May 29, 2020
Like anything in life, the firearms industry experiences cycles. Some trends are good, some bad, while some are forgettable. We’re currently seeing a boom for retro, or “throwback guns,” if you prefer. Some retro firearms harken back to times when America was fighting Communists, while others pull at our heart strings to produce fond memories. With what you’ll see in the new Ronin Operator, I think Springfield Armory has done retro right. So sit back for a bit and let me tell you about it.
I’ll argue that the late 1980s saw the apex of custom Model 1911 culture. Attributes taken for granted now, such as the ability to shoot hollowpoint ammunition through a new-in-box .45 (or even 9mm, .38 Super and 10mm for that matter) was rare. So were decent sights. Any M1911 meant for competition use or duty seemed to need customization by a gunsmith. And these guys weren’t just swapping parts out, some were artists. Armand Swenson, Jim Hoag, the ‘smiths at Pachmayr and Kings, for example. They all crafted functional, deadly pieces of art, and while modern manufacturing has eliminated the demand for much of their work, guns from that era certainy had a special look and a feeling. What many would call a “vibe.” Features included hard-chromed frames and deep blue slides, squared triggerguards, custom sights, and flared beavertails.
An ’80s-period M1911 has a style that will stand the test of time. When I pull a first-generation Wonder 9 out of my range bag, few even notice. But when I pull an 80’s vintage 1911 out of the bag, people stop and look.
These guns didn’t just look like masterpieces, they shot like masterpieces, too. As Jeff Cooper’s Modern Technique was gaining attention, the guns were pushed to perform. A generation of shooters were influenced by the likes of Cooper’s defensive mindset, single-stack competition and our military. Through the 1980s, the heavy duty auto pistol was king.
Of course, the 1911 even found its way into popular culture. If you have the chance, search “Miami Vice Calderone’s Return” on YouTube. As Jim Zubiena demonstrated in the “Mozambique drill” scene, many shooters from that era learned how to work with the M1911.
In part, this is what’s so exciting about the Ronin Operator! Its beautiful salt-blued slide contrasting with the stainless frame immediately brings to mind the guns from that era. I’ll be taken to task by some as this pistol isn’t technically a “retro” gun. Regardless, I love it.
The samples obtained by Guns & Ammo for this review were chambered in .45 ACP, though it will also be available in 9mm as well as in Commander form with an alloy frame. Our .45 was built on a forged, stainless-steel frame topped with a forged carbon-steel slide. The finish of the stainless frame was uniform and matte, a combination of brushed and a bead-blasted finish. It really pops againt the blued slide. This .45 doesn’t have the luster of hard-chrome or nickel, but the combination has the edge in durability. The deep blue is so reminiscent of the best two-tone guns from the ’80s. The Ronin exists for someone like me who appreciates its style and function.
The grip safety sports a speed bump for quick deactivation as well as a generous, upswept beavertail. Springfield has done a very good job blending it to the frame when compressed. Ours moved evenly, did not show any gaps, and didn’t bind or induce malfunctions.
The plunger tube on the left side of the frame that puts tension on the thumb safety lever and slide lock was properly fit. All of the controls engaged positively. The Ronin has an extended thumb safety lever, and while it is somewhat beveled, after a full day of shooting, I definitely felt it. I wish Springfield would have incorporated an ambi, just as another nod to the new features of that era. (Until the ’80s, ambi thumb safety levers had to be custom made for 1911s.)
The Combat-style hammer was also a nice touch, and it was fitted well. Working in conjunction with Springfield Armory’s second-generation speed trigger, the trigger-pull gauge averaged a light 3¼ pounds displaying only a little creep and some barely perceptible overtravel. For an out-of-the-box trigger, it was very good.
The sights were pretty well regulated at the range. (I had to make a slight correction to the right to center.) The sights are Springfield’s Tactical Rack ledge rear paired with a red fiber-optic front. The pistol also comes with a spare red and green fiber-optic rods. The rear notch is generous making the front easy to pick up with plenty of light on each side. The ledge shape of the rear sight can aid in one-handed manipulation of the pistol if you find yourself one paw down.
Serrations seems to be a theme. They’re present in fine form at the back of the rear sight, which would reflect less glare than if the sight was smooth. There are also serrations in the usual places: Touchpoints for the trigger, slide stop, thumb safety, and to assist racking the slide.
In addition to the rear, there are forward cocking serrations on the slide for fans of the front-end chamber check.
Fit & Finish
It’s one thing to look great, but does the Ronin live up to the hype? Yes, it does. It’s not a match pistol, but it kept everything under about 3 inches at 25 yards. Using Hornady 185-grain XTP rewarded me with multiple 1½-inch groups. It’s a pistol that has me wanting to do some load development. The .45 barrel is a one-piece, hammer-forged, stainless-steel unit with a 1:16 twist. You’ll find it paired with a standard Government recoil system and a nicely fit front barrel bushing. The GI style system is the way to go on the Ronin. The swinging link below is the correct height and it locks the lugs into the slide. Fitment is not as hand-fit tight as a 1911 by Swenson, but it’s better than the average. (And affordable.)
I have been shooting lots of 9mm as of late, and jumping back into God’s chosen caliber really forced me to focus on trigger control. The Ronin likes to be run hard, but after a full day of shooting, I realized that I have been spoiled with all of my undercut and carry beveled 1911’s. My hands were beat up, but my spirit was happy. If you’re recoil sensitive, try one in 9mm.
I shot about 550 rounds through the gun, and I had one failure to eject around 500. That was the only malfunction and the gun ran fine with other brand magazines. With Wilson magazines, functioning was good, but every so often the slide wouldn’t lock back on empty.
A Ronin was a Japanese warrior without a master. This Ronin has just found one. All it needs is to be trained with.
Springfield Armory Ronin Operator
- Type: Recoil operated, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: 9mm or .45 ACP (tested)
- Capacity: 8+1 rds.
- Barrel: 5 in., stainless steel
- Overall Length: 7.4 in.
- Weight: 2 lbs., 9 oz. (tested)
- Finish: Hot salt blued (steel slide); matte (stainless frame)
- Trigger: 3 lbs., 4 oz. (tested)
- Sights: Fiber optic, drift adj. (front); white dot, ledge-style (rear)
- MSRP: $849
- Manufacturer: Springfifield Armory, 800-680-6866, springfield-armory.com
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