Full-Size Fighting 1911s: Valtro Beats Wilson’s CQB
High Standardís G-Man and Springfieldís TRP are okay, in our opinion, but the Italian gun offers more bang for the buck.
One of our representatives recently spoke with a fellow who has, to put it gently, a vanilla outlook on the world. That fellow declared his chances of getting in a gunfight were around one in a million. He thought the chance was so remote that it would do him no good to either prepare himself with proper gunfighting training, nor to begin to understand what constitutes a suitable and properly set up fighting handgun.
Our man asked that fellow if he thought his chances of getting in a car accident were equally remote. When the man said yes, our man asked him if he carried auto insurance, and of course the fellow indicated he’d do so even if it were not mandatory. This fellow didn’t understand he’s probably more likely to be the victim of violent crime than to have a car accident. A few years ago the chances were one in three you’d be the victim of violence in your lifetime, and probably at least as bad today. To avoid being a victim, you have to be ready and willing to fight back. Getting good training from shooting schools like Thunder Ranch, LFI, Gunsite, and a host of others is easy, and the schools are thriving. They can teach you how and when to shoot. But until you attend one of these schools, you probably won’t have a clear-cut idea of what constitutes a proper fighting handgun.
In the April 2000 issue of GT we tested a few potentially suitable fighting 1911-type .45 ACP handguns, and the winner was the Wilson CQB. That delightful pistol had all the features anyone could have wanted, presented in a package designed by someone with a serious background in practical combat-handgunning experience. Bill Wilson’s CQB was also thoroughly reliable, way more than accurate enough, and set up so as to permit the operator to practice any and all clearance or malfunction drills without getting cut hands. Note well that if your handgun will “never” malfunction, that’s the time when you ought to practice malfunction drills the hardest. A parallel situation is that the only time you really need to use your turn signals is when you “know” there are no other cars near yours.
Was the Wilson CQB alone in the world of 1911 .45s for all-out quality and presentation? It was time to look for some other fully qualified fighting .45s, if they existed.
We acquired a High Standard G-Man ($1,440), a Springfield Armory TRP Operator ($1,473), and an Italian-made Valtro Model 1998 A1 ($1,199) and gave them the once-over, using our experience with the Wilson CQB ($1,795) as our standard. We tested with four types of ammunition. We used Blazer’s 230-grain FMJ “hardball” load, Cor-Bon’s powerful 185-grain JHP at around 1,100 fps (over 500 foot-pounds of energy), and Winchester’s 185-grain BB loads. Finally, with our Dillon 550B press, we put together an all-purpose handload that used a cast 200-grain SWC (Hensley & Gibbs No. 68 design) bullet at around 850 fps.
Here’s what we found.
High Standard G-Man, $1,440
On the surface a good-looking, straightforward, 1911-type auto, the High Standard was fitted with a clever device designed to make a cocked-and-locked .45 look like it was uncocked. Called the SFS system, it accomplishes its task by means of a spring-loaded hammer that, once cocked, can be pushed forward to look like the gun is uncocked. The gun could not be fired in this condition, and the hammer could not be manually cocked, so the SFS system was effectively the safety. The only way to get the gun to go bang was to press on the (ambidextrous) safety, which caused a spring to fling the hammer into the fully cocked position. We have gone into more detail about the SFS in previous issues.
The High Standard G-Man was a straightforward 1911, fitted with fixed tritium-dot sights. It was finished in dull black Teflon, and had attractive checkered-wood grips. It normally comes with two eight-round magazines, but our sample had seven-rounders. There was no checkering on the front strap, and the flat mainspring housing had only vertical serrations.
The magazine well was not lowered, but its edges were softened to avoid cutting the hand. Not enough of that was done, as we’ll explain later. The front edges of the gun were contoured or rounded to permit easy holstering without cutting the leather, or snagging. The magazine well was beveled on the sides, but not on the back. The inside front edge was smooth enough. There was an ambidextrous safety that hit our some of our shooters’ strong-hand knuckle badly, but some like this feature. The sight picture was excellent, the shooter seeing three white dots in daylight, or three glowing green dots in subdued light.
