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1911s Handguns Historical

The Best .45 Auto: The Obregon Auto Pistol

by Garry James   |  December 7th, 2011 45

Shooting ObregonWhen one thinks of countries known for innovative firearms design, Mexico is not one that immediately comes to mind. But at least two guns give that country a real leg-up in the cleverness department — an influential pre-World War I semi-automatic rifle designed by General Manuel Mondragon (which was issued to Mexican troops in 1908, making it the first semi-auto rifle to ever be adopted by any army), and the subject of this month’s Classic Test, the Obregon auto pistol.

Timing is incredibly important in just about every human endeavor, especially in the firearms business, as Mexican mechanical engineer Alejandro Obregon discovered much to his disadvantage. I was unable to ferret out much about Obregon’s other work, and his sole claim to fame seems to rest upon his interesting .45 ACP (11.43mm) autoloader.

We do know that Obregon patented his pistol in Mexico in 1934, and in the U.S. in 1938. It is surmised that between approximately 1934-1938, some 800 to 1,000 were made by Fabrica de Armas Mexico in Mexico City. To be fair, these figures are somewhat conjectural and it is possible that several thousand autos were actually produced. Still, the low rate of survival — especially with guns in good condition — seems to point to limited manufacture.

While it is safe to assume Obregon hoped to sell his pistol to the Mexican military, alas, such was not the case — an understandable decision during peacetime and the depths of the Depression. It did have some vogue among a smattering of Mexican officers and police officials who purchased them privately, but lucrative government contracts were just not forthcoming. Production ceased after only two or three years and the gun lapsed into obscurity.

Though the slide is wider and more rounded at the top, at first glance the Obregon looks very much like the standard 1911A1 Government Model — and from the triggerguard back, that’s pretty much what it is. Internally, the trigger mechanism, extended beavertail grip safety and  arched mainspring housing, not to mention the seven-round magazine (which is interchangeable with that of the 1911), are almost identical to the 1911’s. The Obregon’s mag release is very close, but it does have a small dogleg on the magazine catch which fits into a notch on the trigger strut to lock the trigger when the magazine is not inserted in the pistol. Unlike many other magazine safeties, this one at least can be overridden by simply pushing in on the mag release button. The hammer retains the broad spur of the 1911 — a feature which I’ve always preferred over the later, more narrow variation. Sights are standard military, with a fixed front semi-circular blade and drift adjustable square-notch rear with a low matte rib running between them. Finish was blue and grips were checkered walnut.

Obregon and 1911

Comparing the internals of the Obregon (top) with those of the 1911A1 (bottom), it is readily apparent that the lockup systems of the two guns are entirely different.

Now the real innovations. One of the main criticisms leveled at the Browning design is the swinging link feature that has been found to fracture after extended firing — it is in effect probably the gun’s weakest link (sorry, couldn’t help it). The Obregon employs an entirely different locking system. It’s still a short recoil setup, but instead of the dropping barrel of the 1911 the gun has a rotating barrel lockup similar to that of the Austro-Hungarian Model 1912 Steyr, among others. This is accomplished by a barrel with a diagonal stud at its base which fits into a frame-mounted collar which has a corresponding slot milled into its topside. The collar slips onto an attenuated projection at the bottom of the frame and is held in place by the slide stop/safety post. As the slide moved rearward, the stud/slot turns the barrel slightly clockwise to free three locking lugs from their recesses in the slide. When the slide moves forward, the barrel reassumes its original locked position, readying it for firing.

The slide stop and safety are one piece—an economical arrangement that does away with the separate controls of the Government Model, providing for ease of manufacture and disassembly and less parts to go wrong. There is only one thumb catch, sited in the 1911’s safety position, and two slide notches one for safe and the other for hold-open. The slide does remain to the rear after the last shot.

Unlike the 1911, with its long recoil spring and spring plug which can pop out of the gun during fieldstrip like one of those joke snakes-in-the-can-of-peanuts, the Obregon’s recoil spring is held captive on a spring guide, and upon disassembly is easily plucked from the gun.

When one disassembles the gun, he can see that virtually all parts are serial numbered — including the magazine. The pistol exhibits a high quality of workmanship, though I did notice the collar notch appeared to be milled a little too deeply and there was a small 3/8-inch slit where it broke through to the central cavity. As the gun shows a considerable amount of use (as do most Mexican guns, it seems) this slight blip does not seem to have affected the piece’s serviceability.

