More .45 ACP Semi-Autos: Stay Away From Llama and Firestorm
Coltís Model XSE model is a second-step upgrade that does all you would ask of a defense gun. Basic models from Llama and Firestorm shot poorly or malfunctioned during testing.
It seems like it is getting harder and harder to find a low-priced 1911 that simply offers reliable service rather than upgrades that aren’t really necessary. Fully adjustable sights, match barrels, bull barrels, reverse bushings, slide serrations, lowered and flared ejection port, reduced-mass hammer, adjustable “match” trigger, frame checkering, cocobolo grips, Memory Groove grip safety, Accu-Rails, enlarged magwell and hard chrome are all options that are available for the 1911 pistol. But a basic Government model that functions 100 percent is still a formidable weapon without the extras. Furthermore, in “G.I” trim the 1911 pistol is a bargain in terms of power and control.
In the July 2000 issue we tested a basic Colt’s Government model, $610, which we gave a conditional recommendation, mainly because competing pistols from Kimber and Springfield offered more features. The Colt’s pistol we focus on here is another step up from that July model, the $950 XSE, and we mix in models sold by Llama (the MAX-1, $298), and Firestorm (the Firestorm 45, $329), continuing our search for the best Government models for the money.
We kept our range session simple. For break-in, we shot 100 to 150 230-grain full metal-jacketed (FMJ) rounds. For accuracy data, we shot at 25 yards from a sandbag rest. We chose 230-grain full-metal-jacketed (FMJ) rounds from Winchester in the white box and Federal’s American Eagle line of ammunition.
Also, we added a hollowpoint “defense” round of the same weight from PMC, the Eldorado Starfire. This cartridge features a slug of a different profile. Instead of a round-ball shape, the Starfire is a truncated cone. Our intent was to give the lower-priced pistols in this test every chance to succeed. But would the hollowpoints cause them to stumble? Expecting above-average performance from the Colt, our expectations of the lower-priced Firestorm and Llama 1911s was not as high—basically that they shot decently and functioned reliably. However, they disappointed us, as we detail below.
Llama MAX-1, $298
The Llama name has been associated with low-end 1911 pistols for some time. We are willing to bet at least some of our readers own or know someone who owns a Llama. We do, and those consumers have no complaints about the pistol. The only variation from standard Government design on the MAX-1 is the grips, which make the pistol larger in circumference. Some shooters will prefer these panels.
Llama pistols are imported from Spain, and their reputation is varied. We have often written that the first practical difference between products at opposite ends of the price spectrum is the consistency with which they perform. It is possible to find a lemon from any factory, but the chances of finding one in a budget product line are much greater. Likewise, it is possible to find a pistol that costs less but shoots nearly as well as some higher priced models. It is this relentless search for value that drives many shooters.
And, it would seem on the surface, the Llama delivered value. After comparing the accuracy data collected for the Colt’s pistol and this gun, it would seem it shot well enough to get a recommendation. But wait—our Llama MAX-1 printed groups about 7 inches to the left of point of aim.
This still might not be fatal if the rear sight could be drifted to make the gun shoot nearer POA. We calculated that the drift needed would be around 0.05 inch to the right, if indeed the problem was with the sight.
But on a semi-auto, the shooter is actually aiming the slide, and it can be cut and mounted unevenly on the frame. Or the barrel can be out of line within the slide. To check which relationship was off center, we disassembled the pistol and measured the surrounding metal at the bushing. (No bushing wrench is supplied with the MAX-1.) We were prepared to measure the amount of metal on each side of the bushing to see if the barrel was centered in the slide. There was no need to open the calipers. The hole cut for the barrel was noticeably off. The amount of metal to the right measured approximately 0.112 inch and amount of metal to the left measured 0.09 inch. To compensate for this disparity, the rear sight would have to be moved 0.05 inch for a neutral center. But, there isn’t enough material on the slide for this to do this without the rear sight hanging off the side. And, even if we found a way to move it, the ability to point this pistol would be severely hampered.
Frankly, we never expected to encounter this type of problem. Even in a batch of low-end guns we thought it would be enough to weed through and just find one that goes bang all of the time. However, that you might need to pack a set of calipers when shopping for a pistol is unacceptable, in our view. That’s a shame, since shooting the Llama was not unpleasant, and it proved reliable.
Also, we have to wonder if this malady is enough to get the pistol replaced under warranty. It is not impossible to envision a situation where the importer says, “If it fires, it’s fixed.”
Firestorm 45, $329
The Firestorm we purchased represented another aspect of the less satisfactory side of the spectrum. The Firestorm differs only in grip from the Llama; it is imported by the same company and is also manufactured in Spain. We did not know this when we placed our order. It could be said that the Firestorm is the same pistol as the Llama, save for the standard grips and the name “Firestorm” engraved on the slide.
We shot this gun during break in before it started to malfunction repeatedly. But the end came during chronographing, when the Firestorm decided it did not have enough energy to repeatedly strike the primer and ignite rounds. Prior to this it was somewhat stubborn about completely chambering a round. Perhaps the ramp wasn’t cut properly. Perhaps there was too much friction between the slide and frame caused by improper machining. After the experience we had with the Llama, we now feel that anything was possible.
Colt XSE, $950
In the July 2000 issue we reported on the 1991A1 Colt’s 1911. This is the most basic model, and the MSRP is listed as being $610. We purchased it for $499. How much the more expensive XSE model tested here will actually sell for will vary. But if $610 MSRP equates to $499 then we envision the XSE costing $750 to $850.
In light of the fact that neither of the other two guns in this test proved satisfactory, we would have to say they couldn’t compete no matter how much less expensive they are. In terms of comparable features, the Firestorm and the Llama offer a skeletonized hammer which is found on the XSE and not on the 1991A1. The 1991A1 is a stainless model, but in matte finish throughout. The more expensive XSE features both brushed and matte on the slide. Additional XSE upgrades not found on either the Llama, Firestorm or even the 1911A1 include the grip panels, which are very nice rosewood with a diamond cut pattern. The trigger is skeletonized and adjustable. The sights are clearer on this pistol than those found on the cheaper guns, but it is still the same fixed three-dot pattern. The XSE model is supposed to have an ambidextrous thumb safety, but ours did not. The magazine is a flush fitting eight-round model. By reshaping the follower, the extra round can be squeezed in. This gun has forward serrations as well as rear. The magazine release is lined. The ejection port has been flared. Take away any of these items and there is still no comparison between the Colt’s product and those on the lower end. What makes the Colt XSE a “Buy” in our opinion is not the features alone, but the quality of its assembly and the precision of its operation.
Gun Tests Recommends
Llama MAX-1, $298. Don’t Buy. We cannot recommend a pistol that is machined so that it cannot shoot straight, even if it is otherwise reliable.
Firestorm 45, $329. Don’t Buy. We cannot recommend a pistol that does not function reliably even if it shoots straight.
Colt XSE, $950. Buy It. At an MSRP of three times the other pistols, it should be better. But, in view of the performance of the Firestorm the equation could read, three times zero equals zero, and the Llama isn’t much better. Looking back on our test in July 2000, the Colt’s 1991A1 earned a Conditional Buy when compared to products from Springfield and Kimber. However, if it had been compared to the Llama and Firestorm, it would have earned a Buy rating, even at twice the cost. Likewise, we enjoyed shooting this XSE, and its numbers and features compare favorably to the recommended guns, so we would look hard at the XSE as well.
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