A Nurse with a Gun

Monday, November 12, 2007

Those Mil-Spec Springfield 1911s

My first 1911 was a Springfield Armory pistol. Click to enlargeBack then, I had not yet experienced the allure of the Colt product, but I wrote about the Springfield Mil-Spec as a review online somewhere. Fortunately, I still have that review in my files, as well as a subsequent review on the pistol that would become the Springfield GI45.

I still heartily recommend the Springfield 1911 to people who want to explore the 1911 and all it's potential. the Springfield has a forged frame and slide. Less expensive 1911s lack this quality. I believe forgings to be important on an old design that fires a substantial cartridge if the firearm is to remain durable in the long term.

I still own these Springfield pistols, and they still shoot beautifully. I would not hesitate to purchase another one at the right price. I paid $499 for my NIB Mil-Spec years ago, and $400 for my GI version. Not surprisingly, the prices have since gone up. Last week I saw a new Mil-Spec in a gun store priced at $663. They had a GI45 for $499. I present the rather dated reviews, with current photos, here for your enjoyment.

The Springfield Mil-Spec

Click to enlarge
I became interested in handguns during the height of the Wondernine Revolution. I was in the military when we transitioned from the venerable old 1911 to the M9 Beretta 92FS. Sidearms in particular are a personal thing to a man in the military. I heard all the arguments from the old salts who wanted to keep the 1911. Like most changes, the troops did not like the change to an unproven sidearm. When I got out of Uncle Sugar's Yacht Club in late 1991, the first major purchase I made was a Beretta 92FS. It took me years to see the wisdom of the old salts I had fought with.

A decade later, my son acquired a Colt 1991 Officer's Model, and I was amazed at it's accuracy. I was also intrigued by it's utilitarian business like design. Then one afternoon at my local gunstore, I noticed a Springfield Mil-Spec in the case. It was a rather uninspiring looking pistol, with black plastic grips and a dull black parkerized finish. I listened while the counter guy gave me the standard internet rumor that the NM serial number meant this pistol had a leftover National Match frame. I looked at the $499 price tag, and decided that perhaps it was the day to buy a 1911. The NM rumor ended up being horse hockey, the pistol ended up being a diamond in the rough. The pistol came with two magazines, a coupon for a bunch of goodies, but best of all, a lifetime warranty.

The Springfield Mil-Spec is a Series 70 type pistol, meaning it has no firing pin safety. Instead, Springfield uses a lighter titanium firing pin. This is the only proprietary part. All other parts can be replaced with Colt Series 70 parts. The Regular Mil-Spec (as opposed to the WWII model) has a lowered and flared ejection port. It has generous three dot sights that are quick to acquire. It also has a slightly extended tang on the grip safety that effectively eliminates hammerbite. At the time of this writing, the Springfield Mil-spec is available in Government length as well as Commander (Champion), and Ultra Compact (3.5 inch). There have been reliability problems reported with the Mil-Specs in Ultra Compact length, but nothing that the factory could not iron out. The Mil-Spec now comes in several finishes....parkerized, stainless steel, two toned (parkerized slide, stainless frame), olive drab Armor Kote, Springfield's teflon based coating.

The frames and slides of the Springfield Mil-Spec are forged. Click to enlargeThe barrel is a two piece barrel, a reservation for some, but a non-issue for others. Some have a Chamber Indicator Slot cut into the barrel hood to allow a shooter to see brass in the chamber. All have the Integral Locking System built into the mainspring housing. The ILS is a rather ingenious locking device that only takes a turn of a discrete keyway to lock the weapon's hammer in place, thus disabling it. What's ingenious about that you ask? Well you can get rid of it by changing out the mainspring housing, mainspring, and the mainspring cap. The housing is routinely swapped out by 1911 shooters anyway. The cap is a three dollar part. Thus you have a choice of whether you want the device. Springfield has preserved the original format of the 1911 while still incorporating a drop safety as well as an integral safety. Both Kimber Series II and Colt Series 80 pistols have extra mechanical mechanisms for a firing pin safety. Springfield's solution is simple, elegant and smart.

