Gun Review: Iver Johnson 1911A1 Carbine

Iver Johnson 1911A1 Carbine

Virgil Caldwell for TTAG

I find the 1911 pistol fascinating to a distraction. I have owned most of the makers’ works of art. I say that tongue in cheek as I am the first to admit that some aren’t all that well made. Some foreign, some domestic, less than service grade in my opinion. The problem is hand-fitting. It must be done. Tight tolerances and expert work are the primary reason a Guncrafter or Wilson Combat gun costs more than a Colt. Yet the Colt is a good 1911 by any standard.

Trying to produce a pistol for half the price of a Colt is a daunting proposition. Forged steel frames give way to cast frames and internal parts become MIM rather than machined. This puts the resulting cut rate pistol in the recreational class. That’s OK as long as you know where you stand.

That said, I know how to maintain, modify and fire a 1911 well. I carry a number of proven 1911 handguns. With the background of my love for the type out of the way lets look at a very interesting piece.

Iver Johnson 1911A1 Carbine

Virgil Caldwell for TTAG

The Iver Johnson 1911A1 Carbine isn’t a shoulder stocked pistol. I don’t want to become acquainted with the folks at Leavenworth. This is a true carbine. The original intent of the shoulder stocked pistol, I believe, was for mounted troops to dismount and fight with a stocked revolver, and sure it wasn’t a rifle but it was better than trying to fight a fast moving battle with a rifle on horseback, and then hoping the rifle was still in the scabbard when you dismounted.

The Luger, Mauser and Browning Hi Power pistols were often shoulder stock equipped. Adding a stock to a pistol for more stability and accuracy seems like a great idea…and it is. Unfortunate, thanks to the National Firearms Act of 1934, there are all kind problems and costs involved with doing that. Mounting a stock on standard pistol makes it a short barrel rifle — a NFA-regulated item — in the eyes of the ATF and means you’re in for all kinds of paperwork, not to mention paying for a $200 tax stamp.

So while you can’t simply mount a stock on a pistol, there have been attempts at braces and stabilizing kits. I don’t know this law well (I would learn if I were interested in this sort of firearm), but I am smart enough not to remove the shoulder stock or change the barrel of this carbine.

In general, a 1911 pistol is for carrying and a Colt 5.56mm carbine is for fighting. A shotgun is for what a shotgun does (which is a lot). The Iver Johnson 1911A1 Carbine is for fun. Generally you can’t legally add a shoulder stock a pistol. The Iver Johnson carbine is kind of like the Rossi Circuit Judge though the Circuit Judge is a more permanent in configuration. In short, unless you want to open yourself up to potentially nasty interactions with federal regulators, don’t change the configuration of the Iver Johnson 1911A1 Carbine for any reason.

Iver Johnson 1911A1 Carbine

The stock is nothing fancy…just some texturing for a good mount and the Iver Johnson logo. (Virgil Caldwell for TTAG)

I am not damning the 1911A1 Carbine’s stock with faint praise but it’s a simple wood plank with a connector. The stock attaches to a polymer mainspring housing and is tightened with a thumbscrew.

The Iver Johnson 1911A1 features a 16.25 inch barrel, making it a legal carbine and letting the seller checks the rifle box on your paperwork. Warning: don’t get any bright ideas about subbing out the carbine length barrel with a standard 5-inch 1911 barrel. Again, that way lies NFA sanctions.

Iver Johnson re-brands Philippine-produced SAM pistols as the basis of the 1911A1 Carbine. Shooters Arms Manufacturing makes close copies of the standard GI 1911. They have cut a couple of corners, but the pistol comes out well.

Iver Johnson 1911A1 Carbine

Virgil Caldwell for TTAG

The 1911A1 Carbine takes down for cleaning just like a standard 1911 pistol, just be sure you have a longer cleaning rod. The carbine is much like SAM’s other pistols. The 1911A1 shows definite improvements in finish and quality over the earlier SAM pistols I tried a decade or so ago and absolutely did not like. A friend of some experience says he now likes them better than the Rock Island imports. I don’t agree, but SAM has made strides and the 1911A1 Carbine is well turned out.

