Friday, May 14, 2021

1972 Colt Combat Commander

Mom! It followed me home, can I keep it? 

Back at the birth of my shooting days, the pistol we now refer to as the "1911" was simply called the Colt Government Model, which was accepted into U.S. Military service on February 15, 1911.   This was a 5-inch barreled, single-action pistol that gained a serious reputation for taking the fight out of our enemies during two World Wars. Today, the term "1911" refers to the same style of pistol now made by a plethora of different manufacturers around the globe, but in my day, they were called the Colt Government model and they were only made by Colt. 

In 1949 the U.S. Government wanted a new General Officer's pistol to replace the .32/.380 ACP caliber Colt Model 1903/1908 pistols that had been issued to Generals during WWII. The Government specified that the replacement be a 9mm pistol with a light-weight aluminum alloy frame and a barrel length of 4.25 inches.  Colt cut off three-quarters of an inch off of the Government model, re-chambered it for the 9mm cartridge and fit it with the aluminum frame. They dubbed this new offering the "Commander".   Browning submitted their superb Model 1935 Hi-Power and Smith & Wesson provided their new 9mm Model 39.  The program to provide a new General Officer's pistol went nowhere and the Army continued issuing the Model 1903 and 1908 up through the Vietnam War. 

 In 1950 Colt decided to introduce the Commander to the public, chambering it in .9mm, .45 ACP and .38 Super. While sales were good, the most popular version were the ones in .45 ACP (it would take about another 30 years or so for the shooters in the U.S. to embrace the 9mm cartridge) but shooting the .45 in an aluminum frame was not nearly as pleasant as shooting the longer and heavier all steel framed Government Model. There were also reports that the heavier and more powerful .45 ammo caused the aluminum frames to wear out quicker. Colt fixed this in 1970 by bringing out the "Combat Commander" which replaced the aluminum frame with good old American steel. To eliminate confusion, Colt subsequently renamed the aluminum framed version the "Lightweight Commander". 

This takes us to the current time when the Combat Commander, pictured above, wandered in our Gun Club, looking for a new home. The finish on the pistol had seen better days but all day long some force of nature kept pulling me over to the case and I inspected and re-inspected the pistol. One of the interesting things I noted was that the sights had been upgraded a long time ago. Checking the Colt serial number database I found out that the pistol was manufactured in 1972, just two years after Colt introduced the model. In its original format it should have sported fixed, rudimentary GI style sights.  

Stock Colt Combat Commander
The model that had just come into the Club sported a vintage target front sight with a red polymer insert and a fully adjustable rear sight.  It appears that the rear device might be a Heini precision sight.  The original GI front sight was not dovetailed into the slide, so whoever did this work had to mill down the top portion of the slide to accommodate the new target sight.  The original rear sight was dovetailed in but it had to be enlarged for the precision-adjustable sight.  A lot of work was performed to get these sights in place and get them in place correctly.

Further inspection found that, instead of the short GI trigger, this model had a longer, adjustable trigger that allows the shooter to fine tune the weight of the trigger's pull.  The pull of this pistol measured an average of 3 pounds, which is excellent.

The pistol also has an aftermarket hammer, Pachmayr grips/Pachmayr arched mainspring housing and an aftermarket grip safety/beavertail combination that helps protect the web of the shooter's hand from being "bitten" by the hammer.  

I bought a brand-new Government Model in 1977 and it had something that this pistol does not have...the standard Colt shake.  My 1977 Government model rattled when shaken.  This 1972 Combat Commander has had some top notch gunsmithing work to tighten up the barrel, bushing, slide and frame fit.

The amazing thing I want to point out here is that this type of custom work was not at all very prevalent in the 1970's.  Rarely did I even read magazine articles about customizing the 1911 pistol and most of the advertising for custom gunsmiths was centered around the S&W K frame.  For those that found a good custom 1911 maker, and there weren't many outside of Armand Swenson, the price for these enhancements was not within the reach of the average shooter during this time period.  

After all of my inspecting and reinspecting of the pistol I decided that if I had a holster to fit it, I would consider that divine intervention was commanding me to buy this pistol, and who am I to go against God's will.

I immediately went to the trunk of my car and retrieved my Bag 'O Holsters to see what I could find and I did, in fact, have a Commander size holster.

