October 2012

GI Pistols: Remington Leads, But It Isn’t ‘Exactly’ a GI Pistol

In this four-way test of 1911 handguns, we looked at a Turkish Regent R100, an American-made Auto Ord 1911, an original Remington Rand 1911A1, and a new Remington 1911 R1.

In today’s market there seems to be a glut of 1911-type pistols. They run the gamut from inexpensive foreign imports with cast frames and parts to the most inexpensive examples of the gunmaker’s art. John Browning’s masterpiece has been widely cloned and copied — and arguably never equaled by any other design for pure fighting efficiency. The combination of a low bore axis that limits the recoil arc, a short, straight-to-the-rear trigger compression, well-placed controls, and a comfortable grip add up to unequaled human engineering. Coupled with a design that allows cocked-and-locked carry and unsurpassed speed to a rapid first-shot hit, the 45 ACP cartridge and good heft, the 1911 is a deadly efficient fighting tool.

From left: (1) If tradition, emotional attachment, and a sense of history are important to you, then perhaps the original Remington Rand appeals more. (2) Our raters liked the new Remington pistol a lot. But it was the most expensive pistol, and it isnít a 1911A1 in all particulars. (3) The Regent R100 pistol is well made of good materials, but the odd reshaping of the grip leaves us cold. (4) The solid performance of the Auto Ordnance at a fair price is praiseworthy. While each pistol has its merits, the Auto Ordnance is a Best Buy, our testers said.

A generation or so ago we cut up and modified GI 45s into what we thought were superior fighting pistols. Today, we have ready-made factory pistols that incorporate many of the features once found only on custom handguns. But the original GI type remains popular. The simplicity and utter reliability of the design cannot be faulted. The more bells and whistles, the more we have to go wrong with a pistol. Low-profile sights, simple controls, and uncluttered design are among the strong points of the GI-type pistol. In this report we tested two modern renditions of the GI 45, the Auto Ordnance and Regent, respectively. As a counterpoint, we located and tested an original GI 45, by Remington Rand. Finally, we tested a modern pistol that is basically a GI gun with slight upgrades as a comparison. The results were interesting and made for a valid comparison of the GI-type pistols.

Auto Ordnance 1911
Series 80 45 ACP, $667
Auto Ordnance is a storied name in American firearms history, beginning with the famous Auto Ordnance Company founded by Colonel George Thompson to market Colt-made Thompson submachineguns. At one time Numrich Arms of New Jersey (Gun Parts Corporation) owned the name and produced spartan-grade 1911 pistols. The West Hurley pistols are sometimes disparaged for their quality, but the frames and slides were made of good materials and these “parts guns” gave beginners an affordable entry-level pistol.

Still, a fair look at the guns determines the internals were rough at best. One gunsmith remarked the parts had the appearance of having been beat out on a rock in Afghanistan. In 1999 Kahr Arms purchased the rights to the Auto Ordnance name. The result is a credible GI-type 1911A1 that bears little resemblance to the West Hurley pistols, but it also cost more.

It may be said that this pistol and others are in the spirit of the 1911A1 rather than exact copies, but the Auto Ordnance pistol bears a close resemblance to WWII 1911A1 pistols. The slide markings are distinctive with the Model of 1911 banner, which is to be expected. The pistol is a close, but not exact, copy of the original. As an example, the trigger differs slightly in length. This pistol also features the Colt Series 80-type firing-pin block. This is an upgrade that does not detract from the pistol’s appearance. All raters agreed that the drop safety is a good addition. While some complain that the drop safety interferes with a smooth trigger action, we have found this just isn’t so. The drop safety keeps the firing pin locked in place, preventing it from taking a run forward if the pistol is dropped on the muzzle. The firing-pin block does not detract at all from the appearance of the GI 45 and represents a credible improvement.

We field-stripped and examined the pistol. The Parkerized finish was nice and even. The fit of the parts were tight. The barrel bushing did not require a tool for removal, and while the barrel bushing was finger tight, it was tighter than original GI pistols. The controls are good and crisp, with the grip safety releasing its lock on the trigger at the correct point about midway in compression. The safety was positive, but the indent was not quite as positive as the other pistols, a common complaint with Auto Ordnance pistols. Just the same, it stayed in place in its locked position. We would have preferred a more solid engagement. The magazine has a different appearance than most 1911 types, but it functioned fine, we thought. At one time the A/O pistols — the Generals Model in particular — featured magazines purpose-built for the types and slide stops that differed from other 1911s as well. The new pistols are thankfully Mil Spec. The trigger action was smooth at 5 pounds and just an ounce over. This compares to 6 to 8 pounds on many GI pistols. Reset was rapid, a hallmark of the 1911 type. The plastic grips are well checkered and true to the 1911A1 template.

