Gun Review: Kimber Solo Carry

Let’s get this out of the way right now: the black-and-silver Kimber Solo Carry is one of the prettiest little all-metal 9mm mini-pistols ever made, second only in appearance to the all-stainless Solo Carry STS. Because other pocket nines have polymer frames, there’s not a lot of competition for title of prettiest all-metal mini-9. But still, the Solo Carry is a great looking gun that’s perfectly proportioned and loaded with quality touches. Pictures can’t do it justice. It’s so pretty that I wanted to love it the minute I saw it, which was a complete 180° turn for me. Before I saw it, I wanted to hate it.

There have been adverse reports about this pistol emanating from trustworthy people. Most of them have complained of FTFs, with the intermittent FTE tossed in as a variation on a theme. One word often associated with the Solo in those reports is “unreliable.” Unreliable is a polite descriptor that’s a synonym for “untrustworthy,” and nobody wants to carry an untrustworthy gun.

Suffering an FTF at the range is a drag, sure, but it’s not the end of the world. Wait for the hangfire, tap, roll, rack, assess — we all know the drill. But the Kimber Solo is not a range toy, and despite its runway model good looks it was not intended to be a safe queen. The Solo is designed to be a fighting gun, built to carry concealed and shoot a fairly powerful round when necessary for self defense.

Viewed in that light, an FTF isn’t a mere inconvenience; it’s an invitation to a funeral. An unreliable self defense pistol is a liability of monstrous proportions. Jumpy yet? Making things worse, Kimber inadvertently contributed to the rumor mill by demanding the exclusive use of “premium” ammunition to feed this silvery sweetheart. For the uninitiated, premium means “really effing expensive,” which implies that the Solo is a delicate little pistol that cheap range ammo would somehow damage.

To make matters worse, Kimber strongly encourages replacement of the recoil springs after only a thousand rounds. They gotta be kidding, right? A thousand rounds is nothing. My personal EDC has handled many thousands of rounds, and the recoil spring is still just as fresh as a teenage brat. Twenty boxes of ammo might be two solid range sessions for TTAG gun tests, and perhaps a pleasant hour of shooting for our own Foghorn. While each shooter’s “average” mileage is going to vary, even Kimber should admit that a thousand rounds between changes doesn’t seem like a lot of headroom and does not build confidence in the Solo’s long term reliability or durability.

Against that backdrop, I was suspicious of the Kimber Solo. Yes, it was pretty, but I did not want to be led astray by a pretty face. Not that such a thing has ever happened.

Handling the Solo

When I opened the box, my Solophobia began to moderate. The pistol not only looks very desirable, but the build quality is unmistakable. Despite weighing only 17.2 ounces, the Solo feels hefty, like it was carved from a single block of silver, even though the frame is aluminum. Everything fits together as tight as a gnat’s ass. The stock is well-angled, so the Solo points naturally despite having grasping room for only two fingers. The grip panels are plastic but not plasticky, and nestled in their recesses they look like part of the handle, not just tacked onto it.

The Solo is adorned with sights that actually seem like they might be useful for something other than shredding the lining of one’s pockets.

I was also impressed by the beefy extractor, which is a part that I would expect could be strained on a small gun that fires a powerful round. All in all, this pistol feels like it’s made to be shot. Even the magazine feels stout. To top it off, the lovely presentation purse – excuse me, the handsome soft case accompanying the pistol — would make a nifty stocking stuffer all by itself.

The magazine needed a firm press to snap into its home, which was fine with me. I figured that a tight fit would loosen over time, while a loose fit would only get wobbly. The magazine well iss nicely beveled, which should facilitate rapid magazine changes. Speaking of which, anyone who wants to practice rapid magazine changes will have to shell out for extra magazines, since this pistol comes with only one. Kimber offers additional six-round mags for $27 bucks a pop, or five for $105 should anyone be interested in stocking up for the annual mouse-hunting season.

Slide action was very smooth and positive. Dry firing this pocket piece proved that Kimber’s disclaimer was accurate – the Solo is not a scaled-down, 9mm 1911. It’s a single-action, striker-fired, conventionally recoil-operated baby 9mm and nobody will ever confuse its trigger with that of a well-tuned 1911’s. That’s not to say that the 7 pound trigger of the Solo is heavy or that the pull is as long as a Kevin Costner movie, but it’s not the 4 1/2 pound instant-on giggle switch for which well-made 1911s are justly famous.

Dropping the magazine required very firm pressure on the ambidextrous release button. The button did not loosen up over time, trashing my theory that tight is temporary but loose is forever. Let’s just say that accidentally dropping a magazine isn’t going to happen with the Kimber Solo and let it go at that.

