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3 Colt Combat Elite 1911s: Government, Commander, and Defender

An introduction to three distinct two-­tone Model 1911s from Colt.

3 Colt Combat Elite 1911s: Government, Commander, and Defender

(Mark Fingar photo)

There are no shortage of M1911 makers but, for more than a century, Colt has been the standard by which other companies’ products are compared. Colt isn’t resting on its history, though. The epochal Hartford, Connecticut firm’s offerings continues to evolve to meet the needs of shooters. Colt’s current catalog of Model 1911s is arguably the most diverse ever with 57 different variations available. Among those options is the Combat Elite line of handguns. The Combat Elite series offers Government-, Commander- and Defender-size 1911s designed with defensive carry in mind. These all-steel handguns possess all of the features one expects of a quality, modern 1911, and G&A tested examples in every size.


There was a time that serious shooters had to send off a 1911 to custom shops that specialized in hand-fit tuning. Pioneering gunsmiths such as Armand Swenson pushed John Browning’s design toward perfection, and manufacturers slowly took notice. The new Combat Elite pistols are built with many of those evolutionary enhancements included. For example, the high undercut frames’ frontstrap and mainspring housings are machine checkered at 25 lines-per-inch for a positive but minimally-abrasive grip. All three guns are fit with extended, ambidextrous thumb safeties, and the grip safeties are of the protective beavertail style. Each Combat Elite model is fit with Novak’s LoMount tritium night sights, which are dovetailed into the slide and drift-adjustable for windage. Ejection ports are lowered and flared to help facilitate reliable function.


Aesthetically, all three guns in the Combat Elite series are constructed with the same basic design elements. Each model is built from stainless steel and then finished in a matte-black Ionbond. Ionbond is a Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) coating that is ­regarded for its wear and friction resistance. Unlike other finishes on the market, Ionbond is also incredibly thin, so it is ­suited for guns built with tight clearances. Once finished, the flats of the frame, slide and hammer are sanded, which reveals the stainless steel grains underneath and creates a two-tone look. The internal working surfaces of the guns remain coated, which is a good thing.

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Colt Combat Elite Government (Mark Fingar photo)

All of the Combat Elite models wear angled rear cocking serrations, which were first seen on National Match guns in the 1960s. All three come with black G-10 grips that are half-textured and scalloped to create a thumbrest on the left panel.

Colt incorporated the Series 80 safety mechanism, which has appeared in most of Colt’s 1911s since the early 1980s.

Colt incorporated the Series 80 safety mechanism, which has appeared in most of Colt’s 1911s since the early 1980s. There are two main elements of the Series 80 guns relevant to shooters. The first is a half-cock notch that allows the user to lower the hammer without firing the pistol inadvertently. The trigger is pulled and then released while the hammer is lowered manually. The hammer comes to rest a fraction of an inch from the firing-pin stop and, when the trigger is pulled a second time, the hammer falls to rest. Series 80 guns also use a firing-pin block in the slide as an additional safety measure if the gun were dropped. Though Series 80 pistols are often maligned for their creepy triggers due to the safety levers and plunger, I don’t feel there is much of a practical difference on Colt’s stock guns.

colt-combat-elite
(Mark Fingar photo)

Combat Elite Government This is a full-size Model 1911 with a 5-inch barrel. It’s available in either .45 ACP or 9mm. I tested the latter. Nine-millimeter 1911s have become quite popular in recent years due to their lighter recoil and less-expensive ammunition. However, before you reject the notion of a 1911 not chambered for .45 ACP, remember that Colt introduced the .38 Super in the 1930s, and 9mm 1911s have been extant since 1949. Although many probably aren’t looking for an all-steel, full-size, single-stack 9mm for everyday carry, the Combat Elite is nonetheless well-equipped for the job. I wouldn’t hesitate to carry it as a primary handgun, but it would also make for a great practice pistol before wearing a full-size 1911 in .45 ACP.

colt-combat-elite
(Mark Fingar photo)

Though I’ve seen many 1911s deviate from some of the traditional design elements, the Combat Elite Government is built the way Browning intended it. The 5-inch National Match barrel uses two locking upper lugs and is not integrally ramped, instead relying on the original feeding arrangement that combines a ramped frame and a generous radius at the rear of the chamber. The extractor is internal, and the ejector is fixed. The only real twist is a dual recoil spring arrangement that reduces felt recoil and extends spring life. This feature appears on both the 9mm and .45 ACP versions.

The high undercut below the triggerguard on the Combat Elite Government allows for a high grip on the gun. Combined with the stainless steel construction, dual springs and 9mm chambering, it was extremely controllable and pleasant to shoot. The trigger measured consistently at just under 5 pounds with only the slightest hint of creep. The sights were excellent; highly-visible and not prone to snagging on clothing or slicing skin. Like all good 1911s, this was an incredibly shootable handgun. I experienced only one malfunction: a failure to feed from slide lock with Federal Premium’s Syntech FMJ ammunition early in the evaluation. With two of the three loads tested, particularly the Wilson Combat 115-gr. XTP, accuracy was very good. Magazine capacity is 9-plus-1 rounds.

colt-combat-elite
(Mark Fingar photo)

Combat Elite Commander Colt first produced the aluminum-frame Commander back in 1950. They combined a full-size grip with a more-concealable 4.25-inch barrel. The all-steel Combat Commander has been around since 1970 and has long been a favorite of mine. G&A’s Combat Elite Commander came chambered in .45 ACP, and is virtually identical to the Government Model except for its shorter barrel and slide.