The double diamond wood grips are nice enough and well checkered. The sights are not the abysmal standard rudimentary GI types but slightly improved, taller sights. The trigger breaks at a rather clean 5.0 pounds. It actually improved a little with dry fire. The real surprise — no obvious burrs, tool marks, and generally high finish with the OD Cerakote finish. This thing looks pretty good.

The Iver Johnson 1911A1’s stock attached to a polymer mainspring housing. (Virgil Caldwell for TTAG)

When you think about it, this wasn’t an easy gun to get right. I can imagine the difficulty the engineers had in designing a working pistol that would feed and cycle with the extra weight of a 16.25 inch barrel hanging off of the muzzle end and using the standard swinging link and conventional recoil spring. Lock time and cycle issues must have been a challenge. As far as lock time, cycling, and operation, they got it pretty much right, but it isn’t perfect (more on that later).

Most of us could have fabricated the carbine’s stock in a high school shop class. It’s has a simple textured curve for shouldering and attaches to the pistol grip with a piece of sheet metal. The stock has a nineteen inch length of pull, quite a bit longer than most carbines, but comfortable when mounting the gun.

The carbine weighs right at four pounds unloaded, so it’s light and maneuverable enough. Even with the 19-inch length of pull, the sights are closer to the eye than is normal with a pistol, which is all good for accuracy.

One thing you’ll want to pay attention to is your grip. I found occasional inconsistency in depressing the grip safety. There’s a small space between the top of the stock mount and the beavertail. Getting a good, consistent grip that depresses the safety and allows the gun to fire takes a little practice.

Iver Johnson 1911A1 Carbine

The carbine isn’t difficult to handle, but definitely takes some acclimation for a consistent grip that depresses the grip safety. (Virgil Caldwell for TTAG)

I have a box of forty seven 1911 magazines I use for range magazines. No the mags I use at the range aren’t cheap, but proven magazines that I know work. That’s my definition of a range magazine. They include brands like MecGar, Wilson Combat, and Colt.

The Iver Johnson — which ships with a single 8-round magazine — locked each of my many mags in place. I first fired the piece with Black Hills Ammunition 200 grain lead semi wadcutters. This is a great load for all-around fun use. Velocity jumped from 870 fps from a five-inch barrel to over 1050 fps from the Iver Johnson’s 16.125-inch tube.

Recoil with stock is very modest, less than a .45 Colt lever action or .410 shotgun. I fired more than a hundred rounds and really enjoyed every shot. I painted the front sight with some nail polish a little later, the only complaint on the first run. I fired a couple of five shot groups at 20 yards. A 1.6-inch group was the best I got, but overall groups were very consistent at 1.6 to 2.0 inches.

Sure a Springfield TRP is more accurate, but the Iver Johnson 1911A1 Carbine is cheap and most anyone can get good accuracy out of this firearm right off the bat. It takes some practice to get that type of accuracy from a pistol.

Semi wad cutter vs JHP ammunition

Ball and semi-wad cutters ran flawlessly. JHP ammo…not so much. (Virgil Caldwell for TTAG)

The next range session with the newly painted front sight didn’t go as well. The carbine simply would not feed hollow point ammunition. Not Black Hills with XTP bullets, Hornady XTP, Speer Gold Dots, or Winchesters. Fortunately I had brought some 230 grain RNL handloads and ball ammo so I didn’t waste the day.

This is a pistol that you’ll need to keep clean. It will slow and eventually stop functioning at between the 200 to 300 round mark if not cleaned and lubricated. Cycling, though, is good. Feed function is not. I am certain I could get the pistol up to speed with a polish job and maybe a bit of modification. Would the next 1911A1 Carbine feed JHP better? Maybe.

