December 2000

Packin'-Size .45 ACPs: Robar, Wilson Combat, Kimber Face Off

The tuned Officer's ACP, CQB Compact, and Pro CDP portable powerhouses are all great carry-gun picks, but each has its strengths and weaknesses to consider.

[IMGCAP(1)] Those who carry a handgun all day, every day, know what a drag a heavy pistol can be on the belt. In some cases, back problems have resulted from the lopsided strain on the spine. Accordingly, the lightest pistol that has sufficient power becomes the weapon of choice for all-day carriers. There is little doubt that the .45 ACP provides lots of power in a portable package, but how light can the handgun be before that power gets, literally, out of hand?

Turns out a properly designed handgun can be quite light without the power of the .45 becoming a pain, and a light .45 is one of the best choices for the all-day carrier. Is accuracy a problem with light guns? Accuracy depends on the fitting of the piece. How much accuracy do you need in the first place? While it’s nice to have a pistol on your belt that’ll put ‘em all into a quarter inch or less at a thousand yards, practical considerations have commonly established a loose minimum requirement of about 4 inches at 25 yards. In fact, guns twice as bad as that are more than good enough if you’re 5 feet from your target and shooting as fast as possible.

Records indicate that gunfights go down at an average range of 7 yards. At that distance a pistol capable of 6-inch accuracy at 25 yards will put all its shots into less than 2 inches. We’ve been lucky enough to witness some of the world’s best action-shooting marksmen, rapid-firing handguns at that range on several occasions. Their pistols were capable of less-than-inch accuracy at 25 yards, but the “groups” made by world-class competitors at close range, shooting as fast as they could—the gun sounded like a machine gun—were on the order of 6 inches at 7 yards. No, you don’t need a lot of accuracy in a packing handgun.

What do you need? The piece must function every time with the ammo of choice. Ideally, the pistol ought to function perfectly with every kind of ammunition ever made in that caliber, but to test this would require more time and more ammunition than most armies have to expend. We test our personal handguns with at least 200 rounds of a given ammunition, more if time and funds permit. The piece must shoot all that ammunition with zero malfunctions before we’ll pack it for serious social purposes. If it fails, we fix the problem and start counting again from zero.

In these situations, we recently tested three packin’-size pistols and gave them a thorough wringing out. They were the Wilson Combat CQB Compact, which is a smaller brother to the full-size CQB which won out against Baer and Clark pistols in the April 2000 Gun Tests. We also secured a Robar-tuned lightweight Officer’s ACP, just slightly shorter than the Wilson gun but much lighter, with Robar’s outstanding two-tone finish. Rounding out the trio was a Kimber Pro CDP, which had a 4-inch barrel (a quarter-inch shorter than a Commander), and a full-size aluminum-alloy frame. All were in .45 ACP, and all had most of the bells and whistles commonly found on serious 1911 types these days, including beavertails, good safeties, and visible, but fixed, sights. Here’s what we found when we tested them.

Wilson CQB Compact
Finished with Armor-Tuff in dark green with a black slide, this $1,695 compact pistol had a sturdy feel. It had fine checkering on the front and rear straps, just like its bigger brother. The fully checkered grips were of diamondwood. Because this all-steel gun was well fitted and didn’t rattle, it felt like a precision machine. Included in the package were Wilson’s Night Eyes, consisting of a glowing green dot in the front sight and two yellow dots at the rear, giving an easily discerned and very practical sight picture in low or zero light.

Click here to view the Wilson CQB Compact features guide

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The front sight was dovetailed, but not pinned, in place. Its rear surface was not serrated. The rear sight was Wilson’s truncated Combat Pyramid design that permitted much of the surroundings of the target to be seen around the critical flat-topped notch area. The rear sight was dovetailed into the slide, and secured with a small Allen-head screw.

The slide had no serrations at its front end, but the piece could be press-checked via the old method of hanging the index finger under the muzzle, and pinching with the thumb in the trigger guard. There was no discernible looseness of the slide to the frame, nor of the barrel within the slide. This made us think the gun might shoot quite well.

On locking the slide rearward, we found the 4-inch stainless barrel to be funnel-shaped. Its wide front end fit the slide very well, with no play. There was no barrel bushing. Every surface of the Wilson was free of sharp edges. In previous tests the guns against which we tested the full-size CQB had various hand-cutting corners, but with this trio, all were as smooth as they should have been.

