Making My 1911 an A1 Again

The venerable 1911 series of pistols has gone through many changes in form and available calibers over its 107-year history.

While the original “manstopper” .45 ACP is still the most popular choice, 9mm, .40, 10mm and .38 Super versions are also available. Full-sized “Commander” and more compact “Officer” versions enhance concealment, while aluminum- and polymer-frame models reduce weight and improve ease of carry.

There is, however, a foundational version of the 1911 — the 1911A1 — that has been obscured because of trends involving the “improvement” of the 1911 to suit individual needs.

For those of you who are new to firearms in general and handguns in particular, the Colt/Browning 1911 .45 Automatic entered service with the U.S. Military in 1911 — just in time to see combat in WWI.

The WWI-era 1911s were awesome firearms and ideal close-range weapons for the horrific trench warfare of the time. In one of the most famed exploits of the war, Sgt. Alvin York used a 1911 to kill six German soldiers who had charged him after his rifle ran out of ammo. That single incident, probably more than any other, propelled the 1911 to legendary status.

Initial problems with the original 1911 design were remedied in 1926. The resulting pistol would be known as the 1911A1 and remained unmodified for general issue until it was replaced in 1985 by the Beretta M9.

Improvements to the 1911 included minor fine-tuning, including making it easier to use with smaller hands. These were not radical design alterations since the 1911 had so worthily proved itself in combat, but they were important nonetheless.

Here are the basic improvements that distinguish the 1911A1 from the 1911:

  • Plastic checkered grips replaced the original hand-checkered “Double Diamond” walnut grips.
  • A shorter hammer spur replaced the original long spur.
  • A longer grip safety spur was added to reduce “hammer bite” for individuals with larger hands.
  • Replacement of the long, smooth-faced 1911 trigger by the short, serrated trigger of the A1. This was ostensibly done to help accommodate gloved fingers and reduce trigger reach.
  • Finger cuts were added to the frame immediately behind the trigger.
  • The flat mainspring housing at the rear was replaced by an arched mainspring housing to improve “pointability.”
  • Front sight was widened to make it more visible.

The A1 modifications made to perfect the 1911 design were based on combat experience. What I find interesting is that we have been modifying the combat-proven 1911A1 by returning back, in part, to elements of the original 1911 design. This trend is based in large part on competitive shooting experience.

The two main 1911A1 modifications that have seen a return back to the original 1911 style are the trigger and mainspring housing. These are two critical areas that affect the feel and function of this great combat arm.

My first experience with the 1911A1 was back in 1980. The Licking County Sheriff’s Office authorized the Colt Series 70 1911A1 .45 as a personally purchased duty handgun. The Series 70 was a finely finished A1 pistol, with excellent Colt bluing, checkered walnut grips, a golden Colt medallion and much-improved fixed sights. This sidearm was preferred by most of the deputies because of its .45 ACP caliber, pointablity and accuracy. When one spoke of a .45 pistol in those days, it was almost universally a Colt.

I liked the Series 70 Colt and owned an all-steel Combat Commander version for a short while. If I had not already purchased a Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver and all the accoutrements for duty use, I would have ended up carrying that Commander. It came up on target easily, shot accurately and was reliable.

As competitive shooting developed, shooters began to favor flat mainspring housings and short triggers. I am not sure what made the flat mainspring popular, but I imagine that shooters thought the new trigger provided a better feel. As a result, many of the pistols that claim to be A1s these days aren’t; they are more of a 1911 hybrid. For example, the Colt O1991 Government Model features a long trigger and flat mainspring housing, while the S70 Government is the true 1911A1, with a short trigger and arched mainspring housing.

Another example is the Iver Johnson 1911A1 Hard Chrome .38 Super. It is clearly marked as an A1 but features a flat mainspring housing and a trigger that is not quite as short as a true A1. The modified housing, more than anything, dramatically changes the look and feel of the gun. To remedy this on my own Iver Johnson, I turned to Hogue.

Hogue, famous for aftermarket handgun parts and accessories, carries its own line of replacement 1911 mainspring housings.

Hogue’s mainspring housings are available in Extreme Series G10 and Extreme Series Aluminum configurations. Both series are available in arched or flat variants, with a wide variety of colors and textures. Both the G10 and Aluminum housings feature 36 different styles per line, and both lines are priced at $45-$50. The G10 line has more texture options available than the Aluminum line.

Since my 1911 has a hard chrome finish with stainless-steel controls, I initially decided to try the Aluminum Smooth Arched Brushed Gloss Clear Checkered model. But because the frontstrap of my pistol has no checkering, I decided a better match would be the smooth version of the same model.

The arched housing arrived in short order. I had my buddy Mike, who is also a 1911 fan, install it for me because I value his opinion and don’t have access to the brass punches needed to properly remove the housing pin.

Mike found that the Hogue housing fit smoothly and popped in with no trouble. Although he personally favors flat mainspring housings, he liked the feel of the arched housing. I loved the change. For me, the Iver Johnson now points more naturally. It also feels better in my hand and looks great.

The new housing color matched the finish of the Iver Johnson pretty well, and the smooth finish flowed better than the checkered version would have. It was a good choice. My Iver Johnson is now about as close to a true 1911A1 as it can get without a new trigger.

If you have never held a true 1911A1, you owe it to yourself to try one out. If you like the feel, consider exploring the extensive line of Hogue arched mainspring housings for your 1911. I think you will be duly impressed.

More info at: HogueInc.com

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