Gun Review: Rock Island Armory GI Standard 1911

Rock Island Armory GI Standard 1911

Travis Pike for TTAG

I’m not a big 1911 fan these days, but back in the day, I spouted Fudd lore with the best of them. I needed a .45 ACP, but I was also quite young and underage at the time. I must have made enough of a stink because my Dad ended up buying me this Rock Island Armory GI 1911 for my 16th birthday.

Now, 13 years later I still own that first centerfire handgun of mine and if there was ever a gun I could review after lots and lots of use, it’d be this one. Not only was it my first centerfire handgun, for some time it was my only centerfire handgun.

As a kid, I worked for my dad and a lot of my money went directly into .45 ACP, 7.62×39, and .22LR ammunition. I shot a ton and even got into bowling pin shoots at a local range where I burned through most of my summer paychecks in ammo and range fees.

Rock Island Armory GI Standard 1911

(Travis Pike for TTAG)

I eventually progressed from being a broke teen to a broke grown-up in the Marine Corps. I couldn’t afford new guns, but I could afford ammo for the ones I owned and bought what I could.

I shot as often as possible at a local indoor range and became rather sharp with my old 1911. Before we dive too deep into the review let’s talk about what Rock Island Armory defines as a GI 1911.

The Joy of Minimalism

The Rock Island Armory GI Standard 1911 is a simple gun, meant to evoke the original Browning design and the guns issued to American soldiers for decades. Of course, it’s chambered in .45 ACP as God and JMB intended.

My RIA GI Standard 1911 came with one 8-round Mec-Gar magazine. The RIA GI 1911 is about as simple as it gets. You could call it a replica of early military-issue 1911s, but it’s certainly no authentic clone of those old guns. It is similar, though, in terms of being bare bones and basic.

Rock Island Armory GI Standard 1911

(Travis Pike for TTAG)

The gun lacks ambidextrous safeties, any oversized this, or enlarged that. It sports a simple manual safety, a simple grip safety, a standard size beavertail, and just about the most rudimentary sights out there.

The gun also came with non-checkered wood grips, but in years of rough and tumble abuse, they became quite ugly and were replaced.

Rock Island Armory GI Standard 1911

(Travis Pike for TTAG)

Over my years of ownership, this gun has traveled extensively, been tossed around, beaten up, and shot a metric ton. And it’s held together through thick and thin. Something can certainly be said for the elegance of simplicity.

Outside of the grips (which were still functional) I’ve never replaced a single part on the pistol. The finish is quite roughed up, but I prefer to think of it as well-loved.

Ergonomics

The 1911 has extremely functional ergonomics. A svelte, thin grip, an easy-to-reach magazine release and a very simple and effective safety.

The beavertail allows for a bit of leverage, as well as a high and tight grip on the gun. The safety acts as a convenient shelf for my thumb and JMB’s 1911 is one of the few guns where my long, fat thumbs don’t prevent the slide from locking back.

Rock Island Armory GI Standard 1911

Travis Pike for TTAG

The RIA GI Standard slide has a simple set of rear serrations and they are somewhat shallow. They work, but I wouldn’t want to use them with a compromised grip.

After a ton of use over the years, the slide operates oh-so-smoothly. It’s as if it’s on ball bearings.

My only ergonomic complaint would that the beavertail feels sharp and pokes and prods with every round fired. I have a healthy amount of callous built up from years of shooting this gun (and others), but I still feel the sting when I’m shooting the weapon for an extended period of time.

Reliability

Should guns have a break-in period? I’ve experienced it with semi-auto shotguns, and this is the only handgun I’ve ever experienced the need to break in.

I remember a lot of frustration when I was younger with this gun. It had a major issue returning fully to battery. Regardless of how I oiled it or how often I cleaned it, there were always issues. I’d have to manually push the slide the last 1/2 inch with my thumb at least once a magazine.

