.45s from Kimber, Para Ordnance, And Springfield: Plenty of Punch
What would you call a hand-sized pistol filled with big .45 ACP rounds? We recently tested three downsized 1911-style handguns and found them to be powerful pipsqueaks.
The words “mouse gun” (usually uttered with a sneer) commonly refer to smaller-caliber semi-autos that measure about the same size as the average adult hand. But what would you call a pistol of similar dimensions if it were filled with .45 ACP rounds? Mighty Mouse?
Designing a small semi-auto has always been a tricky proposition. Given the reduced mass and shorter top end, anyone who tries to build one is faced with the challenge of getting the slide to gather and eject cartridges within a very small window of time. To see if current technology had conquered the obvious pitfalls, we decided to take on three production pistols that appear to be miniatures of John Browning’s 1911 Government model.
Springfield’s Micro Compact 1911A1, $1,060, is even smaller than the Ultra Carry, and is also available in a less expensive (and less adorned) MilSpec variation. Kimber’s $1,084 Ultra CDP II is a handsome piece with a good reputation. Would the addition of the Schwartz system (and the new Type II designation) ruin its good name? Para Ordnance, the company that just a few years ago began offering high-capacity double-column design has again “subverted” true 1911 design. The Para Carry C 6.45 LDA, $899, is ignited by the LDA system, which, breaking from the Browning tradition, offers a short-action hinged trigger. Is this a gimmick or a safe way around the liability-filled image of cocked-and-locked carry? We shot them side by side to find out:
Kimber Ultra CDP II .45 ACP, $1,084
Kimber’s Ultra CDP II is perhaps the most in-scale looking pistol of the trio. You could be fooled into thinking you are looking at a full-sized custom 1911 from very far away. But grasping it in your hand, you finally realize that, “Oh, it is small.” If the designation CDP does not stand for “Custom Defensive Pistol,” then we think it should. Here is a list of features that not long ago were strictly the domain of the custom pistolsmith: Tritium night sights with Novak style rear sight, lowered and flared ejection port, skeletonized hammer, ambidextrous thumb safeties, checkered slide release, long beavertail grip safety, checkered magazine release, skeletonized adjustable aluminum trigger, checkered wood grip panels held by Allen screws, two-tone matte finish top and bottom, beveled edges including relieved trigger area, 20-lpi checkering on the back strap and 30 lpi on the front, plus 7+1 capacity (one shot more than its competitors in this test). At 28 ounces (1 ounce more than the Springfield Micro), this may be a record for custom accessories per ounce.
But because we had negative comments the last time we tested a Type II Kimber, none of the above would help if this pistol did not shoot reliably. In our test of the Kimber STS Pro Carry II (GT January 2002) we experienced malfunctions in the form of failure to go into battery that we thought were related to the Schwartz safety system employed on all Type II Kimber pistols. In this system a collar or yoke surrounds the firing pin. In the at-rest position this yoke settles into a notch in the firing pin preventing movement. Compressing the grip safety extends a pushrod against a plunger spring mounted underneath the slide, which raises the yoke, releasing the firing pin.
In developing our hypothesis of why the STS gun malfunctioned, we noticed that the compression stroke of the grip safety was longer than the other 1911s in that test, and that how far in the grip safety was moved also affected the weight of the trigger pull. Furthermore, we felt that the spring load on the plunger that released the firing pin yoke was unnecessarily heavy. Last, we noted that the mating surface of the plunger was perhaps too steep and a burr was beginning to form.
But our new CDP II test gun was separated from our first experience with the Schwartz system by many subsequent production runs. We found the travel of the grip safety of our Ultra CDP II to be short and crisp. Also, we saw that the plunger is lighter, and its profile has been modified. As a result of any one or all three of these changes, the Ultra CDP II we tested ran perfectly. However, we still found ourselves distracted by our obsession with pressing in the grip safety.
