January 2014

Commanders vs. a Commodore: Who Outranks Whom in 45 ACP?

In naval parlance, a commodore holds more sway than a commander. But in this match up, Commanders from Colt and Para USA outduel the S.A.M. Commodore by a handy margin.

There are those who feel that the 1911 handgun is the finest defense pistol available. But this isnít the only reason for the 1911ís popularity. The 1911 also caters to those with a sense of history and emotional attachment. This is why the World War I and World War II reproductions and GI guns are so popular. But when it comes to a deadly serious defense gun, only the facts and performance matter. The Commander-size pistol is wisely shorter and lighter than the long and heavy Government Model.

The Commander is defined by a 4.25-inch barrel and a barrel bushing that is shorter than the Government Model. The pistol may be steel frame or aluminum frame. The Commander is easier to carry and faster from leather. By the same token, the Commander is easier to shoot well than the 3- or 3.5-inch-barrel 1911 handguns. The Commander features the full-length grip frame rather than the shortened Officerís Model grip frame. All told, the Commander gives up little to the Government Model in terms of practical performance. All Commanders are not created equal, however.

We realized some months ago that we needed to take a closer look at this 45 ACP pistol category because of the Commanderís unique features. We had tested only a few of this type, by name: the Michiguns 45 Commander Custom (May 2009), Colt Lightweight Commander 04860 XSE 45 ACP (October 2003, January 2002), and the Colt M1991A1 Commander (October 1993). So in the November issue, we tested three Commander-size 45s: a Ruger SR1911CMD No. 6702, $829 (Grade B); a SIG Carry Stainless 1911CA-45-SSS, $1142 (Grade A- and a Best Buy); and a Kimber Pro Custom Defense Package (CDP) II, $1331 (Grade A), the only aluminum-frame pistol in that match up. Also, the CDP II had a 4-inch barrel that didnít give up much in velocity and was actually the most accurate pistol tested in November. We also liked the Kimberís ambidextrous safety.

This time around, we were looking for a reliable personal defense Commander for less than the Rugerís price. The first of our test handguns was a used Colt Commander Series 80 No. 04091U 45 ACP, $974 NIB, and $800 as tested. Gun Tests had not evaluated a stainless-steel-frame Colt Commander prior to this. We also chose a Para USA Expert Commander No. 96748 45 ACP, $799, and a new Shooters Arms Manufacturing (S.A.M.) Commodore 45 ACP, available from Century International Arms as No. HG1009-N. Our S.A.M. cost $429.

We tested with three different cartridge brands, two of which had self-defense-style hollowpoints. The first was Speerís 230-grain Gold Dot Short Barrel load, which developed 334 foot-pounds, 345 foot-pounds, and 339 foot-pounds of muzzle energy out of the Colt, S.A.M. Commodore, and Expert respectively. Thatís slightly better overall than a 230-grain Fiocchi load shot out of 5-inch 1911s in the October 2012 issue, which averaged 828 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. Average group sizes were on par with the full-size 1911s in October 2012 as well, coming in at 2.5, 3.3, and 2.25 inches for the Colt, Commodore, and Expert respectively.

With Barnes 185-grain TAC +Ps, the Para Expert created the most energy (339 foot-pounds) and the best accuracy (2.3-inch average groups at 25 yards), bettering the Colt (331 foot-pounds, 2.5-inch average groups), and the Commodore (323 foot-pounds, 3.1-inch average groups). The order of results was a little different for the Fiocchi 230-grain FMJs, with the S.A.M. delivering the best energy numbers but the worst accuracy (329 foot-pounds, 3.2-inch average groups), followed by the Para pistol (321 foot-pounds, 2.6-inch average groups) and the Colt (310 foot-pounds, 2.7-inch average groups).

Also, our shooters drew all three pistols for a dozen repetitions to check for sharp edges and snags. We used a Jeremiah IWB holster (JeremiahHolsters.com) with alligator trim, a tension screw, and dual belt loops. It proved well made and efficient.

Shorter than the Government Model and fast into action, the Commander carries light on the hip but speaks with real authority. Hereís what we heard from these Commanders at the range:

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