May 29, 2023
Savage introduced variants of John M. Browning’s legendary Model 1911 on December 21, 2022. Those familiar with history might think the saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” applies here, but it doesn’t. There are 111 years between the first Model 1911s and this, so the new Savage 1911 reflects an evolved design.
When Savage revealed the Stance in G&A’s February 2022 issue, many were unaware that the single-stack 9mm pistol was not the brand’s first handgun. There was a 94-year gap since the last Savage pistol was produced in 1928, a Model 1917 in .380 ACP. However, even that design followed Elbert Searle’s historically overshadowed Model 1907 in .45 ACP. Searle’s Model 1907 challenged Browning’s Colt Model 1905 in a military trial, which was Savage’s only attempt at manufacturing a military sidearm. The two finalists defeated four other entries. Two-hundred pistols were ordered for cavalry trials and additional testing but, despite improvements made to the Model 1907, the subsequent Savage Model 1910 was mired with problems that required further modifications. Savage’s final entry was designated the “Model 1911,” but even in its final form, the U.S. Ordnance Department adopted Colt’s Model 1911.
The launch of a Savage 1911, therefore, brings history full circle and expands the company’s recent product diversification efforts. Savage is no longer thought of as simply “a rifle company,” and it has managed to reinvent its image in less than a few years. Moving forward, Savage is also a brand known for making high-quality 1911s.
“A lot of this started out as, ‘How do we make a 1911 stand out?’” said Al Kasper, president and CEO at Savage Arms. “[We] wanted to be a well-rounded company.”
Among the additions to Savage is Senior Product Manager R.J. Contorno. I first met him in 2014 when he worked at Colt. He brought industry relationships with key suppliers to Savage and has been a key leader of the 1911 project since its beginnings.
“The folks at Novak’s certainly helped us out,” said Contorno, “and we relied on known strengths in the industry. We had to make sure that we were doing the right thing. The time spent at Colt has come through, but [Savage’s] engineering department got us where we are.”
When an enthusiast hears that a brand has launched a Model 1911, it doesn’t surprise them that the first guns would be Government models with 5-inch barrels chambered in .45. For 2023, Savage is releasing 12 variations of its 1911. These pistols will be offered with either an all-black Melonite finish, an all-stainless-steel finish, or a two-tone, and each of these will be offered with or without a rail on the dustcover. Sometime in 2023, each of these combinations are expected to be offered in 9mm with a 10-plus-one-round capacity, but the .45-caliber models with an eight-plus-one-round capacity initiated the launch.
The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Pricing (MSRP) will start at $1,350 for the all-black Melonite and all-stainless models; $1,425 for the two-tone models; and $1,500 for the rail guns. How did Savage arrive at these price points? Some of it had to with factoring in costs to source certain high-quality components from suppliers. In the effort to situate its position for making premium products, Savage targeted the price-point for similarly equipped models offered by brands such as Ruger and Smith & Wesson.
Of course, your next question may be, “What about Commander models?” I asked this of Contorno who replied, “We are looking at slides and barrels for those, but we’ll work on that after the Government models have gone to retail.”
“Double stacks?” I quipped.
“We haven’t talked about those yet,” said Contorno. “We’re taking it slow, and we’ll have to see how that market trends.”
The Sum of Parts
The Savage 1911 is an all-stainless-steel single-action handgun dressed with G10 panels from VZ Grips. The palette of grip options is tasteful to three finish options and the barrel maintains complimentary aesthetics by matching the finish of the slide. VZ Grips has an established reputation for manufacturing durable, tactile stocks for any pistol, so this partnership makes a lot of sense. I inquired about other stock materials (i.e., checkered walnut) and was told that I’ll have to “wait and see.” Contorno reiterated that the focus is on building pistols configured for the launch.
What distinguishes 1911s available today are the combination of small parts and machine work. I completed Bill Laughridge’s 1911 Barrel Fitting and Pistolsmithing course in 2005, which gave me an ongoing appreciation for parts selection and fitment for this platform. Using some of Contorno’s connections, Savage made all the right moves when it partnered with companies including Novak, Greider Precision and EGW. When I disassembled one of the three Savage 1911s sent to G&A for evaluation, I observed a lot of those brands’ DNA exists in these pistols. The influence goes beyond the obvious Novak night sights and thumb safety lever, as well as the Greider trigger. Worth noting, Savage 1911 parts are not made from metal-injection-molding (MIM) either; everything is forged. This explains, in part, why the Savage 1911s are placed firmly in the category’s mid-tier price point.
