On Target, April 2005, Page 32-34
By Bob & Sandy Rodgers
In 1999, Kahr Arms purchased Thompson/Auto-Ordnance. Along with any physical assets included in the buyout were certain intangibles, among these, name recognition and reputation. In the case of Auto-Ordnance, it would be best to consider these as liabilities. The passing of ownership was, as they say, noted by many and mourned by few. You see, Auto-Ordnance, which once had a great reputation along with a colorful history, had managed to acquire a less than sterling repute in the manufacture of 1911 pistols. We’re unaware of any collector groups for these dogs, but there may well be support groups for the unlucky owners – you know, like for parents of troubled children. The point of all this is that Kahr Arms not only had to marshal their considerable expertise and ultra modern equipment to produce quality 1911 pistols, but they have also had to fight to overcome the stigma associated with the name of the company they now own.
Due to the spiraling popularity of the 1911 pistol, it seems that almost every manufacturer of handguns has decided to become a player in the 1911 marketplace. This is a win-win situation for buyers. There has never been a time where you’ve had so many choices, not only of manufacturers, but also in options and pricing. Add-ons, like extended safeties, highly-visibility, low-profile sights, and beavertail grip safeties were, up until just a few years ago, only available at considerable added expense from the benches of working pistolsmiths.
The “new” Auto-Ordnance Corp. first tested the market with a basic mil-spec 1911, and we reported on that pistol in a past issue of On Target. It was a huge improvement over the “old” Auto-Ordnance offerings, but the tarnished image associated with A/O continued to plague them, and the decision was made to focus attention on the Thompson brand.
The Thompson Custom is the company’s latest offering. Built on a cast frame, and with a slide machined from bar stock, this stainless 1911, chambered in .45 ACP, has the features most seasoned shooters are demanding on their guns. The slide features cocking serrations fore and aft. Front serrations were first added by custom smiths to aid hand cycling a pistol with optical sights attached, but they are now de rigueur for many shooters, aiding in press checks to verify a loaded chamber. The low-profile black sights are dovetailed into the slide top. Both front and rear are serrated, and provide a crisp sight picture. The ejection port has been lowered and flared, and a full-length guide rod is installed. The barrel, throated for hollowpoints, exhibited the best upper end fit we’ve seen in a production pistol. Happy accident or not, the hood fit into the slide recesses was almost light tight on the sides and the rear. This assures that the barrel will return to exactly the same position in the slide, shot after shot – one of the key ingredients in accuracy. The underside of the slide has a cutout for a firing pin block safety plunger that will be instantly recognized by owners of Colt Series 80 1911s; it’s a dead ringer. More on the Series 80 safety system will follow.
The frame has 20 LPI checkering on the front strap in three-quarters coverage. Instead of edge to edge, only the front gripping surfaces are checkered. A nicely-made polymer mainspring housing has molded checkering to complement the front strap. The Thompson had a narrowed, lightened hammer to both reduce lock time and to prevent frame interference as it falls. The beavertail grip safety has the tail narrowed; though strictly cosmetic, it’s still a nice touch. The insurance pad, on the other hand, is totally functional; it helps ensure full depression of the grip safety. A clean bevel on the radius of the mag release makes the gun a little more hand friendly. Razor sharp edges in this area are common, and a pet peeve of ours. An extended mag release is installed just below a slotted, lightened, short trigger with overtravel adjustment.
The frame feed ramp was polished to assist reliable feeding. A slightly extended ejector makes sure the empty brass clears out; the moderate length is beneficial when ejecting a live round. The edges of the magwell were beveled to aid positive insertion of fresh magazines. The 7-round magazine supplied with the Thompson Custom is manufactured by the same company that makes magazines for the entire Kahr line-up of pistols. It features a rounded steel follower, a welded-on baseplate predrilled for a slam pad (not included), and witness holes for verifying round count.
Most shooters insist on an extended thumb safety, finding the abbreviated style used on mil-spec style pistols too short and too narrow for positive manipulation at speed. The Thompson addresses this concern with a safety that is extended not only in length, but also in width. This is sure to get approval from those who use a “thumb-over-safety” grip. Dark brown laminated grip panels with a centered medallion bearing the Thompson name and logo set off the matte stainless of the pistol, and are fastened with Torx head grip screws.
The trigger pull measured 5.5 pounds and was gritty when we first received the gun. A thorough cleaning of the fire control and firing pin safety components went a long way toward smoothing the pull. When fully cleaned and lubed, the trigger settled at 5 pounds even, with a small amount of creep and no overtravel. The job of the safety parts in this pistol is to prevent the firing pin from striking the primer unless the trigger is pulled. This system-cloned from the Series 80 Colt pistols-is street proven and has been in use for years. Proper timing of the parts is absolutely critical for reliable function. The firing pin block, activated by the safety levers, must clear the way for the firing pin to have an unimpeded strike on the cartridge primer by the time all of the slack or pre-travel is taken up, at the beginning of the trigger pull. Mistimed pistols will exhibit damage to the blocking plunger and firing pin, and misfires can occur from light primer strikes. Uninformed adjustment of the trigger overtravel screw in some pistols adds to the problem, since this inhibits trigger travel and the amount the blocking plunger can be moved by the actuating levers. In our test pistol the overtravel stop could be tightened to the point that the hammer wouldn’t quite fall, but the firing pin was completely clear to move. That’s exactly how it should be when the system is working as designed. Oh, and contrary to popular opinion, excellent trigger pulls can be achieved in Series 80-style pistols.