On the one hand why bother with the tinkering? This isn’t a firearm I would use for critical duty. The darned thing is really just a fun shooter. I think that it wouldn’t be the worst home defense carbine using ball ammunition. Loaded with 230 grain ball or the Black Hills 200 grain SWC it would serve pretty well.

Accuracy isn’t bad at all either, though not a whole lot better than a good 1911 at distances out the 50 yards. I clocked a couple of 230 grain hollow points by feeding them straight into the chamber. Velocity jumped as much as 170 fps from the carbine length barrel. So what we have here is a nice, low pressure, easy-shooting .45 ACP that delivers more muzzle gee-whiz than a 10mm with very light recoil. The 1911A1 Carbine has grown on me over time. It’s a fun gun to own and shoot as long as you use it within its limitations.

Specifications: Iver Johnson 1911A1 Carbine

Model: 1911A1 Carbine (IJ01RIFLE)
Action: Single-Action Semi-Automatic
Caliber: .45 ACP
Frame: Carbon Steel
Finish: Olive Drab
Sights: Improved fixed sights, larger than the standard GI 1911
Barrel: 16.25″
Trigger Pull: 4.9 lbs
Overall Length: 35″
Height: 5.25″
Slide Width: 0.92″
Weight: 4 lbs.0
Capacity: 8+1 Rounds, also accepts 7, 10 and 11 round magazines
Twist: 1:16” RH, 6 grooves
MSRP: $728 (about $650 retail)

Ratings (out of five stars):

Reliability: * * 
Well, with 230 grain ball and SWC factory loads, RNL and SWC handloads, it’s fine. JHP loads, though, are a no-go. Not ideal.

Accuracy: * * * *
Very good by pistol standards, not so much by AR carbine standards. For what it is and compared to, say, a Thompson 1927 or a High Point carbine, it’s good.

Ergonomics: * * *
Not great. Problems with hitting the grip safety consistently and a longer than average length of pull are present.

Fit and Finish: * * * 
For the money and compared to anything in the price range, the IJ has good finish and attractive grips. The rudimentary stock is nothing special, though.

Overall: * * *
Let’s face it. The Iver Johnson 1911A1 isn’t really the most practical firearm in the world, but it’s lots of fun to own and shoot and it will get you plenty of attention at the range. It’s well made and sturdy enough, but with a polymer mainspring mount, this probably isn’t a gun you’ll want to sling around on the bench or your truck seat. Still, I’ve become a fan of the firearm over time.




  1. avatar AlanInFL says:

    Too can’t put a RMR on it

    1. avatar RD says:

      I mean… you COULD send it to Chamber Customs

    2. avatar 300BlackoutFan says:

      If your 1911 has novak dovetail sights, yes you can. Simple search for “1911 novak rmr”

      You could also get a custom slide cut for an RMR.

  2. avatar Dude says:

    Needs a foregrip and a drum magazine.

    1. avatar Dave G. says:

      Nope. Needs a metal shredder.

    2. avatar Virgil Caldwell says:

      Iver Johnson offers a plastic type drum magazine for the 1911

  3. avatar Tim says:

    If you need a rifle (and you do),

    1. avatar enuf says:

      I won’t be buying it because I only have money for MADE IN USA firearms. Still, it looks like fun, and that’s the point.

      Besides, it’s perfectly alright to own a rifle and that thing.

      1. avatar RD says:

        Go right ahead. Plenty of better guns for me then.

  4. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    If we needed one more silly gun we have it now. If I’m going to have a weapon the size of a carbine it’s going to chamber a rifle cartridge.

    1. avatar Tim says:


    2. avatar Mark N. says:

      I have a rifle with a 24″ barrel that chambers .45 Colt. Being an 1892, can handle very hot hand loads. I would not care to stand in front of it, and

    3. avatar enuf says:

      Already have those, AR and bolt guns.

      So what’s wrong with owning a peculiar gun that’s strictly for the fun of shooting it?

