Before I get into the meat of the article, let me start with the disclaimers. This is not a full test, for reasons which will be explained below. It is more an account of my meeting with Colorado gunmakers Karl Lippard and Charles Henderson, and my “first impressions” of their much-ballyhooed M1911 variants, the A2 “Combat NCO” and the CQB.
Second disclaimer: No, we did not get a 400-yard test. That one is in the works, but may have to wait for Spring to arrive in the rockies and melt the snow on our long range shooting facilities (we’re enjoying a bit of “false spring” today but we know better than to expect it to last.)
The wife and I traveled down to Colorado Springs last Saturday, were we met Charles who then took us to the Lippard estate. Karl led us in through his garage/workshop where many of his guns were laid out for final inspection and assembly.
The first thing I learned about Mr. Lippard was that M1911 pistols were not his first foray into gunmaking, in fact, they had become something of a sideline to his main business, which is the crafting of gorgeous, museum-quality shotguns and rifles. (Click here for his website.)
Now personally, I’ve never been “into” these handcrafted sidelock shotguns and double rifles. Sure, I can admire the craftsmanship that goes into them, but when it comes to guns, I’m more of a “function” guy. My workable Mossberg 500 has always been shotgun enough for me. One of Lippard’s $50,000 shotguns would be as out of place in my gun safe as a horse in church. But I have to admit, his shotguns are stone-cold gorgeous, with a fit and finish that has to be seen to be believed.
More amazing, to me, is the fact that the barrels and chambers of his double shotguns are rifles are created out of a single, solid block of forged steel. In fact, he had a couple of drilled “blanks” sitting on a rack waiting to be finished. Sitting on the coffee table in front of us: a half-finished shotgun, with one barrel completed and the other still a block of steel with a hole in it. Impressive, to say the least.
Also impressive: the passion and enthusiasm that both Lippard and Henderson bring to their work. So much so that it’s sometimes difficult to digest all the information they’re putting out. However, after reviewing my notes, it seems that there are approximately four major differences between the A2 “Combat NCO” pistol and the run-of-the-mill M1911A1 clone (Charles was kind enough to bring his old M1911A1 Series 70 to serve as a baseline). The differences are:
1. The construction, which is a proprietary steel that is much more resistant to bending, warping or deforming than the kind used in most steel pistols
2. The “Bellau Wood” modification to the grip safety, lessening the likelihood of a malfunction that can render the weapon unable to fire in critical situations.
3. The improved barrel link that prevents side-to-side motion of the barrel, enhancing accuracy, and
The frame’s interior is slightly modified to allow for the fatter barrel link:
4. The improved ambidextrous thumb safety.
There are also a number of smaller upgrades. They’re the subject of a series of patents, and a little too technical for a non-gunsmith like me to really understand. Not that Karl and Charles didn’t try. They spent several hours explaining the development of the A2/NCO and the CQB pistols. I won’t reiterate the info here; it’s on his web site in any case.
Of course TTAG readers want to get down to the nitty gritty: How do Karl’ 1911s look and feel, and shoot?
The fit and finish is nothing less than remarkable. Although we weren’t able to do the “400 yard” shooting test, Karl performed the “bucket test” (i.e., throw the parts in a bucket and see if you can assemble a workable gun). Karl sjopwed me how easy it was to interchange slides, barrels, and frames between guns.
No matter he how mixed up the frames, slides and barrels, the guns went together perfectly, without any need for additional fitting. Karl further displayed the fit and finish by showing doing the exact same thing with his fine shotguns, He could pick up a side plate from one gun and it fit flawlessly onto a different gun, with no visible gap and no side-to-side movement of the part.
The A2/Combat NCO models had a gorgeous deep blue finish that reminded me of an old Smith and Wesson revolver. Back in the days before black painted guns were the norm, a nice bluing was the mark of a quality gun. The high and deeply stepped sight (which is how you get those supposed 400 yard shots) looked a bit odd at first, but no more difficult to use than any other target sight.
The guys took apart the ambidextrous safety and explained it in loving detail. Comparing the Lippard piece to Charles Henderson’s 70-series with an off-the-shelf “ambi safety,” the Lippard piece proved superior. It boasted a tight, movement-free fit as compared to the mass-market safety’s sloppy fit and mushy feel.
The fat barrel link was also an eye opener, and allowed the barrel to move smoothly in and out of battery without so much as a hint of side-to-side motion or twisting. The final major item that was A2 specific. The “nose piece” was, like the rest of the gun, machined from a solid piece of proprietary steel and as tight as the rest of the gun.
Because of time constraints, we weren’t able to do a full-on review. I’ve been in contact with Karl and Charles. They’ve promised two sample guns for full, independent and unsupervised review.
We brought one example each of the Combat NCO and the CQB pistols to the range for a short test. While the guns felt solid and shot well overall, we didn’t shoot them off a rest. Worse, we had some trigger issues with the Combat NCO model. I attribute this to the fact that Lippard simply picked up a couple of partially assembled guns off the bench and put them into his box – the guns were unlubricated and untested.
As such, they weren’t really representative of the types of guns that will be for sale, and so another test is being arranged as we speak.
When talking about a gun like this premium .45 M1911, the million dollar question is really the $2750.00 question ($2750 being the difference between a run-of-the-mill .45 at a median price of $750 and the $3500 that Lippard is asking for his A2 models.). Is it worth it?
The answer to that, alas, is subjective. Even if the A2 proves to be as accurate and dependable as Lippard states, $2750 is a lot of coin. Many shooters will reach the point of diminishing returns long before then (this writer included.)
On the upside, Lippard’s 1911 designs aren’t all-or-nothing. If you don’t have $3500 to spend, you can upgrade just about any 1911 to receive a significant number of the A2’s benefits. The wide barrel link and ambi safety alone cold be attractive to a few serious 1911 shooters (particularly southpaws). My guess: while the A2/NCO might be the “halo” vehicle for Lippard, he’ll sell a lot more components to shooters who want to upgrade their standard-issue 1911’s than he will complete guns.
A more complete write-up will follow when we have time to test the gun more thoroughly, including the four football field test. Stay tuned…