Bill Wilson fires his compact 1911 carry gun. Well, I'm guessing. (courtesy wilsoncombat.com)

“I often hear comments like ‘I only trust a full size 1911 because they are more reliable,'” Bill Wilson writes at wilsoncombat.com. “Well folks I’m here to tell you this statement isn’t necessarily true. While it is true some ultra compact 1911s with barrel lengths under 3.5” often have reliability issues, there are other important factors involved such as spring weights, firing pin stop dimensions, ammunition selection and whether or not the pistol will push feed.” In other words, it’s the same advice I give for how to train a dog: buy the right dog. Bill’s blog then goes on to tell readers/consumers how to buy the right compact 1911 . . .

The basic functional difference between a full size (as John Browning designed it) 1911 pistol and a compact version with a 4.25” or shorter barrel is slide mass and speed. Basically anytime you reduce mass and propel it with the same energy you will get faster cycle speed. Why does this matter? The pistol needs a certain amount of time to eject a fired case, allow the magazine to lift, position the next round for proper feeding and chamber the round. When slide mass is reduced and therefore slide cycle speed increased there may not be time for this to all happen properly.

So we must slow the slide cycle speed down and this is accomplished by a combination of the following:

And there you have it, with links to Wilson Combat products that can make it so. Or you could just buy a Wilson Combat compact 1911 instead of a new refrigerator or something else of equivalent value. And feed it self-defense ammo that costs nearasdammit $2 a round (currently out of stock). Perfection has its price. Oh wait . . .

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67 Responses to Bill Wilson: Compact 1911’s Can Be Reliable

  1. All of my WC 1911’s eat every type of ammo I feed them. Expensive and cheap. FMJ and JHP’s. That includes 4, 5 and 6 inch versions. You get what you pay for in a Wilson Combat 1911.

    • So do my smaller than service length Dan Wesson 1911’s, including a Dan Wesson ECO with a 3.5 inch barrel. It has never had a failure of any kind with any kind of ammo. It loves Asym 185 gr Barnes solid copper +P ammo.

    • My CCO sized Sig C3 has been almost flawless. I say almost because I have had some very rare (maybe 7 out of 1,500 rounds) Wilson Combat magazine related FTF’s. Its only happened with those mags, 7 round (yeah right, I can’t fit 7 in them) metal follower officer mags. The stock Sig mags and my CMC mags have never had a failure to feed. I had one failure to go fully into battery at an IDPA match using a CMC mag, had to smack the back of the slide. I blame that on the grease I was using on the rails, mystique moly (giant tube you get from walmart.) It worked great at normal temps, not so much on a 30 degree range. Switched to CRC synthetic brake caliper grease, much lower viscosity. Its also fairly cheap, and the 2.5oz tube will probably last me a decade even with all my pistols. Its a high temp grease with moly, ptfe, and graphite in it.

  2. I can accept that a Wilson Combat compact 1911 should be reliable. Wilson puts a lot into it’s firearms, just as buyers put a lot of money into Wilson. The same cannot be said about every manufacturer.

    • That’s the truth. I tried playing around with 1911s that “only” cost $1000, and got burned twice.

      Not saying that a well-tuned 1911 isn’t awesome. It is. So’s a Ferrari. Alas, as long as I’m constrained by budget, the Glock will ride on my hip, and any 1911s I own will be safe queens that only come out to play for a day at the range. (And I’ll be content driving my Bimmer coupe.)

  3. 1911’s are simply never going to be of the same reliability of a glock, CZ, or even XD. It’s just part of how they are, doesn’t make them bad firearms they are just less reliable.

    • Depends, the old millitary “rattletraps” with loose tolerances are reliable. I myself prefer a good CZ-75 though.

    • My Glock 30 that I’ve carried for 15 years has never failed me; I can say the same about my 1911 Kimber Custom TLE/RL. I carry either one depending if I’m CC or OC. But the Rock Island 1911 I HAD owned as well as the Spring Field Champion 1911 that I HAD owned were both stupid unreliable.

    • If my gun rattles arriving at or leaving a conference room I’ll probably be arrested for pre-crime in the 1st degree.

    • I have had several “cheap” full size 1911….all function flawlessly. they are not as accurate as my expensive ones and the only “expensive” 1911 I trust my life with is my Wilson. tight tolerances come with a price.