The Thompson Custom proved a reliable performer during test firing. The only problem noted was one failure of the slide to lock back on an empty magazine, an anomaly we couldn’t duplicate again during our session. Accuracy was beyond good. The Thompson exhibited stunningly small group sizes, no matter what loads were run through her. There were no clear-cut winners in the ammunition used, although a group of five at just under an inch, from 25 yards with Remington UMC 230-grain FMJ, is certainly noteworthy. With the new ownership and their commitment to quality, this nice-looking, accurate, reliable pistol should go a long way toward redeeming the name and helping restore the Auto-Ordnance/ Thompson company back to its rightful place in history. See the Thompson Custom 1911 at your local gun shop.
|Thompson Custom 1911
.45 ACP Ammunition
|Black Hills 230-gr. FMJ||798||325||1.15″||1.72″||1.39″|
|Winchester 185-gr. ST HP||976||391||1.18″||2.06″||1.54″|
|Federal 230-gr. TMJ||733||305||1.25″||1.99″||1.61″|
|Remington-UMC 230-gr. FMJ||787||316||.96″||1.93″||1.42″|
|Velocity is the average of four 5-shot groups, measured with a Beta Chrony Chronograph, set 10 feet in front of the muzzle. Groups were fired from a sandbag rest at a range of 25 yards. Abbreviations: HP (hollow point); FMJ (full metal jacket); ST (silvertip); TMJ (total metal jacket).|
At the NRA Museum, Tommy Gun Devotees Can Zero In on a Classic
Style, The Washington Post, March 22, 2004
By Stephen Hunter (Washington Post Staff Writer)
At 2:23 p.m. on Nov.1, 1950, news suddenly arrived at the Secret Service office in the East Wing of the White House that across the street, men were trying to “shoot their way into Blair House, where Harry Truman was taking a nap.
James Rowley, agent in charge of the White House detail, responded with four words, spoken, one imagines, rather forcefully: “WHERE’S MY TOMMY GUN?”
You have to admit: He had a point.
Fortunately, Rowley didn’t have to pull the trigger that day, and the agents at Blair handled their emergency with dispatch and heroism. But Rowley’s cry reflects almost a half-century’s worth of loyalty by American police and military men toward Brig. Gen. John Taliaferro Thompson’s baby when things got shaky and high quantities of firepower were necessary.
It also reflects a half-century’s worth of fascination in popular culture, where the Thompson submachine gun became an icon. Bogart carried one in “Sahara” and “High Sierra,” Edward G. Robinson took a lungful of T-gun product and it was, Mother of God, the end of Rico in “Little Caesar.” Dillingers, both in life and on film, let fly with the subgun’s rat-tat-tat. Then, when the guns became a military standard in World War II, they surfaced in just about every movie made about that conflict, most recently and most famously in the hands of Tom Hanks as he saved Private Ryan.
Photo by Gerald Martineau-The Washington post
The actual things themselves have long since vanished from police or military gun vaults, replaced in our fabulous modern age by lighter, faster, uglier, plasticized, teflonized, ventilated thingamajiggers, high on efficiency, low on romance. Most of the old tommies were junked or sold off to Third World militaries that have by now junked them. The few operating survivors escalated exponentially in value-especially after a 1986 federal law froze the number of automatic weapons in the country-and therefore disappeared into private collections, where high-end aficionados could admire them over a glass of fine port in front of the fireplace after a hard day clipping coupons.
So if you called out, “Where’s my tommy gun?,” the answer would be: “In your local millionaire’s mansion.” But today it’s different. Mr. and Mrs. America, your tommy gun is in the National Rifle Association’s National Firearms Museum just outside Washington, along with 59 of its buddies, in an unprecedented gathering of specimens of the American instrument that made the ‘20s roar, the ‘30s rock and the ‘40s roll.
In fact, it’s probably the largest gathering of Thompson submachine guns under one roof since the night of June 5, 1944, when U.S. paratroopers smoked and joked, then cocked and locked, in various British hangars before climbing into their transport planes and jumping into Normandy early the next morning.
The $2 million exhibition, which showcases the best and rarest of the guns in private ownership as organized by the Thompson Collectors Association, is in the museum’s William B. Ruger gallery , under the formal name “Thompson: On the Side of Law and Order,” which happens to be the motto of the gun’s manufacturer, the Auto-Ordnance Corp. A purist might argue a better title would be “Thompson: On the Side of Law and Order, Most of the Time,” for much of the gun’s famous deployment was rooted not in behavior but in misbehavior. Another kind of purist might wish that the gun’s serious mythologizing in popular culture had been more rigorously examined, even if the museum just did close its spectacular exhibit on movie guns, “Real Guns for Reel Heroes,” which examined this issue in detail.
Still, if you have a fondness for these old American beauties-and who doesn’t, no matter their position on the dreaded gun issue-this is the place to go. It’s arranged, as one might expect, chronologically, taking the weapons from first models to standards to later World War II-issue simplifications and finally to the semiautomatic replicas on the market today. It exhibits not only the guns themselves, 60 of them, but also their accouterments, their memorabilia, their accessories, their cleaning implements, all the little gewgaws and gimcracks that make the typical detail-obsessed gun collector dizzy with pleasure. For anyone else with a casual interest in firearms as historical objects, as works of industrial design and as reflections of aesthetic sensibilities, the impact of so much hardware in such a little space will knock you almost as woozy.
And, of course, if you study American guns, you quickly run into a familiar figure: That would be a flinty entrepreneur who shrewdly applied a realpolitik analysis to the word, figured out an unsatisfied market niche and developed a product to fill it. That’s true of most industries, but particularly of the firearms industry, where guys named Colt and Winchester and Smith and Wesson and Marlin became small-scale industrial barons by understanding that a growing nation needed lots of good guns. It was certainly true of the aforementioned late benefactor Ruger, who manufactured guns for the common man to such a degree of success that he was able to endow handsomely the NRA’s museum with its impressive exhibition space.
And it’s certainly true of Thompson, West Point grad and firearms expert, who watched in horror as the World’s infantrymen were slaughtered like hogs on butcher day on the Western front in World War I. He saw the need for-and the market for-a light, powerful, battle-reliable weapon that would make fire-and-maneuver war fighting possible and spare his own nation’s soldiers the ignominy of the trenches. He set about to make it happen.
Thompson himself didn’t invent the gun (though he did invent the term “submachine gun”). He found a moneyed investor (Thomas Fortune Ryan) and thereby raised the capital to assemble a first-rate design team. But the two primary engineers-Oscar Payne, of the unschooled genius type that also figures prominently in firearms design, and Theodore Eickhoff, a gifted mechanical engineer-surpassed even their sponsor’s grandest hopes. They invented a classic.
The gun they came up with, in its final form, was reliable, accurate, light enough (it weighed about 10 pounds), relatively easy to manufacture, powerful. And it was one other thing, almost accidentally: It was beautiful.