Unfortunately, the front edge of the rear sight was a knife ready to cut the unwary, and needed badly to be dehorned. The front sight was not dovetailed to the slide, and in our experience dovetailing is the only truly secure way to keep the sight in place over the long haul. This one appeared to have been silver soldered in place, and there was some loss of surface finish on top of the slide at its base.
The right side of the slide had a laser-grooved and silver-paint-filled model designation, thus: Model over “G-Man” with the quote marks. Below that on the frame was the silver-filled company name and address, and serial number. The left side of the slide had a rather coarse HIGH over STANDARD stamped into it, with no silver paint. The bottom edge of the slide was sharp and needed dehorning, in our view.
Machining and workmanship were very good, we thought. We noticed there was a slight bit of looseness between the slide and frame with the gun fully closed. The barrel bushing was stamped with NM, but there was slight sideways motion of the barrel within the bushing. We were easily able to take the gun down without tools, so there was little justification in designating the bushing a NM, or National Match, for these generally require a wrench to get off, and properly fitted barrels don’t move within the bushing. However, shooting would tell the ultimate story.
The grip safety was essentially stock 1911-A1, no beavertail. These can hurt some hands, but beavertails cost enough that all guns don’t have ‘em. During our limited shooting with this gun, we didn’t miss the beavertail. However, the other guns in this test all had them, and except for the Wilson, their cost was close to that of the G-Man.
The High Standard did not have forward serrations on the slide for press-checking. However, the careful shooter can use the old pinch system to verify a chambered round. The trigger was solid instead of the perforated, light-as-possible triggers (Videki design) commonly found today on 1911s. We couldn’t fault the gun for that, however.
On the range, the High Standard shot well enough, with occasional bursts of attempted excellence that didn’t quite get fulfilled. We had several four-shot groups around 1.5 inches at 15 yards, but one of the five shots opened them up. Average groups with all four types of ammo were just over 2 inches. The gun shot fairly well to its sights with all ammunition tried. There were no failures of any kind with all ammo tried.
Springfield TRP Operator .45 ACP, $1,473
This all-matte-black pistol had extra metal in the form of a heavy addition to the forward part of its frame. This extension was in the form of an inverted Weaver rail to hold accessories such as a powerful flashlight. Any light mounted to a powerful handgun needs to be able to withstand the recoil of many shots, with the light turned on, if it is going to do the shooter any good, and Springfield can supply a suitable flashlight. Some gunfighters, cops, or SWAT members will want that flashlight, and the heavy, stout extension of the frame is an ideal way to mount it. Wilson offers a similar system with its CQB with Tactical Light Rail, but the price is pushing $1,900.
Most shooters would be better served, we feel, without the rail on the gun. The extension requires a special holster. This Springfield would not fit into any of our on-hand holsters for 1911s, not even our catch-all Bachman Slide. The extra weight helped noticeably to reduce recoil, and with a flashlight mounted, recoil reduction would be still greater.
The grips were of a black, porous material that felt like coarse sandpaper. They seemed to stick to one’s hand, and the hand was actually slightly abraded in long strings of shooting with these grips. These thin, black grips filled with dirt easily, but it came off with a light brushing using a clean toothbrush. The grip was augmented with outstanding 20-lpi checkering on the front strap and steel mainspring housing. This relatively coarse checkering feels great at first, but most shooters are better served with 30-lpi checkering as on the CQB and Valtro, in our view.
The mainspring housing held a clever lock mechanism, which Springfield calls its Integral Locking System (ILS). In use, it prevented the hammer from being cocked, and hence locked the entire gun. Two small keys came with the gun, either of which could be used to rotate a tiny lock that was inset into the mainspring housing. All that was necessary to lock or unlock the gun was to turn that lock 90 degrees. We liked this little lock, and believe some folks would have good uses for it. The excellent instruction manual that came with the TRP warned against casual removal of the mainspring housing, and gave instructions how to do it. The instruction book also told how to take down the gun for cleaning.
The beavertail grip safety had a raised part at its lower end, which we liked. The bottom of the grip had a funnel for speed loading that extended the magazine well by about 1/4 inch. The inside-bottom of the front strap, within the confines of the funnel, still had a finger-cutting sharp edge that didn’t belong there.