    • My S&W 1911DK never ever failed in any way. I’d put that up against the ones you mentioned any day. I have seen Glocks fail repeatedly.

  4. Thanks.But if I want to drop $3000 on something that’s pretty but runs worse then the competition,I’ll buy a MacBook.

    • They don’t make MacBooks anymore, do they? But if you sit among good programmers off Route 128 or in San Jose, you’ll see lots of MacBook Pros on laps and desks. You really don’t have to worry about any springs, and their slide weight isn’t critical unless it slides off the desk.

  5. Hickock45 did a review of the glock 41 (long slide 45) and noted the slide was 3 oz. lighter than the 21. I wonder if glock had to do anything mentioned above or is it just for the 1911 platform. As in the above, the 41 had snappier recoil.

    • Actually, my WC X-TAC has never jammed. But I most certainly do not subscribe to the notion that 1911’s are more reliable.

    • I’m a 1911 fanboy–pure sex appeal and just love the way they shoot–but I have never made, nor would ever make, any such claim about my Kimber.

      • I’ll come in late and say that I’ve never had either of my S&W 1911’s gag once they were broken in slightly. They run fine. They’re simply to big and heavy for me to carry concealed.

    • Fanboyism goes both ways; it’s the same debate between AK”s and AR-15’s. AK’s are generally more reliable, cheaper, uglier but less accurate; like a Glock.AR’s from a good manufacturer, with good maintenance will be just as reliable ; but much more accurate; like a 1911.

      I carry a Glock 30 CC and a Kimber 1911 OC, but the 1911 is a quintessential American design; like the AR-15; I like the feel of an all steel gun, I like the way it looks; but I’m not a prejudiced bigoted Jerk and suggest that because I like my 1911 better than my Glock; that anyone that would rather carry a polymer gun is wrong.

  6. Why have just one type of gun? Have that black stick of butter for your carry gun and have a “quality” 1911 for the joy of shooting a gun that you get a lot of satisfaction in shooting… I love my 1911’s, have they ever jammed, yes. Has my Glock… no but I shoot my 1911 20 times more… as the Glock does not “move” me. But I carry a Glock because it is lighter, know it works and if the police have to take it I would not care.

  7. I’m sorry to say, but, a “compact” 1911 is not a 1911. Once you change it from it’s original design it is no longer a 1911. Just like those so called semi auto AK’s. They are in fact not AK’s at all. Thy make look like one, they may even shot the same bullet, but they are not. The original design for an AK is full auto. Anything else is a fake. Thus I come back to the so called compact, or 9mm 1911, the 1911 is a full size 45 ACP. Anything else is well not a real 1911. Sorry if I burst anyone’s bubble.

    • You know that the Colt Series 70 Government Model came in 9×19, right? Not the new ones, the old ones.

      If a Colt Series 70 isn’t a “real” 1911 simply because it’s not .45ACP, then nothing that isn’t military issue is a 1911.

      Personally, I don’t like 1911s and I would only buy a new Colt Series 70 because I like Magnum PI. Oh, and Selleck used a 9mm gun because the blanks wouldn’t work with the regular .45. I dare you to call out Tom Selleck…

    • Saiga Arsenal Arms semi auto AKs imported into the US are built right alongside the same rifles Spetsnaz uses. Same barrels, same receivers, same trunnions, same sights, etc….. the ONLY diff is an extra drilled hole and a small metal tang and an extra notch for the safety selector. Sorry to burst YOUR bubble.

    • Yet you can buy a Camaro with a range of engines and trim levels, and it remains a Camaro.

      Caliber differences and barrel lengths are like trim levels. The basic functionality of the gun remains the same, so yes, it is still a 1911. Otherwise you better go outside and slap a new badge on your car, it might be different than the original.

  8. My 2008 production $800 Kimber Ultra Carry II shoots everything I feed it – medium velocity reloaded 200 and 230 gr ball, Speer hollow points, even Hornady XTPs. It works fine with Kimber, Chip McCormick, Mec-Gar(!) and even no-name gun show $8.00 magazines. I’m sure that plenty of people will say I’m doing something wrong because I don’t have the price of a good used car tied up in my pistol. Others will say that I’m a fanboy because I honestly report that my pistols work pretty well. As I’ve said every time this debate shows up, the 1911 style pistol works for me. Your mileage will most certainly vary. Carry what works for you and I’ll do the same.