I’ve shot my share of Commander-length 1911s and own a couple, but this was the first I’ve used with dual recoil springs. The reduction in recoil was significant. I’m not going to say that it was like shooting a 9mm, but it was close. Overall, it left me impressed and proved to be 100 percent reliable with each of the three loads that I used during my testing. This was the Goldilocks gun for me: not too big, not too small. It’s just right. Though the trigger on the Commander measured slightly heavier than on the Government, it was cleaner with no discernable creep in contrast.

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Colt Combat Elite Commander (Mark Fingar photo)

Combat Elite Defender The smallest pistol in the Combat Elite trio is the Defender, which is a half-inch shorter than the old Colt Officer’s ACP. It is available in both .45 ACP and 9mm, and I tested the latter. With a 3-inch barrel and a grip that is a half-inch shorter than the Government or Commander models, the Defender is more easily concealed. Despite the shorter frame, there is still sufficient room for a full grip, though you do lose one round of magazine capacity. It offers eight-plus-one rounds of 9mm and seven-plus-one in .45. The mainspring housing is also grooved instead of checkered due to its polymer construction.

colt-combat-elite
(Mark Fingar photo)

The Defender shares identical controls with its big brothers, making it an ideal carry pistol for those who are accustomed to shooting 1911s. Though it is quite similar from the shooter’s perspective, the Defender is a different animal than the larger models, mechanically-speaking. For starters, the Defender uses a cone-shaped barrel that eliminates the traditional bushing at the muzzle. The Defender also uses a dual recoil spring with a two-piece full-length guiderod. It is a similar setup to the recoil spring arrangement found on newer-model Glocks, and it does a nice job of mitigating recoil. The front of the Defender’s slide has been side-milled with an angular cut, giving it a different profile than the other two pistols in the series, also.

colt-combat-elite
(Mark Fingar photo)

Though the Defender in .45 ACP is probably a handful to shoot, the 9mm version was very controllable. I did experience a few reliability issues, the majority of which appeared to be ammo-related. Colt’s Defense ammunition (made by DoubleTap) uses a jacketed hollowpoint bullet, the shape of which must be incompatible with the Defender’s feed ramp profile. The first round in each magazine would hang up and fail to feed. I also experienced several instances where the case failed to extract with this ammo, creating a double feed. Each time, the case had to be removed using a rod. Sticky cases are indicator of high pressures expanding the brass excessively. I do not believe that the gun was at fault since it performed well with other loads. Be sure that your gun functions with your ammunition before you carry it.




Though both the Government and Commander Elites exhibited excellent fit and finish, the Defender was a bit on the loose side. There was some minor slide rattle, and noticeable barrel squat. Barrel squat is the result of the barrel’s bottom lugs having excessive clearance from the slide stop. Colt National Match barrels, which are standard on both the Government and Commander Combat Elites, have oversized lower lugs that eliminate this play. The problem with barrel squat is that it can cause vertical stringing, which is exactly what I encountered with the Defender on paper. An oversized slide stop, available from various parts sources, might cure this ailment.

colt-combat-elite
(Mark Fingar photo)

I bought my first new Colt 1911, a Series 80 Gold Cup, some 25 years ago, and I have watched the company’s quality steadily improve since the ’90s. Colt’s investment in modern machining centers, combined with decades of institutional knowledge have the company building some of its best pistols ever. The Combat Elite series is a classic example of an attractive, functional and well-built line of handguns.

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Colt Combat Elite Defender (Mark Fingar photo)

For a company that has been making the Model 1911 this long, it might be tempting to remain stationary. Thankfully, that is not the case. The Combat Elite series respects the proud lineage of Colt’s 1911 pistols, but does so with tasteful touches that keep the platform relevant in today’s competitive market.

colt-combat-elite
(Mark Fingar photo)

Colt Combat Elite Government

Type: Recoil operated, semi­automatic
Cartridge: 9mm
Capacity: 9+1 rds.
Overall Length: 8.5 in.
Height: 5.75 in.
Weight: 2 lbs., 9.6 oz.
Material: Stainless steel
Grip: Colt G-10 panels
Trigger: 4 lbs., 13 oz.
Safety: Frame-mounted, ambi manual lever; beavertail grip safety; firing pin block
Finish: TT Elite; black Ionbond, brushed
stainless-steel flats
Sights: Novak LoMount, three-dot tritium
MSRP: $1,399

Colt Combat Elite Commander

Type: Recoil operated, semi­automatic
Cartridge: .45 ACP
Capacity: 8+1 rds.
Overall Length: 7.75 in.
Height: 5.75 in.
Weight: 2 lbs., 6 oz.
Material: Stainless steel
Grip: Colt G-10 panels
Trigger: 5 lbs., 12 oz.
Safety: Frame-mounted, ambi manual lever; beavertail grip safety; firing pin block
Finish: TT Elite; black Ionbond, brushed stainless-steel flats
Sights: Novak LoMount, three-dot tritium
MSRP: $1,399


Colt Combat Elite Defender

Type: Recoil operated, semiautomatic
Cartridge: 9mm
Capacity: 8+1 rds.
Overall Length: 6.75 in.
Height: 5.25 in.
Weight: 2 lbs., 2.4 oz.
Material: Stainless steel
Grip: Colt G-10 panels
Trigger: 4 lbs., 6 oz.
Safety: Frame-mounted, ambi manual lever; beavertail grip safety; firing pin block
Finish: TT Elite; black Ionbond,
brushed stainless-steel flats
Sights: Novak LoMount, three-dot tritium
MSRP: $1,399

For more information on Colt Combat Elite Model 1911s, visit: colt.com

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