Two eight-round magazines came with the TRP. They had pads on their bottoms, but it’s not necessary to use padded magazines on this extended-grip gun. The proper use of the weak hand will firmly seat all normal magazines.
The safety was ambidextrous, and did its job well. As usual, some of our shooters didn’t like the right-side safety because it interfered with the knuckle, making for a very uncomfortable grip. The hammer had a flaw, we felt. It was a skeleton-type, for faster ignition time. But the top leg of the hammer was nearly parallel with the bore, and the serrations were not rough enough to give a positive purchase to the thumb for hand-cocking. Lowering of the hammer was easy enough by grasping it with thumb and forefinger, but that required the use of both hands, which may not be available when the need arises to either raise or lower the hammer manually. The hammer slipped numerous times when we tried to cock it during our handling of the TRP.
The finish was matte black everywhere except on the chamber area of the massive barrel. There was a slot cut into the top of the rearmost part of the barrel to give a barely visible clue as to the state of the chamber. Those shooters with significant time with the 1911s will much prefer to press-check the gun, and the forward slide serrations made that easy.
The left side of the slide was marked OPERATOR over CAL . 45. Below that, on the frame, was TACTICAL. The letters TRP appeared just in front of the hammer on both sides of the slide. The right side of the gun had Springfield Armory’s name on the slide, a logo in front of that, and the name, address and serial number on the frame.
The front sight was dovetailed into the barrel, contoured to follow the profile of the slide (a nice touch), and pinned firmly in place with a small roll pin (another nice touch). There were green tritium inserts in the front, and on both sides of the rear sight notch. The sight picture was outstanding. The rear was fully adjustable and nicely sunken into the top of the slide. And there the good stuff ends. The front edge of the rear sight was razor-sharp, and gouged one of our shooters badly. The front edges of the rear sight base were additional razors.
One of our shooters attempted to retract the stiff, new slide. His hand slipped and flew rearward past the rear sight, and the razor-sharp front edge of the sight tore a chunk out of his finger. We decided we’d had enough, and took a Dremel grinder and file to the front edge of that faulty sight and removed the cutting edge, so our team could test the gun without fearing it.
We are quite sure the designers of both the TRP and G-Man have never fired them or taken serious classes in combat-handgun manipulation. They don’t understand clearing drills, taught at all major handgunning schools. These classes teach you to do the drills as though you were in a fight and had to clear the gun in a hurry. One drill is clearing a stovepipe jam, so named because an empty case caught between the slide and the barrel sticks up into the air like a stovepipe. To clear it, the drill is to wipe the top of the gun very firmly and quickly with the weak hand, partially withdrawing the slide and wiping the empty off the top of the gun. The hand drags rearward with great force for the entire length of the slide. Anything sticking up is wiped off unless the hand is deflected. The hand will try to remove a sharp sight, but the sight usually wins the battle, and does massive damage to the hand in the process.
A common sight on the second day of training at most shooting schools is bandaged hands, and the offending guns show lots of bare metal from the removal of their sharp edges. Today there are absolutely no excuses for marketing a self-defense handgun that is not completely ready to go. Sharp edges don’t belong. This Springfield was not combat ready as we found it. It required serious grinding or filing on the sight and its base. We hope the manufacturer learns some day how to prepare the top of a slide for serious work.
During our shooting the grip panels became loose. We did not have the correct tool, nor was one provided by Springfield to fit the star-shaped heads in the screws. We were able to tighten them with a normal Allen wrench, but it was not the best tool. We found other tools in the hard-plastic container to help take down the gun, but no grip-panel wrench. If you’re going to use a fastener that requires a tool not in most folks’ tool boxes, we think you should provide the tool. It might cost fifty cents. We complained that Steyr didn’t include a metric Allen wrench in its $2,700 Scout package, and complain just as loud that Springfield didn’t provide for tightening or removing the grips of this $1,400 pistol.