As a consequence, the Thompson, like a few other guns, a few automobiles, a few paintings, a few symphonic bars, a few first paragraphs, became a phenomenon that transcended its design and utility. It was an example of what might be called charismatic harmony, a choreography of slopes and flats and slants and angles as executed in brilliantly machined steel and elegantly finished wood that compels simply by the nature of its grace. That, as much as anything, is why it lasted and why even when better, cheaper, lighter weapons became available, both the real-world operators and their cinematic coefficients preferred to stay with the Thompson.
The exhibit has some rarities: It has two of the company’s first, but false-start, products, .30-caliber semiautomatic rifles that were meant to replace the Army Springfield and predated the famous M-1 Garand rifle of World War II fame by two decades. But the boys found that their mechanism worked most efficiently with a .45-caliber pistol cartridge, to which they committed early on. Three of Auto-Ordnance’s prototypes or pre-Thompsons, including Serial No. 7, which was designed in 1919, are displayed. They demonstrate that even at the inception of the project, Thompson’s designers had come across that signature profile, the modern, rigorous angularity of the bolt housing (usually called a receiver) in counterpoint to the graceful thrust of the two wooden grips, the pistol grip under the trigger group and the foregrip, under the finned barrel. When put into production, a stock was added, which reiterated the line of those two sculptured handfuls of wood, which gives the whole thing a pleasing unity. It’s not parts: it’s a whole. It’s somehow rakish and ergonomic at the same time. Grab me, shoot me, the gun seems to yell.
The whole thing leaps to hand, and points beautifully. Held to the shoulder, its sights present themselves smartly. It’s heavy enough to absorb much of the bite of the recoil of the powerful cartridge.
A particularly nifty stylization is the drum, a circular magazine set in front of the trigger group, holding either 50 or 100 cartridges. The drum gives the gun a signature uniqueness so essential to classicism. Like a Coke bottle or Mickey’s ears, it’s an almost universally recognized symbol of a certain something American. Kilroy was here, it tells the world.
The guns Thompson first produced arrived in the marketplace too late to warrant the large-scale military contracts he had dreamed of, since the war to end all wars had ended itself. But, of course, it hadn’t ended wars: Smaller, elite units saw the genius in the guns. The Marines used them in Nicaragua, the Navy gunboaters in China, the gangsters in Chicago and the directors in Hollywood.
The funny thing is, Thompson didn’t get rich. In fact he nearly went broke, and by the time the company was taken over, in 1939, by another financier, it boasted “a large debt, few assets, no production facilities and very few Thompsons in stock,” according to notes by Tom Woods, president of the Thompson Collector’s Association, in the exhibition catalogue.
That may be true, but for many, the between-the-wars editions of Thompsons were by far the finer variants. In those days, American guns were built (as were most American industrial products) with almost fetishistic care and elegance. The tommy guns were no exception, particularly a run of them manufactured on contract by Colt in the early 1920s. They had a lustrous blue finish of highly polished metal (the Colt polishers were famous). These were the classic “gangster” Thompson guns, with all the pizazzy works. They had finely machined Lyman adjustable stocks, the double vertical grips raked at that 38-degree angle and the Cutts compensator at the muzzle, which gave them such a sinister look and figured in so many Warner Bros. street and nightclub dramas. The thing looked great in a movie star’s hands, particularly if he had a pug-beautiful New York toughie’s face, a Camel dangling from the corner of his mouth leaking a filigree of smoke, dead calm eyes and a fedora a-tilt on his carefully oiled hair. The movies had discovered the power of the cool Bad Man, and then the bad-but-finally-good guy who finds redemption in the last reel. The tommy was one of the stations of the cross on the way to this spiritual deliverance.
But that was on-screen. In reality, it was the war, not the brothers Warner, that saved the Thompson from extinction. Though not a new design, it was judged new enough by a Department of War desperate for exactly the usage Thompson had envisioned two decades earlier. Moreover, it was simpler to gin up production on an existing design than to start over. As the factories churned them out, they simplified to save on manufacturing costs. The elegant Cutts compensator was no longer required, nor was the adjustable sight. The guns were no longer elegantly blued but roughly coated with tough phosphate, so they were a dull gray. The expensive-to-machine fins were jettisoned. From 1941 to 1945, more than 1,750,000 were produced, and they saw action everywhere, particularly where high-contact units were used, such as Marine raiders and Army rangers and paratroopers. The Marines who hit the beaches of the Pacific inlands loved them especially. In fact, one of the most famous photos from World War II features the gun: A Marine polishes off a Japanese sniper with his, while nearby a Browning automatic rifleman continues the advance. That’s fire-and-maneuver at its purest.
But for years, on the collector’s market, these wartime expedients, dubbed the Thompson M-1 and M-1A, represented the low end of the game because they weren’t up to the standards and the fame of the prewar beauties. Then Steven Spielberg made “Saving Private Ryan,” and he turned the collecting pyramid upside down: Now the cruder war guns, used so heroically by Hanks, skyrocketed in value. Unless you win a lottery or sell a screenplay, you’re probably not going to get into that market. They start at about $12,000 and accelerate quickly to the high 20s. And that is if you can find one for sale.
So the guns are and will remain the province of the rich, with the time on their hands to go through the lengthy process by which legal acquisition of a Class III (that is, fully automatic) weapon is possible. For the rest of us, the temporarily assembled legion of tommies at the National Firearms Museum will have to suffice. I don’t know about you, but in my book there’s nothing more dazzling to the eye and the imagination than a room decorated in a style called “Early Thompson.” Is this a great country or what?
The National Firearms Museum is open seven days a week and is at the NRA’s headquarters, 11250 Waples Mill Rd., Fairfax, near Exit 57 of Interstate 66.
S.W.A.T., Nov. 2002, Page 42-45
By Walt Rauch
Looking at the new Auto-Ordnance 1911A1 I wondered if anyone needs or would want yet another “plain-Jane” 1911A1. I thought to myself I have at least a half-dozen GI 1911s and they were all cheap. I reflected that during my college years as an NRA member I could (and did) buy a “Serviceable Grade” 1911 (meaning ready for re-issue to military forces) from the Director of Civilian Marksmanship (DCM) for $34.50. If you wanted to gamble on what you would get, you could opt for an “Unserviceable Grade” gun for $17.50 (meaning possibly missing some small parts).
