Six M1911A1 Pistols Worth a Serious Look

Six M1911A1 Pistols Worth a Serious Look

The Mil-Spec Model 1911A1 pistol was the sidearm of America's greatest generation, and there are several available that celebrate history; here's how they compare.

Photos by Mark Fingar

AS WE LOOK BACK on the firearms that helped American soldiers fight for freedom, it’s impossible not to devote some time to the 1911A1 in .45 ACP. Mil-­spec Model 1911 and 1911A1s served in every theatre of World War II. On many documented occasions, a single shot from an .45 provided enough power to decisively stop an enemy. As part of the 1st Marine Division in 1944, the legendary Col. Walter Walsh did just that following the invasion of Okinawa, Japan. It was witnessed that he used an M1911 to shoot a Japanese sniper at 80 yards, demonstrating its accuracy potential with one-­hand shooting.

American soldiers fighting close-­quarters battles have often reached for an M1911 and the .45 has proved to be a reliable performance benchmark. Though modern M1911s may possess DNA from John Browning’s masterpiece, historic collectors prefer the original mil-­spec configurations — or something very close to it.

What is a Mil-­Spec M1911A1?


After World War I, the military’s Model 1911 underwent minor changes including, among other things, a shorter trigger with frame cuts to shorten the reach, improved sights, an arched mainspring housing and a redesigned grip safety. These changes took effect in 1924, starting around serial number 700,000, and the Model 1911 update was designated the M1911A1.


By 1943, World War II M1911A1s featured brown plastic grip panels and a Parkerized finish. A number of manufacturers were building them including Colt, Ithaca Gun Company, Remington Rand, Singer and Union Switch & Signal. Each of the brands had unique roll stamps that identified the gun’s maker, model, patent numbers, and noted that the pistols were U.S. property. Nearly 1.9 million 1911A1 pistols were built during the war.


The M1911A1 was functional but basic, and in the last 75 years many brands have offered their own twist. To ease production costs, adapt the design to modern manufacturing and make M1911A1s more enjoyable to shoot, most are a blend of traditional and modern features. In honor of the 75th anniversary of D-­Day, Guns & Ammo offers a look at modern so-­described “mil-­spec” M1911A1s in .45 ACP. Some are faithful to the original, while others stray. These pistols exist as a functional tribute to the airmen, sailors, soldiers and Marines who fought to preserve freedom during the largest conflict the world has ever known.


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Springfield Armory 1911 Mil-­Spec

In many ways, and more than others, Springfield Armory’s 1911 Mil-­Spec is an accurate representation of the original M1911A1. The trigger length is correct (albeit with an incorrect serrated shoe), the triggerguard is correct, as is the grip safety and arched mainspring housing. However, the hammer spur is narrow — more like the post-­war version — and the thumb safety lacks the checkered tab seen on war guns. Springfield Armory’s tribute wears a correct Parkerized finish on both the frame and the slide. In part like Colt, Springfield Armory’s name resonates with Model 1911 enthusiasts due to the fact that the former government facility of the same name manufactured a number of original 1911s.

However, Springfield Armory’s 1911 Mil-­Spec isn’t quite so “mil-­spec.” Inside the slide is a stainless steel, match-­grade barrel fitted with a stainless barrel bushing. On top are three, white-dot blade sights that are easier to see than the originals. The slide has a flared and lowered ejection port. All these features add up to a pistol that represents one intended for a destiny at the range.


The double-­diamond grips honor the original M1911 checkered walnut stocks, but feature Springfield Armory’s cross-­cannon logo that harkens back to the federal armory located in Springfield, Massachusetts, which closed in 1968.

It could be argued that Springfield Armory’s 1911 Mil-­Spec is a modern version of the original M1911A1. In terms of dimensions and capacity, the Springfield pistol stays true to the real M1911A1; it has a 5-­inch barrel, measures 8.6-­inches long and comes with two, flush-­fit, 7-­round magazines.

Springfield Armory did not attempt to match the original M1911A1 exactly, but this pistol does offer the general look and feel of the World War II veteran with a list of modern upgrades. At $780, it’s priced competitively in this field, especially when factoring the quality of materials and construction.


Bottom Line: Springfield Armory’s Mil-Spec is a mid-­priced 1911A1 that offers a blend of nostalgia and modern features.