      That thing looks like it’d be fun to go plinking with now and then. If it was MADE IN USA, which it ain’t, and I could throw my Cabela’s Card points at it, hell yes it’d be on my list.

      1. avatar RD says:

        “Made in the USA”. Why limit yourself from some superior platforms?

        1. avatar enuf says:

          In word, PATRIOTISM.

          Sure , there are many interesting imported guns. covers the spectrum, no doubt of it.

          But firearms are perhaps the one thing I can support the employment of American workers with ease. I cannot do that in so many things. Diverting when gun budget I do have to foreign injusts just offends me.

          I don’t pick on others about it. Like the kid’s say, “You do you”.

          And my long time favorite oddball gun is in fact an import. Paid $5 dollars for it over five decades ago. A bicycle gun, all metal skeleton frame .22 single shot known as the “Garcia Bronco”, imported by FIE. Actually hunted small game with that thing, worked well for it too. Later versions where available in .410, .22/.410 over-under, and a breakdown model. Mine is a basic model.

  5. avatar seatex says:

    “it will get you plenty of attention at the range.”

    Yes, but not the kind most people want.

  6. avatar Billb says:

    Douglas Mortimer (of Spaghetti Western fame) would have had a go at one of these lol.

    1. avatar Klaus says:

      Welllll,if it isn’t the smoker……

  7. avatar I Haz A Question says:

    I love fun articles like this talking about unique guns. I mean, I’d never want this featured whatchamacallit, but it’s interesting and worth the read. There will always be niche markets for everything…antiques, war trophies, deer rifles, military hardware, polymer space guns, classic wood furnitured over-under shotties…everything. Even this silly 1911 not-a-pistol-thingamajigger.

  8. avatar Mark C says:

    From an aesthetic standpoint, this is the ugliest 1911 bastardization I’ve ever seen.

    1. avatar No says:

      Yep. And it’s not even close.

  9. avatar Craig in IA says:

    I guess it beats throwing rocks but I cannot figure out why I’d want one of these…

  10. Thank you, Virgil Caldwell, for an engaging article about an interesting oddity. I hope a friend buys one of these so I can get to play with it once or twice.

  11. avatar jwm says:

    I wasn’t even aware Iver Johnson was still in business.

    1. avatar wr Roberts says:

      Somehow this company ended up with the name.
      Like the guys that once purchased High Standard’s name, not to mention a few other guys.

    2. avatar GS650G says:

      They made bicycles too

  12. avatar Vic Nighthorse says:

    No way to put the front sight at the end of the barrel?

    1. avatar Geoff "Guns. LOTS of guns..." PR says:

      Yeah, you actually can.

      Someone like Dyspeptic can solder or braze on a bead or post, the same way shotguns get their beads…

      1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

        Soldering/welding a tiny metal Irish Setter “pointing” forward with its ridgeline (neck, back, tail) perfectly straight would be an awesome front sight on a custom gun.

  13. avatar Manse Jolly says:

    Blast from the past.
    Made in USA

    This is what I would see in the old Shot Gun news..before the interwebz.

    1. avatar Idaho Boy says:

      Headquarters in Murphy, Idaho near the Snake River. Blink twice driving through town and you’ll miss it.

  14. avatar Cloudbuster says:

    So awful.

  15. avatar Sam I Am says:

    Hysterical ! Great read. But ultimately I.J./SAM miss the mark….no barrel lug for attaching a chain saw bayonet.

    1. avatar Geoff "Ammo. LOTS of ammo..." PR says:

      “….no barrel lug for attaching a chain saw bayonet.”

      Hire Dyspeptic Gunsmith to braze one on for ya… 🙂

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        Not a fan of “brazing”*. Looking for a more secure methodology. The chainsaw is heavy, and needs to move laterally against the target. And when using the saw bayonet, the attachment must be able to withstand the forces of hacking at the target, as well. Thinking a milled chainsaw as part of the barrel construction might work best.

        *Assuming we are not talking about brazing beef tips for the outdoor grill.