Two magazines came with the CQB Compact, and each held seven rounds. This gives up nothing to a full-size 1911, unless you’re using Wilson’s full-size magazines, which hold eight instead of the original seven rounds. Wilson’s package included a nice soft-pistol case, a video, and a voucher for lots of neat stuff including a box of ammo, really good ear protectors, cleaning tools, special grease, and a Wilson shooting cap.

Overall fit and finish were excellent. The trigger pull was outstanding. It broke at 3.5 pounds clean, and gave more promise of outstanding accuracy. We now knew you get an attractive and well-made pistol for your money, and it was time to find out how well the Wilson could shoot.

Our range-testing showed the CQB Compact’s accuracy to be superb. Not surprisingly, the Wilson fed and functioned perfectly with everything we put through it. This included Black Hills’ 230-grain hardball, 185-grain Winchester BEB, and a variety of light and heavy handloads using 200-grain SWC cast bullets. The best group we shot was with the Winchester BEB 185-grain ammo, five into 1.3 inches at 25 yards. Worst group was with Black Hills 230-grain hardball, of 4.2 inches. The gun shot exactly where the front sights looked. Everyone who tried the Wilson liked it a lot. One of our shooters actually bought it after all was said and done. The only complaint, if you could call it that, was that it was the heaviest of the trio, being made entirely of steel. That means it would be the biggest burden on the hip for all-day carry, but the fellow who bought it didn’t intend to carry it all day. Another of our testers who does carry a .45 all day tried carrying the fully loaded Wilson on his hip, and after a few hours decided the weight was a bit too much for his tastes, but he loved the gun for lots of shooting and occasional carrying.

We tried the Wilson (and the other two guns) rapid fire, and in fast presentations from the holster. We found the abrupt front sight sometimes hung up on our Bachman Slide holster, and the relatively sticky grip of the CQB didn’t lend itself to getting the fastest shooting grip, in our estimation. The Wilson handled everything extremely well, and we found it to be easy to control in rapid-fire mode.

Robar Combat Master Lightweight Officer’s ACP
This $1,250 upgrade package, which doesn’t include the price of an Officer’s ACP pistol the customer would supply, was a last-minute sample from Robar we obtained when another test handgun failed to materialize. The Robar gun was one of the company’s display models that had never been shot, and thus had never had any accuracy work done on it. We told Robar we’d shoot it but would not test it for accuracy, out of courtesy to them. We knew from past experience that Robar handguns, without any special accurizing, are capable of around 4-inch groups at 25 yards with good ammunition. With accurizing specified by the customer, groups will be much smaller.

Click here to view the Robar Combat Master Lightweight Officer?s ACP features guide

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With that disclosure on the table, we can tell you that this gun was gorgeous, thanks to the black Roguard slide and dull-gray NP3 frame and outstanding stippling. Second, it was the smallest and lightest of the trio. Third, it had very slim wood grips that helped conceal the gun and also helped us to point the gun in the right direction, something that would be very valuable in night work. After handling the Robar pistol, we found that every other 1911 felt fat. The slim, laminated grips were checkered in a flat-topped pattern that looked great, gave adequate traction, and didn’t slow up the hand in getting a shooting grip on the gun before it left the holster.

The Robar Combat Master package included high-visibility sights, Commander hammer, trigger job, tuned extractor, polished breech face, throated and polished barrel and feed ramp, lowered and flared ejection port, flattening and stippling the top of slide, forward serrations, stippling on front strap and mainspring housing (our piece had a checkered housing), and the beavertail. In addition they put in a long match trigger, bevel the mag well, install the special Robar safety and slim-line grips, do a complete dehorn, install a balanced and stiffer spring kit, put on the two-tone (or all NP3, or all-Roguard) finish, and test fire it. You can add to or alter this as your heart and pocketbook dictate. Robar, like most custom builders, will give you whatever you want. You can specify night sights, which we didn’t have here, and you can get whatever degree of accuracy you want built into the pistol.

