Guns and Cars: Les Baer's Two Passions
October 29, 2015
Gun guys are often car guys, and Les Baer is one clear example.
In his warehouse are nine flawless, low-mileage and heavily documented 1969 and '70 Ford Mustang Boss 429s. He currently has one in every color, minus Pastel Blue. Of those, he's a particular fan of Grabber Green, so much so that he has an as-new Boss 302 and a Mach 1 to complete a subset of this collection.
At the other end of that room is an original Shelby Guardsman Blue 1965 AC Cobra rounded out with side exhausts that are attached to a 427. The door of the Cobra's glove compartment even bears Carroll Shelby's signature.
Across the floor from the AC is a former barn-find: a Wimbledon White 1968 Shelby GT500 KR featuring Ford's 428 Cobra Jet. It is perhaps the rarest of all surviving GT500 KR Mustangs with its very low mileage. When it was bought and delivered to Les' warehouse, it was placed in the back corner where, he told me in a firm and gruff voice, "That's where it's going to stay as long as I'm around."
Carroll Shelby's personality shares a lot of parallels with Les Baer's; both men just can't leave things alone. Whether it's muscle cars or 1911s, they each strive for more. After taking a lightweight AC and stuffing a series of more powerful Ford V8s in it, Shelby turned a Mustang GT fastback into a track-oriented GT350. This "more power" attitude continued until his death on May 10, 2012.
Like Shelby, Les Baer is a racing legend. He won the Pro 5.0 championship in 1997 and 1999 after competing in drag racing and bracket racing for two decades prior.
Like Les Baer, Shelby was — at least at one time — a gun guy. A friend of Guns & Ammo founding publisher Robert Petersen, both Shelby and Petersen collected high-end guns and hunted. The relationship? They loved performance-oriented mechanics.
Les Baer has always understood this common ground since the beginning. Over the years, the very same car guys were customers of his hand-built 1911s, a discreet list containing many names you would be both surprised by and familiar with. In 2011, Les honored this passion with a Baer 1911 called the Boss .45, built as a tribute to his 1970 Grabber Green Boss 429.
In his collection of high-performance muscle cars are also several Hemi-powered Mopars (he's not just a Ford guy). In 2013, he introduced a new version of the Premier II Baer 1911 that was inspired by his fearsome Sassy Grass Green 1970 Pro Street Cuda powered by a 572 Hemi Super Street motor. And this year, Les Baer created the GT Monolith Stinger to honor his collection of newer Shelby GT350s, GT500s, Super Snakes and one very special 2014 Shelby 1000.
As the name implies, Les Baer's Shelby 1000 has 1,200 horsepower at the crank and more than 1,000 horsepower at the wheels (1,046 horses to be exact). Though based on a 662-horsepower 2014 Ford Shelby GT500, little of its former self remains. Its 5.8-liter V8 was stripped down and strengthened throughout before being given its forced induction via a twin-screw supercharger developed especially for this car by Kenne Bell.
Weight was trimmed to extreme measures, and the G&A staff found enough carbon fiber to make one of those barrel makers sick with envy. It even has a huge piece of the material under the rear window where you'd typically expect to see a pair of back seats. However, the benefits of weight savings and venemous power wouldn't mean much if it couldn't be planted to the road, so Shelby wisely gave it an adjustable suspension and big, big brakes.
Only 50 Shelby 1000s were built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the company's adventure in hot rodding, and we're told that Les' was the only one allowed to wear the color Ruby Red. It was described at the New York Auto Show that year as being the most powerful street-legal muscle car in the world.
On the street, Les Baer gave us a taste of its venom. I can verify that with launch control, the car rockets past 60 miles per hour in 3-point holy-something seconds. Top speed? Well, we didn't have that stretch of road, but another Shelby 1000 posted 224 mph for YouTube on May 24, 2014. That'd be a pretty safe guess.
In my experience (as a supercharged Mustang owner), anything with more than 750-horsepower can become dangerous, with a live-axle tail that slithers across the road with the unresponsible flick of the accelerator. Incredibly, this Shelby 1000 is different. As Les attacked a corner and ripped passed seemingly stationary traffic, the Shelby 1000 screamed like a banshee. When it was all over, I couldn't help but remember an athletic response to steering input and unusual grip. It truly represents everything Shelby American has learned over five decades.