I field stripped the Solo to clean out any excess lube or dirt that might have accumulated in transit. Unlike some pocket nines, the Solo field stripped very easily. I lined up the slide stop lever with the wee disassembly notch, pressed the small nub where the lever penetrates through to the right side of the frame, pinched the lever fully out from the left side and most of the work was done. The manual states that if the lever proves too tight to pinch out with finger pressure, a flat screwdriver could be used to pull the lever from the frame. Releasing the striker from the sear – that means pulling the trigger – enabled the slide assembly to be removed from the frame. There. That was easy.

I couldn’t help but notice the odd, spittoon-shaped barrel. The flared muzzle-end probably guarantees a snug and secure fit in the slide, but why the barrel is equipped with its ungainly looking pot belly, only Kimber knows.  The bulbous shape looks bizarre and probably adds to the cost of manufacture, but if it works as it’s supposed to work, that’s great.

A few swipes of a clean rag and a minute of reassembly later, the Solo was range-ready.

Shooting the Kimber Solo Carry

I loaded the magazine with five rounds of Remington Golden Saber hollowpoints, which is one of the “premium” brands recommended by Kimber. I hate wimpy magazine springs because they often lead to misfeeds; I also hate very tight springs because they always lead to scarred thumbs. The spring inside the Solo’s magazine had just the right amount of resistance, and the cartridges loaded uneventfully. I did not top off the mag or the pistol because I prefer to shoot five-shot test groups during the first session.

The Solo, being a single action pistol, is outfitted with an ambidextrous thumb safety in the usual position. The safety’s operation was very intuitive as I toggled between no-go to go and back again, each time with a satisfying “snick.” Tactile feedback is critical with any gun, but especially from the safety of a carry piece that is likely to be deployed in a hurry, if at all, and in the dark.

I aimed, I fired, I hit the target. Accuracy was pretty damn good, too. Here are the first five shots I took with the cold, never-ever-before-fired pistol.

It’s not target pistol accuracy, but it’s plenty good enough for alternate dispute resolution.

Kimber claimed that the pistol would need a break-in of 24 rounds, or four full mags, so I was expecting problems right off the bat. Mirabile dictu, I didn’t have any. None. Zero. Zilch. Niente. Mag after mag of premium ammo went through this pistol with nary a hitch. There were no misfires, FTFs, FTEs, light strikes, hiccups, explosive farts, the heartbreak of psoriasis, nothing. You name the problem, and I didn’t have it. Reliability was flawless.

So much for break-in. But that’s not to say that all was perfect.

I’ve fired a bunch of tiny-nineys and they are all just a bit snappy. Naturally, some are snappier than others. The little Solo was quite snappy. Not as snappy as a Louisiana swamp turtle, but snappy nonetheless. Although the gun didn’t try to hop out of my hand as fast as my monthly income, muzzle flip was prodigious and not easily controlled.

The non-1911 trigger was also an issue. While the trigger was classically smooth and light enough for serious shooting, its reset point was somewhere in northern Rhode Island when the rest of the gun was somewhere in southeastern Massachusetts. When a long reset is coupled with vigorous muzzle flip, the result is always rapid-fire inaccuracy. The Solo was not an exception to this immutable law.

Smallish groups could be slow-fired, as one of my fellow instructors demonstrated at a later outing by placing two out of two, touching, in the red, at five yards. That particular minigroup was the best of many, and could be covered by a nickel with change left over. Rapid fire produced wider groups. Keeping five rounds in an eight inch circle proved to be challenging but still possible.

I like to shoot one-handed because I was trained that way and because in a real fight, my other hand might have something else to do. Like gallantly pushing aside a helpless bikini model, or shielding a frightened child, or texting, or zipping my fly. After trying to shoot this gun with one hand, I can state without fear of contradiction that the Kimber Solo is to rapid one-handed shooting what a bowling ball is to water polo.

Not willing to let well enough alone, I decided to test the Solo with the crappiest commercial ball ammo available to me, contrary to Kimber’s demand that I use premium hollowpoints. And just to push the envelope, I crammed six into the magazine, racked the slide to chamber a round, and after flipping the safety to the fully upright and locked position, I topped off the mag. I was hoping to make the gun jam, because a tough gun test is all about being tough on the gun.

I was disappointed in the Solo’s monotonous consistency, as the gun performed flawlessly time after time, no matter what ammo I shoved into it. It devoured gristly Silver Bear like it was prime filet mignon. PPU proved as reliable as the afternoon mail. The Solo also shot 115 grain Fiocchi, which Kimber claims is too light to reliably cycle this pistol. Well, it wasn’t. The pistol cycled perfectly through two boxes of light ball ammo without a flinch. Satisfied with what I’d accomplished on day one, I decided to leave the range and allow my thoughts time to crystallize, intending to return a few days later for some serious torture testing.

