My love affair with the 1911 began, as it did for so many Americans, during service with the US military.
That was in a very different place and time, and my introduction to the M1911A1 .45 consisted of someone shoving one into my hands and hastily explaining how to shoot it. Despite my complete lack of familiarity with the pistol, something about it just felt right in my hands. It was loose as a goose and not terribly accurate, but it placed bullets in acceptable proximity to what I pointed it at. More importantly, it went “bang” each and every time I pulled the trigger and, at times, I found its presence to be of considerable comfort.
That gun was much older than I was, since it had then been nearly 30 years since the government stopped buying 1911s in any quantity. By the time the pistol was replaced as the standard US sidearm in 1985, it had been in service for 70 years…and even now, 1911s remain in service with some of the most gun-savvy elements of the US military. The US Marine Corps even placed a recent order for 1911s for their front line troops.
Commercially, the 1911 spawned an entire industry devoted to supplying law enforcement, competitive shooters, and ordinary citizens with increasingly sophisticated parts, gunsmith services, accessories, and training. While the 1911 platform remained fundamentally unchanged, pistols evolved to ever-greater levels of efficiency, reliability, and accuracy. Today, you can buy tricked-out production guns with features once found only on expensive custom guns.
That trend was much in evidence at this year’s SHOT show. Judging by the number of new 1911s unveiled this year, America’s national love affair with the 1911 continues unabated. One new gun that’s garnering a lot of attention—and which caught my eye immediately—is the bobtailed, Commander-sized pistol from the Smith and Wesson Performance Center called the SW1911 PC “Round Butt.” Despite its inelegant nickname, it has lethal good looks, combining the terminal countenance of a mamba with the sleek lines of a racing machine.
Although there’s a nice target 1911 in my safe, that’s not the standard by which I judge 1911s. They are, first and foremost, fighting pistols, and this new gun is clearly designed to be carried and, if needed, used with definitive advantage to the owner.
“We wanted to put out the finest carry gun possible,” says Tony Miele, head of the Smith and Wesson Performance Center. “We wanted it nice and light—something you can carry all day—and we wanted to make it as accurate as possible. That’s what this pistol is all about.”
A PEEK UNDER THE HOOD
Coming from the Performance Center, you would expect the beauty of this pistol to be more than skin deep, and it is. In a classic case of understatement, Smith & Wesson specifications include the notation that the pistol has a Performance Center action job, but there’s quite a lot more to it than that. The master craftsmen of the Performance Center essentially start building this pistol by hand at the halfway point in the manufacturing process.
“We cut the rails and frames and slides, and hand-lap them in,” says Miele. “The titanium-coated Briley spherical bushing is hand-fit to the bell of the barrel, and the housing of the Briley itself is hand-fit to the slide, so it’s a very tight fit. You can’t feel any movement at all in the barrel or the slide, and that’s where the accuracy comes from in these guns. You’ve got a couple of guys who have 30-plus years of experience building 1911s, and that’s what they do every day—they sit at the bench and build 1911s.”
I haven’t had a lot of experience with Briley spherical bushings, but those who do will ell you to keep them well lubed. Of course, that’s sound advice for any bushing, spherical or otherwise.
Built on a frame of Scandium alloy (which is light, but tougher than aluminum) and sporting a slide with ported lightening cuts, the pistol weighs a mere 29.6 ounces. The 4.25 inch barrel has a precision-crowned muzzle, and the feed ramp is hand-polished to ensure smooth feeding.
Attention to detail extends to parts such as the machined (rather than MIM) sear. “When we stone the contact point, it holds a nice, sharp edge and doesn’t break down,” says Miele. In addition, a titanium firing pin reduces lock time, at least theoretically, but its primary purpose is to eliminate the need for a firing pin block and reduce the chance of an accidental discharge if the pistol is dropped on its muzzle. The pistol also utilizes a speed hammer to reduce the time from trigger break to primer strike—again, theoretically improving accuracy. While it may be difficult to quantify the performance improvements from these components individually, it’s hard to dispute that, collectively, they make a difference.
S&W says the trigger pull of the pistol should be three and a half to four pounds, and the one sent to me for testing broke at just a hair over four pounds on my Lyman trigger pull gauge. In a defensive pistol, I honestly wouldn’t want it any lighter. The skeletonized trigger has a very short amount of take-up, requiring only light pressure until you meet solid resistance. At that point, with added pressure, the trigger breaks in clean and crisp fashion. It has an over-travel adjustment screw, but I found no good reason to alter it from the factory setting.
As one who is not a fan of razor-edged slide serrations, I was pleased with the fish-scale serrations on the stainless steel slide. Positioned at the rear, as they should be, they provide a positive grip for racking the slide and are happily absent from the front end. Southpaws will appreciate the ambidextrous frame safety, which I found to be just the right size and shape for easy manipulation without getting in the way. It takes a bit more force to push it “off” than to push it “on,” and that’s a good thing if you intend to carry a 1911 cocked and locked.
Each oversized extractor is measured and hand-fit to the slide to ensure positive extraction. The combat-style ejection port is lowered and scalloped at the rear, further contributing to the gun’s ability to reliably extract and eject spent casings. In testing, as you’ll see, that’s exactly what it did.
Sights are low-profile to minimize holster snagging, and consist of a dovetailed black-post, white-dot front sight and black, fixed rear sights with white dots. If you prefer night sights on carry guns, as I do, that’s one area where you might consider making a change.
The pistol wears a striking pair of G10 custom grips from Altamont, which are secured with two recessed torx-head screws per panel. Shallow, diagonal serrations run across the entire surface of the panels, contributing to a secure grip that’s further enhanced by 30 lines-per-inch checkering on the frontstrap and mainspring housing, versus standard 20 lpi checkering. The grip safety shows very nice fitting, with no ugly gaps or excessive free play. A loose grip is all that’s required to trip the trigger.
The magazine release is also checkered. Pressing it positively ejects magazines. Inserting them is quick and easy thanks to a beveled magazine well. Two eight-round magazines are supplied with the pistol.
If your taste runs to full-size 1911s, the Round Butt pistol has a grown-up sibling, the SW1911 PC, in an all-stainless design incorporating the same key features as the Commander-sized pistol.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this gun feature for details on the SW1911′s performance and accuracy!
Story & Photos by Mike Dickerson