The GT Monolith Stinger is Les Baer's newest custom 1911. It combines features of Baer's compact Stinger model with the beefy look and slightly heavier muzzle weight of the legendary Monolith. The Stinger frame is what most of us would call Officer size, so it's squarely aimed at those of us who carry concealed. But like the Monolith, the dust cover is extra long. I wasn't sure at first, but the Monolith dust cover will insert into most leather holster options, although Kydex or other polymer- blend holsters do require a test fit to be sure of compatibility. Rail gun holsters work fine.
As far as appearance, the dust cover matching the length of the slide gives the frame and appearance a blocky, one-piece look. The dust cover's shape on this model is rounded on the bottom like the full-size Monolith. (A Heavyweight version of this pistol is also available, which features a flat bottom for the dust cover that adds two ounces more to the overall weight.) The end result is very clean and seems to beg for a bit of personalized engraving.
More important to how the pistol handles while shooting, the added weight at the front end actually does help reduce muzzle flip. G&A staff compared this model at the range to a Les Baer 1911 with a standard Stinger frame to reach this conclusion.
The 41/4-inch slide is Commanche length, which is a little smaller than Baer's standard 5-inch slide. All of the other features are the same as the Monolith Commanche, but the GT Monolith Stinger comes standard with Rolo night sights and three magazines.
The Rolo sights are nicely stamped with Les Baer's race-gunner logo. Line up the front with the rear and you'll find a three-dot tritium-filled night sight helping to extract the most out of Baer's legendary accuracy potential for defensive purposes. Unlike a lot of sight setups out there, the rear sight is fully adjustable for tuning elevation and windage. The rear of the slide is cut nearly .2-inch deep to help these adjustable sights sit very low on the slide. I've gotta say that if you've ever wanted screwdriver adjustment capability with your gunfighting sights before, these are incredibly unobtrusive.
The GT Monolith Stinger can be ordered in either .45 ACP or .38 Super (it's making a comeback right now) and finished in either blue, chrome or Dupont S. Given the amount of chrome I saw inside Les Baer's automotive man cave, I asked to review the chrome .45 model of this new pistol — only I wanted to watch one being made for myself.
The Drive & The Shoot
The drive over the Mississipi River to Les Baer's shop in LeClaire, Iowa, was more like a sprint — absent the radio tunes. In music's place were Borla headers and a 3-inch catback exhaust that harmonized with the jet-engine-like turbine whine, producing an earth-thundering soundtrack. If the name of that town sounds oddly familiar, it could mean that you're a fan of the show "American Pickers" on the History Channel. Their home to rusty gold sits not too far off the town's main drag.
Beyond the welcoming walls housing Les Baer's sales and support staff, is a shop full of pistolsmiths, many of which Baer has personally trained to execute his high standards. One 'smith doesn't focus on one gun. Rather, one gun benefits by the skills of multiple people who do one particular job over and over each day.
"We do things differently," Les Baer said. "We hard fit barrels, hand checker the frame and fit every part. There's no lapping compound helping us with great slide fit. We still file fit the rails of our 1911s by hand ... the old way."
When I visited the shop, it was bluing day. They have a special room for this due to the toxic nature of the process. It's so harsh and such an art form to do it well, that most companies are satisfied with simply contracting this process out. Not Les. In fact, Les does all the hard work in-house.
Like every Les Baer 1911, when my GT Monolith Stinger was finished being built, roughly 125 rounds were fired incrementally to verify reliability and accuracy, while wear marks were checked and inspected. When needed, guns are pulled and go back to someone's bench for tweaking until everything is absolutely perfect.
When complete, a number of customers (like me) insist on adding the upcharge for Les Baer to guarantee and print a 1 1/2-inch, 10-shot group from 50 yards using 230-grain ball ammo. In my own hands, I managed to achieve only half of this pistol's potential. It turns out shooting is like driving, too.