I absolutely love this holster but after a half a day of wearing it I remembered why it was at the bottom of the spare holster bag.  The cut of the leather on the reverse side does not allow me to get a complete and firm grip when drawing from the holster and the safety snap has a particular way of maneuvering the safety into the "off " position.  A quick check of the internet and I located my favorite all-round holster, the DeSantis Speed Scabbard.

The DeSantis Speed Scabbard allows quick access to your pistol and has a tension screw so that you can easily adjust how tight the holster grasps the pistol.  The one-piece tunnel loop on the reverse of the holster also makes it easy to put it on and easy to remove later.

Does it Shoot?

The target below was the first 25 rounds fired at 21 feet.
It grouped very well but was above and to the right of center which was an absolute change from my normal low and left grouping with a 1911 pistol.

Fine-tuning the rear sight brought me this group:

And another session with the screwdriver lowered the group a little more:

There are several attributes about this pistol that make it accurate and a joy to shoot:
  1. The the plain black adjustable rear sight blade contrasts very nicely with the red polymer insert on the front sight.  My aged eyes can picks up the front sight very easily.  
  2. The arched mainspring housing is a better fit for my hand than a model with a straight backstrap.  The arched housing also helps keep the muzzle up and helps self-correct the tendency to shoot low for some shooters and I definitely fall into that category.
  3. The three pound trigger pull means less lateral muzzle wobble usually found on pistols with heavier trigger pulls. There is a reason that competitors prefer a single action pistol--a good single action trigger is just inherently more accurate than a double action pistol.
  4. The work that had been done to improve the fit of the barrel, bushing, slide and frame also paid off in providing a very accurate package.
All of these enhancements, again pretty rare in its day, work together in giving the shooter much more accuracy and enjoyment that one would expect in a 49 year old vintage Colt!

I have had a lot of fun with the Combat Commander and I really had no idea that this level of skilled gunsmithing was available in the 1970's.  In the mid-1990's Kimber rocked the handgunning world by producing pistols that incorporated the upgrades that have, since then, become standard for 1911 pistols.  Colt, for whatever reason, failed to keep pace with the market and Kimber, Springfield and others stole the 1911 market from them.  That is a shame since this pistol readily shows off the potential hiding in Colt's old War Horse.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Rock Island Armory 1911-A1 Standard Full Size in 9mm

Armscor/Rock Island Armory

The legacy of Armscor and Rock Island Armory goes back to 1905 in the Philippines.  This long run family business began as sporting goods retailer Squires Bingham & Co. and was sold to the Tauson family just prior to WWII.  During the war the business had to focus solely on selling clothing, but in 1952 they received firearms manufacturing licensing from the Government and began opening manufacturing plants across the island country.  

In 1980 the Tauson family changed the name to “Arms Corporation of the Philippines”, thus shortened to Armscor.  In 1985, Armscor Precision International opened an office in Pahrump, Nevada and later, acquired Rock Island Armory which was already established as a 1911 design and manufacturing company. Armscor and Rock Island have continued to grow and become an international developer and provider of ammunition and firearms.

RIA 1911 A1 Standard Full Size in 9mm

My one-word review for the Rock Island 1911 A1 in 9mm: “effortless”.  This pistol is easy to handle, easy to shoot and packs a boat load of accuracy into this standard Government-style pistol. 

While this pistol is built on the Colt Series 70 design, RIA did add some upgrades to the standard Colt Government pistol design.  First are the sights.  On Colt pistols, from the early 1900’s up through the late 1970’s, sights seemed to be somewhat of an afterthought.  The front sight was a small half circle either forged or welded into the slide and the rear sight was a very rudimentary small affair with a shallow notch.  The rear sight being dovetailed into the slide.  The front sight was difficult to see and there was very little in the way of contrast to differentiate the rear sight from the front sight when trying to make precise shots.  Additionally, there was no adjustment for elevation and windage could only be accomplished by vigorously hammering the rear sight in the appropriate direction to correct the point of aim.  

The sights put on by RIA are much better, but the front sight is not great.  The rear sight is an all-black anti-snag wedge apparatus that is really all you need in a rear sight.  I do not like dots, triangles, goal posts or anything else on the rear sight that might distract me from quickly acquiring the front sight.  The front sight is an all-black ramp that is dovetailed in (meaning it is replaceable) and is large enough to see quickly.  The angle of the ramp catches the ambient light and provides a small amount of contrast between the front and rear.  I could live with this sight arrangement but, for less than one-hundred bucks I could have a red or green fiber optic front sight installed.

