Ed Brown Alpha Elite IPSC Edition Review
July 06, 2017
Everyone knows that there was a time when the .45 ACP 1911 ruled IPSC ranges. Well, that isn't entirely true. Oh, from the early 1960s through the late 1980s, you would have certainly found more 1911s than anything else on the ranges. And for many years, they would have been chambered in .45 ACP. But many pistols vied for loot and glory on those competition ranges. The .45 ACP 1911 was what we all used as the yardstick, but we were experimenting like mad, looking for every advantage. I competed in IPSC/USPSA matches with a couple dozen different handguns during that era. Some can still be found on the ranges now that we have multiple equipment divisions. But if you ask your gun club members to define the classic IPSC competition pistol, you'll overwhelmingly get the reply: "A single-stack 1911 chambered in .45 ACP."
That is what Ed Brown makes, and now they have made one for the 40th anniversary of IPSC. The year 1976 was auspicious. Not because it was the year that gave us the embarrassment of a peanut farmer for president, not because the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl for their second year in a row, not even because of the Bicentennial. No, that was the year of the Columbia Conference and the forming of IPSC. I wasn't there, but only because I didn't hear of it in time to attend.
It's the 40th anniversary of that conference, and Ed Brown has made a pistol suitable for competition to honor it. It is the IPSC Edition of the Alpha Elite.
Ed Brown's crew starts with an all-stainless-steel ensemble. The frame, slide and barrel are all Government-size, with the improvements that have stood up to the test of time — plus a few extras.
The slide is round topped with cocking serrations only at the rear and LoMount Novak sight dovetails front and back. The rear sight is beautifully fitted and centered in the slide, and the front sight is centered and has the bottom "shoulders" beveled to get them out of the arc of the slide top radius. The ejection port is lowered and beveled both on the rear face and the interior rail of the slide. The latter is an area often overlooked (then and now) in a lot of builds, and it can lead to dented case mouths until it is corrected. None here, as G&A's testfire proved.
One upgrade since the "good old days" is the front sight.
Back then, we simply used serrated black patridge sights with a bit of a ramp to the aiming face. Brown's new IPSC Edition has a fiber optic front sight. It is shipped with a green insert, but it is easy to replace or change should you want some other color.
The barrel is an Ed Brown Match in .45 ACP with a traditional feed ramp. The recoil system is also traditional, lacking a full-length guide rod. The barrel is held in the slide by means of a standard-design bushing, marked "DVC," and holds in the traditional recoil spring retainer. None of this would have gotten a second glance in 1976. What worked then works now, and Ed Brown kept it that way with this one.
Back in the day, we would hard-chrome plate our competition guns once we were sure they were done, in order to protect the finish from the rigors of practice. I asked Travis Brown, now at the helm of Ed Brown Products, why they went with stainless. "We have never offered plating, not sure why we would want to," Brown said. "Stainless looks great, is durable, [affordable] and easy to refinish. We can also coat [these guns] with our Gen4 if the customer wants colors, such as black, bronze, gray."
Well, back then, stainless wasn't always an option, and it was sometimes on the soft side. The alloy Brown uses isn't soft and will last a good, long time. There are two deviations from the stainless ensemble: the ejector and the extractor. Each are spec'd from a different alloy for operational reasons. You want an ejector that will withstand hundreds of thousands of impacts, and you want an extractor that will withstand hundreds of thousands of flexations. Brown chose the appropriate steel alloy for each, matching the slide alloy be damned.
The slide and frame are a marvel of fitting and proof that modern technology has its place. In 1976, if you wanted a tightly fitted 1911, you handed it off to a pistolsmith who literally pounded the rails with a hammer to swage them to a tighter fit to the slide. While it worked, it didn't always last. The IPSC Edition fit, like all Ed Brown pistols, is both modern and traditional. The rails of the slide and frame are each surface-ground precisely to the blueprints and then hand-lapped for a smooth fit that has no wobble. One of the tests I perform on a new 1911 is to hold the frame firmly and see if I can make the slide move side-to-side, rock or twist. This one didn't.
The fit is exemplified by the gaps you can see at the rear. As in, there aren't any. If I may jump ahead a bit, this is also the case with the grip safety. The fit of the grip safety to the frame, where it pivots, is impressive. Back in 1976 (and for many years afterward), many a custom pistolsmith would have been envious of that fit. It is perfect.