Despite this phobia, we found the Kimber Ultra CDP II to be the most accurate and reliable pistol in this test. Firing from sandbags at 15 yards, we just missed recording sub-2-inch five shot groups from each one of our test rounds. This was despite our choice of test ammunition being designed to stretch the capability of each pistol. We chose Magtech’s 230-grain FMC (full-metal case) round to represent standard .45 ACP ammunition, even though most gunsmiths prefer to see their customers use a lighter, faster bullet to ensure function in smaller 1911s. At 185 grains we tried new ammunition from Taurus that features a Barnes solid copper bullet. Few gun manufacturers also dabble in cartridge making, but we took this opportunity to test this new round. In both cases all three guns ran well. The Kimber scored the best group of the test with the standard-pressure roundnose 230-grain Magtech rounds, with groups measuring only 1.3 inches across. The Taurus rounds’ groups ranged from 1.6 to 2.4 inches in diameter for an average of 2.0 inches. In second place on the accuracy chart was a superlight 117-grain hollowpoint from Aguila of Mexico. This cartridge has been around for awhile, but was recently renamed the “IQ” bullet. It is sold in boxes of 20 that read, “The first intelligent bullet.” We checked with the Aguila distributor (Centurion Ordnance,  695-4602), and they said by intelligent it is meant that the bullets will pierce hard surfaces but expand and even break up into three pieces when entering tissue or compound surfaces such as plaster board. Groups with this round ranged from 1.4 to 2.3 inches without malfunction.
We think that two simple features beyond general mechanical fit contributed to the success of our Kimber range session, and they are both grip related. First, .45 ACP in guns as small as these are tough on the shooter. Benchrest fire, which due to the captured position transmits muzzle flip and shock to the wrist, can wear the shooter out even faster than firing standing. From either position you need a firm grip with equal pressure all around for best results. While both the Springfield and Para Ordnance pistols were delivered with thin grips for maximum concealment, we felt this created space between the palm and the grip panels. This caused us to overcompensate with additional pressure on the back and front straps, contributing to fatigue. The Kimber grips are rounded and did a better job of filling the hand, in our view. Also, frontstrap checkering, in our opinion, made a world of difference in handling the gun.
Although only one magazine is supplied, the Kimber’s 7+1 capacity is one better than the 6+1 of its competitors. This extra round supplied us with confidence that was perhaps out of proportion to the actual 16.6-percent increase in capacity.
Springfield Micro Compact 1911A1 .45 ACP, $899
Springfield’s Micro Compact is very similar to the Kimber Ultra CDP II. Internally, it does not include the Schwartz system, but does share nearly all the upgrades featured on the Kimber. The Micro Compact sports a two-tone design with alloy frame and stainless-steel upper, but it is devoid of checkering on the front strap and only offers vertical lines on the rear strap, or mainspring housing. The grips are show quality, consisting of polished and checkered rosewood. The grip safety has a raised portion for sure engagement. Despite its diminutive size, we felt the Springfield offered the most natural feel of the three pistols. One-handed operation and the tendency to point naturally has always been a strong feature of the 1911 frame. Among our staff shooters, the Micro Compact seemed to fit everyone’s hand. In terms of finish, dehorning on the gun is extensive. This is a very slippery pistol reminiscent of the aftermarket Clark Custom Guns “Meltdown” option ( 458-4126) that makes any 1911 fast and easy to retrieve from the deepest concealed cover.
Night sights are standard, just like many other features found on the Kimber. The Springfield does offer a chamber-loaded indicator consisting of a very small cutout to the rear of the barrel hood, allowing for visual confirmation of a loaded chamber. As brief as it is, we still prefer a press check with tactile confirmation.
Each of these little .45s utilizes a two-piece telescopic guide rod. This says to us that a single spring is not enough to regulate feeding and slide movement. You could say that one spring rate absorbs the shock of the recoil and lets the slide stay open for the correct amount of time to allow for spent case ejection and the ascension of a fresh cartridge. The second spring rate makes sure the slide closes completely. Extra spring tension is necessary in a small semi-auto because the system is not going to get much help from weight of the slide.
