Gun Review: Springfield Loaded 1911-A1

When you think about handguns that have made their mark in the public’s mind, there is, hands down, no firearm more iconic than the venerable creation of John Browning, the Model 1911-AI. Call it a “1911,” a “Colt .45 auto” or a “Navy .45,” this was the gun that got us through WWII, the Korean War, and just about every conflict since. But if you’re late to the party, you might not realize that 1911s were not always held in such reverence. Nope. After WWII, a huge number of surplus 1911s flooded the market. Some good. Many of them not so good. In fact, it was far more likely to find a 1911 that wouldn’t even run, than it was to find one that was a lean, mean, fightin’ machine. As well, there were certain design idiosyncrasies that made the 1911 less than fun to shoot – especially the combo of grip safety and hammer that had a nasty tendency to take a bite out of your shooting hand at inappropriate times.

Enter Springfield Armory. Along with a handful of other companies, they were largely responsible for the Renaissance of the 1911, after gun guys like Col. Jeff Cooper proclaimed the 1911 as their choice for handgun defense. But this is not your father’s Springfield Armory. The government’s go-to guys (founded by G. Washington way back in 1794) closed in the late 60s.

A new Springfield Armory rose from the ashes as a private concern in 1974, to manufacture firearms to the high standards of their namesakes. SA lead the charge back to glory with an extensive line of 1911s, from classic models, authentic down to the last spring, to custom shop models that rival anything you’d purchase from a master gunsmith. In between these extremes lies Springfield’s Loaded lineup, boasting features you’d expect to find in a custom shop gun, but at a much more affordable price.

In the wonderful world of 1911s, you’ve got three main form factors, two choices in frames, and then a plethora of options. Most manufacturers offer the 1911 in a 5″ barrel (the original design), a 4″ barrel (known in WWII as the “officer’s model”) and a 3″ barrel with a shortened grip, for better concealment. You will find frames available in steel and aluminum. The options? The only limits are your imagination…and your budget.

Springfield offers no fewer than 14 models within their Loaded line. We’ll focus on my personal favorite, the PX1909LP Parkerized.

The PX1909LP is a traditional 5″ barrel .45 ACP 1911 with a traditional Parkerized finish, a zinc and/or magnesium coating that prevents rust and is superior to the “blueing” process that pre-dates it. With it’s steel frame, it weighs in at a hefty (trust me) 40 ounces, unloaded.

Add a magazine full of JHPs, and we’re talking a weapon that isn’t just a defensive tool, it’s a freeweight system. While I proudly carry a concealed handgun license, I’m saving up for a lighter weapon before I carry on a daily basis – a 5″ barrel combined with a steel frame is just too much for even a big guy like me to lug around all day.

But weight is only a concern if you’re going to be carrying the pistol on your hip all day. The weight actually becomes something of an advantage, when you consider how this baby shoots – and shoot it does. With a full 5″ of a match-grade barrel, you’ve got it all over those that feature a standard barrel and those guys with a 3 or 4 inches of tubular steel.

The heft of the pistol makes it that much easier to control the recoil you find when shooting any .45 ACP load. A match-grade barrel provides that little extra bit of fit that improves your accuracy every shot. Additional features that add to the shooter’s comfort include a beavertail grip safety (don’t leave for the range without it; your hand will thank you in the morning), a lowered and flared ejection port (keeps spent brass out of your face), cocobolo grips (essentially, African rosewood), an ambidextrous thumb safety, and tritium night sights.

The grip of a 1911 is the standard by which everyone else relates the size and feel of their grips – the benchmark against what everyone other pistol is compared. With it’s grip safety, the feel of a 1911 grip is…um…unique. Some prefer the typically thicker grips of a double-stack magazine (you can find a few 1911-style pistols out there like that, too). Some favor smaller grips. As for me, I can comfortably shoot just about anything, but I keep coming back to the 1911. It just seems to “fit” my hand better than any polymer gun I’ve ever shot. The Springfield Loaded comes with some beautiful, laser-engraved cocobolo grips that you’d only feel like replacing if you plan to upgrade to a set of Crimson Trace laser grips.

One unique feature common to all 1911s is Springfield’s Integral Locking System, a scheme that allows the owner to manually lock and unlock the trigger with a small, universal key, inserted into a locking mechanism located to the back of the grip. The ILS is a sop to those that insist that two safeties on a pistol are not enough. Purists find the ILS an annoyance.

