Auto Ord’s GI Gem
Recreating the M1 Carbine
GUNS MAGAZINE, June 2007, Page 40-42
By Jeff John
Perhaps no other firearm has been as maligned and praised as the US M1 Carbine. It has been cursed for lack of power and praised for its reliability and ease of carry. Its .30 Carbine cartridge has been equally maligned for its lack of efficacy and knowledgeable people have gravelly opined you should never fight men with a round you wouldn’t hunt deer with. The .30 Carbine has been used on deer, but is not considered a good choice because the deer may travel far even mortally wounded.
Still, the efficacy of the cartridge is proportional to the attitude of the shootee towards being shot. Whereas a Japanese soldier bent on a suicidal Banzai charge might absorb plenty of the little pills before falling, the average Wehrmacht trooper would be more inclined to seek medical attention after absorbing a round. Deer don’t have any such options, which is why we now consider the .30 Carbine round unqualified as a deer round. In hunting, it is our duty to use a round adequate to anchor the game animal.
Nonetheless, if you ever want to bring someone into the shooting sports especially the fairer sex there is no better than the M1 Carbine. It is light, easy to shoot for someone without a lot of upper body strength, kicks just enough and makes just enough noise to keep the shooting interesting. Ammo is still relatively inexpensive and plentiful with all of our major players loading a generic-brand FMJ round. In fact, the biggest argument I ever had with my high school sweetheart was when I traded her carbine for something. Of course, I didn’t know it was her carbine, but I should’ve. The little Winchester M1 was her favorite when we went shooting. I never forgot that lesson (and I’m still learning others).
The Carbine has long been a fun collectible and manufacturers with such aberrant names as National Postal Meter, Rock-Ola, Underwood and IBM are among the makers. It was a post-war staple for firms like Universal and Iver Johnson, but both firms modernized the little rifle too much for my tastes with the stamped, perforated steel upper handguard and light-colored hardwood stock.
Auto-Ordnance, the Tommy Gun makers, finally got it right. They’ve given us basic, late WW2-era M1Carbine. It is sans bayonet lug and adjustable sights, but with later “low wood” as guns issued around the Normandy invasion would have looked. Parts are very evenly grey Parkerized and the wood is walnut finished with linseed oil. It comes with one 15-round magazine or one 10-rounder for us here in California where we ain’t allowed to possess so much deadly firepower.
Accessories available include a sling with oiler and a magazine pouch for the buttstock for two 15-round magazines. I’m not a big fan of the buttstock mounted mag pouch. It unbalances the gun and makes an otherwise naturally pointing gun a little squirrelly to shoot. I will not deny it looks cool and was often seen on the battlefield (and wound up on this one). A GI could carry quite a bit of .30 Carbine ammo one of its endearing features and keep the gun on a grab-and-go basis. Were you to choose one of these rifles for defense, there is some comfort in having 45 rounds at your disposal without having to scrabble around for an extra mag.
I hadn’t shot an M1 Carbine for years and this one was as much fun as I remembered. A good quantity of UMC ball ammo and Federal softpoints were obtained for the accuracy testing. Accuracy was pretty much what I’ve come to expect from the average Carbine. The best 50-yard 5-shot group was 3″ even with UMC and just 3 1/2″ with the Federal. At 100 yards, a 5-shot group was with the Federal softpoints was 8″ with four rounds going into 5 1/2″. It doesn’t sound very special, but all the shots were on target and to point-of-aim. In a fighting situation, I would’ve had a lot of unhappy customers. One nice thing was the groups were pretty much to the same point of aim at 50 and 100 yards.
Standing offhand, it was no trick to quickly and regularly ring the 100-yard steel targets 10 times. The Carbine swung smoothly between them and the sights were easy to align.
The trigger was perhaps the greatest detriment to accurate shooting. It is a heavy two-stage type and the short, heavy, spongy first pull ended in a gritty, creepy final 6-pound let off, according the RCBS Military trigger pull gauge. This one could do with some attention, but I don’t think I’d bother if it were just for me. It’s not that heavy, it just needs to be smoother and such might be accomplished by just shooting a lot more rounds through it. Not to step on the toes of you gunsmiths out there, but I much prefer to shoot guns into smoothness rather than pay to have same done. It’s not like this gun doesn’t work, it shot decently well at least as well as the old Winchester my girlfriend grieved after.
It’s not to say the M1 Carbine can’t shoot well. Holt Bodinson reports 1 1/2″ 50-yard groups with his Universal M1, so it’s possible. Once again, I believe it might be more productive to spend the money on ammo and enjoy the shooting rather throwing money chasing ultimate accuracy.
I wiped down the exterior and bore with Hoppe’s No. 9 prior to shooting and experienced no malfunctions for the first 80 rounds or so. Then, as the parts wore a bit, a few shiny spots began to show on the bolt. As soon as a round failed to feed all the way, I stopped and oiled the shiny spots with Kal Gard KG-4 oil. No further malfunctions occurred over the next 200-plus rounds.