Before my second trip to the range to retest the Solo, I ran into trouble. Actually, trouble ran into me. I was hit by a car while riding my bicycle. Many Christmases ago grandma got run over by a reindeer and had a song dedicated to the event. Me? I got run over by a Buick and all I got were these lousy bruises. And lemme tell ya, those cars are very solidly constructed. Fortunately, the bike and I survived with nothing broken, not even a spoke. However, my accuracy suffered as a result, as did most of my body which also turned the color of a freshly picked eggplant.

Nevertheless, I sucked it up and limped back to the range just a couple of days after being felled like an oak before a bulldozer. Gee whiz, the things I do for you people.

The Solo’s accuracy suffered as much as I did when I shot it with basic range ammo, but not enough to make me want to throw half dollars downrange instead of dimes. I’m not suggesting that you try this at home, but I’m saying I shot a couple more boxes of non-premium, non-recommended rounds through this particular Solo. Kimber recommends 124 grain or heavier hollowpoints. I used 115 grain ball ammo, and once again they worked just fine.

Conclusion

I’m not discounting the early Solo failure reports. In my opinion – and this goes for cars as well as guns – early adopters are unfairly punished for taking a chance on unproven engineering or new production. Teething problems notwithstanding, the Kimber Solo Carry that I tested was as consistent and reliable as precipitation in a rain forest. The Solo proved to me that it’s a sweet little handgun that reliably fired hundreds of 9mm rounds including the most craptastic, both imported and domestic, without any problems. The Solo Carry has killer good looks and fires a killer round, so what’s the issue?

Potential buyers who can get past the reputation may gag at the price. The MSRP for the Solo Carry is $765, and as befitting a small gun from a small-market manufacturer, discounts are also on the small side. Pistols from Ruger, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson and other manufacturers that are comparable in weight and firepower to the Solo can be purchased for less, and in some cases a lot less. It’s a very competitive market.

Diehard Kimber fans might not mind paying a few extra hundred for this pistol. If they do, they should be rewarded with a great looking, fine shooting, good handling, accurate, all-metal gun that works like a charm.

SPECIFICATIONS

Model: Kimber Solo Carry
Caliber: 9 mm
Magazine capacity: 6 rounds
Materials: Aluminum frame, stainless steel slide
Weight empty: 17.2 ounces
Barrel Length: 2.67″
Overall length: 5.5″
Sights: Fixed front and rear, three dot
Action: Striker fired, single action
Finish: Matte black lower; stainless steel upper
Price: $765 MSRP

RATINGS (out of five stars)

Style * * * * *
Step right up and don’t be shy, because you will not believe your eyes. She’s a beauty…one in a million girls. Why would I lie? Why would I lie? It’s not like I own stock in the company.

I added that last part.

Ergonomics (carry) * * * * *
It’s tiny. If it was any more slender that its 1.2 inches, it could slide under a door like a delivery pizza. It’s lightweight and perfectly capable of hitching a ride in almost any pocket or purse. There’s just no reason to leave home without it.

Ergonomics (firing) * * * *
The gun points well. The grip is comfortable but short, so shooters who demand a full grip or the ham-handed will have to purchase the optional eight-round extended magazine. Good luck finding one. The trigger is smooth and reasonably light, but anyone expecting a 1911 trigger will be disappointed. The trigger does not reset quickly. The sights are just fine. One handed shooting is strictly a one-shot-at-a-time affair unless aiming at an airplane in flight.

Reliability * * * *
I was shocked to find that this much maligned pistol showed itself to be completely reliable during our all-too-brief time together. Long term durability is a different issue and would require thousands of rounds for a true test. Based on apparent quality, the overbuilt extractor and following the manufacturers’ ammo and spring replacement policies, it seems that this pistol should last a long time. Still, I consider replacing the springs every thousand rounds an unacceptable inconvenience.

Customize This * * *
Rejoice, Star Trek fans. A nifty laser is available from Crimson Trace in black basic or rosewood. I also expect that, in time, there will be a variety of high-zoot grip panels available in the aftermarket, crafted of exotic woods, mother of pearl, faux elephant ivory and fuscia taffeta, all designed to enhance this pistol’s elegant appearance. But, really, what purpose would be served by gilding the lily?

OVERALL RATING * * * *
Holding up to seven rounds of 9mm ammo, I would be confident carrying this pistol just about anywhere that doesn’t have “stan” in its name.