I have to admit the Obregon has a lot of things going for it. I especially liked the one-stop-shop manual safety/slide hold-open arrangement, and could see no downside to the rotating barrel arrangement. While it would take much more testing with a better condition gun than mine to be sure, it’s quite possible it might be on a par with, or even better than, the 1911. It’s just too bad it never had a wider audience.  Bottom line: es un pistola muy grande – either south or north of the border.

Garry James

About Garry James

Garry was born in Los Angeles, CA, in 1944. At age 11 he was given a Civil War vintage Remington revolver, and this began his passion for firearms. After graduating from college with a degree in journalism, he joined the U.S. Army, eventually becoming an Ordnance ammunition officer. After discharge, he joined the staff of "Guns & Ammo" magazine in 1971, where he eventually served as Editor for several years. As well as acting as Arms & Armour Expert for the auction firm of Sotheby Parke Bernet, Garry has been a technical advisor for films and television, including the popular series, “Story of the Gun,” "Tales of the Gun"(for which he was series advisor,) "Mail Call," ”Unsolved History,” “Lock n’ Load,” “American Rifleman Television,” and “Top Shot.” Garry is currently Senior Editor at “Guns & Ammo,” and a contributor to “Guns & Ammo Television” and other Intermedia Outdoors TV productions. He is acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost experts on the history and the technology of firearms, and has a first-hand knowledge of everything from medieval hand-cannons to the most modern full-autos.

  • Big M

    I guess father time does not know what a Glock is!

  • Wambli Ska

    Very cool gun! Never seen or even HEARD of one before!

  • sgtcliff

    What is the price of this weapon?????

    • garry james

      Depending on condition, around $3,000 to $5,000. The one in the story is about low to mid range.

      • Clifford Reed

        If I am going to spend that kind of money I am going to have a custom built 1911.
        Check Chambersguns.com.

  • bootman

    Garry James you have got to be kidding putting this Obregon up against the 1911….

    • garry james

      Why? I think it's an interesting comparison.

  • Lopaka Kanaka

    This looks like a copy of the 1911 A-1 and it does have a small change that is much superior than John M. Browning design. Maybe there is a MFG company that will reproduce this Obregon model for the purchase by us 1911 A-1 collectors? Is this Obregon still has a patent rights? I would purchase this Obregon if a company will start production with a 6 inch ported barrel and a 10 round magazine in stainless steel.

  • John Stiverson

    Too bad other producers have not taken up a good design and run with it. It seemed to have addressed a few of the shortcomings of the 1911 (Yes, the 1911 is not a sacred cow to me!). I do respect the 1911 and John Browning. But, there can be improvements.

    • Good Reloads

      John, I appreciate your observations and candor. Truly, there isn't anything "sacred" about the 1911; otherwise, there wouldn't have been the 1911A1. As many here will note, this is an excerpt of a longer article printed earlier this year. The accuracy was nothing special, but then again, the gun is nearly worn out. I'd love it if USFA would roll the dice on a repro.

  • Raul

    Garry: Your last sentence roughly translates to, "It's a very large pistol." Did you mean to say that it is a great pistol? If so, the Spanish text should read, "Es una gran pistola."

    • Garry James

      Yes, I did mean to say "great," but it is pretty large, too. My Spanish has gotten a bit rusty since high school. Thanks for the correction.

    • Gerardo

      Right on !

  • sgt.ret

    Glock is like a Honda, works every time, lasts forever, and anyone with half a brain can use it.. but lacks any STYLE or sophistication, plus its not american steel. Ill take a 1911A1 any day.

    • opar5

      STYLE and sophistication rest in perspective, but performance defines true beauty. Want STYLE, sophistication, performance, less weight AND beauty? Check what Robar is doing with Glocks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1583606247 Gary Chenett

    OPar5;
    What is Robar doing with Glocks????
    Using them for land fill???? That's the extent of the quality of Glock,
    Glock is living on it's past reputation like GM is trying to do
    Sorry the Glock is like a Honda as Retired Sgt says….wayyyyyyy over rated and they need another weapon to copy them and pump up their shortcomings…..

    I'll take my Nam Era issued 1911 anyday over most weapons that are futile attempts at copying my 1911
    I carried that was so loose it rattled but it NEVER failed and was ever so accurate

    Once I had a good NCO like you teach me how to fire a hand gun properly in my AIT at Tiger Land in Infantry Training I was from that day on squared away……

    • old vet

      No use reasoning with a stump.