My Springfield Mil-Spec was a decently accurate gun out of the box. It would shoot average two inch groups with an occasional flyer at 25 feet. An experienced 1911 shooter could have done better, as I was new to the caliber and platform. One of the first things I did was change out the stainless steel bushing my Mil-Spec came with. I just did not like the silver bushing on a parkerized gun. I ordered a King's bushing and slowly went about fitting it. Over 3000 rounds later, it still requires a wrench to remove. The King's bushing had the Midas effect on this gun. It went from scattered groups to single holes. The change was so immediate that I have to credit the bushing and not my growing experience with the gun. To date I have well over 3000 rounds through this pistol with only one stovepipe in the first fifty rounds. That was likely my fault, from limpwristing. I use Wilson Combat magazines in the pistol, but it functioned fine with the stock Springfield magazines as well.

Out of the box trigger pull was a crisp 5-6 pounds.Click to enlarge To lighten the trigger pull, I installed a Colt trigger from my Commander, an 18 pound mainspring (along with a 20 LPI checkered mainspring housing to get rid of the ILS) and a bit of Brownell's Action Magic grease on the sear nose. I installed a King's wide spur hammer, simply because I like the looks of it. After a night of dry firing the pistol at liberals on the television, the action polished up to a crisp three pound trigger with a light take up and no creep. After I lightened the mainspring to 18 pounds, I received the occasional lightstrike. I rectified this by cutting two coils off the firing pin spring, thus lightening it as well. The lightstrikes were eliminated.

I really like the teardrop shaped thumb safety on a concealed carry 1911, but this 1911 was not to be a CCW gun. Thus I installed an Ed Brown extended ambi-safety. I went through several sets of grips before I finally settled on Kim Ahrends cocobolo checkered grips. They will stay on the pistol. I rarely change grips again once I find a set that I like for a given pistol. I also installed a Chip McCormick drop in rear sight.

I would recommend the Springfield Mil-Spec right alongside the NRM Colt as the perfect choice for the 1911 novice. It is affordable, reliable, durable, and incredibly addictive. Even if you never loosen a grip screw, you will find this pistol to be an incredible value. People have taken it straight from the counter to IDPA matches, with little more than a squirt of CLP on the rails, and found it to be 100% reliable. In the past, Springfields have taken a hit compared to Colts and Kimbers at the trade-in counter. I expect this to stabilize in the future. To take the hit, an owner must trade in the pistol. I don't ever expect to trade mine in, so it's a non-issue for me. For the person who wants to venture into the world of John Moses Browning's 1911 brainchild and see if they will enjoy a gun of infinite possibilities, undisputed effectiveness, and incredible value, the Springfield Mil-Spec is a $500 ticket to never seeing any handgun in the same way again. The 1911 raises the bar for all handguns. The Springfield Mil-Spec raises the bar for affordable 1911s. Get one. You will not regret it.

The Pistol That Became The Springfield GI45

Click to enlarge
In 2003, Springfield decided to release their own version of a military style 1911A1. Rumors of this had circulated the 1911 forums for a couple of months, and some buyers, like myself were chomping at the bit for this pistol. We all wanted a GI style 1911 as a shooter, and the Auto Ordnance version just did not measure up. The Colt reproduction was just to expensive, and many thought to pretty. Sistemas seemed to be a crapshoot and hard to find. Norincos were even tougher to find. Forget about Remington Rands and Switch & Signals and other real GI guns, they are just to valuable to be shooters. The market was ready for a durable, decently fitted and inexpensive GI styled 1911 that could shoot out of the box. I ordered mine the day after Springfield released them. I had no idea what to expect. The ads showed a gun with brown plastic grips and a stainless barrel. The initial MSRP was $489. My cost was $400, and it seems as if you can now find several Springfield WWII Mil-Specs at any gunshow for $399.

