By Bob Campbell
I am a 1911 fan, a 1911 man, and never shall this change. The 1911 has taken game for the table, fed the poor, and saved my life on more than one occasion. I fought administrators for the right to carry cocked and locked and ready to rock and after retirement from police work still keep a 1911 or two close at hand. Keep your combat tupperware, please.
I reach for a man’s gun. In modern times, some of us long for a stock 1911 pistol. Oh, this is a perversity of human nature. When all we had were 1911’s we chopped them up, fitting sights into neat little dovetails, chopping the frame to put in beavertails big enough to paddle through a creek with and we also checkered the living demons out of every inch of frame space. Today, we ooh and ahh over any 1911 or Series 70 that has somehow survived this great bath of steel cutting and keep it original. Go figure, but be careful–you’ll end up nutty as a large dump rodent.
That being said, I have recently tested two 1911s that are pure GI. They are made in the Philippines but are more loyal to the 1911 template than most anything made in the good old USA. The Filipinos have been good allies and have a respectable handgun heritage. Many a Japanese soldier’s last sight was a Filipino Guerilla aiming a 1911 at him. So, if someone has to make a 1911 clone let them do it if they can do it well. In my opinion, they have succeeded admirably.
The handguns are marketed in America under the name Rock Island Armory. That is fine, they have to have a name. The guns are stock GI – with one difference we will inspect later — and they work about as well as GI guns. With an exception. They seem more tightly fitted. Well, most of the GI guns we have examined are pretty well worn. Few of us have had the pleasure of firing an almost new Colt 1911A1 of any type. Therefore, a value judgment is difficult. After all, look at all of the old well worn Mausers and Lee Enfields on this shore. They are pretty sloppy but find one new out of the crate and you will be surprised how truly smooth and accurate they are. The same with a GI .45. Where will you find a GI .45 of any type?
Read on –
The RIA .45 is standard 1911A1, perhaps the trigger is a bit long, and that’s it. There is no firing pin or drop safety. The gun features the same low small GI sights we all knew and could not wait to get rid of it. But, when properly lined up, they are precise. The gun rattles just a little when shook. That doesn’t matter. As long as the locking lugs and the barrel bushing are fitted properly, the gun will shoot well. This is a close range pistol, a gun for trench fighting or for clearing uglies from your domicile in the wee hours of the morning. That is what the 1911 was made for. If you can’t see the sights, well, it sets in the hand very well for body position aiming. And delivers. The RIA gun is finished in a kind of phosphate finish. I found when the inevitable scratches came, I could squirt Hoppes gun oil on the surface and really polish it and the scratches seemed to go away. That’s nice, but this is not an attractive finish. It is functional and well done, which is what counts. I found a minimum of tool marks and good fit of all parts. The controls worked with a certain crispness. When working the slide, the link felt right and the locking lugs seemed to roll into place. Someone with knowledge of the 1911 tribe has had their hands on the gun in making this 1911. I like that. The grips are an attractive slab of dense wood, nicer than anything Uncle Sam ever put on his 1911s, so that is a bonus. The magazine is a quality eight round unit. That’s ok too, as it worked. I have seen some RIA guns with seven rounds boxes, but they all work so that is fine.
1911s like a break in period so I was prepared for my pistol to stutter through the first one hundred rounds and then perform well. I was wrong, and I have noticed this trend in many modern 1911s. They no longer require a break in except in the most expensive, tightly fitted guns. It seems the public wants to fire fifty rounds and put the gun in the dresser drawer.
SIGs and Glocks don’t require break in. Well, it works for me. Flat spots and the occasional too long link are to be expected from a quality 1911. Still, I didn’t see any problem. I loaded my first two hundred rounds with Winchester’s 230 grain bullet over a stiff charge of #231 powder. New Starline cases and a Winchester primer jolted the bullet to a full 850 fps. I commenced by firing at rocks and limbs at the range, then rapid fire at silhouette targets at seven, ten, and fifteen yards. I am glad I had a good supply of Wilson Combat magazines on hand! One hundred rounds went by in a few minutes. No failures to feed, chamber, fire or eject. Sure, I make good ammo but the absence of a break in jam is notable. I also fired a quantity of factory new Pro Load ammunition. The gun worked, and gave solid three inch 25 yard groups when I did my part.
Recently, the big news is a .38 Super version of the RIA gun. I received one of the first six guns in the country. It is a bit different from a standard 1911 in that this .38 Super features an enlarged ejection port, nicely scalloped. That is a good thing. The Super did require a break-in period, but after a few hundred rounds of Zero’s high quality reloads settled in for good function. Zero is the only manufacturer I know of that offers quality remanufactured loads in .38 Super caliber. That is a good thing! The original magazine did not function as I would have liked, so I ordered a number of high quality magazines from Metalform, Incorporated. Perfect function followed. In fact, the break in malfunctions may have been attributable to the magazines. The gun has a lot of power.
The Super was introduced to give cops a better cartridge for use against light cover and vehicles. It does just that, with 130 grains at 1,300 fps being the operative number. Some modern loads do even better. After firing a few hundred rounds, I had the measure of this pistol. It is a good gun, very good. Accuracy was about on the par with the .45, but the .38 is easier to shoot. That does not mean it is a wimp load. Cor-Bon’s 115 grain JHP broke well over 1,400 fps. The sights were well regulated for the .38 Super, and function was good. I added a set of Caspian target stocks after a week or so, and found them a good addition to the handgun. I like the Super very much. I still rely on my .45, and I will tell you frankly I have never shot anything living with the .38 Super. But I have used Magnum loads in the .357 revolver with excellent effect. The Super is pretty close.
I am carrying my Super in a slick paddle from Gunleather, Inc, of Forth Worth, Texas. It just doesn’t get any better on the hip that this! Ten quick rounds, ten accurate rounds, and the gun leaps into the hand from a top flight rig. Here is a powerful cartridge on the 1911 format that equals or exceeds the .357 SIG. Controllable power? You bet. The .38 Super RIA gun is currently available form the Dealer Warehouse, a showcase advertiser at Shotgun News. I have had the best dealings with this company. If you are tired of the same old format and guns that don’t look like a GI .45, the gun we all know and love, check out the RIA guns. They are excellent performers.
[Editor’s Note: Since this article was posted in January of 2004, I have received some problem reports on the RIA pistols. These have included reliability issues, heavy triggers and difficulty in obtaining replacement parts or support from the manufacturer. I have also received many letters from satisfied owners who appreciate the value represented by these guns. It should also be noted that I have received problem reports on on brands that cost much more. When you are paying $350 for a 1911 you can’t expect to get an Ed Brown custom and the factory support of Smith & Wesson. If you want to get into M1911 pistols without taking on a second mortgage, and especially if you know something about them already, enough to do a “fluff and buff” and some basic tune-up, the RIA pistols can be a very interesting and economical option.]