I bought the Serviceable Grade while others went for Unserviceable guns. Most often, the only difference was that the latter had some surface pitting that hadn’t been buffed out. Both grades had been rebuilt at government arsenals prior to storage, although once in a while some lucky NRA member would get a brand-new original 1911 or A1 at the Unserviceable price. Both of mine shot quite well. (Of course, time does have a way of making what I did and how well I did it remember “better”.) In gun shops, GI guns went for about $37.50, while new Commercial Colts were $78 and used ones ran $55 plus change.
As I thought about this, I also realized that forty years have gone by. The DCM is long gone, replaced by a private company, the Office of Civilian Marksmanship Program, and the “gun grabbers” stopped government-sponsored handgun sales a very long time ago. Also, there aren’t any “cheap” GI 1911s for sale and the ones that would rate NRA-excellent grade run in the $1,000 range. Uh huh. There just might be a market for an American-made, standard 1911 at a reasonable price.
Now the job was to see if the Auto-Ordnance 1911 benefited from being made under the direction of Kahr Arms, which recently bought the company. Prior to the new owners, AO guns had less than a sterling reputation for quality – and that’s putting it nicely. I know more than a few gunsmiths who refused to work on them. Since Auto-Ordnance and Numrich Gun parts shared a common town – West Hurley, New York – it’s no stretch to figure out that the previous AO guns were primarily assembled from surplus parts…the operative word being assembled (read just put parts together). The ones I’ve examined showed they had received little if any attention to such niceties as seeing that parts mated up well with each other. The Unserviceable Grade guns of old were a better gun by far.
For instance, I had an AO 1911 for a test of a Gun Parts, Inc. aftermarket barrel (Gun Parts is the successor to Numrich) chambered for .400 Cor-Bon. The gun worked well with .45 ACP ball ammo and the T&E .400 Cor-Bon barrel dropped in easily and also worked. The pistol just wasn’t very nice to look at.
The new Auto-Ordnance 1911A1 is well-made. The Kahr Arms supervision shows and the company is doing it right – except for the name. The new gun should have been (and maybe yet) dubbed the Kahr Arms 1911A1, losing once and for all the baggage that accrued to the old AO 1911 guns.
Out of the box, the new AO 1911A1 looks to be a newly-manufactured twin to those 1911A1s made at the beginning of World War II, with some small changes. In the new AO gun, the parts fit right save for the WWII grooved mainspring housing that has a few gaps in its fit to the receiver.
The AO 1911A1 is available with three finishes: Parkerized, standard and deluxe blued. My sample was Parkerized so I thought it would be informative to see just how faithfully the AO gun follows those made during the WWII era. To do this I used what I consider to be the definitive text on the subject, Charles W. Clawson’s book, Colt Service Pistols, Models of 1911 and 1911A1 (available from Charles W. Clawson).
Starting with the AO’s Parkerized finish, the reference work notes that Colt used Parco-Lubrite finish, a manganese-based phosphating process, while Parkerizing uses a zinc base. Both were developed by the Parker Rustproof Company of Detroit, Michigan. (The more familiar green-hued phosphate finish found on U.S. military arms came later.)
The AO’s seven-round magazine differs from the familiar GI design, although retaining the flat-shelf follower which has a raised dimple in its center for enhanced feeding. The AO magazine is made by Metalform and has a removable metal base plate. The Metal Form Corporation made magazines during WWII, although I am unable to establish a linkage between the early and the current firms.
The AO slide serrations are forward-slanted in the style of Drake-manufactured National Match slides and the commercial Colt Gold Cup model, as compared to the vertical grooves of CI and standard Commercial Colts. The ejection port window is lower (that is, larger) than in the WWII guns. This is a benefit for reloaders, because the original, smaller port dents the mouth of the ejected case.
The AO 1911A1 uses a long, grooved, solid steel 1911 trigger sans overtravel screw, rather than the short, stamped 1911A1 trigger. Many users will choose this long trigger anyway. The frame is scalloped behind the trigger guard as is normal for 1911A1 pistols. The AO hammer is very similar to the short, wide Colt hammer adopted in 1939. The plastic grip panels follow the style of the Key Fibre Company-manufactured plastic grips that were made with small reinforcing rings around the screw holes and reinforcing ribs on the interior surfaces. Also, according to Clawson, the Colt WWII mainspring housing had seven grooves and lanyard loop and the AO is identical.
The AO thumb safety is of the post-WWII design – a full shelf on a plate, grooved and rounded, as opposed to the GI “stub” design. Internally, the parts are standard 1911A1 except that the barrel chamber mouth is throated from the 4 o’clock to 8 o’clock area. The recoil spring feels to be a 17-pound spring. (Current Colt springs run 16 pounds). Cocking the hammer, the mainspring seems lighter than the WWII guns, but about what is found on today’s commercial 1911A1.
I’ve had this gun out to the range on three occasions and it hasn’t failed to function and fire with any of the loads we used. I started with PMC and Winchester WEstern 230-grain JRN and worked my way though a menu of bullet shapes, weights and velocities, all of which worked. I thought this was commendable and happened to mention it to my friend and fellow gunwriter Frank James, who was also testing an AO gun. He said this had not been his experience. His sample didn’t work reliably with some of the same brands of ammo that I fired, so there seems to be a possibility of inconsistent assembly or barrel throating.
Each time I shot the gun conditions were ideal, with lots of sunshine to see the small sights. The trigger pull was, well, GI, breaking at six pounds and a bit gritty. The twenty-five yard accuracy was only dependent on how well I could see the sights and work the heavy trigger. If everything meshed, the gun shot five rounds into three-inch groups over a supported rest. I had particularly nice groups with the Hornady 200-grain JHP as well with ProLoad Tactical 200-grain JHP +P. I also shot Remington Golden Saber 185- and 239-grain JHP as well. I then moved to Triton 185-grain +P JHP and the Cor-Bon 165-grain +P JHPs. The AO’s heavier-than-standard spring helped in sight recovery, as the hot loads do give a bit of muzzle lift to the gun. I used the Metalform mag throughout and the gun locked open, as it should, every time.
