August 2004

Serious Shooting .45s: Springfield Armory Edges out Gunsite’s Colt

The $1,560 Springfield Armory TRP and the $1,495 Colt Gunsite 1911 45s prove to be “pro tools” worth the extra investment.

The Colt Gunsite may not have a long list of deluxe features, but it came through as an accurate and durable pistol. In this picture the operator performs a one-handed “blind” chamber check that should only be used if one hand is immobilized.

Serious shooters who want to hone their defensive skills often attend a tactical shooting school, such as the Sigarms Academy, Thunder Ranch, Front Sight, or Gunsite. At some of these locations, the training school recommends certain firearms, or in other cases, it may sell firearms with school tie-ins or even branded merchandise.

We have tested certain school-sanctioned guns in the past, and have generally found them to be exceptional guns. Still, these guns usually cost more than a number of over-the-counter pistols that come with more features, which causes us to wonder about their value. Do they offer qualities that would outweigh additional bells and whistles?

To find out, we recently tested a training-school branded gun against a similarly priced factory gun. Our “school” test gun was a Colt Gunsite Pistol No. O1070CGP .45 ACP, $1,495. It’s a 70-series stainless number as tested, but Colt also offers a carbon steel version. We pitted it against a Springfield Armory TRP Stainless PC9107L, $1,560. Prices for Springfield Armory pistols range from the mid-$500 range for Mil-Spec models to well above $2000 for specialized pistols from the Springfield Armory Custom Shop. The cost of various models depends on the parts used, features offered and the amount of hand labor required for the construction of the individual pistol.

Here’s what we found.

Colt Gunsite Pistol .45 ACP No. O1070CGP, $1,495


Located near Paulden, Arizona, the Gunsite facility was established in 1977 by Jeff Cooper. His original intention was to propagate his gun-handling and shooting theories, which he modestly referred to as the Modern Technique of the Pistol. Checking the Gunsite web address (www.gunsite.com) for course requirements, the only reference to firearms asks the student to bring a “heavy duty pistol.” In speaking with Gunsite, we were told that the design of the test pistol (which is available for sale at Gunsite along with complete student packages that include ammunition and rental guns for use in the classes) was kept simple to hold down costs.

A preliminary inspection of the Colt Gunsite reinforced this notion. It lacked ambidextrous safeties, night sights and a magazine guide. But it was an impressive looking pistol nonetheless. The stainless steel finish on our pistol was an even matte that discouraged glare. The sights were a combination of a Novak low mount sight in the rear and a plain black front blade with horizontal grooves to reduce glare. The rear sight was mounted as far back as possible to gain maximum sight radius. Cocking serrations on the slide were fore and aft, just as they were on the Springfield Armory pistol. This allows for a variety of techniques for charging the weapon or shifting the slide back to reveal the condition of the chamber. Within the slide was a standard length guide rod with solid plug. We were able to disassemble the gun without using a bushing wrench. There was a skeletonized hammer, but the thumb safety was left side only. The grip safety featured a raised platform for sure engagement. The mainspring housing was flat instead of arched and the back strap was grooved vertically, not checkered. The front strap showed only mild vertical lines as well. The trigger was aluminum with soft vertical grooves, and the trigger housed an adjustment screw. The sides of the trigger were solid, giving the Colt Gunsite a classic look.

Supplied were two 8-round magazines by Wilson Combat that were fitted with low-profile flush-fitting base pads. Many single-column magazines are welded shut on the bottom, but the construction of these magazines made them easier to clean and if necessary to rebuild. The base pad was steel with a hole in the middle. This rugged pad could absorb shock upon hitting the ground and serve as a friendly surface when seating a magazine. To reveal the retaining plate underneath, we inserted a pin into the hole and slid off the bumper. With the retaining plate removed we were able to inspect the magazine body for dirt or replace the spring and follower as needed. This is a design we really like.

Our Colt arrived with a tasteful set of slim-profile wood grips with checkering that was more ornamental than functional if you were looking for help with your grip. Still, this design speaks to lower-profile concealment because the grips minimize overall width. We found that thinner grips were favored mostly by those shooters with well-padded hands. Most of our staff shooters preferred more grip than less but we found that firing supported from a bench the dimensions of the grip panels made very little difference.

Of more importance was trigger pull. The Colt Gunsite incorporated the series 70 action. This action does not use a trigger-actuated safety like that found on the series 80 pistols. The latter is not widely favored by the Practical Shooting crowd. It seems that most shooters prefer the trigger to work the trigger and let nothing else interfere. The trigger on the Gunsite model offered a comfortable amount of take-up and then a sensation of firm compression. We would not call this a crisp trigger, but it proved to be consistent and predictable nonetheless.

