Here at MSW, we get the question all the time: what is the best 1911 to get for out of the box reliability? Hilton and I have felt that recent production Colts probably did the best job in this regard. Last year at a 1911 class in Los Angeles, Jason Davis brought a brand new Colt 1911 to the class and shot the entire class, without any malfunctions, including the 1911 Extractor Test. This year, I brought a brand new Colt Rail Gun to our Seattle 1911 Armorer’s Course and it also passed all our function tests with flying colors. My good buddy and Factory Colt 1911/M16 Armorer Instructor Dean Caputo and I came up with an idea: What if we tested 10 random brand new, out of the box Colt Government Models and see how they ran? We agreed we wouldn’t even lubricate the guns. So not long ago, we did just that and here’s what happened:
At Dean’s agency, they have a large number of brand new, unissued 1911 pistols for their officers. They probably have the largest number of brand new, production Colt 1911s anywhere in the country outside of the factory (and maybe even including the factory.) So we picked out 10 Government Models at random. These included various stainless, two tone and blued models, in both standard format and “enhanced” xse models with dovetailed sights and beavertail grip safeties.
Due to the recent controversy over talking about our 10-8 Function Test Protocol in a public forum, and our decision not to publicize it, we decided we would limit this evaluation to Colt’s consistency in producing guns with properly tuned and functioning extractors, which is a huge factor contributing to the reliability of the pistol.
The Extractor Test was not invented by us. As mentioned in my previous articles, I initially learned it from Larry Vickers and Hilton. Larry had originally gotten it from Ken Hackathorn. A version of this test is used by Wilson Combat as part of the Quality Assurance checks they do on every gun before they leave the shop.
The test is simple: fire a prescribed number of rounds through the pistol without a magazine inserted. In the 10-8 1911 Function test, we shoot 16 rounds this way. Eight are fired two handed and eight more are fired strong hand only. The empty cases must properly eject between 2 o’clock and 5 o’clock. If any cases go forward, to the left, stovepipe, into your face, or fall through the magazine well, the pistol has failed this test.
Before you say, “But I never shoot the gun without a magazine in place,” please READ THIS ARTICLE.
So what happened? An interesting wrinkle appeared during this test. Apparently, all three of the blued steel guns (purchased together approximately 10 years ago), were extremely sluggish and the slides were sticky. They not only failed the extractor test, we could barely work the slide. A quick disassembly revealed why:
Apparently, whatever lubricant Colt packed the pistols in had somehow crystallized during storage. Giant chunks of what looked like gravel fell out of the gun upon disassembly. What remained was a dirty, sticky mess. Rather than try and clean these guns, we opted to select three other guns at random and substitute them in.
The final result? Out of 10 pistols, all but one passed the Extractor Test. As luck would have it, the final gun we shot failed the test miserably. Upon inspection, the extractor had zero tension on it at all. It must have been close to quitting time that day. A quick adjustment and I got the extractor working 100%.
Those who’ve seen Panteao’s Documentary on the Colt 1911 know that pistols coming out of the Colt factory are a product of state of the art manufacturing methods combined with old world craftsmanship. Each extractor is fit by a skilled assembler and checked for proper tension. As with anything that involves humans, mistakes can happen. Luckily, it was easily fixed by a skilled armorer.
Colt factory pistols may not have some of the fancy “custom” features that are common with competing brands, but the build and materials quality exceed any at the same price point. If you are determined to carry a 1911 for duty or defensive use, starting with a Colt 1911 will put you ahead of the curve in terms of reliability and durability.