  9. It does seem unfair to attack the 1911. I have a few, really as a memorial to a different time and place in which it was the only handgun available to me. They sit in the safe because they’re too heavy, and are a bit too tall for me to conceal reliably. I like them. I take them to the park occasionally (well, the range). However, for convenience and reliability a little G30S seems to suffice. I occasionally carry a slightly bigger Walther if I want a very good trigger and need to pay the 9mm god his due.

    1911’s have been ruined for me by BS. They’ve become a status brand or nothing, just one more bit of contemporary America in which every f’g thing gets monetized, jacked up, gated, over-consumed, and above all, advertised, split off into little empires which serve no purpose of mine. I don’t want a lifestyle. I want an f’g defensive gun that works no matter what, one that is light and compact and isn’t some entry in a “competitive monopoly” battle, a replay of Levis v. Jordache. I don’t want to win some competition with a pistol. I want to survive. If I want competitive challenges, I call back a potential client. If I want an expensive elegant gun it won’t be one to which my survival is tied. It’ll be jewelry to hunt pheasants or large four-legged mammals.

        • If you’re referring to my shooting, commiseration would be appropriate. If you’re talking about my comments, I defer to the master. There’s no competition. Emulation might be the word. I’d guess he’s nearly five years older than me, and since curmudgeons only get better with age, it’s a no win for me. I’m never going to get older than him. As he’ll tell you, he’ll be sober tomorrow, but I’ll still be younger.

  10. Or you can just get a .40 and buy Hornady Critical Defense for $1 per round. It seems to always be in stock when I go to the store. I think I’ll go hide now.

  11. I have had nothing but good experiences with Wilson Combat firearms and ammo. I did a short review of their smokin’ hot 6.8 SPC Spec II ammo and gave it 5 stars. It was their 110 grain BTHP match at a published velocity of 2700 FPS, which is the hottest load I’m currently aware of in that caliber (unless one considers the more energetic SSA 140 grain at 2400 FPS with CCI 450 mag primers).

    Their pistols have also been well made and reliable in full size and commander sizes. I’m trying to take a mental inventory of the commander sized and compact .45’s I’ve shot over the years. I’ve seen my friends Kimber .45 with a 3 1/2″ barrel jam once or twice, but I believe that was with range reloads, so not a terribly strong assessment.

    My test is the same: 200 rounds of JHPs without an issue and its good to go for self defense. I think Wilson could achieve that.

  12. Carrying a work of art, as in a top end 1911 is not a good idea, unless money is no object, and then at that point it doesn’t really matter. A carry gun needs to be disposable. Government will see to that. That’s where Kahrs and Glocks come into the picture.

  13. So I have owned two 1911s. The kimber ultra 2, and a RIA compact. The kimber was amazing in quality but would fail to feed occasionally. The rock island was no where near as great as far as fit and finish, but it ate anything I put in it. 1942 GI issued lead ball rounds that were slightly corroded, no prob, HP no prob, steel case, no prob. I’ve been shocked at the performance by some of the “cheaper” pistols in my life

  14. My wilson super grade full size and my les Baer UTC are phenomenal guns.

    Out of my 3 carry guns, my wilson is one and my glock 29 is the other.

    1911’s aren’t for everybody, but nothing is.

  15. Oh you silly people and your expensive carry guns. I’ve stuck by my tried, true and ever reliable Makarov and cannot bring myself to rely on anything else. It was what turned me into a 2A fanatic and it serves me with distinction. Accurate, reliable and does precisely what I need it to do and then some. Also doubles as a hammer.

  16. Discussions of the relative reliability of the 1911 guns go on forever. In my past I have owned eight of them – everything from a Remington Rand government issue gun to a Colt Gold Cup, including blued, stainless, and military finish. All were .45 ACP and full-sized guns. I don’t own any of them any longer. All had failure problems; especially with hollow point ammunition.