At the range

we had every reason to believe that the Colt Gunsite would function reliably, but due to its short list of features, our expectations for remarkable accuracy were not high. But in the case of our Colt Gunsite, the execution of the overall design seemed to outweigh the benefit of any single upgraded part. This pistol functioned reliably, and we were able to achieve an overall average group size measuring a little less than 1.8 inches from a sandbag rest at 25 yards.

Smallest group of the test was measured to be approximately 1.0 inch firing the Black Hills 230-grain JHP rounds. Ultimately, we set average measurements for our groups of 1.4 inches with the Black Hills ammunition, 1.8 inches with the Hornady 200-grain JHP/XTP rounds, and 2.1 inches with the Federal American Eagle 230-grain FMJ ammunition. We liked the fact that our choices of defense loads scored better than the ball ammunition.

Springfield Armory TRP Stainless PC9107L $1,560


Priced at $1,560, the TRP model offered more features than Springfield’s “Loaded” series, which is listed in the $800 range. The addition of Novak night sights and a magazine well are the most obvious upgrades. In terms of fit, it was our impression that more care had been taken in barrel and slide-to-frame fit than on the lower-priced models.

The list of parts on the TRP is quite long. The hammer was skeletonized to decrease lock time. The grip safety was wide and included a boldly raised surface to ensure engagement. The outer surface of the mainspring housing was checkered at 20 lines per inch. A keyhole for the hammer lock was recessed on the back strap and did not interfere with the shooter’s grip. The front strap was treated with 20-lpi checkering. We felt that the checkered cocobolo wood grips were a perfect fit, forming a comfortable oval-shaped profile. The grips were held in place by stainless steel Allen head screws that are less likely to be marred than slotted screws. A magazine guide was fitted to the mag well. This guide helped speed reloading, but we felt that although the fit was tight and precise, we would have preferred to see additional machining for a seamless look. The trigger was an aluminum adjustable model relieved for minimal weight. The thumb safeties were ambidextrous, with the right-side paddle slightly narrower than the left side. We felt the edges of the thumb paddles were unnecessarily sharp. They didn’t really present a danger of cutting the thumb, but we felt they were in contrast with the rest of the pistol that featured a dehorned slide and frame. The slide featured front and rear cocking serrations and was topped with the aforementioned Novak night sights. We liked these sights because they resisted snagging on clothing, and the tritium inserts did not distract us from using the physical relief of the notch and post during carefully aimed fire.

Inside the Springfield Armory TRP we found a two-piece guide rod. In our TRP, we removed the top end by removing the magazine, emptied the chamber, and locked back the slide. The tip of the guide rod fit the supplied Allen wrench. Once we released the initial tension, we brought the slide forward and unscrewed the front portion of the guide rod by hand. Disassembly from this point was much like that of a standard length guide rod pistol, except we did use a bushing wrench, (which was not supplied). We preferred to use a wrench because the guide rod plug is cylindrical instead of capped and the edges were too sharp for our bare fingers. Using a wrench to turn the bushing to the 8 o’clock position released the recoil spring and plug. With these parts out of the way, we were able to manipulate the slide and remove the slide stop. During reassembly the key was not to tighten down the guide rod until the top end was fully assembled and the slide could be locked back. According to Springfield Armory, they added the longer guide rod to add weight at the muzzle, which helps control recoil.

At the range we tried a variety of different .45 ACP rounds without a single malfunction. The TRP arrived with two 7-round magazines by Metalform with rubber base pads. We also fired the TRP with the 8-round Wilson Combat magazines that came with the Colt Gunsite pistol and with extended length (170mm) 10-round Metalform and Wilson Combat magazines purchased from Brownells (800-741-0015) for $27 and $29 respectively. The Springfield TRP shot reliably with them all.

The accuracy of our TRP was well above average and consistent. We shot our best performance from the bench at 25-yard targets firing the Black Hills 230-grain JHP ammunition. Although our best single group measured 1.6 inches center to center and was in fact our only sub 2-inch group, virtually every odd selection we could find of .45 ACP ammunition printed at least one group in the 2.0- to 2.1-inch range.

Gun Tests Recommends
Springfield Armory TRP Stainless PC9107L $1,560. Our Pick. Priced midway between Springfield Armory’s Loaded series and the Custom Shop models, the TRP includes a healthy list of desirable upgrades and solid performance that we think justifies its cost. The TRP enabled us to fire a variety of ammunition with complete reliability and accuracy that we would rate as well above average.

Colt Gunsite Pistol No. O1070CGP, $1,495. Buy It. The Colt Gunsite was a pleasant surprise. We asked the people at Gunsite why it didn’t have more bells and whistles, and they said that the over-the-counter design was all that was really necessary. The rest of the answer was that the stock pistol was a good place to start. We have to agree with Gunsite’s idea that less is more.