S&W 1911

S&W 1911

Smith & Wesson's 1911 Yep. You read it right. After 92 years of producing everything but, the legendary revolver firm has finally come to grips with the Government Model .45. By Wiley Clapp Talk about a noisy premiere! The new S&W M1911 should make its presence felt on the American shooting scene in short order. Even though I already knew what was going to be in that familiar blue plastic case, I have to confess that it was a bit startling to pop the latches and open it. The pistol therein had all of the familiar lines and curves of the dominant handgun of the 20th century--the M1911 .45. But emblazoned along the left side of the slide were the legend "SW1911" and the familiar intertwined "S&W" logo of Smith & Wesson. The legendary Massachusetts gunmaker has wound up its 150th year by developing its own version of John Browning's classic. In short, Smith & Wesson is in the 1911 business. Colt Firearms made the gun since 1911, along with a host of other government contractors in both the WWI and WWII eras. When the patents ran out, other makers began to produce the pistol since the demand for it remained steady. Now at least a dozen companies make one version or another of the Government Model. The two biggest and most aggressive manufacturers are Springfield Armory and Kimber. Wilson Combat and Les Baer offer guns beyond the entry level, and Colt still makes as good a 1911 as anyone else. Para-Ordnance got on the map with a high-quality, high-capacity 1911 lookalike (and stays there with its new LDA system). Although the 1911's basic design is arguably dated in a world of high-capacity, DA/SA and DAO pistols in smaller calibers, many shooters prefer the straightforward single-action system of the 1911. Bigger Is Better When we passed through the "Wondernine"era of the '70s and '80s, the 1911 faded a bit. But smaller calibers just don't work as well as the .45 in real-world situations, so a lot of the modern guns--even polymer ones--are now made in .45 caliber. And despite the usefulness of several different lockwork and operating systems, the plain trigger system of John Browning's classic is best in the hands of a trained shooter. Variants of the Government Model are still the gun of choice in several shooting disciplines, and most shooters who come to the two major shooting schools bring a Government Model. Pistolsmiths spend more time improving the performance and handling of 1911s over all other handguns. Also, shooters in a great many specialized police and military units--who could have any kind of handgun they want--carry updated .45s. In plain terms, the popularity of the 1911 is as strong as ever and may actually be growing. Smith & Wesson--once again American-owned--is committed to building what shooters want, and shooters want Government Model .45s. And it's a relatively easy pistol for S&W to make. For several years the company has had excess manufacturing capacity and has been making all kinds of different parts for other firearms companies. It is not well known, but this traditional maker of top-notch revolvers also makes bolt actions for Remington and Weatherby, pistol receivers and slides for other well-known manufacturers, even motorcycle parts for Harley-Davidson. So it was no great stretch for S&W to use machined frame and slide forgings it already produces and add readily available action parts to assemble a working 1911. That is a bit oversimplified but pretty close to what happened. At a January 2003 writer's seminar at the plant, I was given a detailed list of the source of all major parts that go into the SW1911. And a lot of famous names are on it--Wilson, Hogue, Novak, McCormick, Wolff, Briley, etc. Although the SW1911 is not a Performance Center pistol, it will be fitted by PC personnel. This ensures that the gun--a completely new model for S&W--will meet the exacting standards the company maintains for all of its handguns. This is not a thrown-together assortment of parts but rather a high-quality rendering of the Browning classic. A Classic System The SW1911 is a recoil-operated pistol chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge. In the system designed by John Browning, this means the barrel is locked to the slide at the instant of firing and stays locked until the bullet has left the muzzle. The force of recoil drives the locked-together barrel and slide rearward until a pivoting link on the bottom of the barrel pulls it down, unlocking it from the slide. As the slide continues rearward, it compresses a recoil spring, extracts the fired cartridge and ejects it from the gun. When the spring expands, it drives the slide forward, stripping a cartridge from the top of the magazine and feeding it into the chamber. It is a simple and easily understood system that has been often imitated, never equaled. Smith & Wesson's version differs only slightly from the original. Features of the S&W 1911 reflect decades of refinement to Browning's original platform. They include a satin stainless finish, checkered black-rubber Hogue grips, skeleton trigger, extended beavertail, skeleton hammer and Novak Lo Mount Carry sight. There is no apparent effort to modernize, except in two particulars I'll get to in a moment. In the layout of controls, major dimensions and functioning, the SW1911 is the same as the pistol my late father was issued when he joined the 13th Cavalry for the punitive expedition against Villa in 1916. The new S&W weighs 39 ounces, runs to 8.7 inches with a 5-inch barrel and stands 5.8 inches high. There is a frame-mounted manual safety, an internal disconnector and a grip safety. But this doesn't mean that some of the practical touches modern shooters want are not included. For example, the gun has a set of precisely cut slide serrations to the front of the slide as well as to the rear. The safety lock has a slight extension, and the grip safety is of the newer beavertail style. Grips are hard rubber, but the traditional double-diamond-checkering