April 2003

Philippine 1911s: Do Foreign .45s Compare To A Big-Name Pistol?

Three Armscor guns, the $350 Twin Pines, the $475 1911A1, and the $800 Medallion, try to compete against S&W’s new $900 .45 ACP — and we think they come up short.

Even at 51 ounces fully loaded, the SW1911 is concealable and won’t lean away from the body when it is worn in a Mernickle PS6 holster with its unique backing. We think the holster is a steal at $70, but it’s twice the fun with a carved emblem at $130. A matching double-magazine pouch is $33, and a two-piece laminated belt is $75. Contact Mernickle Custom Holsters at (604) 826-8834.

Today, the consumer has more sidearms to choose from than ever before. Manufacturers have greater technical, metallurgical, and mechanical capabilities than ever before. A wider variety of effective firing systems have been developed over the last half century alone than perhaps in all the years prior. (Not to mention alternative materials such as polymer and titanium.) But which firearm do the majority of competitors prefer, and which system is making a comeback in the elite forces of the military? The Browning-based 1911 pistol. Perhaps this is why Smith & Wesson has decided to enter the 1911 sweepstakes with a just-introduced gun, the SW1911 No. 108282, a 5-inch 8+1 stainless single action that lists for $895.

Another reason must be the desire to recapture markets that S&W previously dominated with wheelguns, such as law enforcement. When the world of blue went to the semi-automatic pistol, the company’s pistols were competitive, but they’ve recently disappeared from the holsters of many departments. The SW1911 will obviously seek to reverse that trend.

But there are plenty of other 1911 makers looking for a spot in the market. For example, we’ve been charting the progress of various firearms from Philippines-based Armscor. Though we have recommended some Armscor products, such as some self-defense shotguns in the May 2002 issue, the company’s 1911-style pistols have not been completely satisfactory, in our view.

In this test we not only look at the latest 1911A1 version from Armscor, but also the firm’s flagship model, the Medallion, and the retro-designed Twin Pines model, which features a frame and slide from Rock Island Armory. The lowest-priced pistol in this test comes with an MSRP of just $350. With styling somewhere between the Colt Sistema and a GI Milspec pistol, Armscor calls it the Twin Pines model. At an MSRP of only $475, the Armscor 1911A1 model has almost all the features that were once considered custom options. The Medallion is the only imported model in this lineup with adjustable sights, but its gloss finish and $800 price tag make it price-comparable to the SW1911.

Who would win this match up of domestic and foreign .45s? Only time at the range would tell.

Armscor Rock Island Twin Pines .45 ACP, $350

The Twin Pines model is a simple, old-style 1911 pistol. The markings on the slide made no reference to the model name, but the slide did display a bold insigne featuring a large cannon and the words Rock Island Armory. We were impressed by its clean edges and evenly applied finish. The heavy wood grips were very tasteful. They were smooth rather than checkered, clearly displaying the attractive wood pattern. The sights were a low-mount design, as found on the original Browning. When sighting on a target, we found them easily. Cocking serrations appeared on the rear of the slide, and vertical lines were cut into the flat mainspring housing. A beavertail grip safety was included, but it was narrow at the tang. Modern 1911s have wider tangs and are more comfortable to shoot. The Twin Pines also lacks other niceties found on modern pistols, including a skeletonized hammer and trigger, both of which decrease lock time and, as a result, cycling speed.

Despite these shortcomings, we liked this pistol, in part because of its price. We’re not sure this gun will ever be valuable as a collectible, but we did find this same pistol being offered at www.auctionarms.comfor $362, which is just a little more than the MSRP.

Other web chatter remarked that it jammed at first but broke in nicely, so we traveled to the range to find out if the Armscor Twin Pines 1911 was a throwback in function as well as in style. It turned out that what we read on the chat boards was pretty accurate. Yes, we did have failure-to-feed stoppages, with rounds not fully entering the chamber. We even retrieved a shaved rim from a casing spit out during fire.

In terms of accuracy the Twin Pines shot better than expected with two of our three test rounds. In fact, despite the minimal sights our best group measured 1.3 inches.

Click here to view "Accuracy and Chronograph Data."