  • Fernando Tejero

    Garry, I've alreadly read the article in Gun & Ammo magazine. The Obregón is an excellent pistol,, as you mentioned in said article much stronger than the 1911. I wonder what happened with it. Anyway, both pistols are in the past, at least for defense purposes, now the defense pistol market is dominated by double-action pistols. The Obregón failed to attract shooters and faded in to oblivion excepting for gun gurus, like yourself or gun aficionados the world over. The Colt 1911 and its clones are indeed splendid defense tools, I've got an Argentine DGFM 1927 made on Colt machinery that is really accurate. Notwithstand , though wonderful ( when life is not at stake), In my opinion all single action pistols shold evolve into some kind of double action mechanism to compete in an ever-growing market.

    • Antonio

      According to an article about the "Sistema 1927" pistol published in the Argentinian gun magazine "Magnum" a few years ago, the machinery employed to build those handguns wasn't supplied by Colt but bought in Germany; know-how, blueprints, diagrams and technical supervision had American origin though. If I recall correctly, same thing applied to the .45ACP ammo manufactured locally for those guns.

  • KFlem

    Why all the Glock hate?

  • Gary

    Interesting piece, I like the 1911 Colt Series 70. However, I did not like its short comings so I took an Adult Ed gunsmithing class back in the 1980s and fixed them. The 2nd Gen Glock 30 was my 1st Glock and liked it because it was great right out of the box, my second Glock was a good used 1st Gen 21, works great but I prefer the 2nd gen grip, my last and maybe final Glock is a 2nd Gen near new 32 .357 Sig. I like the .357 Sig round, kinda like a Corbon 400. Now that the my Glocks are covered, I do not have any other 1911 type pistols, but do have nice custom Browning HiPower, the last great pistol John Browning designed. Until the 9mm Glocks the Browning 9mm was the best on the market. My feelings, but out of the box accuracy and reliability is not rampant in the industry so the Glock wins hands down in the score. The Browning's designs can be tricked out and will serve well for any use, but not out of the box unless it is one of the $1000 + pieces, which we all drool over, but most can not afford; unless it is your only pistol! Concealed Carry, Taurus 2" .38 Special, or my new Kahr CM9 for warm weather and the Glock 32 or 30 will be an alternative for cold weather carry "Bulky" is their only drawback!

  • Capwhan

    Anyone know the worth of a Reminton .45 made in 1918 and was probably never fired? It was the property of te US Government. And it was not an A1.

    • JBFord

      Hey, are you meaning to sell one? If so, I'd be interested.

  • Guts McCoy

    A ll the Glock hate is Funny. I bet half of you who hate them so much still have a rotary phone and think their is nothing better. Old people hate change or to admit their wrong. I dont buy a weapon for beauty but for performance. Glock because when shtf you know its going to wkrk. The first time and every time after.

    • Old Corps

      Actually I resemble your remarks on multiple levels. I still have multiple rotary phones in my house including a rotary pay phone in my game room…ya know what? even when the power is out they work every time and clear as a bell. I own a lot of guns but by far my two favorite handguns are my 1911's, one was built August 1913, rampant Colt rear of slide final patent date 1911, I carry it and use it regularly, I have no safe queens, as long as there is a round in the chamber it always goes bang when I pull that trigger. It has been in service since before WWI and still fully serviceable, and I don't even treat it that nice. Well, I treat it better than the ones I was issued in the Corps before the Baretta came around but that's really not saying much. Yeah, keep your hand's off my rotary's!

  • Mack Missiletoe

    Troll on a 1911-style article and ask why all the Glock hate? Foolish. Of course you're going to get hate, most people reading this are 1911 lovers.

    Saying the Glock is better than the 1911 is like saying Honda is better than Ford. You're not going to get respect from Ford lovers. Duh.

    I say go with what you like AND use well. Be it Glock or 1911. Personally I'd rather die with a bolt action rifle in my hands than a Glock or 1911. It's not up for debate. And I'm not hating on anybody, haha.

  • A.W. Hiatt

    A Mexican pistol! Not on your life and especially not on mine. I'll stay with my Kimbers thank you.

