Kimber had a shade of trigger creep and a bit of off-color bluing, but was otherwise excellent. We didn’t like its plastic trigger and mainspring housing, but loved its accuracy and reliability. The Kimber looked very promising when we first got our hands on it. It had a 3.5-pound trigger pull with a bit of creep. This matte-black finished gun had a beavertail grip safety and a Commander-style hammer, a nicely contoured and smooth-fronted rear sight, and forward serrations on the slide. It had an extended thumb safety and a long trigger. The flat plastic mainspring housing was checkered. The trigger also was plastic. The hammer was a skeleton-type rounded Commander-style spur. The magazine release was checkered, which we prefer to simple serrations; however, some of us thought it stuck out too far. The ejection port was lowered and flared. Black rubber grip panels contributed to the business-like look. The only blemish was that in strong light the slide was of a slightly different hue than the frame. All in all it looked like a shooter, and we were eager to try it.

Imagine our surprise when our first attempt at shooting this gun resulted in only a loud click. We tried it again, and discovered the firing pin wasn’t marking the cartridge. We attempted to disassemble the gun in the field, but were unable to get the firing pin out with just our fingers. At home we used a drift punch to remove it, and found that the firing pin was a full half-inch too short. It hadn’t broken: The end had been carefully rounded. We called Kimber. Ryan Busse, Kimber’s national sales manager, apologized for the gun having left the factory in that condition. He told us the gun was almost certainly a “show gun,” intended for display at the SHOT Show, where guns are required to be non-functional so the public can handle them without the possibility of the gun firing. He overnighted us the correct firing pin, and the gun then worked perfectly.

On the Kimber, the radius at the intersection of the underside of the trigger guard and the front strap of the frame was noticeably smaller than on the other two guns. This helped get the second finger higher on the gun, gave a more comfortable grip, and thus was a very desirable feature. The Springfield also had some of this relief, but the Colt 1991 had the original-design large radius at this intersection that forced the second finger lower on the grip, and was much less comfortable, in our view. The Kimber came in a foam-lined hinged plastic case with a takedown tool, instructions, and only one magazine.

At the range the Kimber went right to work. Our average five-shot group was 2 inches, with a smallest of 1.3 inches. Our first groups were 2 inches right at 15 yards, which wasn’t a surprise because the rear sight was visibly too far right. We loosened the Allen screw and bumped the Novak left, actually centering it in the slide, and then the gun shot where it looked. Elevation was perfect. Feed and function were perfect with all loads. In fact our only complaint was a personal thing about the rubber grip panels, because they hang up on clothing. Yet they were entirely serviceable.

Colt 1991A1 Series 80
Our recommendation: With a price of $556, the Colt didn’t have any of the features knowledgeable shooters have come to expect on a 1911-style gun. In spite of its good name and very decent accuracy, the Colt would have to be worked on to be fully competitive with the other guns in this test.

Click here to view the Colt 1991A1 Series 80 features guide

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Unless the prospective buyer planned to spend lots of money to make this into a custom piece, and wanted it to be a genuine Colt underneath, we’d pass on it. This gun was supposed to be an extension, with a few nods to inexpensive manufacturing methods, of the Colt 1911A1 line, picking up the serial number list where Colt left off a few decades ago. To that end they made it just like they were back then, including the long hammer and trigger, sights, etc. While this might have looked like a dandy marketing scheme to Colt’s, most shooters probably don’t give a hoot. Today’s 1911 owner wants a gun he can shoot efficiently, and the last few decades have defined certain features that every 1911-style .45 ACP autoloader ought to have. This 1991A1 has very few of them. In this design, the old-style long hammer cuts the web of many shooters’ hands from pinching between hammer and grip safety. The safety can’t be easily operated by most thumbs. The front of the long trigger is absolutely smooth, and gives no tactile sense to the finger. It’s also slippery. The sights are great to the eye, but brutal to the properly instructed pistolero when he tries to clear a jam or perform a tap-rack-bang drill. Hurrah to Colt’s for putting a flat mainspring on the gun, but why not flare the ejection port, like reloaders want? We applaud the dead black finish given by Parkerizing, but there are other finishes that give the same appearance, yet are more durable. (In fairness, they are also more costly.) The trigger pull of our test gun was creepy and too heavy, and it, along with the other items just mentioned, will need to be fixed before this gun is fully modern.