I was reluctant to do any really fast shooting drills because I already have enough of a scar in the web of my hand from “hammer bite” caused by the hammer pinching the skin between it and the grip safety when using a high hold on the gun. (This was particularly egregious with the original 1911, before the A1 modifications done in 1925.) I did do some draw-and-fire work and, being careful, came away unbloodied, as it were. Does the AO need a wide beavertail grip safety? Depends how you grip the gun. This is, after all, a basic gun and sold at an affordable price. You can add to it or have work done to it as your budget or fancy dictates.
What we have after all this is a well-made 1911A1 that follows the original WWII design with the few added improvements that enhance function. Yes, a plain-Jane, no-frills 1911A1, suitable for personal defense, a nice gun to take to the range or to just have. If you want a more “real” WWII gun, there are any number of sources for GI thumb safeties and a short, round GI trigger. The Auto-Ordnance from Kahr Arms is good “as is” or can be used as a solid platform on which to add those items you consider necessary for the perfect enjoyment of this classic design. For instance larger sights, beavertail grip safety and some change to the front strap such as checkering, grooving or stippling (a piece of skateboard tape will do) for a more secure grip. Of course, there’s a plethora of wooden checkered grips for the 1911 genre at a price that shouldn’t hurt anyone’s wallet. All these potential changes are why the 1911 is similar to a Harley motorcycle – no one leaves them stock!
The new Auto-Ordnance 1911A1 is shipped with one magazine in a hard-sided case accompanied by the now-obligatory cable lock, as well as warranty, a must-read instruction book and a GI-type bronze brush on a twisted wire shaft. As mentioned earlier, AO 1911A1 come in three grades: WWII Parkerized, Standard and Deluxe blue. The Standard gun is blued, while the Deluxe is blued with high-visibility three-dot sights and wrap-around rubber grips. They are priced at a suggested retail of $462, $447 and $455 respectively.
Yes, new and improved, thanks to Kahr Arms!
Combat Handguns, Dec. 2001, Page 46-51
By Bob & Sandy Rodgers
Until now, in my opinion, putting the name Auto-Ordnance and 1911 together did not indicate quality. Economy, yes; reliability with GI ball, yes; accuracy, maybe; fit and finish, no. But, as they say, that was then and this is now. The Auto-Ordnance Company is now owned and operated by Kahr Arms, the manufacturers of quality pistols sold at a fair price. With the addition of Kahr’s engineering expertise and uncompromising quality control, the Auto-Ordnance gun has gotten more than a simple facelift. Now, the Auto-Ordnance 1911, judging from my sample, is a well-made and accurate 1911, well suited for personal defense, home protection or practical shooting, such as is found in International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) events.
Samples of the new Auto-Ordnance/Kahr 1911 were on display at the Kahr Arms booths at the Sporting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) shows this year. The pre-production samples looked good and Kahr Arms’ Frank Harris said one would be on its way as soon as the guns were in full production. I got the impression that this statement also implied this would be when everyone was assured that all the quality controls were all in place and working. I say this because in interacting with any number of Kahr Arms representatives over the years, it is obvious they are quite proud of their products and don’t want to make or ship anything that isn’t first quality.
Out of the box, the Auto-Ordnance 1911 looks to be a newly manufactured twin to a World War II 1911A1 with some exceptions. The finish is similar to that used by the 1911 manufacturers during WWII, which was either a Parco-Lubrite finish, a manganese-based phosphating process used by Colt, or Parkerizing, which uses a zinc base. The Parker Rustproof Company of Detroit, Michigan developed both processes. The more familiar green-and-gray-hued finish fond on many U.S.WWII military arms came later.
The grip panels are checked brown plastic and the arched mainspring housing has the obligatory lanyard loop. The sights are identical to the WWII guns, with small ramped front and square notch rear. The Auto-Ordnance uses a seven-round Metalform magazine with the normal flat-shelf follower but with an easily removable metal base plate. (The Metal Form Corporation made magazines during WWII, but I’m not sure if the current company and the historical company share a lineage.)
The slide serrations are slanted as is found on Drake-manufactured National Match slides and also the Colt Gold Cup model, rather than running vertically, as on the original. The ejection port window is lower (that is, larger) than on the WWII guns. The Auto-Ordnance 1911 uses a long, grooved 1911 trigger rather than the short, stamped 1911A1 trigger, and the frame is scalloped behind the triggerguard as is normal for 1911A1 pistols.
Consulting Charles W. Clawson’s book, Colt Service Pistols, Models of 1911 and 1911A1 (published in 1993 and available from Charles W. Clawson, PO Box 15216m Dept. CH, Fort Wayne, IN 46885), and matching up parts, it looks like the hammer is a copy of the short, wide, Colt hammer adopted i 1939. The grip panels follow the style of the Key Fibre Company-manufactured plastic grips made with small reinforcing rings around the screw holes with reinforcing ribs on the interior surfaces. Also according to Clawson, the WWII mainspring housing with seven grooves and lanyard loop, as with the Auto-Ordnance, was of Colt manufacture. The thumb safety is of the post-WWII design, a full shelf on a plate, grooved and rounded, as opposed to the “stub” design from during the war years. Internally, the parts are standard 1911 except that the barrel chamber mouth is throated from the 4 to 8 o’clock area. The recoil spring is fairly strong with what feels to me to be a 17 pound recoil spring. (Current Colt springs run 16 pounds.)
After doing the usual rack and click dry-fire exercises with the gun, Joe Venezia and I grabbed a bag of assorted .45ACP ammo and went to the range to see just what kind of magic Kahr had managed to do to the Auto-Ordnance gun.
How It Shoots
My range work is about as familiar and comfortable as an old shoe. I split the work into two or three segments.
First is the accuracy work, then defensive drills and, if indicated, chronograph work. If all goes as anticipated, a second trip is usually done to run the gun a bit more and clear up any gray areas that may have arisen. If the gun is suited for them, I’ll put some 200-grain and 230-grain JRN lead reloads through it using Rogers Bullets and John Lysak or Joe Venezia reloads. I also like to offer the gun around to any other shooters at the range to get their impressions.
The particular day we went to the range was just perfect for shooting the original 1911A1 sights with high bright sun and occasional clouds. Lot of light for aging eyes. The Auto-Ordnance sights will be familiar to anyone who’s handled a GI gun. Ramp front and square notch rear, but they are small! To do anything with them, I need a good trigger, clean breaking and not heavier than six pounds. Well, the Auto-Ordnance obliged me on this score with a 5.5-pound trigger weight. I started off with, what else, the equivalent of GI hardball; in this case, PMC 230-grain JRN, since this is the primary – and normally the only – food group digestible by a GI 1911.