In further comparison between the Kimber and the Springfield, the “Springer” appears to be smaller. However, weight of each pistol is within 1 ounce of the other. Even though the Kimber comes with a single seven-round mag and the Springfield comes with two six-round magazines, these guns measure within 0.1 inch in overall height.
Here’s the illusion. The frame and attached levers of the Springfield Micro are all the same dark color. Even the grip panels blend in. The Kimber’s grip is fatter and light in color and the controls such as the slide release, the magazine release, mainspring housing and grip safety create contrast in matching with the matte stainless slide. The Springfield seems smaller because it is one color.
Our Micro Compact arrived with a 25-meter target showing a 4.7-inch group. The nature of the test ammunition or what technique was used (machine rest or by hand) was not indicated. The group included two shots nearly in one and three other holes arranged in a triangle centered over an indicated point of aim. We generally reserve 25-yard shooting (22.85 meters) for full-size handguns with sight radii to match. With small grips and sight radii just over 4.5 inches, we chose to shoot our small .45s at only 15 yards. The Springfield was very consistent with the 117- and 185-grain rounds, with group after group measuring in a very tight range of 2.6 to 2.9 inches. The Magtech 230-grain bullets produced an average group of 1.8 inches identical to that of the Kimber. The only difference was in extreme spread. The fact that the Kimber’s groups ranged from 1.3 to 2.2 inches and the Springfield’s high and low were 1.5 and 2.0 respectively means shooter error or other external forces made the difference.
The Micro proved to be the power champion, producing an average of 475 foot-pounds of muzzle energy from the 117-grain Aguila rounds. While all rounds functioned perfectly, loading the Aguila IQ rounds required care. As fatigue set in we began to have malfunctions. Obviously these guns are sensitive to strength of hold. In fact, consciously reducing grip strength when firing the second to last round of the IQ load in both the Para Ordnance and Springfield pistols produced an approximately 3 percent failure to feed rate. In a test wherein the magazine was loaded with a single round of the 117-grain IQ load, we found that simply releasing the slide via the frame-mounted lever would not always feed the Aguila round. We had more consistent luck pulling the slide back manually and letting it go. This technique is the most widely recommended for all semi-autos belcause it lengthens travel and adds velocity pushing the round into place. We also found this to be true with the Para Ordnance pistol. Do we blame the ammunition or the gun? Both, but we think this problem can be successfully addressed. We see the IQ load as being a specialty round. For all who disagree, we think that it is acceptable for specialty rounds to work in only the majority of pistols, so long as they work in your pistol all the time. So, if you are unsure, change ammunition to less a radical design.
However, after shooting all three guns extensively it is also our opinion that adapting the grips for better hold would solve the problem. The width and profile of the supplied grip panels on both the Springfield and the Para Ordnance are thin and best suited for the meatiest of hands. Adapting the grip panels to your hands plus a good dose of checkering should make it easier to secure the pistol with much less effort.
Para Ordnance C 6.45 LDA .45 ACP, $1,060
The code designation for this pistol seems easy enough to figure out. The “C” is for capacity, six rounds, the 45 refers to cartridge, and LDA distinguishes this pistol as featuring a light double action. Well, to be truthful we’re not sure what the “L” stands for, but if you have ever fired a double-action semi-auto the word light is rarely, if ever, applicable. When Para Ordnance began producing 1911s, the company started by addressing a basic shortcoming of the design. In its traditional format, capacity was limited to seven or eight rounds. Para Ordnance adapted a higher-capacity design that staggered the rounds inside the magazine in a fashion now commonly referred to as a “double-stack” mag. But this also made the grip too wide for most people, and over the years this Canadian firm found ways to pare width to satisfy most 1911 enthusiasts.
