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.