A Nurse with a Gun

Thursday, August 28, 2008

1911 Sizes

I got away from the hospital around noon today After biking home, I realized I had time to go to the range. Click to enlargeI packed up a menagerie of firearms, and then realized that all I had was the 1911 platform. No matter, suits me.

It was hot and humid at the range. Even though Gustav is still near Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, the humidity can already be felt in North Louisiana. That's going to be a bad one, and it looks like it's planning to check Bobby Jindal's resolve. At the hospital, we are already planning to take in evacuees from down South.

I shot OK, but the heat was getting to me. As I was waiting out a target swap, talking to another shooter, I realized that I had the means of demonstrating the different 1911 sizes right before me. I waited around until everyone had left except myself and another shooter I knew. Then I broke out the camera. The 1911 comes in three basic popular versions, the Government, the Commander, and the Officers. If you have ever wondered just what those names mean, but were afraid to ask, here we go.

The Government Model

The Government Model is the original size of the 1911, as mandated by US Army stipulations for the M1911 and in 1924, upgraded to the M1911A1. When the pistol was placed into commercial production, it was simply called the Government Model. It has a five inch barrel, and a full sized grip that carries a single stack seven round magazine, or an eight round magazine of modern design. Click to enlargeThe Government Model is the timeless 1911, the one most people think of when old slabsides is mentioned.

The "Gubmint" is a balanced handgun with an optimal ratio of grip length to slide length. It shoots easily, transmitting a push like recoil to the shooter's hands. The full sized 1911 was meant to be a pistol carried on the hip. It can be concealed rather easily due to it's slim profile. Many find that the longer slide helps keep the butt of the gun tucked into the kidney region, making it disappear underneath a jacket.

Virtually every manufacturer of 1911s makes a Government Model. It is the standard by which other 1911s are judged. It comes in target sighted versions, fixed sighted versions, and almost any permutation a buyer could imagine. Springfield calls their version the "Full Size." Kimber does not have a specific designation, nor do other manufacturers, except Colt, who still uses the term Government Model. The Government Model just is.

The Commander

The Commander was introduced in 1952 by Colt. It has a four and a quarter inch barrel, and a full size grip. The original Colt commanders had an aluminum grip frame. They were chambered in .45 ACP, 9mm, and .38 Super. In 1970, Colt introduced the Combat Commander, which was basically the same pistol, but with a forged steel frame.

Because the Commander has a full sized grip frame, it shares grips, magazines, mainspring housings and grip safeties with the Government Model. Click to enlargeAll parts with the exception of the barrels, slides bushings and recoil springs, plugs and guides swap out between the two. Although on a quick inspection, it appears a Commander slide can be placed on a Government Model frame to convert the gun, the dust cover of the Commander frame is shorter to correspond with the shorter slide. The slide will fit, but the dustcover will be too long. If the reverse swap is done, the recoil spring will be exposed.

The Commander was originally designed to be a lighter pistol of military issue for officers, but the military never proceeded with the idea. Instead, Colt pushed the Commander into commercial production, and one of the finest carry guns ever designed was born. The Commander carries extremely well, with all the favorable aspects of the Government Model, with less weight and more importantly, a shorter slide/barrel combination that makes sitting with the pistol on your hip effortless. Many shooters find the Commander to be quicker out of the holster and on the target.

The Commander has a bit more snap to the recoil than the Government Model, but the recoil is not excessive. Springfield calls their version the Champion, Kimber calls their's the Pro. Kimber's version is an even four inches.

The Officer's Model

The most diminutive of the 1911 pistols is frequently called the Officer's ACP or "Officer's Model." The original Officer's ACP was introduced in 1967 with a three and a half inch barrel, and an attenuated grip frame housing a six round magazine. Click to enlargeSubsequent versions would have the barrel length trimmed even more, to three inches total.

Because the grip frame is of a different length, the Officer's Model uses it's own magazine and grips. It has it's own mainspring housing. The grip safety thumb safety and fire control parts are the same as that of other 1911s, however. Many of the three inch 1911s have proprietary parts that do not swap over to other pistols, even those 1911s of similar size. To achieve a functional pistol of this size, each manufacturer had to incorporate their own tricks, and the parts interchangeability reflects that. Also, as the barrel length falls below the Commander's length, the timing of the recoil cycle is altered and the reliability becomes more hit and miss. Some versions will be reliable, others will not.

Springfield calls their little 1911 a Micro or an Ultra, while Kimber designates it the Ultra. Colt's version is the Officer's ACP, the Compact or the Series 90. Each manufacturer has had varying degrees of success with the mini 1911s, but it seems as though Colt has discovered the right formula in the Series 90. The smallest 1911s are concealed carry guns meant for dep concealment. They have a recoil impulse that can be too stiff for some shooters. Many have lightweight frames to enhance carry, and this, too, increases perceived recoil. They are not pistols to acquaint a new shooter with the 1911 or the .45 ACP.


There are other combinations and lengths of the 1911, although they are not as pervasive. Click to enlargeOf note is the six inch "Long Slide," and the Colt CCO, a combination of a Colt Commander slide on an Officer's frame. The three size combinations here are the most common though. Each decrease in barrel length shares common characteristics, benefits and detriments.