Another upgraded feature not found on Colt Series 70 pistols are the over-sized ambidextrous manual safeties found on each side of the frames.  These safeties "snick" on and off is a very positive manner.  It would take a lot of effort to engage or disengage them accidentally.

The pistol includes a set of nicely checkered rubber grips that don’t add much pizzazz but perform their function quite well.  Grips are easy to change, and the market is full of amazing looking stocks fashioned from different woods, exotic horn and pearl, as well as attractive and nearly indestructible composite materials.  But here is my caveat: make sure what you are adding works at least as well as the rubber grips they are replacing.  Additionally, the front strap is vertically grooved and the backstrap is nicely checkered.  Between the grips, the grooves on the front strap and the checkering on the backstrap, this is not a pistol that you are going to drop during recoil.  And while we are on the subject of recoil, in this pistol is it negligible.  This is a large heaving pistols weighing in at two and a half pounds, unloaded.  Working against this much weight and moving the RIA’s massive slide, the recoil of the 9mm cartridge pretty much peters out before it can affect you, your accuracy, and your follow-up shot.

I’ve already mentioned the rather bland appearance of the grips and that goes right along with the unremarkable appearance of the Parkerized finish on the rest of the pistol.  Of course, you could have this pistol refinished into any color scheme you want but why waste the money.  The color is not going to affect the inherent accuracy of the pistol and how you are able to make it perform.  I am fond of saying that “the bling of your pistol makes no difference when it is holstered & concealed and, God forbid, if you have to present it to defend your life, the assailant is not going to be impressed with the pink and white “Hello Kitty” motif you had Cerakoted onto your handgun".

Now that the bland and mediocre elements of this pistol have been discussed (and admittedly, my critiques are rather petty) let’s get into what excites me about this handgun:
  1.         The slide to frame fit.  This is the best slide to frame fit on any production pistol and rivals those pistols that boast hand fitting on these parts.  If you were racking the slide blindfolded, you would be of the opinion that you were handling a pistol with a price tag of at least $1700.00. 
  2.        The trigger-pull and reset.  Again, you would think you are handling a $1700.00 pistol.  The trigger-pull has just an appropriate amount of travel before coming in contact with the sear and then, on this specimen, breaks cleanly at just a smidge over four pounds.  Over-travel is slight and there is an over-travel adjustment screw if you want to fine-tune it further.  The reset is fast and very noticeable, allowing you to train for fast and accurate follow-up shots.
  3.     Accuracy.  Well, the photos don’t lie.  While most defensive shootings take place at three to ten feet, I like to also test pistols at fifteen to twenty yards which basically mimics the range I might need to shoot in order to protect myself and others at my place of employment.  This pistol will handle these distances with ease and could be improved upon with a more visible fiber optic sight that would provide a more precise sight picture.


This leave us with the price.  While this pistol provides the functioning of a $1700 pistol, you should be able to find this on your dealer’s shelves for around $500.00.  That is not a mis-print.  There is a whole lot of precise manufacturing bundled up in the RIA 1911 A1. 

In the one word review I gave this pistol in the third paragraph I described this handgun as “effortless”.  Effortless to manipulate, effortless to shoot and a price that is effortless on the pocket (and will require less effort when you have to explain the purchase to your partner/spouse).

If you are in the process of saving up for that top-shelf pistol with the prestigious brand name, you may want to re-think that purchase. Rather than going out and spending thousands on a premium 1911, why not buy this one and spend the money you save on some private instruction and a couple thousand rounds of ammunition for practice.  You’ll still have a passel of cash left over.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Glock Model 44 in .22 LR

Glock, the World’s most boring and irrelevant handgun manufacturer announced today that they are chambering one of their lackluster designs for the world’s most boring and irrelevant cartridge, the .22 Long Rifle.  In the interest of accuracy and truth, Glock does own a well-earned spot in the annals of firearm history.  After entering the handgun manufacturing business in 1982 Glock suffered the slings and arrows of producing a double action plastic pistol that traditionalists distrusted.  Foolishness abounded as one long-standing and trusted firearms periodical stated that the pistol could not be detected by airport security x-ray machines.  While Beretta ushered the U.S. Military and Law Enforcement agencies away from their 1911 pistols and .38 Special revolvers, Glock earned the confidence of the general shooting public who did not trust the Double Action/Single Action operating platform of the Beretta.  Many old timers begrudgingly admitted that the Glock 17’s double action, striker fired platform gave them the simplicity and reliability of their revolvers while providing three times the capacity of their six-shooter.  Unfortunately, before their inaugural decade ended, everyone at Glock who possessed any creativity or vision apparently…died.