Another big problem with the Colt was that the trigger pull mysteriously became very hard, every so often. The nominal pull was about 5 pounds, but occasionally it would require an estimated 8 to 10 pounds to get the gun to go off. This happened to several of our shooters. Eventually the gun sorted itself out and the problem disappeared. In spite of a gritty and heavy trigger pull, our 1991 Colt shot quite well. The Colt shot 1.9-inch groups on average. It put five into 1.2 inches with the Winchester ball ammo. The Colt really didn’t like the Blazer ammo, not because of mediocre accuracy but because the blunt-nose 200-grain fodder wouldn’t feed reliably. We had three failures to feed within a dozen rounds with that ammo, and would never use it if we owned this gun. The Colt worked well with all other types of ammo we tried.

Glock 21
Our recommendation: If you aren’t wedded to 1911-type guns, you will be impressed with this full-size .45 at $668. We were. We thought its accuracy and great reliability more than offset its squarish look. If it’s your only gun, you can get used to the trigger, though you will never shoot it as fast with the same accuracy as you could a 1911.

Click here to view the Glock 21 features guide

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The 10-shot Glock is here to stay, and it’s a proven winner. Grab a Glock after shooting a 1911 for a day and you notice the great difference in grip angle. The Glock points skyward, and some of our shooters preferred the grip angle of the Glock because they felt like it helped them align the sights quickly. This gun has fixed sights made of plastic, and they give a slightly tighter sight picture, less daylight on the sides of the front sight, than the 1911 clones. The frame of the Glock is “polymer,” and the textured grip panels are molded in as part of the frame. We liked the grip they afforded to the hand. The back grip strap is checkered, and that helped the gun stay put. Lighter than the 1911 clones, the Glock recoils more, but not so much that it bothered us. The Glock Model 21 holds 10 shots in its double-stack magazine and that gives the gun a larger grip than the 1911. The grip circumference was 6 inches, versus 5.25 inch for the 1911 types. The slide of the Glock is about as wide as the grip section of the 1911, which means either type gun is about as easy to conceal. However, because of its weight advantage, the Glock will be easier to pack all day. Trigger reach of the Glock is 4 inches, versus 3.5 inches for the 1911. (We measure this from the center of the trigger to the midpoint of the backstrap.)

The Glock is one accurate handgun. It did the best of all these test guns with the Blazer 200-grain JHP ammo, shooting 1.6-inch groups on average. Also, after shooting paper targets, we tried it at the Elmer Keith Ranch in Idaho, plinking casually at rocks at long range. It shot so well we had one of our former bench-rest competitors shoot it from a bench at a 1-foot-diameter rock at well over 100 yards, and once he got the sight picture he hit the rock with every shot. The gun was also extremely reliable.

Click here to view the Accuracy and Chronograph Data

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The Glock came in a plastic box with a lid like your average Tupperware, and none of us liked the box. We did like the two magazines that came with it, the magazine loading device, and the cleaning rod and bristle brush. The instruction manual was more than adequate.

Gun Tests® Recommends
If you want a full-size .45 autoloader, don’t cheat yourself by avoiding the $668 Glock Model 21. It may not be pretty to you, but it’s growing more and more attractive to us.

Of the 1911-style guns, we’d have to go with the Springfield “Loaded” Model 1911-A1, $565, backing our friend Bruce on his decision. We like all-steel guns, and we like perfect trigger pulls, and we like good-looking guns. The Springfield had all those qualities packed into a reliable and accurate handgun. We’d pick the Kimber Classic Model Custom, $657, a very close second, but would avoid the Colt M1991A1 Series 80, $556, because of all the items it ought to have, but doesn’t.