If a person new to the 1911 were asking which pistol to buy, my first advice would be a Government Model. If they were planning on carrying the pistol concealed, I would suggest a Commander, with the caveat that they should learn the 1911 platform well first. Only when they are familiar with the pistol, and only if they need a gun that can be deeply concealed would I suggest the smaller pistols.

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Blogger aepilot_jim said...

Gawd I'm such a history geek. Loved the post. I just bought the Springfield Champion. Basically a Commander with a 4 in. barrel rather than the 4.25 of the Colt. Another variation. LOL

10:49 PM  
Blogger Carteach said...

I read your every post, but I might bookmark this one, just as a shopping list.

Would you mind adopting me? Just so I can go shooting with you and play with those 1911's.

6:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My first 1911-style was a full-size Norinco (back in the day when they were cheap and available). Dog-reliable shooter, eats anything, and is now ugly as heck from being bashed around in trunks, holster wear, and idiot-marks on the slide (before I learned how to correctly re-install the slilde stop).

I upgraded to a Springfield stainless that I found used, with Bo-Mar sights. It became my target pistol. Then I got hooked, and find myself with a bunch of Springer 1911's of different variations.

My current carry pistol is a Springfield Micro-Compact that they only made for a short while. It's got a ported barrel (and vented slide top). The recoil spring assembly is a little peculiar, with a double-spring thingy. I absolutely love the size, but in stainless it's still durned heavy to carry around on the hip all day.

I see that one of your smaller sizes looks to be a Para-Ordnance LDA compact...how's that for carry, and how do you like the LDA trigger versus the more-usual single-action 1911? Everybody has commented on the gun-blogger shoot at Blackwater, but it looks like you've already tried it?

7:20 AM  
Blogger RANDY191145 said...

Great post, I want a bob-tail commander

8:04 AM  
Blogger Ride Fast said...

I agree, nice post.

Didn't Colt make a little .380 (Mustang?) that was basically a diminutive 1911 with no shared parts?

9:24 AM  
Blogger Crucis said...

I noticed you had a pic of the Para Ord CCO, 3.5", LDA. I carry one of those after years handling a full sized Kimber. The LDA trigger was a bit to learn, but after that I've not had a problem. I've around 500 rounds through it and never had a stove-pipe nor FTF. I don't shoot reloads in it. However, it loves Gold Dots and Golden Sabers.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Way to go X!

I really look forward to your blog, and this subject was great. I'm still looking for a 38 Super Commander. I worked for a fellow in Longview that had one. I lusted mightily after it. I've accumulated a few 45's since. I'm in love with Mr. Browning's baby.... Take care....de....Rynn

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Private message

I enjoy reading your blog. I know you've had issues with comments on the writing. Perhpas you meant "a melange' (a mixture of things) rather than "a menagerie" (a wild animal exhibit), then again maybe not.

3:20 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

I actually did a range report on the Para C6.45LDA back in 2006. I stopped shooting it very much after some folks had issues with cracked frames. It is a superb carry gun though. I just wish it didn't have that problem...... Take a look at the review.

Yep, I used to own a little Mustang..... Good gun. I traded it off in a fit of gottahavititis. Bad move.

Anon......Take Definition two.
a.A collection of live wild animals on exhibition.
b.An enclosure in which wild animals are kept.
2.A diverse or miscellaneous group.
[French ménagerie, from Old French mesnage, ménage; see ménage.]
The American Heritage®
Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved., © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Thanks for keeping me on my toes though....

6:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for the pointer, and I don't know how I missed that post on the 6.45. Too bad about the slides cracking.

I tried one as a rental gun at a range, and couldn't get used to the trigger in the 50 rounds I put through it. I guess it doesn't matter much, if they can't stand up to prolonged use. I wouldn't have confidence in a gun I couldn't shoot regularly.

Guess I'll stick with the Springer Micro...and change the recoil spring assembly a little more often than I have been.

Great post...thanks again for the very detailed information.

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great post. I remember reading your posts on the Sistema Buildup, and I noticed you had it with you on this range trip. I drooled watching you build it, and kicked myself for not doing the same thing before the Sistema's all dried up. Two years on, how do you feel your "tightwad Wilson" has held up, and how do you feel it compares to your other 1911's?

12:04 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Surprisingly Terry, it is still one of my favorites, and one of my most accurate.

1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to hear your Sistema was worth the effort. I notice from the picture that the finish job is still holding up well, and now that I hear it's still one of your most accurate, I guess I'll go kick myself one more time…

10:32 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I fell in love with the 1911 style pistol way back in mt shooting history. I own a Springfield Mil-Spec that I've made a few mods to and have several other 1911's. There is a reason this is the most copied weapon in history., It just works. I enjoyed your article a great deal. You have shown the reason for any shooter or would be shooter that a 1911 is an important part of any collection. If you are going to have just one handgun the it should be a 1911.

12:41 PM  
Blogger bathmate said...

I liked it.

12:32 PM  

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