In preparation for firing, the pistol was well lubricated on the long bearing surfaces. We elected to fire the piece with three types of ammunition, two from Black Hills Ammunition and one from Fiocchi. The first was an inexpensive 200-grain lead-bullet load from Black Hills, followed by the classic 230-grain ball load from Fiocchi, and finally a modern 185-grain JHP loading from Black Hills. This mix tells us if the pistol is reliable with an affordable practice loading and also a modern defense load. The original 230-grain ball load is reliable in so many pistols, it may be rightly said a 1911 is sick if the pistol doesn’t feed hardball. As long as the feed ramp is properly centered in the frame and the two-piece feed ramp features the requisite 1⁄32-inch gap between the two parts of the ramp, the pistol should feed nearly any cartridge well.

We were able to field-test two separate Auto Ordnance pistols. One was our test gun, a new-in-the-box piece, and the other the personal handgun of one of the raters. Our new-in-the-box Auto Ordnance fed the 230-grain ball load and the modern JHPs, but suffered a dozen short cycles and snags with the first 50 rounds of ammunition, all 200-grain semi-wadcutters. One of our raters has written books on the 1911 (Model 1911 Automatic Pistol, GunDigest Shooter’s Guide to the 1911), and noted in those texts that the original pistols sometimes demanded a break-in period. This smooths in the action, breaks in the link, and eliminates burrs. Since the Auto Ordnance is true to the original template and the short cycles disappeared after the first 150 rounds, we have to write this off as a typical GI break in. However, this isn’t something we see with most modern 1911 pistols. The other Auto Ordnance pistol, also purchased new in the box, came out of the box running and never stopped.

Accuracy was good to excellent, with the pistol feeling good in the hand and having the 1911’s famous handling qualities.

Our Team Said: The raters agreed that this is a well-made pistol, accurate and reliable with most loads. Considering it exhibited good accuracy and the fact that the GI pistol really isn’t rated for hollowpoints but still fed them, the Auto Ordnance was a great performer. If you want a GI pistol, the Auto Ordnance has a lot going for it.

Regent R100 45 ACP, $500
The Regent R100 is manufactured in Turkey. Over the years Turkish pistols and long guns have earned a good reputation, and this pistol hasn’t done anything to change this perception. The R100 is a near copy of the original 1911A1, but with a handful of differences. The pistol’s fit and finish are excellent, and we must state the finish rivals that of any handgun we have tested. The fit of the barrel bushing was good and tight, and the trigger action crisp enough and right at 6 pounds. The main difference between this pistol and the “real 1911” is the shape of the front strap. Most of the raters agreed that the Regent’s shape is a detriment to fit and handling. Certainly, there is no reason for this change. The two-tenths of an inch difference in total circumference and the difference in the shape of the flat surface of the grip area between the front and rear radius lines is telling in handling. It is simply not as comfortable as the original design, and we found no one that preferred this shape. One rater compared it to the difference between factory grips on a revolver and a poor set of homemade grips. It is rather more bothersome than the slightly larger but well designed grip on the high-capacity Para Ordnance 1911 pistols, as an example.

Elsewhere, the slide is forged while the frame is cast. That’s okay, but we will take forged when we can get it. When examining the feed ramp, it appears as if the ramp were polished by hand, which is possible when labor isn’t as expensive. This gave us confidence the pistol would feed all types of bullet styles. The trigger isn’t quite checkered like a true 1911A1, but what was there worked fine. Trigger compression was a little heavier than the Auto Ordnance at 6 pounds.

The firing test was uneventful. The Regent fired every round without a single hitch, digesting the 200-grain SWC load that chocked the Auto Ordnance. However, in fast, reactive shooting, the R100 definitely was not as fast handling as the Auto Ordnance or the other pistols. Is it because the handle of the R100 is simply different and we are used to the original, or is the new design actually less efficient? The vote was unanimous — the handle design is less efficient than the 1911A1’s original template. In deliberate fire off the benchrest, the R100 was not quite as accurate as the Auto Ordnance, but we feel this cannot be blamed on the handle design.

Our Team Said: The R100 is a well made and reliable handgun, but the handle design simply left us scratching our head and wondering “why?” Just the same, its fit, finish, and good reliability would have earned this pistol an A rating. We downgraded the rating to B based upon the flawed handle redesign that would probably irk some shooters all the more if they own a safe full of 1911 handguns. A further problem was that the magazine sometimes stuck in the magazine well, although it was not difficult to remove. It simply was not as smooth and fast as the usual 1911 magazine and magazine well combination. This isn’t difficult to get correct, and again we wonder why wasn’t this shortcoming addressing at the factory?