When my WWII Mil-Spec arrived, it had Springfield's ILS system, a teardrop thumb safety, standard trigger, and black plastic checkered grips. Click to enlargeIt also had a parkerized barrel with a loaded chamber indicator, and the older blocky Springfield front strap. I found it to be acceptable for $400 though.

I have listed the differences between the two Mil-specs below, as this often confuses people. My WWII Mil-Spec had "IMBEL BRAZIL" buzzpenned under the dustcover, indicating it was finished in Brazil. The good thing is that it had a GI style ejection port, straight slide serrations, and a parkerized barrel and bushing. The slide and frame are forged.

The first thing on mine to be changed were the grips. I went with walnut double diamonds. Basically what I wanted to do was not to reproduce a certain pistol, but to make my pistol have the feel of a military 1911. I located a GI trigger, a GI abbreviated thumb safety and installed them. Next, I installed a checkered magazine release and slide release. The ILS system had to go, so I bought a lanyard loop mainspring housing off ebay and installed it. I also picked up a couple of GI magazines. I like a wide spur hammer, so I installed one of those as well, and polished up the action.

This pistol is a surprisingly good shooter once you adapt to the military sights. It is as accurate as the regular Mil-Spec. Make no mistake though, military sights are not Novaks. This pistol looks even better with finish wear (imagine that!). After approximately 600 rounds, I began to have feeding difficulty on the last round of a magazine. I swapped magazines to no avail.Click to enlarge I finally resorted to putting an 18.5 pound recoil spring in the pistol, and it has been chugging along ever since. I'm not positive of my round count, but I know it is between 1500 and two thousand, mostly Winchester White Box with a smattering of reloads. This pistol does ding the brass a bit on ejection, but not badly according to a reloader friend. It will eject a live round. I had no stovepipes. It will shoot JHP, although I only ran one magazine of HydraShoks through it just to see if it would. Others report no problems with JHP as well.

The Springfield WWII Mil-Spec is a great buy if you want a military style 1911 that is a shooter and can be beat around. It won't fool a WWII buff, but if you swap in a checkered slide stop, checkered mag release, a GI thumb safety, put on brown plastic or walnut grips and get rid of the ILS mainspring housing it is pretty darned authentic. I would rate it as a best buy for a novice 1911 buyer. Many experienced 1911 shooters are buying this pistol and having a heck of a lot of fun with it. Most are trying to figure out how Springfield is turning a profit. This is certainly one 1911 that gives you more than you pay for.

A semi-accurate compilation of the differences between these two 1911s is listed below. Some changes have occured since, such as the improved rounding of the frontstrap and the dustcover to bring the pistols closer to the classic 1911 profile. I have not kept up with all the changes.

Springfield Mil-Spec
PB9108LP (parkerized 5 inch)
N or NM serial number
Around $650 now
Lowered and flared ejection port
Slanted slide serrations
Stainless barrel with chamber indicator
Three dot sights
Stainless bushing (some are parkerized)
Rounded front strap
Less machining marks under slide
Has crossed cannons logo on slide
No lanyard loop
Serrated slide stop and mag release
Civilian teardrop safety
Short serrated trigger
Sear and hammer pins are flat on right side
Black checkered plastic grips (later changed to crossed cannon logo wooden grips)
Comes in parkerized or stainless
Blue plastic box

Springfield WWII Mil-Spec (GI45)
PW9108LP (parkerized 5 inch)
WW serial number
Around $500 now
GI style high ejection port
Straight slide serrations
Parkerized barrel with chamber indicator (chamber indicator omitted on later models)
Military sights
Parkerized bushing
Blockier front strap (later models have the rounded frontstrap)
More machining marks under slide
No ".45 Cal" or crossed cannon logo on slide
Lanyard loop
Serrated slide stop and mag release
Sear and hammer pins are domed on right side
Civilian teardrop safety
Short serrated trigger
Black checkered plastic grips (later changed to US logo wooden grips)
Comes in parkerized, stainless olive drab, various sizes and even high capacity
Cardboard box (Later changed to green plastic)

Over the past few years, some of my preferences have changed, and Springfield's packaging and pricing of these pistols has changed, but I never felt the need to upgrade among Springfield Armory's products. Springfield makes some excellent high end pistols, and I understand their Custom Shop is second to no other manufacturers. I also understand their service is second to none. I have never had to use either.