On the range, we found the Springfield to be pleasant enough. We also found that it really didn’t much like any bullet weight other than 230 grains. Our groups with the Blazer 230-grain ball averaged 1.5 inches. These were also centered on the target. Though the gun had an adjustable rear sight, we couldn’t help but notice the gun was delivered sighted-in with the 230-grain ball. The 185-grain fodder went into groups around 3 inches. Our 200-grain handload fared better, but still not as well as the 230-grainers. As a test, we tried another brand of 230-grain ammunition with this particular gun and it, too, shot very well.
Valtro 1998 A1, $1,199
This Italian-made beauty was done right. The sharp edges were all broken, as though the builder knew what he was doing. Only the Valtro and Wilson CQB, of guns we’ve tested, have been all ready to go, right out of the box. The High Standard G-Man and Springfield TRP would have their finishes damaged by the removal of their hand-gouging sharp edges and by other attention to little details.
On the Valtro, the sharp edges had been removed very tastefully and very thoroughly. Even the bottom edge of the front strap inside the magazine well had been attended to. The front of the gun, where it would make contact with a holster, was smoothed. So were all the leading edges of the fully adjustable rear sight. The ejection-port edges were all softened. So were all the edges of the ambidextrous safety levers, the skeleton hammer (which could easily and safely be cocked or uncocked with the strong-hand thumb), the bottom of the mainspring housing, and even the leading edges of the forward and rearward slide serrations. Yet the serrations, and all controls of the handgun, remained fully functional and more than sufficiently sticky for good control.
The front strap and mainspring housing were checkered 30 lines per inch, same as the Wilson CQB, and it was very well done. This gave enough stickiness that the hand would not slip, yet not so much that the hand was glued in place. All who have tried both much prefer 30 lpi to 20 lpi checkering. The grip panels were diamond-pattern checkered wood with very attractive figure. They looked like, and probably were, French walnut. The center of each grip panel had a button with the Valtro logo.
The frame and slide were machined from forgings, not castings. The barrel had a fitted bushing, and beneath it was a recoil-spring guide rod that incidentally precluded the old style of press-checking. That’s what the front serrations are for.
We took the gun down to examine the inside, and to see if there were any tricks to takedown. There were not, but the use of the bushing wrench (included) was mandatory, as the bushing was indeed fitted snugly to the frame. Inside the slide we had our eyes opened yet again. There was none of the usual roughness or visible machining marks. The finish inside the slide was better than the outside of some 1911s we’ve seen. Workmanship was truly outstanding everywhere we looked.
The gun arrived in a hard plastic case with fitted foam cutout holding the gun, two eight-round magazines with bottom extensions that acted as pads, a through-barrel cable lock, a large brass cleaning brush and a cleaning mop, plus a bushing wrench to aid takedown. There was also a reasonable if brief manual.
The gun was nicely blued, with the sides of the slide and frame not-quite-glossy, the rest being matte finished. The Videki-type trigger appeared to be electroless nickel plated. The visible portion of the chamber was highly polished and had VALTRO over .45 ACP marked in it. The extractor was “tuned,” and the ejector was extended. The Valtro logo and a very large 1998 A1 marking appeared on the left side of the slide. The right side had CUSTOM 45 ACP beneath the low-cut ejection port.
The top of the slide had a flat milled between the dovetailed front and the low-mounted, fully adjustable rear sight. This flat had longitudinal serrations, giving a totally non-glare surface where it counted. The sights were not fitted with tritium inserts, and we found out these are an extra-cost option. The sight picture was perfect. The rear edges of the front and rear sights were serrated to stay dark under almost any light conditions. As with the Springfield, the front sight was contoured to match the slide and was pinned in place. The beavertail grip safety had a “memory” bump to make it easier to depress.
The underside of the trigger guard was machined square where it met the front strap, which got the gun a little lower in the shooting hand. With the high barrel of the 1911, every little bit helps.
The trigger broke at a shade over 3.5 pounds, very crisp and clean. However, the more we tried it the harder it got, settling down to just under 4 pounds. In spite of that, it was one of the best .45 triggers we’ve experienced. The ambidextrous safety went on and off properly, neither too hard nor too easy. Its levers were wide enough to cause great interference with a few of our shooter’s trigger-finger knuckles. One slight blemish to the gun’s aura was the significant resistance felt in inserting a magazine as the mag release was cammed out of the way. We ground and polished the lower part of the mag release, which helped marginally but did not eliminate the resistance.