Rock Island Armory GI Standard 1911

(Travis Pike for TTAG)

I remember the RSO of our bowling pin shoots once asked me who made it after the third issue it had mid-match. I told him and he shook his head and mentioned something about Colts and foreign guns. Then, one day, my 1911 it stopped failing and just worked.

I changed nothing and it has fed reliably from there on out. That being said the GI Standard 1911 seems to be a gun that likes to run wet so I ensure it’s well lubed before range time. It also tends to be picky about ammo and likes the 230-grain variety of .45 ACP. And don’t you dare mention semi-wadcutters.

Rock Island Armory GI Standard 1911

(Travis Pike for TTAG)

Because of that, it’s not a gun I’d use for defensive purposes. It’s a range gun through and through.

Have Rock Island Armory 1911s improved in the intervening years? Absolutely. I also own a 22 TCM and 10mm Model and they both ran like champs from day one. And the newest GI models I’ve seen look to have improved greatly, at least on the outside.

Range Time

Regardless of the early problems I had, the gun is still a lot of fun to shoot. It transports you back to a time when handguns were much simpler in design. Take, for instance, the sights. The rear sight is a piece of rectangular metal with a small notch and the front sight is a small oval cut in half. They are very small.

That said, the Rock Island Armory GI 1911 is plenty accurate. At 25 yards I can always place round after round into the vital zone of a headshot target. I hated the small sights at first but realize now they’ve forced me to learn front sight focus.

As for the trigger, 1911 triggers are hard to screw up and the Rock Island Armory trigger is an excellent trigger overall.

Rock Island Armory GI Standard 1911

(Travis Pike for TTAG)

It has a short and smooth pull and the reset is downright delightful. One of the primary advantages of the 1911 is it’s a wonderfully smooth, crisp trigger. RIA’s GI Standard 1911 is no exception.

Recoil on this 2.8 pound government size gun is a shove rather than a snap. That’s one of the interesting things about these .45 ACP guns. They makes it easy to shoot, even for a 16-year-old who was just learning how to shoot real handguns.

Rock Island Armory GI Standard 1911

Controlled Pairs at 25 yards (Travis Pike for TTAG)

The Rock Island Armory GI 1911 is a smooth-shooting gun that’s fun to take to the range. It’s more than accurate enough, although it’s not particularly fast and accurate. If you want to be precise the small, low-profile sights mean every shot requires a good sight picture, which takes a moment to acquire.

The GI 1911 is an excellent gun if your goal is to have a gun that evokes what the troops had to use for decades in both war and peacetime. It’s a look back in time and shows how combat handguns have evolved over time. The Rock Island Armory Standard model is an affordable 1911.

Just be sure to feed it the ammo it likes. This one wouldn’t be my first choice for home defense, concealed carry, or any other task beyond enjoying some quality time at the range.

Specifications: Rock Island Armory GI Series 1911

Caliber: 45 ACP
Capacity: 8 Rounds
Barrel Length: 5 Inches
Overall Length: 8.56 inches
Height: 5.5 Inches
Weight: 2.84 pounds loaded
MSRP: $537 for the current model of this gun (about $400 retail)

Ratings (out of five stars):

Style * * *
This is your basic, garden variety 1911. The greyish finish isn’t smooth or especially good looking, and mine has taken a beating since I’ve owned it. As a GI 1911, it has naturally excellent styling overall.The 1911 frame is an American classic that has its own undeniable style.

Customization * * * * *
It’s a 45 ACP 1911 so if you want to change anything or everything on it you can. There’s no rail on this model, but it’s still a 1911. Then again, why would you go crazy with a $400 1911? I don’t know, but hey, you can if you want to.

Reliability * * 1/2
The gun had a heavy break-in period, and it’s picky about ammo. Beyond that, the gun also likes to be well-lubed and kept clean. If you use the right ammo and keep it wet and clean, this gun runs fine. However, that does knock off some reliability points for sure.