As an aside, there might be room for a bit of criticism in that I shoot the gun for accuracy and judge its reliability right from the first shot. The common wisdom is that most handguns need at least 50 rounds put through them to “break them in.” While this is the case in many instances, it’s also true that most gun buyers don’t have a spare $50 or so to spend on ammo just to make sure the parts finally all go together. One would think this is what you paid for. Also, many gun buyers are not aware of this need and may well be putting their life on the line using the gun for personal defense after only firing it a few times, if at all.
Back to the Auto-Ordnance. The 230-grain ball went into a 3-inch group for the first five shots. As they say in investigative circles, this was a clue. If the group wasn’t a fluke, the gun looked to be a shooter, for as the guns are shot a bit, generally everything gets better. Joe duplicated the first group and we finished up the 50-round box. I pulled out some Hornady 200-grain JHP and began with a cartoon-like question balloon over my head that said: “Will this gun work with JHPs?” With the Hornady, everything was a go. The group got a little bit smaller without any stoppages. I then took out a box of ProLoad Tactical 200-grain JHP +P and ran 20 of these through the gun. Again, a good group and no malfunctions. We did the same drills with Remington Golden Saber 185- and 230-grain JHP as well. I then moved to Triton and Cor-Bon +P JHPs. Now I figured I was pushing the gun a bit, but it didn’t seem to notice and we shot up another two boxes of 20 each. We were still getting groups of three inches or less. Amazing. The gun works with both standard and designer ammo at regular and hyper velocities. The slide locked back on the empty mag and the brass ejected up and to the right rear (without the GI case mouth dent!). Everything worked as John Browning and the U.S. Army Ordnance board designed it to do.
The defensive shooting phase went equally well, again with no malfunctions, using Joe’s and John’s 200- and 230-grain SWC and JRN lead reloads. I admit I didn’t draw and fire as quickly as I do normally, but I have the hammer bite scars to prove that I’ve shot a standard-grip-safety 1911. I just didn’t care to repeat the experience, so I was careful about how high I gripped the gun. Will everyone get a hammer bite from this gun? It depends on how you grab and/or hold it. If you take a very high grip and force the web of your shooting hand up and into the grip safety, probably. That’s why there are so many beavertail grip safeties sold each year. (You can get drop-in aftermarket safeties, maybe with a little fitting needed, from a number of sources. Wilson’s Combat and Ed Brown come to mind.)
So, after all this, what we have is a well-made 1911A1 that follows the original WWII design with the few added improvement that enhance function. A work horse, if you will, with no frills. Checking a recent firearms distributor’s sales bulletin, the Auto-Ordnance is wholesaling for a good bit less than list prices, which may vary a bit from those listed here. The Auto-Ordnance is good “as is” or as a solid platform on which to add those items a user considers necessary for the perfect enjoyment of a 1911 such as larger sights, beavertail grip safety and some change to the front strap for additional secure gripping. Of course, there’s a plethora of wooden checkered grips for the 1911 at a price that shouldn’t hurt anyone’s wallet.
The new Auto-Ordnance 1911A1 is shipped with one magazine in a lockable plastic hard-sided case, along with the cable lock, warranty, and instruction book (read this!). One nice touch: The cable lock comes already installed on the gun, running through the ejection port down through the magazine well. You can’t say you don’t know how to use it or that it wasn’t included.
Auto-Ordnance 1911s come in three grades: WWII parkerized, Standard, and Deluxe blue. The standard gun is blued while the Deluxe is blued with high-visibility three-dot sights and wraparound rubber grips.
The New GUN WEEK, July 1, 2001, Page 6-7
By Jim Dickson
These days, the world is awash with target .45 autos designed for combat matches.
These matches-while fun-bear no resemblance to real combat where point shooting by instinct with a gun full of rust, dust, sand, and mud is the order of the day. When conditions get down and dirty, only the generous tolerances of the GI-issue, mil-spec M1911A1 will get you through without a fatal jam.
The tightened-up, accurized match pistol is as out of place here as a prima ballerina would be at a hoe-down. That’s why the mil-spec M1911A1 is the true combat .45 and the others are match pistols. Ever since 1911, it has outperformed every other pistol in the reliability department and it will continue to do so as long as nitro cellulose is our propellant. There are only so many design mechanisms possible and they have all been explored, leaving future guns to be mere reconfigurations and recombinations of existing mechanisms. Once you reach the top of the mountain and achieve perfection, everything else is downhill from there. They got the pistol perfected in 1911.
The Kahr Arms M1911A1 began its life when Kahr Arms bought Auto-Ordnance from Numrich Arms. Auto-Ordnance produced the Thompson SMG, the Thompson semi-auto carbine and the M1911A1, and Kahr is continuing this product lineup under the Auto-Ordnance name.
Auto-Ordnance is the original name of the firm that first made the Thompson SMG and is one of the grand old brand names in firearms. Auto-Ordnance began making the 1911A1 after being acquired by Numrich Arms, and it enjoyed considerable commercial and foreign military sales of the pistol. Now that Auto-Ordnance has been purchased by Kahr Arms, every effort is being made to produce the finest gun that they possibly can.
These are real military .45s ready for the dirt, dust, rust, and mud of battle. That’s the gun you want to defend yourself and your family. It’s s gun that’s total reliability under the world’s worst conditions.
There are many reasons that all come together to make the M1911A1 the most reliable combat pistol of all time.
First on the list is its generous tolerances for dirt – the very thing you throw away when you get a pistol accurized on the advice of some combat match shooter. But you don’t need minute-of-angle accuracy from a military pistol.
Every Army-issue .45 I have shot has been capable of putting all its shots in the kill zone of a man-sized silhouette target at 200 yards. That’s further than you are likely to see the enemy in combat, and more practical accuracy than you need. Don’t sacrifice the essential reliability of a gun your life depends on for a worthless gain in group size, if you intend to live through a hard-fought battle.