What particularly impressed me was learning that the mainspring housing and grip safety are machined by EGW and require no additional blending by skilled labor to achieve the fitment each of these pistols have. The same goes for the contour of the thumb safety when depressed. If you look at the back of a 1911’s grip safety and compress the bottom, or click the thumb safety off, there should not be a sharp ridge between the curvature of the safeties and the back of the frame. In my experience, no two frames are alike; I must often tape the grip safety in a compressed position and blend the two parts by hand to achieve this level of comfort. The fact that Savage 1911s feature such a smooth agreement between the grip safety and the frame, for example, revealed just how consistent and precise the machine work was prior to assembly. These really are proper “drop-in” parts.
Frames are forged for Savage and come into the Westfield, Massachusetts, plant fully machined. A consequence of this is that the frontstrap is smooth, unfortunate in my opinion. When it was time to specify the details and costs of the machining necessary to make the frame, it was decided not to apply texture to this area. The right thing to do would have been to continue the unique surface treatment of the topstrap on the slide and carry it to the frontstrap of the frame. A smooth frontstrap makes it harder to prevent the pistol from twisting in your hand under recoil, especially when shooting a .45. A 1911 at this price should have frontstrap texture, even if it is machined. Though that’s just my opinion, I offered this complaint to Savage.
The positives about the frame design are that the Savage 1911 can be had with or without a rail, and there is a slight undercut behind the triggerguard to choke up higher on the grip. Combined with the aggressive textured VZ Grip panels, an experienced shooter can control the .45 during brisk strings of repeated fire. The dimensions of the standard frame and the rail version are standard, and I found that the Savage 1911 fit in every one of my existing 1911 holsters for these types of guns, sans accessories. The frame also utilizes an ambidextrous thumb safety lever. Savage is known for making left-hand-friendly guns, so this reputation had to carry over to the 1911. It clicks on and off easily from either side, too. A small set screw holds the right-side paddle to the pin, so no additional relief under the right-side grip was required.
The slides and barrels for the 1911s are made in-house by Savage, and you can tell that these are not mass-produced parts. The level of interestingness, fitment and functionality is excellent. The muzzle features a tightly fit, thick, barrel bushing that’s fitted to a heavy-profile barrel with an 11-degree target crown. The muzzle of the barrel also fits flush to the bushing. Combined with its no-wobble slide-to-frame fit, a dual recoil spring, and the slide lockup with the barrel lugs, the Savage 1911 possesses all the potential to produce sub-2-inch five-shot groups from benchrest at 25 yards.
The slide also features forward-leaning serrations at the front and rear. Above the front slide serrations is an attractive stepped cut that intentionally mimics the one on the Savage Stance pistol. Most attractive, as already mentioned, is the linked grooves cut on the topstrap of the slide flat between the front and rear Novak LoMount sights.
The Savage 1911 was designed using the Series 70 system, which means it offers a crisper trigger than Series 80 1911s. This is because the Series 70 assembly doesn’t have to lift a spring-loaded safety plunger (also called a “firing pin block”) in the slide before the titanium firing pin can move forward. If you are interested in 1911s, you will also notice that the extractor system is internal. The traditional extractor is another EGW part, and one that EGW proudly guards the design prints of. Also of note is that the ejection port is not only lowered and flared for reliable ejection, but it has a subtle bullet-nose relief that makes it easier for an unfired round to leave the chamber. This is another one of those special details that 1911 aficionados will grin about.
You can decide if this matters or not, but I saw two unusual details during my inspection. First, the Novak ejector is pinned to the frame, but the grip screw bushings are not staked. These are simply secured to the frame with Loctite. Usually, a gunsmith will use a special punch to mechanically stake these components into place, but that would increase assembly time. I’ve had grip screw bushings come out from the frame when changing grips, so this might be a detail I keep an eye on. Savage said the screws shouldn’t loosen, though, because the O-rings under the screws give them tension against the panels.