Accuracy * * *
If I swapped the sights out, I could do a better with this gun when it comes to combining speed and accuracy. If you take your time and focus you can be accurate enough.

Overall * * *
The Rock Island Armory GI 1911 is a great range gun. It’s a gun I still have fun shooting to this day and I tried to leave out any affection or bias I have towards the gun and our years together. It’s far from perfect but it’s a gun I still enjoy regardless.

comments

  1. avatar Draven says:

    I have a newer RI GI, and it ran fine from day one… but it needs better sights.

  2. avatar PeterK says:

    No story on the snek handgrips? 🙂

    1. avatar Nate in CA says:

      I need those and I don’t even have a 1911 (yet)!

      1. avatar SoCalJack says:

        That’s jusy silly, but then again I still have handlebar mustache stickers on all my rifle butt stocks.

    2. avatar Travis Pike says:

      I had these custom made from Alumagrips

      1. avatar FunGunner says:

        Those made me laugh.

  3. avatar Hank says:

    Interesting. I went the other way with age. I grew up as the wonder 9 craze started and thought glocks and XD’s and other striker fired guns were all that. Now that I’ve expanded my plethora of firearms, I’ve come to dislike them and prefer 1911s or revolvers.

    1. avatar David says:

      I did the same thing. I didn’t by my first 1911 until I was 41 in 2011. I still have a couple Wonder 9s, but I have more 1911s than anything else.

    2. avatar SoBe says:

      I fell in love with my grandfather’s competition 1911 .45 ACP when I was 11 years old. That is when he finally let me shoot the 1911, before that he had been teaching me on the S&W (?) .22 competition pistol. My grandfather was a national champion, frequent gold medalist in the PanAm games and an Olympic competitor. As thus, I never had much interest in firearm Tupperware. I did not even like the .38 competition pistols he taught me on nor the .357 S&W my father used to carry every day. That Pimped Up Colt 1911 (his 1911’s always started life as Government Colts before he got through customizing them) was my favorite and need I say how pleasantly surprised I was when he willed it to me when he passed away.

  4. avatar MikeJH121 says:

    Week before Christmas I bought a RIA 1911A2 FS, came with 1 8 rd mag, in a case with rubber and a set of wood grips. Adjustable front and rear for 399.00 + tax. Not a sale. And yet they still have the GI for over 100.00 more.

    1. avatar MikeJH121 says:

      Forgot to add. Just came home today with a Beretta 92S trade in picked up for 199.00 + tax. Didn’t even know the We sell gold store was also an FFL. Everything even new were around 50+ less than anywhere else. May have to go back, they had a price of 299.00 on the 92S but gave me a deal if I bought it now. One 15 shot mag,
      seems they make their profit on the Gold and all. But not a pawn shop.

  5. avatar David says:

    I currently own 2 RI 1911s and have owned two others. None have EVER experienced a malfunction. I’ve tried to make them jam but they won’t do it. In fact, I currently own 4 1911s and you can add a total of four others that I have parted with over the years. They include Colt, Ruger, Taurus, and Rock Island. None have ever failed in any way at all. I’ve put hundreds of rounds through a couple and thousands of rounds through the others. One is a very early Colt Civilian Government Model made in 1911. The last patent date is February 14, 1911, and it has the rear pony. I’ve heard all the tales of failures and accuracy problems. The only parts that I’ve replaced was the worn out barrel bushing and the recoil spring when I bought it. Everything else, including the grips and the barrel, is original. I’ve put a lot of rounds through it in the four years I’ve owned it and it is still as accurate as all my other 1911s even with the crappy little factory sights. I actually carry it every now and then just for kicks and I know it will perform as well as my modern 1911s.