I have purchased a used stainless GI45 at an excellent price. It, too, has been an excellent pistol. So, in the end, if you are a person wanting to try the 1911 platform, here's your meat. In my opinion, the Springfield 1911 is the best product available for the 1911 newbie who wants a durable, accurate and inexpensive entry gun into the 1911 arena.

How to remove the ILS.

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Anonymous Timmeeee said...

Since a 1911 is meant to be carried "cocked and locked" and since cocking is achieved by racking the slide and since lowering the hammer on a chambered round is unsafe, what function does the hammer spur serve?

Would hammer bite not best be avoided by bobbing the hammer, rather than installing an extended tang?

3:44 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

"Would hammer bite not best be avoided by bobbing the hammer, rather than installing an extended tang?"

Yep. You might want to have a look at the Para C6.45LDA. No tang necessary.

I like the appearance of the wide spur hammer. It adds weight to the hammer, reducing the chance of lightstrikes, but mostly I like the look. Most if not all of my modified 1911s have Commander hammers with Ed Brown grip safeties. When I modified the Mil-Spec, (my first) I was skiddish about cutting a frame for a grip safety. Later, I learned the frame tangs of the Springfield are slightly different from the Colt, necessitating a bit of welding to build them up, and I was glad I didn't attempt it.

5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

xavier, I agree with your SA M1911 Mil Spec comments. Just purchased one about 4 mos ago, yep they are @ $650 & you can wait for one to be located for you. I am your neighbor in Laf. La. Just returning to shooting...some fun again !. I am retired & have some time to "shoot",fish, photo & computer browse.
Did not want to register again for another site, I am found on the M1911 forum as "GATLINGUN07". You have a good blog & I enjoyed your entry on the S&W Model 10 .38 Spec. I currently have my Dads. Thanks for the informative site. "G"

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Timmeeee said...

So, what function does the hammer spur serve? Or do you disagree with the premise in my original question?

3:23 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Sorry, I thought I answered that Timmeeee. Here it comes again.

I like the appearance of the wide spur hammer. It adds weight to the hammer, reducing the chance of lightstrikes, but mostly I like the look.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

If I had he money, I'd get a stainless GI45. Thanks for this authoritative post!

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Off topic, but this matches up well with your previous post regarding self defense with an ax...


9:59 PM  
Blogger phlegmfatale said...

really cool, really pretty 1911s. Thanks for sharing them with us!

12:05 AM  
Anonymous Timmeeee said...

OK, thanks for clearing that up.

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh yes for the mil spec.i bought one in 2002 and it shoots great.just one little problem, the hammer strut broke and springfield took care of that.no problems at all.i've shot everything through it with no foul-ups and i mean everything.from 20 year old ball ammo to federal hydro shoks

8:35 PM  
Anonymous dleland said...

What did you mean by, "and the Auto Ordnance version just did not measure up."? I bought one last year and after a trip to K.A.I. it works just fine. Did you do a review on the gun?

6:31 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

At the time this article was written, in 2003, Auto Ordnance Mil-spec 1911s were known for failures to feed. They were also out of spec, and suffered from pin holes that were out of alignment.

I have no reason to purchase one now, but if you send me one, I'll be happy to review it.

5:15 PM  
Anonymous Fenris Fox said...

Your blog - and in particular, this post - was the direct inspiration for a recent post of mine.

Since I borrowed one of your photos, I felt it only fair to let you know. The photo has a backlink on it, along with your blog's name.