Part of the M1911A1’s ability to handle dirt is having places for the dirt to go. While anyone who has ever emptied a sand-choked .45 and seen the sand flying out of the gun in all directions knows that the gun prefers dirt to be kicked out of it, that gun also has places for dirt to go inside-such as the Browning toggle, which also serves as a bridge between the separate ramps on the barrel and receiver, keying everything together for more strength than a solid ramp. This toggle also perfectly positions the barrel at the best angle for feeding after unlocking. Guns with sliding cams offer none of these lifesaving advantages.
Of course, cleaning is the best answer to dirt in the gun. The M1911A1 is the easiest pistol in existence to field strip, or detail strip, and change parts. There are no stamped metal parts riveted together to start rusting between the plates, and no plastic parts to react with chemicals and weaken without you knowing it. Remember, plastics are chemical compounds, but iron is an element.
The M1911A1 recoil spring, guide and plug assembly all work perfectly without the sophisticated modern guide rod, which can bend and jam the gun if the pistol is dropped accidentally.
The M1911A1 single-position feed, single-column magazine is the most reliable type of pistol magazine in service. The modern double-column, single-position feed magazines use a design that has long been abandoned for submachineguns because of reliability problems. The guns all went to double-position feed designs, which are more compact and reliable.
The flaws of the double-column, single-position are magnified in pistols where the springs are left proportionately weaker than on most SMGs, so that they can be loaded by hand without needing a magazine loader. None can be left loaded indefinitely like the M1911A1 magazine, and there is always the possibility of a partially loaded double-column being dropped and bouncing the cartridges out of position within the magazine, causing a jam.
Finally, the lips of any single-position feed, double-column magazine are drastically more undependable and susceptible to damage than either the single-column magazine or the double-column, double-position feed magazine found in modern SMGs, assault rifles and full-power military rifles.
The M1911A1 has an extractor with a controlled feed like the M98 Mauser rifle. The cartridge comes up under the extractor instead of the extractor snapping over the rim. This results in life-saving reliability.
There are few parts, and on this gun they are massively over-engineered for extreme long life. The actual service life of an M1911A1 is approximately 250,000 rounds. Normal service testing of new .45s delivered to the Army consisted of pulling a gun from a newly delivered batch, firing 10,000 to 15,000 rounds without any jams, and returning the gun to be issued with the rest of the batch. That’s more than the full service life of most recent designs.
The M1911A1 also has a solid receiver where the grips are not part of the structure, unlike some modern types where the grips are such that hammer spring falls out if the grips are broken.
The locking system is another example of the strength of this design. Its three locking surfaces on the locking lugs of the barrel and slide are capable of taking far more pressure than the cartridge brass can take.
The superbly-designed .45 ACP cartridge also greatly adds to the gun’s reliability. It is a low pressure – 12,000 pounds-per-square-inch (psi) – straight case, 230 grain projectile round, giving a heavy operating impulse to the slide without high pressure.
The straight case of the .45 ACP cartridge transmits all its energy evenly and consistently to the rear. It has greater cycling energy than the 9mm, which was not even originally a pistol cartridge. The 9mm Parabellum was first made as a bolt-action rook rifle cartridge where its tapered case was not a disadvantage.
Stopping power problems with the .30 Luger cartridge resulted in Ludwig Loewe of DWM ordering the Luger chambered for this 9mm cartridge. It was far from the ideal pistol cartridge. Its excessive 36,000 psi chamber pressure and tapered case grip the chamber, but there is a secondary tendency to push the gun forward because of the tapered case with the bullet smaller than the base that can result in an uneven recoil impulse.
A little dirt will make it grip the chamber worse, and it doesn’t take much to jam the tapered case. The straight .45 ACP case simply pushes dirt in the chamber ahead of the cartridge and into the barrel.
A particularly vicious feature of the 9mm is that if it is bumped and set back into the case, the pressure can rise into the low 40, 000 psi range. That is a danger zone for many pistols.
The 9mm is the best termed a 115- or 125- grain FMJ .38 special equivalent. That’s not something you want to stake your life on. The 230 grain FMJ .45 ACP will reliably stop a man with one shot in the vitals, while still retaining the ability to penetrate barricades that stop soft-nosed slugs. It is perfectly balanced for the job of the stopping the enemy in combat.
This reliability is the reason we need a mil-spec M1911A1 instead of a match pistol for all serious pistol work. Leave the match guns at the matches. That’s where they belong and where they shine.
The Auto-Ordnance M1911A1 has proved to be a perfectly satisfactory Government Model .45, functioning flawlessly with 700 rounds of Winchester Winclean 230-grain ammo (this ammo really is well-named, as you will notice at cleaning time), 100 rounds of Winchester Supreme, and 200 rounds of Remington UMC 230-grain FMJ. It is well within government accuracy standards and shows very high quality production standards.
It is nicely parkerized with no tool marks showing through. Accurate, reliable, and well-fitted and finished, it’s just what you would expect of a M1911A1. Auto-Ordnance should be able to continue its long string of successful overseas military sales under its new owners, Kahr Arms.
Auto-Ordnance also offers kits to convert the .22 Ace pistols to .45 ACP. These consist of a complete slide assembly and magazine, allowing one to convert back and forth with ease. A few years ago, a large quantity of Argentine .22 Ace pistols were imported into the US. I took one of these and added a .45 ACP slide assembly, converting it back to a .45 ACP. I fired 200 rounds of Remington UMC FMJ and 600 rounds of Winchester Winclean. It was accurate and reliable. Anyone who bought one of the .22 Ace pistols can have a second gun in .45 ACP by simply switching the slide assembly and magazine. They convert back and forth effortlessly and no .22 Ace owner should be without one.
While we are on the subject of accessories, now is a good time to list what is available and where to get it.
For those interested in genuine Army surplus, contact: Standard Surplus Senter, 2202 Strand, Dept. GWK, Galveston, TX 77550; phone: 409-762 7397; fax: 409-762-7396.
Meyer Reiswerg offers nearly every surplus accessory, such as: a GI ordnance takedown tool; lanyard; GI shoulder or hip holster in brown or black; GI nylon holster; canvas or nylon pistol belts; magazine pouches; new Colt magazines in the wrapper, and original checkered wood grips. Standard Surplus Senter is the largest pure Army Surplus store in the world. I can’t recommend them highly enough. They have everything and Reiswerg is honest and trustworthy. What more could you ask for?