If you’re not experienced with how the M1 Carbine operates, it is really simplicity itself. Remove the magazine and cycle the bolt. While holding the bolt to the rear, press down on the button on top of the bolt to lock the bolt open. Ensure the chamber and barrel are clear of obstructions. The safety is a push-button mounted on the trigger-guard just behind the magazine release button. Pushed in from the left, the Carbine is on safe and, pushed flush from the right, is off safe. With the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, apply the safety, insert a charged magazine, pull back on the bolt and let go. Allow spring pressure of the bolt to chamber the round.
When ready to shoot, remove the safety with your forefinger (you lefties will have to work this out yourself) and squeeze the trigger. Note: GI mags allow the bolt to close after the last round. The 10-round mag supplied by Auto Ordnance holds the bolt open after the last round. Removal of the Auto Ord mag is easier if the bolt is first locked open. If you’re using GI mags, cycle the bolt to ensure the chamber is clear.
With the cost of original WW2-era GI Carbines skyrocketing out of sight and the cost of Korean War versions climbing steadily, the new Auto Ordnance M1 gives re-enactors a fine copy to work with, while the rest of us get a fine shooter, plinker or defensive rifle. Just remember: If the little lady puts her brand on it, it’s hers no matter what you think.
COMBAT HANDGUNS, September 2005, Page 42-47
By Mike Detty
At the 1999 SHOT Show, Kahr Arms announced the purchase of the Auto-Ordnance Company. I have to admit that I was dumbfounded.
Kahr Arms, a relative newcomer to the firearms industry, had already firmly established themselves as an innovator capable of producing top quality pistols. Auto-Ordnance, on the other hand, did not share such a sterling reputation.
Best known for their semi-auto versions of the famous Tommy Gun, Auto-Ordnance also produced several variations of the 1911 pistol.
Unfortunately, these guns possessed a reputation for sloppy fitting and mismatched finishes, and were generally ignored by the savvy 1911 market.
As I approached their booth that year at the SHOT Show, I wondered just how Kahr Arms would match up with Auto-Ordnance. It was a union that I didn’t understand. I met with Kahr’s President, Justin Moon, and Frank Harris, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, and was impressed with their exuberance over the purchase. During the course of our conversation I asked, as tactfully as possible, about the quality of Auto-Ordnance guns. Moon reassured me that all manufacturing would be done in-house and to Kahr Arms’ standards rather than assembling parts from a myriad of suppliers, as had been done under the previous regime. His goal was to rid the Auto-Ordnance Company of its lowly reputation and make its name synonymous with quality.
Within a year I had a sample of the company’s new 1911 PKZ, a pistol designed to replicate our military guns from the WWII era. I have to admit that I was impressed with the fit of the parts. It possessed a very nice frame-to-slide fit and an even parkerized finish throughout. It was 100% reliable and capable of placing 5 rounds into a 2-inch group at 25 yards. I liked my test gun enough that I purchased it. Shooting the gun gave me a nostalgic feeling for my service days and I wanted to own one 1911 that had issue sights and no beavertail or extended thumb safety.
But I was intrigued with what Kahr had been able to do with its first 1911. During a time when Kimber was so dominating the market, I asked Frank Harris if Auto-Ordnance would ever offer a comparable pistol. “It’s in the works, Mike,” was always his reply. Each year I’d dutifully stop by their SHOT Show booth and look for a 1911 wearing low profile sights, a beavertail and an extended safety, and each year I was left wanting.
Finally, at the 2005 SHOT Show I found the 1911 that I had always hoped Auto-Ordnance would produce. Well, sort of. What I saw were 1911s wearing beavertails and extended safeties, like I had hoped for; however, their fit and finish was so lacking that it reminded me of the old Auto-Ordnance guns. Some of the guns bore evidence of heavy-handed buffing, while others displayed rough machine marks. Light showed around the sloopily fit front and rear sights, and the checkering on the front strap left much to be desired. The frame-to-slide fits were bad enough that the guns actually raffled when I shook them.
When I expressed my concerns and doubts to Justin Moon he patiently smiled and explained, “These are tool room samples, Mike. Not production guns. My goal is to make each gun that leaves our factory better than the last.” That was in January of 2005 and just two months later I received two evaluation guns – the Stainless Custom and Aluminum Custom. Both are full-size 1911 production guns.
The first thing that I checked was the frame-to-slide fit, and it was rock solid on both guns. No longer could I see daylight around the front and rear sights, and there were very few minor tool marks visible. Moon had kept his word; my test pistols were significantly better than the samples I had seen at the SHOT Show.
Auto-Ordnance machines their stainless frames from stainless 420 castings at their plant in Worcester, Massachusetts. The first castings were imported from Korea, but Frank Harris has informed me that they have recently found a domestic source. Quite frankly, I don’t care about the origins of the castings, as long as they are good metal and these stainless frames are plenty hard. While the frames are still in their CNC fixtures, the frontstraps are machine checkered, 20 lines per inch (lpi).
The Aluminum Custom’s frame is machined from a billet of 7075 aluminum to the same specs as the stainless frame. It is then anodized with a flat black finish.