4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah....the S.A. mil-spec. The NM in
the serial number stands for "Nineties Model" I believe.
If you are an aspiring builder,
there is no better model to cut your teeth on. The original had
a rowel hammer. The cavalry, being
a major player in 1911, wanted the spur hammer for operating mounted.
At one time the half cock notch
was actually used as a half cock
notch with a round chambered,
so to draw, cock the hammer and fire as the mounted troops would
with a revolver. It made sense at the time I guess. Right now, S&A
make a beavertail that utilizes a .220 radius tang cut that fits well
at the top of the tangs as well as the bottom. Final blending is req'd
for a perfect fit but it's ok with
just the tang cut if you don't have the nerve or skills to raise
the hold position. They sell an installation jig for the tang cut

12:41 PM  
Anonymous shmoore said...

Xavier, I am new to the pistol world but enthusiastic. My grandfather gave me his WWII officers issue 1911. My question is: should I clean his old pistol up and shoot it, or should I man up and buy my own and put his in a case? Does constant use of the gun compromise its originality and does that matter to gun collectors? I imagine that I will end up regretting using his pistol as my main pistol, but would shooting it for a year while I find my ideal other gun be compromising the pistol?

3:40 PM  
Anonymous shmoore said...

Xavier, I am new to the pistol world but enthusiastic. My grandfather gave me his WWII officers issue 1911. My question is: should I clean his old pistol up and shoot it, or should I man up and buy my own and put his in a case? Does constant use of the gun compromise its originality and does that matter to gun collectors? I imagine that I will end up regretting using his pistol as my main pistol, but would shooting it for a year while I find my ideal other gun be compromising the pistol?

3:40 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

That is an extremely personal decision, and one which only you can make.

If this pistol is a M1911A1, then the condition and originality mean everything. If it is a 90% finish (or better) original gun, I would only shoot it occasionally, and not carry it. If it is a mix master rearsenaled pistol, and one with a good bit of finish wear, then all bets are off. You stand to degrade the value by as much as 50% among collectors, but you would only see that if you sell the gun. Do not sell it.

So, if you do not sell the pistol, it is up to you. What would your father have you do? If he would be proud that you shoot and evwen carry his pistol, there is your answer. After all, it's only a gun. If you would cherish it as a momento only, then you would never enjoy shooting it.

I guess I'm in the camp of occasional shooting and overall preservation, but I also understand those who carry andshoot such pistols. I understand too, those who do not shoot them at all. Only you can make that decision.

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Brandon said...

Xavier, What benefits do you gain by taking of the ILS?

2:54 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...


By removing the ILS, a standard length mainspring can be used. Then.... a 18 pound mainspring can be installed if the shooter so desires. The ILS mainspring is rather heavy.

Further, with the rotating plug of the ILS gone from the mainspring housing, there is no possibility of an inadvertant lock-up of the gun. Of course, there are no reports of any such events with Springfiel's ILS that i know of, but if you are an old fogey like me, you can rationalize some reason to get it off the gun.

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Buy American said...

The thing that I love about Springfield guns is that they are truly American. Built with quality in Geneseo, IL and using local vendors like Sandstrom Products who makes Mil Spec Coating and Dry Film Lubricant. Bless the American business!

10:48 AM  
Blogger Allan said...

I just bought a Springfield G.I. MIL SPEC and shot 100 rounds through it. It jammed twice and many of the casings kept hitting me on the forehead. It fired well and it was very accurate, but I'm concerned about the jamming. I used one Kimber mag and the original one.

Any advice on what might be wrong and what I need a gunsmith to do to make it completely reliable.

3:06 PM  
Anonymous Doctor Who? said...

I just purchased my 1st 1911, a Springfield Mil-Spec .45. I love the weight, how solid it feels in my hand, and the classic parkerized finish. When I first took it out to shoot I had a FTF after 17 rounds, but I believe it was a bad primer since that was the only round that would not and never did fire. I love this gun it is my CCP and aside from it's manly weight which has caused me to substantially tighten my belt that is the only complaint that I have. For a 1911 I spent $20 on I am extremely impressed.

7:35 AM  

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