This helped lower the overall average of the Federal American Eagle 230-grain FMJ rounds to 2.4 inches. The variation was not as wide, but the average group size was the same firing our handloaded target ammunition.

The Twin Pines is an old-fashioned gun, and we found it produced the most inconsistent results firing the Federal Hydra-Shok rounds, which were the most modern ammunition we had on hand. We have seen this type of discrepancy before, which is one of the reasons we picked 230-grain ammunition across the board.

Armscor 1911A1, .45 ACP, $475

The 1911A1 45 from Armscor has a lot going for it. The list of features is not any shorter than most “custom” models available over the counter. Checkered wood grips, raised surface grip safety, ambidextrous thumb safeties, relieved hammer and trigger, and Novak-style snag-free sights. Unlike the Twin Pines “replica-gun,” this is a modern 1911.

In terms of this pistol’s choice of ammunition, we found it to be the exact opposite in that the Hydra-Shok and not the lower-velocity standard ammunition produced the most accurate results. Even with a largest group size of 3.4 inches, the average for all shots fired with this jacketed hollowpoint round measured less than 3.0 inches. But this pistol had downsides as well. First, like the other Armscor pistols in this test, the point of impact was off by as much as 8 to 10 inches in elevation. The 1911A1 shot high and the Twin Pines was set too low. Without available elevation adjustment on either the Twin Pines or the 1911A1, a change in front sight is called for. Just like our experience in testing past Armscor 1911s (June 2002, .40 S&W, and April 2002, .38 Super) the rear sight worked loose, spoiling our aim. To avoid this we recommend sighting in the gun upon arrival and applying Loc-Tite to cement the setscrew in place.

As far as malfunctions, we suffered just a few failures to feed over 200+ rounds (extractor or magazine related, we’d bet). We also noted that when loading the Federal American Eagle rounds, the last round would at times pop out of the magazine. On one occasion the round flipped into the air, completing a one-and-a-half full gainer and landing backward atop the follower. A comment we found on the web that recommended better magazines and polishing the feed ramp was pretty astute.

We would like to point out that although our Philippine pistols use the same basic frame, they handled and shot with entirely differently. In our opinion, the 1911A1 was the softest shooter, with the type of action the American public has come to expect. This includes a crisp break to the trigger. The Twin Pines required us to make certain physical and mental adjustments to ensure we pressed the trigger straight back and avoided dipping the muzzle. The model 1911A1 filled our hands evenly, without slippage, promoting a neutral grip. This means the only moveable part is the trigger, which is how it should be. Another common imperfection is a delay or distraction as the grip safety works against the trigger, and the Armscor model 1911A1 avoided this pitfall as well.

Armscor Medallion .45 ACP, $800

It is not unusual to look at a specific firearm and ask why it is expensive. But in the case of the Armscor Medallion, the answer was obvious. With high-tech coatings such as hard chrome, poly-this and armor-that, few are as tasteful and visually fulfilling as the high-gloss blued finish found on the Armscor Medallion pistol. The detail work on the slide, including forward and rear cocking serrations, were another costly feature. The grips were fashioned from select wood that has been fully checkered. Even the Allen screws were glossed and buffed. The mainspring housing was checkered, and this checkering carried over to the raised portion of the grip safety — a detail we rarely see. The skeletonized hammer was also blued and treated to matching checkering. The magazine release was checkered as well, and the ventilated trigger had also been blued. The slide was flat topped and lined to reduce glare. Sights front and rear were dovetailed into place, and the rear unit was lined and fully adjustable. The Medallion also used a full-length guide rod that had been heavily chromed and the tip beveled. This added up to an impressive visual package.

However, at the range the Medallion was not as impressive as the Rock Island Twin Pines, the least expensive gun in this test. Though the Medallion proved to be more reliable than the Twin Pines, it trailed slightly in accuracy.

To earn a Buy It rating, all a pistol has to do is function as intended. A gun that fires without problem and costs the least would be well on its way to earning a Best Buy rating. If a gun proved especially accurate or was otherwise most appealing, a rating of Our Pick is in the offing. But here we had three guns from one manufacturer divided by a large gap in price, all of which suffer from some sort of reliability problem, and the least expensive gun with the most “archaic” features proves to be the most accurate. With the Medallion we suffered only two failures, both of which were identical. The result was a spent case being crushed between the hood of the barrel and the breech face. We checked with master gunsmith Ross Carter (870-741-2265) for an over-the-phone evaluation. His best guess was a lack of extractor tension. Repair could be a simple adjustment or something as radical as needing to correct an irregularity of the breech face, which could offset the case and interfere with the extractor’s ability to get a good hold on the case rim.