The Novak LoMount adjustable sights are also pressed into place, but the rear has a set screw that prevents it from drifting out of alignment in the dovetail. G&A’s samples featured two different styles of sights, one a white-dot front, black rear arrangement, and the other having a Mega Dot Glow Dome ring-style night sight at the front and a tritium bar, square-notch, rear. Both configurations feature Novak’s adjustable rear sight, which is excellent.
Overall, what I saw during my inspection are pistols that feature quality parts with several unique treatments. However, I also saw areas where the company avoided post-production work. The lugs in the barrel and slide are machined to fit rather than fitted by hand, and there is only one size of barrel link to attach the lower lug height with the slide-lock pin. This means that machining the slide, barrel, and frame must be exact with no test-fitting required. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that! Minimizing steps is not only more efficient, but it can keep costs down. That savings explains why the Savage 1911s doesn’t cost $2,000. Savage’s approach is to bring together various assemblies into a few simple processes. These pistols are built in stages — between 25 and 40 at a time — so that employees can work on other Savage products as demand dictates. This is different than other companies who sometimes employ 1911-only pistolsmiths.
At The Range
Performance testing took place across two days. (Some of it was captured for a review by Brad Fitzpatrick and Jack Oller on Guns & Ammo TV.) Nearly 500 rounds of defensive ammunition were fired through two of the three samples, while the third sample was being photographed. Savage provided two eight-round Checkmate magazines with each pistol. We believe there was an issue with one of the black magazines after experiencing a stoppage with only the last round. This happened predictably until it was removed from testing. I also brought eight-round magazines from Ed Brown, Novak and Wilson Combat. The Savage 1911 exhibited flawless performance with those magazines.
There were a few feeding and extraction issues using Hornady Critical Duty 220-grain FlexLock ammunition in the all-black sample, and one failure-to-feed malfunction in the all-silver pistol. The ammunition was +P for the .45 ACP, and we recovered several split cases from the all-black gun. This did not occur when testing with any other load, and the ammunition worked flawlessly in the all-silver 1911.
I also measured the triggers of all three samples. Built using a machined sear and disconnector, the all-silver 1911 carried the best trigger, which averaged 4 pounds, 2.3 ounces, for 10 pulls on a Lyman gauge. The other two pistols had triggers measuring between 5 and 6 pounds.
In terms of precision, the silver sample shot a measurable 3½ inches low at 25 yards out of the box, while the black sample shot 1 inch low and 1¼-inches to the right. These were easily zeroed using the adjustable Novak Lo-Mount rear sight. If these pistols didn’t have these adjustable sights, we would have had to source a sight pusher to correct windage and then ordered a different front sight to zero elevation.
To test accuracy potential, I set up the all-silver Savage 1911 in a Ransom Rest at 25 yards. There were several groups that measured less than 2 inches. When I changed to shooting from a sandbag rest, most of the clusters grouped between 2½ and 3 inches, measured center to center.
Except for the lack of frontstrap texture (hint, wink, Savage), the aesthetic treatments and choice of components are up to date and on point. I was especially impressed by these pistols’ fitment when considering that these parts are simply machined and assembled. That knowledge tempered the criticism I would have for wanting a gun that produces tighter accuracy results and a better feeling trigger. As a 1911 pistolsmith, I know what’s required to achieve more performance — hand fitting — and I understand that the additional labor would only drive up costs.
If the 1907 trials were held again today, and the Savage 1911 were to challenge Browning’s storied original, Savage might have altered history. With the Novak sights besting the original, and a superior fitment and improved touch points, it is easy to recognize how far Browning’s fundamental design has improved. What Savage did with its 1911 was give a contemporary tip of the hat to the greatest gun designer who bested the brand more than a century ago.
- Type: Recoil operated, single action, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: .45 ACP (tested)
- Capacity: 8+1 rds.
- Barrel: 5 in., stainless steel, 1:16-in. twist
- Overall Length: 8.45 in.
- Weight: 2 lbs., 6 oz.
- Materials: Forged, stainless steel (slide, frame)
- Finish: Melonite (all-black and twotone); stainless steel
- Grips: VZ Grips, G10
- Sights: Novak Lo-Mount; adj. (rear)
- Trigger: 4 lbs., 2.3 oz. (tested)
- MSRP: $1,350 to $1,500
- Manufacturer: Savage Arms, 413-568-7001, savagearms.com
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