Remington Rand 1911A1 45 ACP, ~$1000
This is an original World War II pistol, which does not feature a firing pin block. While well made of good materials, the Remington Rand is the loosest pistol tested, and not simply because of its age. The pistol was loose when new, as these pistols were intended to work in adverse conditions. However, do not believe the pistol wasn’t tight where it mattered. It may rattle when shaken, but the barrel bushing and the locking lugs are sufficiently tight for combat accuracy. There is simply enough slack for the pistol to be completely reliable in battlefield conditions.

Trigger compression was heavy at 6 pounds, but reset was rapid. This is not a bad trigger for a combat pistol. The slide was wiped clean of most of its old markings when it was refinished, common to many oldtime GI pistols in long use. The Remington Rand gave good results for such an old pistol, and it probably was a better performer when new. (We would recommend refreshing any such pistol with Wolff gun springs, but to be fair we did not do that in this case. We tested the piece as if it were just picked up in a pawn shop.) Despite its age, the pistol sailed through the FMJ and JHP loads, but predictably choked on the lead SWC with its sharp shoulder.

This was also the least accurate pistol tested. But accuracy is relative, and the pistol would save your life at 25 yards and probably get a hit at 50 yards in the hands of a trained pistol shooter. Since this is the pistol that saved the lives of so many warriors of the greatest generation, the raters all enjoyed firing the pistol and gave it reverent attention.

Our Team Said: Basing its judgment upon casual accuracy, our team recognized that this older version of the 1911 doesn’t match up to today’s pistols. Original military specifications called for a 5-inch group at 25 yards and 10 inches at 50 yards. The Remington Rand is right on the money, but there are better shooters for a lot less money these days. For a sense of history, the pistol cannot be faulted. There was a single failure to extract a cartridge case during the firing test. The feel and fit of the safety and grip safety and all controls remains tight and excellent after all of this time.

Remington 1911 R1 45 ACP, $729
The Remington 1911 pistol was long awaited and has proven popular. Despite embarrassing gaffs by a number of gun scribes, Remington firearms did not produce a 1911 pistol during World War II. Remington did manufacture a 1911 during World War I. It is Remington Rand typewriter company that produced the World War II Remington 1911 pistols. So, it was a long time coming for Big Green itself to make a commercial 1911 pistol.

The R1 is a mix of traditional 1911A1 and modern features. As an example, the grips are walnut rather than plastic and the stainless-steel barrel bushing is tighter than any of the other pistols. A bushing wrench is supplied with the pistol, as well as a hard locking case and two magazines. The R1 also differs from the others in featuring a lowered or scalloped ejection port, a well-designed thumb safety that is not quite GI, and high-visibility sights. No, the sights are not Novak sights, but they are taller and wider than the GI sights found on the other pistols.

For practical use, the R1 has superior features. First, there was no break in. The safety of the R1 indents with a solid click and is positive in operation. Trigger compression was the best tested at a smooth and crisp 4 pounds. The R1 differs from the others in having a flat mainspring housing rather than arched. However, this makes it easier to fit a beavertail grip safety later, if so desired. Also, for those wishing a true-to-the-template GI pistol, the R1’s excellent sights are a distraction. Well, if you want a true GI pistol, perhaps an original is indicated instead.

Also, the Remington handled well in all types of fast-moving exercises intended to mimic personal-defense situations. The pistol cleared leather quickly and came on target quickly, with excellent handling. The all-steel Government Model simply hangs on the target and controls well, particularly with the 200-grain SWC ammunition used during the firing test. There were no malfunctions of any type, not only with the test ammunition but with several other loads thrown in during informal shooting as a litmus test of reliability. This pistol is the ideal defensive pistol in the minds of many.

Our Team Said: Without a beavertail safety or ambidextrous safety to add to the expense — or to go wrong — but with valid improvements over the original 1911A, the R1 is a well-thought-out design. The R1 is by far the most modern of the pistols tested. It is also the most expensive (barring the original Remington Rand, a collector’s piece), and the one that most often sells closest to the MSRP. The money for this one may be significantly greater than the Auto Ordnance or the Regent, but the Remington is the better performer, in our opinion.


Auto Ordnance 1911 Series 80 45 ACP

Regent R100 45 ACP

Remington Rand 1911A1 45 ACP

Remington 1911 R1 45 ACP

Gun Tests Report Card Summary