  17. I’ve got a 3.5″ Rock Island that’s been incredibly reliable. I had one problematic session with it after I’d way overlubed it and failed to seat the recoil rod correctly, but that isn’t really the guns fault. Apart from that I’ve put maybe 800 rounds through it by now with one or two failures to feed. I’m still searching for something lighter that I like as much (as far as trigger goes) that’s affordable but the gun itself is mechanically fine and cost 400 bucks….I’ve shot Wilsons and LOVE them but damn they’re out of my price range

  18. TTAG’s 1911 bashing gets old. It alienates a part of the readership. Empowers some very ignorant trolls. And basically spread untruths in the face of the untold numbers of sevice priced, consistantly flawless 1911s that protect families, neighbors and bring fans to the shooting sports.

    Another article that does a disservice to shooters and supporters.
    It’s just plain ignorant.

  19. TTAG’s 1911 bashing gets old. It alienates a part of the readership. Empowers some very ignorant trolls. And basically spread untruths in the face of the untold numbers of sevice priced, consistantly flawless 1911s that protect families, neighbors and bring fans to the shooting sports.

    Another article that does a disservice to shooters and supporters.
    It’s just plain ignorant.

    I’m guessing R.F. is getting ready to sell the site.

    • Time wil tell, Mark. Ground breakers get superceeded. Btw I didn’t see where you added anything of value to either conversation. Hilariously.

  20. I’ve watched the 1911 v. anything-else debates for several years and my main conclusion is this:

    1911 Fan Boys will never, ever, consider the possibility that the firearm technology they are using is old and has been replaced by something better.

    1911 Dismmissers will never, ever, consider the possibility that 1911 firearm technology produced and continues to produce an amazingly useful tool, for competition or self-defense.

    And then, at that point, the debates basically come down to people who apparently are so horribly insecure about their personal choice in firearms, or so envious of somebody else’s higher priced equipment, that they spend their time running other handguns down constantly because, frankly, they are pathetic losers who don’t have much of a life to speak of to begin with.

    I enjoy all my handguns: 1911s, Glocks, HKs, etc.

  21. Paul, it is certainly possible to have a full and rich life, while enjoying the act of cheering on your favorite pistol. I’ll remind you of a comment you made recently, saying that someone (ok, me) who chose a Glock made an error for not chosing a Walther PPQ. I’m sure you recall this. The underlying fact is that I own two 1911’s, two PPQ’s, five Glocks, and an S&W Model 41. Nonetheless, I prefer the G30S for carry. I prefer the G20 for field (forest) carry. I prefer the PPQ for holster-on-belt urban carry with suitable clothing. I prefer the 1911 with Speer Gold Dot 200 grain +P and CT laser grips for nightstand placement. And finally, I prefer the Model 41 for target sport and very small game hunting. Taking part in the caliber wars or the 1911 wars doesn’t imply no life, but rather is in the spirit of the Blue and Green games in ancient Istanbul (eis tein poleis…).

    There is not a proper view in the gun world. It is a sporting world, and its blogs are a matter of information, perhaps, but also of entertainment. In a nation of 317,000,000 people almost no one shoots anyone else on a given day. In an actual battle or war, everyone shoots what they are handed by the organizing authority. Even SEALs with Sig 226’s or H&K 45CT’s. When it gets serious all the fanboi stuff ends because recess is over. Yet kids, and even adults, learn during recess.

    (Ever read any of Norman Hjelm’s theological writing?)

    • I have 3 B&D cordless drills
      A Dewalt 5/8 chuck hammer drill
      1 corded 1/4 inch craftsman
      1 corded 3/8 chuck Ryobi
      Which is my favorite?
      for big holes in concrete, the dewalt
      Drywall screws, the Ryobi,
      little holes out in the RV , the cordless
      Get the picture.
      Tool analogy?
      Yes and No

  22. The fact that we’re talking about 1911s aside, Bill Wilson’s main point is absolutely valid from a strictly engineering standpoint.

    You have a machine that was designed to run a certain way with a given configuration. Making massive changes to the configuration without consideration of the mechanical aspects of the design is asking for the thing to fail.

  23. I’ve got a NORINCO 1911 copy that I bought back in the 1980’s for cheap. It’s failed a few times, a remarkably few times, mainly by failing to return completely to battery. I think that either I’m limp-wristing it, or the recoil spring needs to be replaced. It’s full size, but I surprised by it’s reliability.

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