  6. avatar H Allen Davis LLD says:

    Son, I hate to break it to you, but the grip safety on your gun is NOT a “beavertail,” as you refer to it numerous times in your affectionate review. I’ve been shooting 1911s since LBJ was president and picking up his beagles by the ears. “Beavertail” grips safeties began appearing on 1911 pistols in the 1980s when Col. Jeff Cooper was popularizing IPSC and race guns. A “beavertail” grip safety flair out laterally and are fitted to the tang on the receiver. Your grip safety is the same one which the Army put on the gun when they modified Browning’s original design in 1926 and hung the “A1” designation on to the end of its title. Since I only have your photographs to examine, it could be the ever-so-slightly extended one that Colt added to its Mark IV/Series ’70, but I can’t say that for sure without measuring it myself.

    I’m disappointed you take such a dim view of your gun since it did indeed seem to need a “break-in” period. Since functioning with hardball has since become flawless, I’d say your gun was more than adequately fitted when it was built. That, and the fact that you won’t even utter the word “semi-wadcutter” within sight of your 1911, tells me that your pistol could use a minuscule amount of attention around its feed ramp and perhaps the throat. I’ve seen countless bare-bones GI .45s (genuine “US Property” as well as factory knock-offs alike) that gobble up wadcutters and all manner of hollow-points like mothers’ milk.

    And as far as Rock Island guns in general are concerned, I think they should make all the other 1911 manufacturers sit up and take notice. I see no excuse for a bare-bones 1911 bearing price tags of $700 or more. They’re as sturdy, reliable, and rock solid as any other 1911 to come down the pike.

    I certainly hope the affection for your gun will grow over time, but more so the respect and appreciation you should have for such a gun. I’d give anything to have my very first 1911 back in my safe again.

    1. avatar MouseGun says:

      Beaver Tail has become sort of a catch all for “grip safety” over the years (especially among millennials).

    2. avatar Mark H says:

      If it won’t feed SWC then it most likely just needs the extractor tensioned properly. Probably came with too much tension from the factory. (most less expensive 1911s do)

  7. avatar LUVITORLEEVIT says:

    I just love fucking critics, don’t you?

    1. avatar Mike V says:

      The comment section wouldn’t be complete without them. 😉

      1. avatar jwm says:

        I see what you did there.

    2. avatar Paul W Thomas says:

      Was that fourth word an adjective, or a verb?

  8. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    H, Col. Cooper called them duck tails. He hated them by any name. My first was a Colt Series 70 Government Model. I must have owned close to fifty over the years and would have to crack the safe to see how reside there now. All have given great service.

    1. avatar H Allen Davis LLD says:

      I remember that now, Gadsden. In fact, there were a number of modifications Cooper didn’t care for. Lopping the end of the barrel and slide off and calling it the Commander Model was about as far as he was willing to go. He practically thought installing a set of Pachmayr neoprene grips was for sissies at first, although I seem to remember he did endorse ambidextrous safeties for southpaws.

      I remember almost choking when I read that he actually liked the CZ-75. The only bad thing he had to say about it was the fact it was still a “crunchenticker,” his favorite term for the 9mm. In fact, he liked the design so much that he was willing to jump in head-over-heels endorsing and promoting the Dornaus & Dixon Bren Ten and the overpowered 10mm Auto round.

      1. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

        H, this is damn near a stroll down memory lane. I was having a “coversation,” yeah that’s it a conversation, about Cooper’s nomenclature for a grip safety over a couple of beers with mutual friends. First time I had met this guy. Him, “How do you know he called it a ducktail? I never heard that.” Me, “Because he told me to my face.” When the laughter subsided he changed the subject. Bren 10 was a great pistol. Its biggest downfall was spare mag availability. Some pistols were shipped with no magazine at all. I’ve got a friend who has one. With two spare mags. This guy could get his hands on anything. He kept in a shadow box with spare mags and a photo of himself shaking hands with Cooper. First thing you saw when you walked in the store. Finally, no one considered the 10mm to be overpowered until the FBI adopted it. Seems some of the girly men agents, (that doesn’t mean all agents, I know some that are shooters) but some, who pissed and moaned about recoil. I’d have told them to get a job on a milk route. (No offense if you’re a milkman. I know it’s hard work and long hours in the weather, but I had to pick some profession.)