The Robar’s front strap was stippled within a graceful border that followed the contour of the trigger guard. This stippling is very effective, and won’t ruin your clothing like some checkering will. The flat steel mainspring housing was checkered 20 lpi, and its heel was rounded to help concealability. The top of the slide had an integral rib that was roughened to cut glare.

The front sight was dovetailed and pinned in place. Its rear was serrated, and slanted to prevent catching on a holster. It worked. The small and narrow rear sight was rounded on its shoulders to give excellent visibility of the target, even better than Wilson’s setup, though it gave up some sight radius. It was held in its dovetail by an Allen screw.

The slide front had serrations for press checking. The Robar slide was a quarter-inch shorter than that on the Wilson Compact, making the Robar just a tad faster out of the holster. There was a bushing around the 3.6-inch chrome-moly barrel, and the barrel was funnel-shaped, like that of the Wilson. A Videki trigger was snugly fitted into the frame, and it had its travel screw removed, common Robar practice for maximum reliability. The trigger broke at just under 4 pounds. There was zero creep.

Robar fits a safety to its 1911s that is ideal for the shooter who prefers to leave his thumb on top of the unit while firing. The arm of the Robar-designed safety is set low on the safety’s side, so the thumb rests about a quarter-inch lower on the pistol. We found this to be very comfortable.

The fit and finish were superb throughout. We would have liked to see checkering on the magazine release. The hammer spring on the Robar was notably stronger than that of the other two pistols. We’ve seen this on other Robar handguns and believe it goes a long way toward their utter reliability.

On the range, as we’ve told you, this particular unfitted show-gun from Robar didn’t distinguish itself for accuracy (about 5 inches at 25 yards on average), but it shot the pants off the other two guns for practical shooting and handling. It was by far the fastest out of the holster to the first shot, a product of its perfect grip configuration, light weight and short slide. Our shooter who carries a Colt CCO all day, every day, declared he will ship his CCO off to The Robar Companies to get a similar grip configuration on it, he liked the Robar grip so well.

Click here to view the Accuracy and Chronograph Data

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Shooting the light Officer’s ACP Robar pistol as fast as we could, with a stout handloaded 200-grain lead SWC, we were pleasantly surprised that it didn’t hurt, didn’t bounce too much, and was as good as the Wilson in making repeat, fast hits on large targets at close range. In short, it performed very well for those accustomed to the .45 ACP round, and did all that we asked of it very well. Even one-handed offhand shooting didn’t “break our wrist,” as some would have you believe. We found the magazines from the Robar and Wilson to be interchangeable, so if you want another round in your Robar, that’s how to get it. We might add that the large pad on the Wilson magazine didn’t do anything for either guns’ looks.

Kimber Pro CDP $1,086
CDP stands for Custom Defense Package, and indicates the pistol came out of the Kimber Custom shop. There are three different-size guns in this Kimber series. We tested the Pro CDP. There are also a Compact version, which is similar to the Colt Officer’s ACP; and the Ultra version, which is smaller yet.

Click here to view the Kimber Pro CDP features guide

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Our test Pro CDP Kimber took full-size 1911 magazines. The pistol was essentially a full-size 1911 with a lightweight frame and a short slide. Our first impression was that the Kimber felt a trifle rough, but that was because of the sand-blasted-appearing finish. The pistol was fitted tightly enough that we thought it would give reasonable accuracy. We could feel some motion of the slide against the frame, but not much. The barrel was pretty tightly fitted fore and aft.

The slide was matte stainless, with a pronounced taper to its sides near the front. This proved to be enough of a taper to permit press-checking from the bottom. The slide was rounded everywhere—top, bottom and all edges. The frame, machined out of 7075-T7 aluminum, was matte black. The grips of nicely checkered rosewood were held on with Allen-head screws. The front frame strap and the mainspring housing were finely checkered. The mainspring housing was made of plastic, and should have had its bottom edge rounded. Its sharp bottom caught our hands in fast presentations, and definitely slowed up our draw. That would be easy to fix with a file or sandpaper. The 30-lpi front-strap checkering was extremely well done.