Moving right along, we found little touches here and there that most would miss. One such was the slide-lock lever’s treatment on the right side of the frame. As experienced 1911 shooters know, it’s sometimes altogether too easy to press on the protruding end of the slide lock, which can tie up the gun in several ways. On the Valtro, the right end of the slide lock didn’t protrude. Instead, a hole was cut tastefully into the frame to permit a finger to press the part out to the left, but only when it was desired, as for takedown. Another little thing: the mag release was checkered, not serrated. This keeps the thumb in place when you’re in a hurry.
So far, we had found nothing really wrong with the gun. Would our praise continue on the firing line? We suspected so, because of the obvious fitting applied to the gun. The barrel was tight in the slide and in its bushing, and the slide was fitted carefully and snugly to the frame. There was no looseness anywhere. We noted the recoil spring was more than passingly stout. Would the gun cycle with light loads? It was time to find out how well it shot.
On the firing line, our predictions were proven true. This combat-ready pistol produced tight groups no matter what ammo we fed it, and did so without a bobble. The excellent trigger made grouping easy. Best group overall was under an inch with Blazer 230-grain ball. All ammo shot to nearly the same point of impact, unlike the Springfield TRP, which had vastly different impact points with the four ammo types. The maker guarantees sub-3-inch groups at 50 yards, and we’re sure this gun could do that in careful hands.
When we tried our handload with cast lead bullet, each of the first three groups got larger, presumably as the barrel collected lead. A few hundred jacketed rounds ought to slick that barrel up, or the owner could fire-lap it and get it slick easily. We don’t count this as a fault, and we noticed it to some extent with all three handguns.
Gun Tests Recommends
High Standard G-Man, $1,440 as tested. Conditional Buy. Other than the fitting of the extra-cost SFS hammer safety, we liked the High Standard. It was well made, reliable, shot well, handled properly, and had only a few minor flaws in its makeup, like the hand-gouging front edges of its rear sight. There were other areas that should have been deburred, like the bottom edge of the slide, the edges of the non-beavertail grip safety, and the front of the slide stop.
The omission of the SFS system would reduce the price by about $215, making it $1,225, but even at that price we gave the G-Man a Conditional Buy. We don’t like having to correct even small aspects of what should be fighting-ready guns. We put up with that 30 years ago, but today there are no excuses.
Springfield TRP Operator, $1,473. Conditional Buy. We liked the Springfield TRP’s handy flashlight mount and the integral lock system in the mainspring housing. The gun worked, had excellent workmanship, and though it was picky in its taste for bullet weights, shot very well with at least one weight of ammunition.
But we don’t like bleeding caused by test guns, and Springfield ought to know better than to build a gun with so many sharp edges.
Valtro Model 1998 A1, $1,199. Best Buy. We concluded that this handgun is a better value than the Wilson CQB. It cost a whole lot less, and seemed to provide at least equal value for the money. We’d zing the ambidextrous safety and get multi-colored tritium inserts, and call it one of the finest 1911-type .45 ACP handguns we’ve ever seen. No, it didn’t have those items out of the box, but most shooters like ambidextrous safety levers, and not everyone wants night sights. It may be possible to buy a good 1911 cheaper than this one, but we have yet to see one with everything that was any cheaper. This one had it all: slick action, grand accuracy, outstanding trigger, outstanding fitting, adjustable sights (which the Wilson didn’t have, and which some don’t want), outstanding reliability with all types of ammunition, excellent grip, nice wood, good looks, and nothing that didn’t absolutely belong.
If this handgun proves to be half as good as it looks, i.e., if it and others like it withstand the firing of thousands of rounds with zero malfunctions and zero breakage, we feel it will set a new standard for value received. Fixed sights will generally outlast adjustables, and the buyer may want that option. He can, of course, fit Wilson’s outstanding Night Eyes sights. We plan to keep on shooting the Valtro in extended testing, but so far we rate it higher than the Wilson CQB because of its lower price for essentially the same thing. If you want a full-size, combat-ready, 1911 .45 auto, grab a Valtro.