pattern remains. (In a very real sense, the SW1911 should probably be called an SW1911A1 because it incorporates many of the 1920s-era changes the Army instituted in the original GI pistol.) While the popularity of the 1911 blossomed after WWII--thanks primarily to Col. Jeff Cooper--the issue sights were among the first items addressed by custom pistolsmiths. Shortly after S&W introduced its Third Generation autos in 1988, the company contracted for the right to install the best of all possible fixed sights on its pistols--Novak Lo Mounts. That relationship has lasted for well over a decade, and S&W has prudently chosen to use Novaks on the SW1911. The Novak setup employs the three-dot system, which will appeal to some shooters more than others. Safety Enhancements In some quarters, the Government Model has been perceived as a difficult gun to handle without intense training. While this is not true, it has led to several efforts to make the gun safer to handle, particularly if the user should be clumsy enough to drop the pistol with a round in the chamber and the hammer cocked. Indeed, Colt developed a safety system for the Government Model in the late 1930s. Relatively few pistols were so equipped before the factory converted to WWII production. The system worked off of the grip safety to block the firing pin. Again, in the 1980s, Colt used--and still does--another firing-pin blocking system that requires light pressure on the trigger to deactivate it. S&W came up with another way to address this issue. The SW1911 features a vertical spring-loaded plunger in the slide that blocks movement of the firing pin until the shooter presses the grip safety inward in a firing grasp. This pivots a lever upward to clear the safety. It does not interfere with the trigger action in any way, so a gunsmith can perform a trigger job on the gun without concern for compromising the drop safety. If you should accidentally drop a loaded and cocked SW1911, it cannot fire because the firing pin is locked in place in its tunnel. Magazine capacity of the single-stack S&W 1911 is eight plus one. Improved Extractors, Etc. Many pistolsmiths work on various 1911-style pistols every year. The best ones learn early on that the extractor is critical to the pistol's functioning. On virtually all 1911s, the extractor is a long piece of spring steel that rides in a channel roughly parallel to the firing pin. It is shaped to include a hook at the forward end and flexes slightly as it engages and releases cartridges in the extraction/ejection cycle. This single piece of metal must be shaped and tempered exactly right for reliable functioning. S&W designers simplified their manufacturing process considerably by using a short bar of tempered steel, mounting it in an external slot and powering it with a stubby coil spring. It is simple, less expensive and seems to work just as well. The mainspring housing is checkered aluminum, the trigger is of the so-called "long" variety, and the beavertail grip safety is quite comfortable. While I would prefer to see hand-cut checkering on the frontstrap, I have to remember this is an entry-level pistol, and the vertical serrations provided by the factory do an adequate job. Hogue's rubber grips for the SW1911 are great for shooting (somehow, Hogue managed to work a slick little S&W logo into the double-diamond pattern). The Shooting Session To break in the S&W 1911, I ran several boxes of miscellaneous loads through it, mostly 230-grain ball and JHPs, at my local club range. I wanted to use 230s to get full recoil and a subjective impression of the pistol's handling with real-world ammo. I tried tin-can rolling and dirt-clod busting along with some fast target drills (Hammers and Mozambiques) and found that the SW1911 performs every bit as well as any Government Model I've ever fired. The trigger is on the heavy side but still bearable. Having dry-fired the gun before I ever loaded it, I was aware of the need to really get into the grip safety to be sure the firing-pin block is cleared. Any Government Model is best used with a positive grip and aggressive handling; this one is no exception. It's also true that you need a strong, locked-wrist grip to ensure proper functioning. Don't limp-wrist it (or any other 1911, for that matter). To evaluate accuracy, I used a Ransom Rest bolted to a rigid concrete bench. After a couple of magazines to settle the gun in the inserts, I lined up my Oehler 35P chronograph screens and started shooting for record. The actual shooting went uneventfully. With each of 10 different loads, I fired a 10-shot group using five rounds from each of the two provided magazines. In short order I had a short stack of targets from which I was able to derive some interesting information. The overall average group size was 2.87 inches, and the best group measured 2.15 inches (fired with Black Hills 230-grain JHPs)--all in all, an excellent performance for a box-stock, service-grade 1911-style pistol. Final Thoughts Although the idea of a Smith & Wesson Government Model may seem a trifle unusual to some, it seems perfectly clear to me that this is a fine rendering of a classic. I believe it will quickly become a staple of the service pistol scene. We are going to see SW1911s in SWAT cop holsters, on the firing line at IPSC and IDPA matches and even in Milt Sparks rigs at Gunsite and Thunder Ranch. And, believe me, this first standard SW1911 is just the beginning. Other variations are on the way. Stay tuned. SW 1911 Shooting Results Load Average Velocity (fps) Standard Deviation (fps) Group Size (in.) Federal 185-gr. SWC Match 775 17 3.15 PMC 185-gr. JHP 906 20 3.65 Black Hills 200-gr. LSWC 876 13 2.73 PMC 200-gr. SWC 883 21 2.65 Pro Load 200-gr. JHP+P 974 11 2.67 Winchester 230-gr. SXT 847 24 3.49 Eldorado 230-gr. JHP Starfire 830 22 2.76 Black Hills 230-gr. JHP 854 21 2.15 Hornady 230-gr. HP/XTP 844 16 2.88 Remington 230-gr. JHP Golden Saber 855 17 2.54

Submitted by: Guns & Amm0 Magazine