The Springfield Government Model 1911A1 is a great gun for target and competitive shooting, but it’s a really big gun, weighing 39 ounces empty. Its size makes it hard to conceal and it’s something of a burden to pack around all day. Although I love the performance of the pistol, I found myself longing for a smaller, lighter 1911-pattern gun, having the cool custom features that everyone likes in a 1911 and yet a reasonable price tag. At the same time, I didn’t want one that would be so small and light that it would sacrifice accuracy or be unpleasant to shoot.
I searched the Web, went to the gun shows, and cruised the shops looking for this “best of all possible worlds” .45. The Colt Commander was ok, but the finish and detailing were not where I thought they should be. The Colt Defender looked too fat and I was concerned that it might be too light to shoot comfortably. The new Colt CCO looked like it was made of plastic even though it isn’t. Additionally, I have some political issues with Colt at the time. The Springfield Ultra Compact and Champion just looked like chopped down Mil-Spec. The Springfield V-10 was attractive, but the barrel porting is not something I like and it disqualifies the pistol for IDPA shooting. The big-name custom shop pieces, such as the offerings from Wilson and Baer, while gorgeous, were just too doggone expensive. (I even tested a Glock 30 but found it too fat, too ugly, and lacking in accuracy. I will say that the Glock 30 is a nice pistol to shoot that’s easy on the hands but the Un-Safe Action trigger makes me nervous.)
I walked into one shop and the proprietor asked me what I wanted to see. I said, “A compact .45.” Without hesitation, he reached into the case and retrieved a Kimber Custom Compact. It was parkerized with diamond checkered rosewood grips. I liked it right away. The Custom Compact is a hybrid: an almost Commander length slide and 4″ bull barrel with an Officer’s grip. It takes Officer’s magazines, and comes with one 7-round Shooting Star. (I bought 3 more McCormick 7-round Officer’s magazines so I’d have an adequate load-out for IDPA. Even though the Kimber mag is a Shooting Star, there is a slight difference in the cutaway on the left side and when I first put the mags in the gun, they didn’t want to lock back the slide. However, in range testing, the McCormick mags functioned properly with no failures to feed or lock back.)
Other nice “custom” features on the gun include the McCormick skeletonized hammer and trigger, extended beavertail, checkered slide release and mainspring housing, McCormick Low Profile combat sights, overall de-horning, and single recoil spring. Since the Compact uses a bull barrel which aligns directly on the slide, there is no barrel bushing. Take-down is accomplished by locking back the slide and placing a small wire “disassembly tool” in a hole in the guide rod. With the “tool” in place, you gently release the slide lock and ease the slide forward, which traps the recoil spring and causes the guide rod bushing to slip out of the slide. Then the slide stop is removed, and the slide, guide rod and spring, and barrel can be removed for cleaning. I didn’t really like the wire tool disassembly arrangement, but after seeing the way the gun performed, I came to view it as a necessary evil to accomplish the reliability and accuracy that the gun displays.
Although I had read a couple of glowing reviews about this particular pistol, I had some apprehension about buying a Kimber product. I’ve followed their triumphs and defeats fairly closely. My first experience with a Kimber was with a Classic belonging to a colleague in a tactical shooting class. That particular pistol was an absolute jam-o-matic. While it could have been operator error or a poorly maintained pistol, it was a bad first impression. I was aware of problems with slide stops on some of the early models, of some after-market mags not locking back, and the sight problems with the early production Gold Match models. Most disturbing was buzz I continued to pick up about their customer service and custom shop. Personally, I don’t see how a service/custom shop can function without a test range, and it’s my understanding that the Kimber shop does not have a range for sighting in and reliability testing. With that said, the overwhelming majority of Kimber owners report tremendous satisfaction, accuracy, and reliability with their pistols. Since I know several decent 1911 mechanics, I decided to take a chance on the pistol with the idea that if I did get a problem gun there would be local technical support to iron out the problems.
Putting the Custom Compact through its Paces
The pistol has performed superbly. At four hundred rounds through the gun, it has experienced no stoppages, failures to feed, or malfunctions of any kind. Test ammo was Fiocchi 200g jhp and my own reloaded hardball.
At the outdoor range, shooting at thirty yards offhand, I could keep the shots in a saucer-sized area (A-zone on an IDPA target) with most grouping in a very tight little pattern two inches below center. I tried to jam it by shooting “gangsta” style, weak hand, rapid fire, and upside down. There were no stoppages. In the indoor range, shooting at 15 yards offhand, ragged holes were easy.
With reliability, accuracy, and magazines tested, the next step in checking out the pistol was to run it through an IDPA match. My scores were excellent, especially considering that it was a new gun with a longer Chip McCormick skeletonized trigger which has a different feel than the short trigger of the M1911A1. What I noticed the most was how quickly the pistol acquired the target and got back on target during double taps. The purpose of the tapered bull barrel design is to help in this regard because it adds some weight to the muzzle and balance to the gun.