The front sight was dovetailed but not pinned to the slide. Its rear surface was serrated, and fitted with a green tritium dot. The rear edge of the front sight was quite abrupt and severely angled, and we thought it would give holster interference in our Bachman Slide. It turned out that the low front sight made up for the sharpness, and it didn’t give any problems. The rear fixed sight was Kimber’s own unit, dovetailed and Allen-screwed to the slide. It had two green tritium inserts. The rear sight was conventionally flat-topped with slightly rounded shoulders, a bit wider than that of the Wilson. It hid more of the target than either the Robar or Wilson rear sights. There was an ambidextrous safety that was positive and worked well. The trigger pull was clean and crisp, breaking at just over 4 pounds.

The slide stop was checkered, but we thought its working surface was too slick. The 4-inch stainless barrel was funnel-shaped, and had no bushing. The two-tone finish of the pistol was well done, but the surfaces were relatively porous. After handling the other two guns with their synthetic finishes, the Kimber felt rough. We could get used to it, but this gun was harder to clean than either of the other two. Fit and finish were very well done throughout, but the Kimber wasn’t as slick and precise-feeling, nor as smooth as the Wilson.

At the range we found the Pro CDP to be accurate enough, though a pale shade of the Wilson CQB. Best five-shot group was 2.0 inches at 25 yards with the Winchester BEB ammunition, which our light handload also duplicated. Worst group was 4.8 inches with Black Hills 230-grain ball. That’s more than enough accuracy for most purposes.

Out of the holster we found the Kimber’s grip to be too sticky for fastest acquisition. All those well-made checkering points and the nice, sharp metal and plastic diamonds slowed us down. To our surprise, the full 1911-size of the grip did not give us a perceptible advantage in rapid-fire over the other two. The Kimber did have an advantage in one-handed shooting, being more comfortable than either of the others with hot loads, but not by a whole lot. The Kimber was more than acceptable in all firing modes, but we’d try to figure how to make it a bit faster out of the holster if we owned it. Speed out of the holster can depend on the holster in question, and on the individual’s hand configuration, which also will influence shooting comfort.

Gun Tests Recommends
We couldn’t fault any of this trio. They all seemed to be worth what you have to pay for them. That said, we do see some differences worth mentioning that might influence what you buy:

Kimber Pro Custom Defense Package, $1,086. Buy It. The Kimber had the lowest price, and as such it didn’t have the smooth precision of the Wilson nor the finesse of the Robar. Still, it would get the job done. It was lighter than the Wilson and thus easier to pack, but definitely less accurate and also bulkier with its long grip. For those with large hands, the full-size grip of the Kimber would be preferable to those of the other two pistols.

Overall, we thought the Kimber was much more than adequate. Its price was a substantial saving over the other two, though you won’t get the high-tech finishes of either of them, or the supreme handling of the Robar gun for your money.

Wilson CQB Compact $1,695. Buy It. We believe the Wilson is well worth its significant cost for value received, fine accuracy, and good looks. The extras that come in the package, like the voucher and soft padded pistol case, were bonuses, as was the extra round in the magazine over the ordinary Officer’s Model Colt magazine. This pistol was a handgunner’s delight. For the owner who plans to shoot the pistol lots more than he’ll pack it, and who wants extreme precision, the Wilson CQB would be our first choice.

Robar Combat Master Package Lightweight Officer’s ACP, $1,250 plus your gun. Conditional Buy. This gun doesn’t get a full Buy It recommendation simply because we’re not able to supply accuracy data based on the conditions under which we tested the gun. Given normal Robar fitting, or if requested, accurizing, this pistol would be our unquestioned first choice of all carry pistols we’ve ever seen. As it is, with its mediocre unfitted accuracy, it still got our highest respect on the range while using it as it was meant to be used: As fast as possible against large targets at close range.

The Robar took the cake from a handling and appearance standpoint, and was also the lightest, shortest, and easiest to carry. It was probably also the most costly, depending on how much money you have in your handgun before you send it to the company for the $1,200 rework. For the seasoned pistolero, who can appreciate the very best there is, the Robar would be the way to go, and we’d ask for 3-inch or better groups at 25 yards with our chosen ammo. Also, if it were ours, we’d put night sights on it, make sure it was as accurate as we needed, and stick it directly into our holster for all-the-time carry.

We hope to return the display version Combat Master Package Lightweight Officer’s ACP to Robar for tuning it would normally receive as part of its price, and report accuracy data for you in a couple of months. At that time, we’ll also update our recommendation, if needed.