        1. avatar possum says:

          Plastic is the new thing, JB Weld a big ole glob of that shit on whatever’s

        2. avatar Sam I Am says:

          I read somewhere that if you pour Mad Dog 20/20 on JB Weld, the adhesive will dissolve. Can’t take that chance.

          (Champipple supposedly does the same thing.)

  16. avatar enuf says:

    The point of the thing is not practicality or superior design to some other pistol caliber carbine. It mirror’s an historical approach that was tried and cast aside. That only makes it interesting.

    Look, not every gun you own has to be a highly tuned, utterly perfect anti-Alien Vampire Zombie Virus Apocalypse killing machine. You are actually allowed to own peculiar oddball boomsticks just for the hoot and holler and good times of shooting them. It says so in the Second Amendment, in the footnotes, see “Recreational Uses, the sub-section on “Weird Boomsticks”.

    1. avatar possum says:

      Not, Constitutionally the gunm could have a five inch barrel.

  17. avatar Idaho Boy says:

    Could one of the experts on confusing gun laws correct me if I’m wrong? If this was sold as a barrel and stock kit to convert an existing 1911 pistol into a rifle, then wouldn’t it be perfectly legal to transition from pistol to rifle and back again, as long as the stock and long barrel are never installed separately?

    Enquiring minds want to know…

    1. avatar Anymouse says:

      Yes. That’s been established by Thompson-Contender. You can change a handgun into a rifle and back, but you can’t change a receiver/frame sold as a rifle into a pistol configuration without making it an SBR. No only can you not put a short barrel on this, you can’t take off the stock because the OAL will be less than 26″. You can put a 16″ barrel on a handgun, if you want. Don’t buy the stock.without having/buying the long barrel first, or you could be accused of constructive intent since you’d have parts that could only be assembled into an illegal configuration.

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “That’s been established by Thompson-Contender. You can change a handgun into a rifle and back, but you can’t change a receiver/frame sold as a rifle into a pistol configuration without making it an SBR.”

        Yep. What he said.

    2. avatar Sam I Am says:

      ” If this was sold as a barrel and stock kit to convert an existing 1911 pistol into a rifle, then wouldn’t it be perfectly legal to transition from pistol to rifle and back again, as long as the stock and long barrel are never installed separately?”

      There was (still is?) a device from a company named MecTech, that facilitated making a carbine out of GLOCKs and 1911s. Apparently ATF ruled that if a hand gun was used to make the carbine, the unit could be disassembled, and the handgun considered a handgun, once again. However, if a handgun frame was purchased solely for the purpose of making the carbine, and then removed and converted to a full hand gun, that would be illegal.

  18. avatar possum says:

    I’d like to have a shoulder stock on the ten inch barreled RSBH, I’ve always wanted that but dang Restrictions, we don’t need them no no

  19. avatar GS650G says:

    I wouldn’t hand it too rough, that stock would break right off .

  20. avatar TickTalk says:

    I have been looking at this for years. I am a prisoner of the PRK so have to abide with the so called assault weapon laws..
    I have never gotten back a ruling from the CA DOJ on this rifle on if it is banned. Would you all say that this has “A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon.” ?

    1. avatar GS650G says:

      Since the stock connects at the bottom it appears to defeat the notion of pistol grip. Who knows really?

  21. avatar ILExile says:

    I consider designs such as these as the first Personal Defense Weapons (PDW), with the lineage continuing into SMGs, M1 Carbines, and ultimately designs like the FN P90. Originally tried for horseback fighting, they got a big boost in WWI when people realized a 20″ or 30″ gun with 10+ shots was better than a 40″+ rifle with 5 shots in a trench. Many designs tried, some merely extended barrels and stocks, others with extra handguards or grips. A few models, are on the BATFE exempt list for SBRs, and can have a stock attached or removed at will. The C96 Mauser design even gives your off-hand a place to hold (the magazine)!

  22. avatar busybeef says:

    This is an abuse of God’s gift of Free Will.

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