I know of nobody who uses it, for the same reason that few shooters use a trigger lock when there’s an alternative. Trigger locks and the ILS do nothing more than prevent you from using the gun when you need it the most.

All 1911s are NOT created equal. Once you get past what we’ll call the “convenience group” that raise a mil-spec 1911 to something that you’d actually want to shoot, then comes the part that separates the wheat from the chaff as it were – the factory tuning that comes from the attention of a master gunsmith.

Make no mistake – the Springfield Loaded is not a custom gun. But you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference, unless you’re a competitive shooter (and if you were shooting competitively, you’ve likely already purchased a custom gun). No, think of the Springfield Loaded series as a “custom(ish) gun for the rest of us.” Sort of.

Keep in mind that one thing most 1911s share, regardless of manufacturer, is a pretty hefty pricetag. While you can find a slew of good quality polymer guns on the market for under $600, you won’t touch a decent 1911 for under $800, and most semi-custom 1911s start at over $1000. The Springfield Loaded boasts an MSRP of $959, making it an impressive value for the price.

The gun ships in a custom, lockable carry case, along with an extra magazine, two ILS keys, and cleaning tools.

I would judge fit and finish to be excellent, especially in a gun with these custom-class features. And like all 1911s, you can customize it to your heart’s content. One thing to note – I wanted to upgrade to some sights that combine tritium with fibre optics. No can do on the Springfield line, as their sight mounts won’t work with the replacement sights.

Any other downsides? On my personal gun, one of the grip screws would not tighten. Turns out, the screw had stripped out the threads within the frame. Springfield, however, offers an excellent warranty program, and my gun was repaired and returned within three days.

The Springfield Loaded is a great choice if you’re looking for a reliable weapon with custom features without the custom price.

Out of five stars

Style *****

Either love 1911s or hate ‘em. If you love ‘em, what’s not to love?

Ergonomics (carry) ****

A bit big, really. And heavy. Did I mention heavy?

Ergonomics (firing) *****

If you like the feel of a 1911 in your hand, firing it is a pleasure. If not, you’ll find it’s a whole lotta gun. Course, that could be the .45 ACPs talkin…

Reliability *****

As long as you don’t limp-wrist it, the gun runs…and runs…and runs, no matter what. It’s the Energizer Bunny of semi-autos.

Customize This *****

Sights, lights, silencers, lasers, you name it, and you can get it for the 1911 —- one of the most customizable guns on planet Earth.

Rating *****

There’s a reason why this is one of the most popular handguns made. And this one is about the best you can get, short of spending the big bucks on a custom job.

Summary

When it comes to 1911s, you either “get it” or you don’t. If you buy-off on the ergonomics of the 1911, everything else falls into place – the fact that it’s got more accessories than the G.I. Joes of my childhood, and that it’s designed to run in conditions that would give a mule team pause. Comparing a 1911 to a Glock was like comparing a Mercedes to a Beetle – both will get you where you want to go, but the Benz does it with a dash ‘o panache. But a mil-spec/stock 1911 can be a pain to shoot – literally. You want some upgrades to appreciate the “1911 Experience.” The Springfield Loaded provides those much-needed improvements, and then some. It’s the best example I’ve found (so far) of a custom job 1911 at a working-man’s price. ‘Nuff said.

CALIBER: .45 ACP
FRAME: Forged Steel, Parkerized
MAGAZINES: 2 – 7-round, blued steel
SLIDE: Forged steel, Parkerized
BARREL: 5″ Stainless steel
RECOIL SYSTEM: 2-piece, full length guide rod
SIGHTS: Fixed, low-profile combat rear, dovetail front, 3-dot
HEIGHT: 5.5″
LENGTH: 8.5″
TRIGGER: Long aluminum match grade, 5-6 lbs.
GRIPS: Cocobolo
WEIGHT (w/empty magazine): 40 ounces
MSRP: $ $959

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed within this review are those of the reviewer, and do not necessarily reflect those of anybody else, including TTAG. Neither the reviewer nor TTAG have received any considerations – either in the form of money, free stuff, tickets, t-shirts, trips or any other swag – in exchange for this review. In fact, the gun reviewed here is the personal property of the reviewer, and he paid for it out of his own pocket.