With the introduction of the LDA series, Para Ordnance tackles another inherent problem. That is, the single-action trigger. What is wrong with single action? In our eyes, nothing. In the eyes of the courts, everything. Despite two external mechanical safeties, each of which are veritable on-off switches, and one internal safety, single action is seen as being more dangerous to handle than triggers that require a longer movement before ignition, such as a double-action trigger. Somehow, spending a longer time pressing the trigger has been taken as a sign of increased, or more importantly, definitive intent. So, the LDA system introduces a hinged trigger with somewhat longer movement without giving up the thumb-operated lever safety or beavertail grip safety. The advantage the LDA pistols have over other double action and TDA pistols is that each trigger press requires the same amount of travel from first shot to last.
The C 6.45 LDA is the smallest pistol in the Para Ordnance lineup that offers the LDA system. Nicknamed the Para Carry, this pistol was not presented as a custom gun in the same manner of the Kimber and Springfield Armory pistols. Besides the wood grips, this is a basic model in comparison. Also, the Para Carry is steel throughout, making it the heaviest of our trio at 32 ounces. Capacity is only 6+1, but we hope that replacement magazines for both the Springfield and the Para Carry will be available with at least seven-round capacity. It should be noted that these two guns will also fire from the Kimber’s seven-round magazine (as well as the Wilson extra-capacity mags we tried). But these mags did not fit tightly into place, making us feel uneasy about carrying them.
The Para Carry does not need a loaded-chamber indicator because when a round is in the chamber, the hammer remains slightly ajar. This indicates how the LDA system works. It is double action because pressing the trigger performs two tasks. It pushes the hammer back and then releases it, setting off a round. But there is some cheating involved.
The firing pin is pre-cocked and does not rely solely upon the hammer for the energy it needs to fly forward and strike the primer. However, the trigger not only operates the hammer but also governs the firing-pin block. Due to the extra pressure on the firing pin when the gun is cocked, this safety feature becomes all the more important, just like it does on striker-fired pistols such as the Glock. The hammer on our Para Carry does not include a spur. While larger LDA pistols include a spur, we liked the flush mount because it reminded us not to follow our instinct when racking the slide. Usually, we pull back the hammer prior to working the slide to remove the weight of the hammer spring. But doing so on this gun can damage the LDA system.
Rear slide serrations are generous and sharper on the Para Carry than those found on the Kimber and Springfield models, so the slide works easily. The only thing we did not like was breaking the pistol down. Following the manual required some patience. It seems that not all LDA models are alike, and each step was prefaced by “C 6.45 only” or “All pistols except….” Before starting, we had to go through the booklet with a highlighter, but disassembly proved to be simple.
Holding the LDA pistols is exactly the same as traditional 1911s, with right-hand thumb above if not riding the safety. The thumb safety on our test gun was left side only. We felt the rear of this lever intruded on the grip and should be scaled back for comfort. But the trigger is extremely friendly, and sight-to-trigger modulation is more natural than the 1911’s sliding trigger. Combined with the excellent rear sight (serrated and spire-shaped for rapid acquisition), we found Para Ordnance’s littlest LDA to be very enjoyable.
Are the LDA pistols as durable as those with single-action triggers? We didn’t break ours, but this design has not been around long enough to provide any hard data. Is the LDA design safer than other pistols? Yes, but so are all well-made 1911s. If you pick up any pistol or revolver with your finger inside the trigger guard, you are asking for trouble. Even if you leave off the thumb safety, you might be saved by the grip safety.
However, we think the LDA may well afford an extra margin of safety. In the meantime, we also feel this trigger system is a pleasant, workable alternative for those who recognize the benefits of 1911 ergonomics but have difficulty mastering the single-action trigger.
Gun Tests Recommends
Kimber Ultra CDP II, $1,084. Buy It. Our Ultra CDP II proved accurate, lightweight, and reliable. Solid ergonomics and 8-round capacity in a small package might make this Kimber’s best model.
Springfield Micro Compact 1911A1, $1,060. Buy It. We recommend checkering the front strap and taking care to choose the proper gauge grip panels to match your hands. Higher-capacity mags would make the Micro Carry a top pick.
Para Ordnance C 6.45 LDA, $899. Buy It. The C 6.45 offers better concealment than a wheelgun but has more punch.