Type: Recoil operated, semiautomatic
Cartridge: .45 ACP
Capacity: 7+1 rds.
Barrel: 5 in.
Overall Length: 8.6 in.
Weight: 2 lbs., 7 oz.
Grips: Cocobolo, double-diamond checkered
Finish: Parkerized (steel)
Sights: 3 white dot; fixed blade (front); drift-adj. blade (rear)
MSRP: $780
Manufacturer: Springfield Armory,
800-680-6866, springfield-armory.com


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Dan Wesson A2 

The A2 is one “that could have been,” according to Dan Wesson. While it might leave the history buff snorting in contempt, the alternate-­history approach is clever and makes for an excellent pistol that most traditionalists should enjoy. It shares lineage with the original M1911 and M1911A1, and this can be seen in details. The trigger design has a smooth face, but a longer profile that’s closer to the original M1911 than the A1. The mainspring housing on Dan Wesson’s A2 is arched, but lacks the texture and lanyard loop. The slide serrations are akin to the originals, and in other places the aptly named A2 offers modern touches that include an extended, serrated thumb safety lever, a functionally-­minded lowered and flared ejection port. On top of the slide are contemporary combat sights with a white dot blended into the drift-­adjustable front blade. At the rear is a no-­snag ramped rear sight with two white dots, and it’s serrated on the side for added grip when grabbing a handful of gun to rack the slide. The extended beavertail is tastefully modern with protection from being bitten by the spur hammer, which even has a subtly reduced profile. If you look just under the magazine release button, you’ll also find a slight undercut on the rear of the triggerguard to give the hand a higher grip and improved control.

Not surprisingly, the A2 was built to Dan Wesson’s top-­shelf standards, which means that all the components are hand fit to close tolerances. While this gun stands to represent the would-­be evolution from the 1911A1, the lack of frontstrap checkering and modern controls make it the most affordable way to gain entry into Dan Wesson’s high-­end family of guns. With a retail of $1,363, it’s more expensive than most M1911A1 alternatives, but we respect the company’s reserved approach in designing the A2 while guarding the brand’s reputation for precision quality, custom treatments and accuracy.

Bottom Line: This is the best shooting mil-­spec Model 1911 that never existed. Dan Wesson seamlessly blended classic features

Type: Recoil operated, semiautomatic
Cartridge: .45 ACP
Capacity: 8+1 rds.
Barrel: 5 in.
Overall Length: 8.75 in.
Weight: 2 lbs., 8 oz.
Grips: Walnut, double-diamond checkered
Finish: Blued, matte
Sights: Drift adj.; blade, gold bead (front); ramped, white dot (rear)
MSRP: $1,363
Contact: Dan Wesson Firearms,
607-336-1174, danwessonfirearms.com


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Armscor/Rock Island Armory GI Standard FS 

Though there are several variations in the company’s GI Series, a traditionalist should look at the GI Standard FS, model 51421. The GI Standard FS is faithful to the original M1911A1 in many ways, and it’s one of the few M1911A1s that still features a Parkerized finish. It has the 5-­inch barrel, short guide rod and checkered magazine release button and slide-­lock lever seen on many 1911A1s. Build quality and overall dimensions are also similar to the original. The hammer spur is the narrow type, but checkered, while the grip safety and trigger are alike, though not exact replicas of the original parts. Additionally, this Armscor pistol lacks the arched mainspring housing, and it wears smooth wooden grips rather than diamond-checkered walnut or brown plastic stocks found on originals. Sights are appropriately dovetailed at the rear and pinned at the front with the wider notch style of the M1911A1.

For markings, the GI Standard FS lacks traditional roll stamping and features the Rock Island Armory logo laser engraved behind the left-­side slide serrations. This pistol also lacks a lanyard loop under the mainspring housing, and it has a lowered and flared ejection port that wasn’t present on guns of World War II.

While it’s not an exact replica of the M1911A1, the spirit of the original is there. Having a suggested retail of $530 makes the GI Standard FS one of the most affordable M1911A1-­style pistols on the market, and a superb option at that.

Bottom Line: The GI Standard FS is a high-­value M1911A1 with the soul and finish of the original.