      2. avatar Mark H says:

        Properly “Crunchenticker” was Cooper’s disparaging term for DA/SA autos. The CZ-75 is still techncially DA/SA even if most of us carry them with the hammer back and the safety on.

  9. avatar Charlie the Bear says:

    I learned pistol shooting with the 1911 my Dad carried ashore on Omaha Beach, a 1943 Ithaca. Put thousands of rounds through it, finally replacing the recoil spring and retired it.

    RIA is my choice for 1911 pistols, I also find it ridiculous that people pay high prices for a 1911 with a fancy name that do not shoot any better than my Rocks. Oddly, I do not have a GI model, just everything else except a 6″ 10mm. Hopefully one will fall off a truck someday and I will find it.

    My EDC for years was an RIA officers model, that also has some thousands of rounds through it and feeds hollow points flawlessly.

  10. avatar Mark N. says:

    I had the same issue as the author with my Kimber through 1400 rounds. Replaced the recoil spring with a Wolff and the problem disappeared. I just picked up a Springfield 1911A1 used for $500. Haven’t shot it yet, but I suspect it will shoot quite well.

  11. avatar MDH says:

    OK. For that price, I want one.

  12. avatar RingoMD says:

    I’ve got a rock island 1911 GI model I bought back in 2003 or so, it has shot as reliably as any other 1911 I’ve had my hands on. I believe every firearm enthusiast should have a 1911… and the Rock Island GI is the perfect model to get without breaking the bank. Sure you can go Ruger, Colt, Sig, Dan Wesson, Wilson… but for most of us 1911s are just a connection to the past and won’t be a daily carry gun, so why not go with an inexpensive GI model? You’re not a car enthusiast until you’ve owned an Alfa Romeo, and you’re not a gun enthusiast until you own a 1911.

  13. avatar Jay in Florida says:

    I have 3 of their guns. 2 Officers in 9mm and 45apc. Also a 10mm/40S&W 2 barrels in a Commander size. All very good 1911s for the money.
    The 2 Officers are my daily carry guns. The 10mm is a blast literally to shoot.

  14. avatar Piller .480 says:

    I have one that I bought around 2,000. It never jammed at all. No break in. The only ammunition it really hates is Gold Dot. Every other HP defensive ammunition I have tried has fed like 9mm ball through a Glock. Due to my aging eyes, I recently had some target sights put on it.
    I like and shoot several calibers and styles from 1911 to plastic fantastic to wheelguns. My opinion is that the author is a bit of a newly minted snob to have used the term Fudd, and the Editor should have done his job and removed that reference.

  15. avatar Jon Y says:

    FYI, in the paperwork that comes with Rock Island M1911A-1 pistols, it is stated that they have a 500 rd break-in period. I’ve two Rocks, a Gov mod and a Commander, zero problems ever.

  16. avatar KCK says:

    16 + 13 years later, so how long have you been 29?

    1. avatar H Allen Davis LLD says:

      Hahahahah. I’ve been 39 for damn-nigh a quarter-century myself! I just wish I could convince my wife of it!

  17. avatar Michael Joseph Venia says:

    If you can do head shots at 25 yards with a 1911 then it certainly qualifies as a good home defense gun. The hole from a 230 grain .45 FMJ is large enough to let the brains slide right out. How about a review on the Auto Ordnance BKO 1911 WWII replica?

  18. avatar Will Drider says:

    Refreshing to read the comments on a 1911 article and not have Haters bashing it and then extolling the virtues of this or that other handgun they prefer.

    1. avatar H Allen Davis LLD says:

      Indeed! Perhaps I should’ve said “fucking indeed!”

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