On the frame, the same exquisite fitting goes into the other controls and parts. The grip safety is the original — and best — high-ride grip safety: the Ed Brown beavertail with memory grooves. Once we saw it at the 1987 USPSA Championships, there was no other grip safety that would do. The thumb safety is also by Ed Brown, and back then, Brown put an angle in the middle of the paddle, one that made it more comfortable and easy to use. The thumb safety is fitted in a particular way that I really like, and I have found it to be the one I prefer; it is more difficult to press up to safe than down to fire. Not that it is sloppy or soft in flipping to fire. No, it has a crisp feel and firm click, but I can't push it back up with my thumb. In a stressful situation, I'm going to have all the adrenaline I need to get it from safe to fire. I don't want it inadvertently going back up to safe. Once the fracas has been settled, I can use an extra finger to boost it back to safe. You may look at it and say, "I thought everyone had an ambi safety back then." Well, many did, but a lot of us didn't. I didn't. If you just have to have an ambi safety, Travis Brown and the crew can accommodate. (Just make sure you note that on the order form.)
The mainspring housing and frontstrap are treated to a distinctly non-'70s, no-slip pattern: Chainlink I. This is comprised of alternating rows of dished grooves machined into the surface of the mainspring housing and frontstrap. We used to pride ourselves on having needle-sharp 20 LPI checkering and practically bleeding from it. If, after a practice session, your hands didn't look like you'd been playing with a basket full of hyperactive kittens, the checkering wasn't sharp enough. We know better now, and Chainlink I is great at non-slip without the blood.
At the bottom of the grip is an added magwell funnel, so you will have fast and smooth reloads. This is also stainless, which maintains its unassuming appearance. The grips are double-diamond checkered G10, which is hard to beat and hard to beat up.
And the trigger? Crisp, clean, 3½ pounds and minimal overtravel.
So, I was expecting big things at the range, and that's pretty much what I got. I tested the IPSC Edition with a variety of loads that would have been in keeping with our competition needs back in 1976 and with everyday carry today. Yes, a full-sized all-steel 1911 isn't exactly a compact pistol, but it is eminently controllable, even with hot loads. And with the right holster, it is wearable. I ought to know; I used to do just that.
The groups were excellent in size, uniform in shape and pleasingly compact. There weren't single-cluster rat-holes, but if you are in the habit of proclaiming any pistol that won't shoot down to an inch and a half at 25 yards as "inadequate," you're going to have to sit down at a shooting bench and show us how it's done. At no time did the Ed Brown IPSC Edition ever give even the slightest hint that it was going to cause a problem. It never failed to fire, extract or eject, and it locked open every time the magazine was empty. And let me tell you, back in 1976, that wasn't something that was a guarantee out of any pistol except a full-custom pistol off the bench of a Master.
And the classic load, the one we all used back then? You can see why we loaded our own. Accurate, reliable, powerful and, in this new pistol, a steady workhorse.
You might be asking, "Do I need a relatively plain, single-stack 1911 that runs me a latte less than $2,700?" Hey, if you want non-performance-enhancing bling, I say, Go for it! The world is full of shiny, noisy stuff that is meant solely to impress others. But if you want performance, then this is a smoking hot deal. The Ed Brown IPSC Edition is a pistol that has been built to much better specifications than what was available to us in the early years of the Reagan administration, which was the heyday of single-stack IPSC. It is more accurate, reliable, has a better trigger and greater durability than we could get back then. The price? Adjusted for inflation, we would pay less for the Ed Brown IPSC Edition than we would have back then for a pistol that wouldn't have been as good as this one. There's also the time. In those days, we'd have had to pay for a Colt 1911, testfire it to make sure it wasn't a complete dog, and then find a good pistolsmith to build it. The wait would have been anywhere from an interminable six months up to two years for the 'smith to rebuild it. In the end, we would have paid more for a lesser pistol.
All this in a zippered Ed Brown pistol case, with a warranty, two eight-round Ed Brown magazines and an owner's manual. Plus, you get the extra swank of the IPSC logo, the 40th anniversary and the knowledge that this is an investment you will probably never have the time, money or ammo to wear out.'‚lus, this pistol represents one of the most affordable ways to own a real Ed Brown 1911. You don't have much time to think about it. This edition becomes IPSC history after Dec. 31, 2016.