Auto-Ordnance uses Chip McCormick’s slide stop and mainspring housing, and the beavertail and extended safety are from STI. All other small parts are manufactured by Auto-Ordnance.
The slides of the Auto-Ordnance Custom guns share a classic style with wide cocking serrations fore and aft, and are machined from 416 stainless forgings. Harris tells me that a different type of stainless steel is used for the slide, so there won’t be any galling as the slide reciprocates on the frame rails. Its left side is tastefully laser engraved with the Thompson bullet logo, while the opposite side, just under the ejection port, bears the legend “Thompson Custom 1911.” The port itself is of the enlarged and flared style so as not to impede the empty casing as it’s ejected. Breaking the current trend among 1911 manufacturers, Auto-Ordnance chose to stick with the traditional style internal extractor. They are also using a conventional style bushing and full-length recoil spring guide. Both front and rear sights are dovetailed for Auto-Ordnance’s excellent low profile sights.
Auto-Ordnance machines their one-piece, stainless barrels from rifled blanks in-house. The muzzle end of the barrel is slightly enlarged for a tight lock-up with the bushing. The chamber end of the barrel is throated and well polished, as is the feed ramp. One minor irritation that I had with the Custom guns is that the barrel hood was left unpolished. It took just a couple minutes for me to polish them bright with a piece of emery cloth, but for a gun that wears the name “Custom,” should I really have needed to do this? It would have taken just a few seconds for someone at the factory to polish the hood bright on a buffing wheel.
The fit of both guns is pretty good. Frame-to-slide fits are solid without any vertical or horizontal play. With the slide in battery the pressing down on the barrel hoods displayed no movement. While the thumb safety on both pistols securely blocks the sear and is well fit, both disengaged too easily. By removing the thumb safeties and stretching the plunger tube springs I was able to increase the amount of pressure necessary to disengage the safety. Problem solved!
Trigger pull on both pistols is about what we’ve come to expect from a stock production gun these days. Both guns had pulls that broke at just over 5 pounds after some gritty take-up. Triggers are of the lightweight aluminum variety and are adjustable for overtravel. Unfortunately, the trigger on my Stainless Custom had considerable vertical play. Probably the easiest way to fix this problem would be to replace the trigger with any of the many aftermarket parts available, if in fact, that extra play bothered the shooter enough. The trigger on the aluminum-framed gun was perfect for fit.
To prevent the gun from firing, in the event that it is dropped on its muzzle, Auto-Ordnance decided to add a firing pin safety. Modeled after the Colt Series 80 Firing Pin Safety, the Auto-Ordnance parts appear to be identical and interchangeable. Incorporation of this additional safety is most certainly tied to product liability.
Despite the less than match quality triggers, I certainly had no problem shooting tiny groups with both Auto-Ordnance pistols. Both guns’ sights were well regulated and did not need to be drifted for windage. The Custom’s low profile sights present a clear and precise sight picture, and every load fired grouped five rounds under 2 inches at 25 yards.
I took the two pistols and a few hundred rounds of reloaded ammo out to the desert along with a steel target. Shooting at the steel plate at a distance of 15 yards, I fired both guns just as quickly as I could get a sight picture and press the trigger. Using a LaserCast 200-grain round nose bullet and enough of Winchester’s 231 powder to propel it at 850 feet per second (fps), I rang the steel with nearly every shot, stopping only long enough to reload the magazines. What I found was that I actually preferred the way the aluminum framed gun handled. While the pistol recoiled in a more lively manner than the stainless framed gun, my double taps were every bit as fast. I had absolutely no problem controlling the lightweight pistol. Weighing 8 ounces less than its stainless counterpart, the aluminum frame gun would be my pick, between the two, for carry. If the gun were to be used as a house gun or for sport shooting I’d probably choose the heavier, stainless-framed model.
I put over 300 rounds through each gun without cleaning them and I would have thought that my desert outing would have induced some stoppages just from the accumulated dirt and grit, but that wasn’t the case. Both guns ran perfectly even during the rapid-fire exercises with the reloads and I didn’t encounter any jams or problems.
I detail stripped both guns and inspected them for any undue wear. I was particularly interested in seeing if the aluminum frame showed any indication of peening or places where the hardened slide displaced aluminum on the frame. I wasn’t able to find any problem areas or even bright spots where the anodizing had been rubbed against.
My criticisms of the two latest guns from Auto-Ordnance are relatively minor and easily correctable. The parts are of good quality and, like any 1911s, may benefit from some judicious polishing. In any event, both pistols displayed excellent accuracy and reliability.
Suggested retail for both guns is $753 but I’m sure that you’ll find them in your local gun shop for considerably less. Justin Moon’s commitment to make each 1911 better than the last provides serious shooters with yet another 1911 option. For more information on Auto-Ordnance’s latest offerings, check out their website.
|Performance: Thompson Custom 1911 .45ACP|
Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in feet per second (fps) by PACT Chronograph, accuracy in inches for 5-shot groups from 25 yards.
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.