The three most important factors in a pistol’s design are grip ergonomics, eye-catching sights and a smooth and manageable trigger.  In the thirty-seven years since their inception Glock has failed to make any significant improvements in this realm.  Now someone is going to point out that Glock began “offering” Ameriglo blaze orange night sights on their Gen 5 Models, but that was only done at the insistence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  If the FBI had not required these on their contracted pistols Glock would still be only be producing handguns with their ridiculous, plastic sights.  Let me repeat that phrase “ridiculous, plastic sights”.  In terms of grip ergonomics Glock’s only design enhancement has been their continual flipflop over whether cutting-edge ergonomics involve or do not involve finger grooves.  The fact that the interior of a shooter’s grip does not mimic a rectangular block of wood is lost on the engineers at Glock.  I am amazed at the number of people who purchase a Glock with the expressed intention of replacing the sights, reconfiguring the grip and replacing a couple of the trigger parts, all done in order bring the pistol up to the same level of quality of SIG, HK, Walther and CZ pistols and others, such as Canik.

Chambering a pistol in .22 is a bold move for Glock which has waited some 37 years to get into the rimfire market.  The .22 LR round was introduced in 1887 and I can only assume that Glock wanted to be sure that this cartridge had, at least, the same staying-power as the .45 GAP. 

Now, I am also sure that there are going to be those who were appalled when I referred to the .22LR cartridge as boring and irrelevant but I stand by that designation.  There is no sense of exhilaration or achievement in firing a cartridge that barely requires more skill to manage than a pellet gun.  It does serve a purpose for small game hunting and pest management but that’s about all it does.  Nonetheless, I run into scores of people who extoll the virtues of the diminutive rimfire by saying it will “take down” a moose if you hit it in the right place (this was actually stated in a gun shop video where the hillbilly-bearded employees were offering up another one of their perennial “Top 5 Lists”).  Just last Sunday a co-worker tried to defend the .22 with the verbal hyperbole of the hyphenated label, “best all-around” cartridge.  His evidence consisted of the hypothetical performance of the .22 during a zombie apocalypse.  This nears the level of preposterousness of a listener who called into “Gun Nation” podcast one night to alert Doc Wesson, Grant Cunningham and myself that the government was testing plasma cannons right behind his house in Las Vegas.

Getting back to the Glock 44 itself, it will have an adjustable rear sight which is a good thing.  Other than adjustability, the sights appear to be of the same piss-pour design that Glock puts on their other under-performing offerings.   Unloaded, the pistols weights less than 13 ounces due to a polymer/steel hybrid slide.  This causes those of us in Minnesota and a few other unfortunate states to wonder if this pistol will pass the “melt” law which prohibits the sale of any firearm whose parts will melt at 1,000 degrees or less.  [Clarification: a representative of Glock has informed me that the model 44 will pass all State laws for durability.  This is another good thing as, my personal satire aside, there will be many people who want to buy the model 44 and they will not have to be disappointed that it didn't pass the "melt law"]  The last thing that baffles me is the model 44’s capacity.  It is built on the model 19 frame which has a magazine capacity of 15 rounds of 9mm, yet the model 44’s magazine has been designed to hold a scant 10 rounds. 

(15 rounds of 9mm, the same capacity of the Glock 19, on the left versus 10 rounds of .22LR, the capacity of the Glock 44, on the right.  Does this seem wrong to anyone else?)

I realize that this will allow the 44 to be sold in jurisdictions that restrict their pistols to 10 rounds, but shouldn’t 10 round magazines be an option for CA and MA while shooters in the rest of the country get to enjoy, at least, double the capacity?  If a 10 round pistol was their only intention, then why not just use the single stack Glock 48 as their rimfire platform.  Most visitors to our meager establishment find the 48 a better fit over the Glock 19.  Just one more example of the lack of vision in the design of Glock pistols.

Glock has ceased to be relevant since about 1987, so…if you’re reading this on your Commodore 64, drive a Chevy Chevette or make calls on your Motorola bag phone…this is your pistol!