One would not think that the reduction of six ounces of weight and an inch in slide length would make a huge difference in the way the gun carries, but it does. The handle is .4″ shorter than a government model, sacrificing one round in the magazine but adding to the concealability. At 34 oz., the pistol is on the heavy side, but with a good holster, it is not uncomfortable to carry for extended periods of time. The holster I selected for it is the Galco Quick Slide. It is quite comfortable and offers excellent concealment.
Is the Kimber Compact the “best of all possible worlds .45?” If it isn’t, it’s pretty darned close. When you take in the whole picture of appearance, features, performance, and cost, it looks like one of the very best options.
Three Years Later…
I felt that it would be worthwhile to update my original review of the pistol which has become my favorite handgun, the Kimber Compact. I bought it in the summer of 1998. I wanted a 1911 that was smaller than a Government Model but sturdy enough to stand up to a lot of match shooting and training sessions. At that time, this meant either a Kimber Compact, a Colt Compact, or a Springfield Champion (at that time, the Champion was a Mil-Spec with a 4″ barrel). Of the three, the Kimber appealed to me most, and I was intrigued with the new builder of 1911-pattern pistols. This was before Springfield Armory and Colt had seen the light and started to add the “custom” features to their guns such as extended beavertails, extended manual safeties, and snag-free combat sights. (Compare the sights, grip safety and magazine release of the Colt Compact to the Kimber.)
I haven’t been sorry.
Since ’98, the gun has been my constant companion for matches, training session, backwoods expeditions, road trips and daily carry. I have lost count of how many rounds the Compact has sent downrange, but I estimate it in the vicinity of 10,000. Spending as much range time as this with the gun has given me a certain confidence in it and comfortable familiarity that I don’t have with other pistols. I know it will put the rounds where it is aimed. I know it will go “bang” every time. I know it takes me exactly 1.43 seconds to get it out of the holster and put two rounds into the A-zone of a target. I don’t have to think about drawing it, sweeping the safety off, getting the front sight on the target and squeezing the trigger. My muscles have all that memorized. Actually, I don’t really have to use the sights because I know by the feel of the gun where the bullet is going to go. It isn’t fussy about ammunition. I have run all sorts of loads and bullet shapes through it, and it handles them all with equal aplomb. I have compared it head-on with hand fitted custom jobs costing three times as much and found that it compares quite favorably.
Reliability: When the gun was new, it was perfect. Unlike many new 1911 pistols, it did not experience feed failures. Somewhere around 3,000 rounds I began to experience feed failures and an occasional premature slide lock. This really distressed me because the gun had been so clean up to that point. It took me a couple of months to scope out the problems. As it worked out, there were actually three problems rather than one.
The first problem was, that after thousands of reloaded rounds, the seating die on my reloading press had backed out just a bit and I was cranking out rounds which were too long. A second, and the most important problem was that my recoil spring had begun to spread out at the rear, to the extent that the slide would bind on the spring when it went fully to the rear during the recoil cycle. I may have exacerbated this problem by putting my recoil spring in “backwards” meaning the open end of the spring to the rear. (Note to Compact owners: the open end of the recoil spring goes toward the muzzle end and the closed end of the spring goes to the rear.) I always had doubts about the “metal injection molded” slide stop, and at this point in the gun’s life, it was beginning to look a bit battered. A fresh Kimber recoil spring, installed correctly, and a Wilson Bullet-Proof slide stop coupled with an adjustment of the reloading press, solved these problems. The second Kimber recoil spring lasted about another 2500 rounds when it too began to spread out at the back end and bind the slide even though it was definitely installed correctly. This time, I replaced it with a Wolff 22 lb. Commander spring and I have had no other problems since. I will add that when I needed customer support from Kimber, I got it promptly and it was helpful.
Finish: The gun came with your basic black phosphate finish. I have heard the Kimber phosphate finish criticized by more than one user, and it didn’t hold up for me. The Kimber phosphate finish does not seem to be as deep and tough as the mil-spec parkerization of the GI guns. During one camping trip, the gun was laying in the tent in a leather holster during a bad rain. The tent leaked and unfortunately, a pool of water gathered and soaked into the holster while I was asleep. By the time I discovered the problem, the chemicals in the leather had stripped a section of the finish off on the left side. I did my best to touch it up with cold blue, but it never looked really right. Finally, the rear stake of the plunger tube came loose and I knew it was time to go to a gunsmith. I had the gun parkerized by a local ‘smith, Danny Jackson, who really knows how to do a park job. Click here for before and after pictures of the parkerization.
The Compact remains my favorite gun to shoot, the most familiar in my hand, the most trusted member of the arsenal. Were the proverbial doo-doo to collide with the air circulating device, it’s the handgun I would want at my side because I know that I would have the best chance of getting the job done with it.
“…I have now fired more than 1,500 rounds during my test and evaluation of the Kimber Compact Custom. There have been no stoppages of any kind…This is the first production-series compact caliber .45 ACP M1911-type pistol that requires no custom gunsmithing to bring its reliability up to acceptable standards. It’s ready to go, right out-of-the-box, and, like the full-size Kimber Custom Classic .45, it has all the custom features you need on a fighting .45. In conclusion, the Kimber Compact Classic .45 is simply outstanding.”
Peter Kokalis, Soldier of Fortune, 4/98