  • Joe Cat

    In 1980 when I first got out of the service I wanted to buy a Colt 1911 since that was what I carried while in and I was very familiar with them. When I went to a local sports store the sales rep pushed me towards a S&W 645 because it was less expensive and it is double action, so I bought it. This was the best move to date, (gun wise), My 645 is a tack driver and it is unaltered from factory out of box. I'm not dead set against the 1911 platform I have two Kimbers a Gold Guardian, & a TLERL, both are fine pistols.

    • Joe Cat

      PS, I forgot to mention I disagree with your article title. It may have been true in 1908 but not now. Glock, Kimber, Springfield, S&W, H&K and others all make better 45ACP's than the Obregon.

  • John Doe

    The only design flaw in the 1911 is the swinging link, which JMB redesigned in the BHP to a ramped, link-less barrel. Had he done this in originally in 1910 you all would be shooting a 1911 and not trying to rebel against anything from your parent's generation like teenagers. The Glock is a great little pistol with a couple of features borrowed from John Browning. Glocks are kind of like the AK47 of the pistol world, cheap, crude, and reliable but have no class, style or aesthetic appeal.

    • John Z

      I love my 1911 and my Hi Power but I also love my .40 cal Glock 22. I guess beauty is always in the eye of the beholder but the Glock has always been an avant garde design to me. Form, function, fit and finish, I wouldn't change anything about it. It's a Glock.

  • Snug

    Didn't Savage use the rotating barrel lock-up in the .45's that came in second to the 1911?

    • Garry James

      Correctomundo!

  • sandeep mitra

    What about the HK45

  • DrawFastNotLast

    As long as you use what you own well, and it serves the purpose it was designed for, be it a Glock or 1911 variant, it is only personal choice or hand fit which can cause accuracy problems, especially in timed events not so much life or death situations. You'll hit what you aim at when it comes to saving your life and both guns are dependable. So if one does not fit right to your hand, to me the debate ends there.

  • garry james

    Your'e going to have to, as Obregons are few and far between. Still, you are doing the Obregon a disservice, as it was made to very high standards and is a viable design.

  • Mark Smith

    Perfectly described about pistols. I got lots of idea.
    Rifle Scopes

  • Luciano Segura

    Gary:

    As always your articles are a pleasure to read. In Mexico there are some interesting designs based on the 1911. The Obregon is perhaps the most appealing because it was manufactured in 45 ACP caliber. But there are other wort of investigating like the ZARAGOZA 22 L.R pistol, and the Trejo Pistols (That are now being manufactured again by the Trejo Family and sold to civilians through the Army Guns Store in Mexico City). Another curiosity in the field of the 1911, that reflects the love that Mexican Shooters have for this model, is the "Conversion" units made to fire the 380 ACP in commander and Government models. This Conversion Units have won against the Glock model 25 the IDPA tournaments that are held in Mexico for the last 3 years.

    • old vet

      Some VERY fine arms came from Mexico, such as some really good Mausers and one of the earliest semi auto rifles. It is a shame the politics there are so rough on gun ownership.

  • DoctorWho0077

    "But there are other wort of investigating like the ZARAGOZA 22 L.R pistol, and the Trejo Pistols (That are now being manufactured again by the Trejo Family and sold to civilians through the Army Guns Store in Mexico City)."

    Given Mexico's current political instability, and from what I have been told by Mexican friends firearms esp handguns are not being sold to ( un-connected unaffiliated read (cartels) ) non Police or civilians.

  • Luciano Segura

    Guns are sold to civilians through the Army. There are a lot of bureaucratic issues to solve so one can get a permit to buy a specific handgun, rifle or shotgun. The problem in Mexico is the prohibition for big calibers in handguns. Mexican civilians can legally have (Legally meaning registered) from 22 Lr to 380 acp in pistols and 38 spl in revolvers.
    The other problem is that the army depot that sold guns to civilians is in Mexico City, so if you live in the other side of the country, the cost of the gun increases a lot.

    But you can legally purchase a new gun in Mexico, with the idiotic restrictions imposed by law.

    • old vet

      You poor poor people

  • HarleyD

    Here is another comment regarding Glock versus 1911. I have to carry a Glock on duty but I own 1911s. Glock, with all its' stamped internals is a piece of worthless junk compared to a 1911

    • old vet

      Why all the Glock hate in an article about a Mexican pistol? All you Made in America 1911 lovers would be amazed at all the MIM and forged parts that come from Brazil and other places in their supposedly all American gun

  • Dean

    Isn't this how a Grand Power K100 works? If this action is superior, why don't other manufacturers adopt it?

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