Type: Recoil operated, semiautomatic
Cartridge: .45 ACP
Capacity: 8+1 rds.
Barrel: 5 in.
Overall Length: 8.6 in.
Weight: 2 lbs., 7.5 oz.
Grips: Wood, smooth
Finish: Parkerized (steel)
Sights: Fixed, post (front); drift adj. U-notch (rear)
MSRP: $530
Manufacturer: Armscor/Rock Island Armory,
632-656-5344, armscor.com


Six-M1911A1-Pistols-4

Inland Manufacturing 1911A1 Government 

While Colt, Ithaca, Remington Rand and others were manufacturing M1911A1 pistols for World War II, Inland Manufacturing in Dayton, Ohio, was busy making another tool for the war: the M1 Carbine. Though the company is related only by name today, it is located just miles from the original factory. Inland Manufacturing relaunched the brand with authentic reproduction M1 Carbines, followed by variations of the M1, the M37 shotgun and M1911A1. Its 1911 A1 Government pistol is quite close to the original guns. Parkerized finishes? Inland’s guns have them. Plastic checkered grips? Included. Short-­profile A1 iron sights? Fixed on top of the slide. Arched mainspring housing with grooved texture? Indeed.

The Inland 1911A1 Government represents the most noble effort at recreating history’s original. There’s even roll stamping on the left side of the gun that bears the gun’s patent numbers. On the left side of the frame is stamped “INLAND MFG DAYTON, OH”. “1911A1 GOVERNMENT” appears where the original had the stamp “U.S. PROPERTY”. The ejection port on the Inland hasn’t been lowered or flared, and you won’t find any satin stainless bushings or out-­of-­place frame cuts on this example. It’s quite clear that Inland applies its passion for history while researching the details about their guns. If your objective is to have the M1911A1 in its purest form, then Inland is an easy recommendation. With an MSRP of $950, it’s not the cheapest M1911A1 clone on this list, but it is the most faithful.

Bottom Line: The Inland Manufacturing 1911A1 Government is the closest you’ll get to finding a modern-­manufacture and authentically recreated version of the original.

Type: Recoil operated, semiautomatic
Cartridge: .45 ACP
Capacity: 8+1 rds.
Barrel: 5 in.
Overall Length: 8.5 in.
Weight: 2 lbs., 7 oz.
Grips: Brown plastic, checkered
Finish: Parkerized (steel)
Sights: Fixed, A1 (front); drift adj., U-notch (rear)
MSRP: $950
Manufacturer: Inland Manufacturing,
877-425-4867, inland-mfg.com


ATI Firepower Xtreme Military 1911 

Beyond first glance, ATI’s Firepower Xtreme Military borrows certain features from the original M1911A1. The arched mainspring housing with lanyard ring is close, as are the rear slide serrations and the sight layout. However, other areas do not match the original A1. The finish on ATI’s, for example, is blued and not Parkerized. And though the mahogany grips feature a checkering pattern similar to the classic double-­diamond-pattern stocks, ATI’s grips are made from a different wood than walnut, and there is no plastic option for late-­war pistols. Dimensionally, the Firepower is close to the original M1911A1. Like the others, this example features a 5-­inch barrel and an overall length of just under 8½ inches, but the magazine capacity is one more than the original seven-­round M1911A1 magazines. This pistol is best described a general replica of the M1911A1 rather than a faithful copy. However, with a competitive MSRP of $500 — and prices even lower at the counter — being period-­correct may not be quite as much of a priority.

Bottom Line: An affordable entry to owning a more-­than-­functional M1911A1 that shoots well.


Six-M1911A1-Pistols-5

Colt S70 Government 

Colt has an obvious leg-­up in this round-up in terms of authenticity on name alone. It is the only brand that has continuously produced Model 1911A1s since World War II. During the war, Colt delivered nearly 400,000. However, the current S70 Series pistol is not like the Colts of World War II beyond the steel frame, trigger length, checkered magazine release button, arched mainspring housing and 5-­inch barrel. This current lineup is blued, not Parkerized. The grips are rosewood-­colored slabs with a double-­diamond pattern that more closely resembles grips made before World War II. The frame cuts and grip safety design are close enough to the original A1, but the iron sights and thumb safety mimic Colt 1911A1s produced in the 1970s and after. Regardless, this entry has something no other gun on this list has: Colt’s roll-­stamp mark, which still carries weight among enthusiasts. Colt 1911A1s and subsequent models have demonstrated a higher demand and resale value than other brands over time.

Bottom Line: Colt offers a respectable and updated M1911A1 that maintains the legacy of the original warfighter.



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