For a holster for open or concealed wear, the best is the original Pancake holster from Roy Baker’s Leather Goods, PO Box 893, Dept. GWK, Magnolia, AR 71753; phone: 870-234-0344. Owner Wayne Thompkins first served as a deputy sheriff and then two terms as sheriff of Columbia County, AR. This modern-day Buford Pussar has fought tirelessly in the battle to keep drugs out of his country. When you consider that Mena, AR, a community infamous for drug smuggling, is less than 100 miles away, you can see he had his work cut out for him.
Thompkins also knows holsters, and he knows what is need from firsthand experience. I have worn one of the first Pancakes holsters ever made night and day for the last 30 years, and couldn’t be happier with it.
For those interested in a new GI holster, contact: Pacific Ordnance Inc., 3639 San Gabriel River Parkway, Dept. GWK, Pico Rivera, CA 90660; phone: 562-695-0297; fax: 562-695-0397.
Great for fast Draw
Bob Brenner at Pacific makes the M1916 US GI holster, the M7 shoulder holster, and the M1912 holster. This one rides lower on the leg, has a swivel to let it bend with the leg, and features a small belt instead of a tie-down thong. His first issue holster for the M1911A1 was more expensive to make than the later M1916 holster, and many consider it the best. It is a very fast and comfortable, fast-draw combat holster.
To do a fast draw from either the M1912 or M1916 GI holster, make sure the holster is secured to the thigh with the tie-down strap or thong, depending on the model, and hook the thumb under the flap, popping it open. Now roll the fingers around the grip, starting with the little finger as you draw the gun from the holster.
Both of these holsters are incredibly well designed for military use, offering good protection and the fastest draw of any military holster. Seems that every bit of input from the old western gunfighters was incorporated by Pacific to best advantage. These are military gunfighting rigs, pure and simple.
Brenner also makes an accessory belt hanger for the M1916 holster, enabling it to be worn lower. This is a very useful general purpose item, allowing you to wear any canteen, machete scabbard, holster or gear with the hooks for a GI pistol belt on a regular belt. Simple, cheap, and indispensable – everyone need one.
Pacific Ordnance also makes a full line of US military holsters to mil-specs for a wide range of US military firearms.
Everyone always needs spare magazines, and the best magazine source for all types of guns that I know of is: Forrest Co., PO Box 5948, Dept. GWK, Yuma, AZ 85366-5948; phone: 502-210-7900 or 888-372-5968; fax: 888 GUNCLIP. Tom Forrest has a real one-stop store for magazines. I recently bought some of his 7-round, blackened stainless steel .45 magazines with rounded follower and was well pleased with the high quality and low price. He also has a really handy magazine loader that everyone could use.
Having looked at the reliability and stopping power of the M1911A1, let us examine some of its other features. Like the Colt Single Action Army revolver, this one is a heavy hitter in a light compact package. By comparison, today’s high capacity magazine 9mm pistols blur the size boundary between pistols and compact submachineguns. The M1911A1 can be fully concealed under just a shirt.
The thumb safety and magazine release are in the best possible position for speed and safety. And the grip angle has proven to be one of the best for accurate fire. It has also become one of the more widely copied angles in gun design.
No pistol is safer or faster to fire. Most people don’t know that the .45 was originally intended to be carried cocked with just the grip safety for protection against accidental discharge. The speed of the thumb safety made it practical to turn this mode of carry into the modern cocked-and-locked mode with no loss of speed and, if not greater safety, at least greater peace of mind.
Carried cocked-and-locked, it is ready for instant use. The time difference between the length of travel and weight of pull of a double-action and a single-action trigger pull means that a single-action trigger pull is always going to be slightly faster than the double-action pull. More important, it is more accurate. There is less poundage and less length of trigger travel on a single-action pull than a double-action pull.
When you compare the weight, time and length of travel of the trigger to the gun’s weight, it becomes obvious that it is much harder to control a squeeze that far outweighs the gun than one that doesn’t. Even a sightly lesser pull can make a big difference in group size.
As far as pistols that fire double-action first shot and single-action thereafter, did you ever see a revolver man do that? Not even Ed McGivern did that. The reason is that it is almost impossible to do this fast and hit with both shots, and it serves no useful purpose. You have to shoot either all single-action or all double-action if you want speed and accuracy, and single-action is the fastest, most accurate, and by far the easiest to master. Even today, the true masters of double-action shooting are far less than 1% of all pistol shooters.
Rapid-fire is another area where the M1911A1 shines. It has just enough length and weight to reduce recoil to a mere bounce, enabling you to quickly engage the rest of the enemy squad when using the gun as it was originally intended.
Today, that enemy squad might be a gang of muggers or a pack of wild dogs. The gun doesn’t care. Its powerful round needs only one good hit in the vitals per target, and you can go on to the next without worrying about waiting for results or putting more rounds into the first target.
That’s how you survive. Putting two or more rounds into each target is how you run out of time and/or ammo and don’t survive. That’s another reason to use a .45 instead of 9mm.
For big game like moose or grizzly, the .45 ACP will do anything the .44-40 will do and do it better. Always use FMJ ammo on such game because penetration is vital. It should be remembered that the .44-40 was once the most popular and widely used American cartridge and many have killed more North American game of all species than any other caliber.
The fixed sights on the 1911A1 are true combat sights that are not easily damaged when the gun is dropped (Murphy’s second law being that a gun with adjustable sights always lands on them). It should be noted, however, that as with all pistol sights up until recent years, the sights are intended only to help you get the feel of where the gun is pointing quicker.
Gunfighting was traditionally done by point shooting, what we now call instinct shooting. This is the most accurate and by far the fastest. It is the only way to hit in time to survive a cavalry melee, Moro jungle ambush, or for World War I trench fighting. And this was well understood at the time.
World War I saw more pistol use than any other war in history, due to the close nature of hand-to-hand combat in the trenches. It is significant that all the countries involved agreed that the .45 auto was the best pistol for trench fighting. No war was ever more demanding of a pistol, as mud, dirt, dust, and sometimes incredibly corrosive poison gases mixed with having to stop an enemy soldier at grappling range. There has never been a test that severe before or since. The .45 auto emerged as the undisputed champion.
The mil-spec 1911A1 is the gun you choose when your life is on the line because it won’t let you down. And the Kahr Arms/Auto-Ordnance model is one of the best of the breed.