However, we had been experiencing another problem that would indicate the gun was unlocking prematurely, causing the extractor to slip off the case before it could be moved the intended distance from the chamber. The clue here was the shooter being sprayed by unburned powder. Supporting this theory were gouges and slices on the inner surface of the case rims where the extractor had lost its grip on the cases that were subsequently crushed. Whereas most current 1911 manufacturers have found a way to cure the problems of internal extractor design, we’re beginning to see 1911 pistols such as the Smith & Wesson SW45 appear with external extractors.

Smith & Wesson SW1911 .45 ACP, $895

The SW1911 operates with two functional variations on traditional 1911 design. The first variation is an externally mounted extractor. John Browning himself saw the extractor as the one weak point in the 1911 system and developed the external design to enhance reliability and maintenance. The second difference is in the control of the firing pin via the grip safety. Depress the grip safety and the firing pin is free to move forward. This is very similar to the Schwartz system that was adapted for use in the Kimber Type II pistols, but Smith & Wesson has claimed new patents on its variation.

Elsewhere, another difference between Smith & Wesson and many other firearms companies is that Smith & Wesson is a manufacturer and not merely an importer of complete pistols or of parts that they assemble in stateside factories. Industry buzz says that in fact, Smith & Wesson has been manufacturing frames and slides for other companies that produce 1911 pistols.

Now it is Smith & Wesson’s turn. We received our 1911 just weeks before its official introduction at the 2003 Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show. This new pistol was finished in handsome satin stainless with distinctive gold graphics. Cocking serrations were cut on the front and back of the slide. Novak low-mount three-dot sights were dovetailed into place. Lockup was via a bushing with a full-length guide rod. The grips were a tasteful black rubber. The mainspring housing was also black and cleanly checkered. Other black accents were the beavertail grip safety, the slide release, left-side-only thumb safety and checkered magazine-release button. The hammer is skeletonized with the sides polished, but the interior of its sculpture and the outer surface continues the theme of using a black contrast. Two eight-round magazines were supplied. We measured the single-action trigger to break at exactly 4 pounds.

When we fired this gun over five different range sessions, we were impressed when it delivered five-shot groups of 3.0 inches and under with virtually every scrap of ammunition we could find in our closet. Most groups were in the 2.7-inch range. If the SW1911 is not a top-grade target pistol, then it is among the most consistent shooting pistols we have seen come off an assembly line in some time. This is not an inexpensive pistol nor is it out of the ballpark, either. It is our impression that the design intent of this pistol was for its designers to hear someone someday refer to the SW 1911 pistol as “old reliable.” We had no failures to feed, extraction issues, or any other problem.

Gun Tests Recommends
Armscor Rock Island Armory Twin Pines .45 ACP, $350. Conditional Buy. What the Twin Pines lacks in modern convenience it makes up for with charm. Still, this pistol developed reliability problems, which made us wonder: Is it possible to build a good 1911 .45 ACP at a bargain-basement price? So far our tests tell us the answer is no.

Armscor 1911A1 .45 ACP, $475. Conditional Buy. The A1 model represents the type of low-cost, basic 1911 that with some tuning and refinement could be a satisfying pistol to own. However, you must compare it to the current crop of $700+ 1911s that are more capable directly out of the box.

Armscor Medallion .45 ACP, $800. Don’t Buy. This is Armscor’s top gun to date. It offers a very distinctive look and feel, but it developed the habit of occasionally crushing spent cases, indicating timing or extractor problems. There are just too many other 1911s available in this price range to make us want this gun.

Smith & Wesson 1911 .45 ACP, $895. Buy It. This nice-looking gun shot everything we fed it accurately and without incident. That’s exactly what we want in a full-size .45.


Also With This Article

Click here to view "A Second Opinion: Smith's SW1911 Is Very Near The Mark."