I expect a high-priced tool to work well; that’s certainly true for handguns. But what I really love to see: an inexpensive gun perform well. That’s probably why I’ve bought a couple dozen Mosin Nagants over the years. Anyway, after our visit to STI, TTAG James69 asked when we were going to see a review of the decidedly lower-priced Rock Island Armory 1911. I’ve been itching to try one myself for a while, so I emailed a request to TTAG command for a base model in .45ACP most riki-tik . . .
I’ve heard good things about Rock Island 1911s, but I’ve never shot one. Dan was kind enough to send me his personal Rock Island Armory GI Standard FS .45ACP, a three-year-old gun with about 500 rounds through it. At first look, well, I was underwhelmed. In general appearance, the RIA 1911 looks more or less like the original World War II GI 1911s. The finish isn’t blued, but Parkerized. The handles are smooth and unadorned inexpensive wood grips. It is missing more than a few wish-list items like ambidextrous thumb safeties, and extended beaver tails.
Dan’s gun had obvious tool marks throughout, including a pretty deep one on the trigger guard. Most of the edges are sharp and rough. But come on, this is a $470 1911 made in the Philippines. It’s not supposed to be pretty. The Rock Island Armory GI Standard FS isn’t a beauty contest winner by any means, but that doesn’t mean it won’t shoot. Does it?
So, a little RemOil and…to the range Batman!
My plan: Shoot about 500 break-in rounds through the pistol, and invite two other shooters to put rounds down range. I had a lot of Winchester White Box, Remington UMC, American Eagle and Blazer Brass 230-grain FMJs along with some Remington Golden Saber hollowpoints. For magazines we deployed the cheap and cheerful 8-round magazine (Mec-Gar) supplied by RIA as well as upmarket STI as Wilson Combat mags.
First up: Shoot it to get a feel for the gun. We expected the 4- to 6-pound single-action-only trigger pull to be solid and it was.
But the feel is painful. Three magazines in and I was getting cut up. Like the rest of the gun, the grip safety is roughly cut and unpolished. The Rock Island GI Standard’s recoil drove those sharp edges right into the web of my hand. Fortunately, I just picked up a pair of Kryptek Gunslinger gloves on the recommendation of a professional shooter. The gloves afforded a good grip from the mainspring housing forward, ideal trigger feel and saved my hands from the ballistic butchery of hammer bite.
Okay. So this RIA GI 1911 has such bad ergonomics it literally hurts to shoot it. But let’s see how it shoots anyway. Well, it doesn’t, not reliably anyway. The GI made it to round 43 before the first failure to feed. The next failure to feed arrived at round 44. It didn’t get much better after that. Failures happened with every magazine. As far as I could tell, no mag was more or less likely to fail than the others. Changing reloading styles with the magazines didn’t seem to matter.
It wasn’t an ammo issue either. I had consistent first-round failure to feed malfunctions with every type of ammunition I fed the Rock Island GI, and several failures to return to battery as well. At about 200 rounds, I regrouped. A heavy round of RemOil helped a lot. But I still had to push the slide with my thumb to feed the first round with just about every type of ammo, JHP or ball, with the notable exception of the Blazer Brass.
For some reason, the GI model liked Blazer. After the second lube from the bushing backward along the slide to the firing pin, the budget-priced 1911 failed to return to battery once, but just once. The Winchester ammo still had occasional problems. Feeding Remington ammo resulted a first round failure to feed every time.
So appearance, shootability, and reliability are all no-gos. What about accuracy?
The Action Target dueling tree was driving me crazy. I couldn’t reliably hit the 6-inch target standing at 10 yards. Neither could the other two shooters, both competent with a pistol. Shooting off a front bag, the Rock Island GI shot 5-inch groups with Winchester ammo. From my snubby J frame 38SPL+P back-up gun, that’s a good group. From a full-size 1911, it’s unacceptable.
Bottom line: Is this a good gun? This WWII-style gun is no fun to shoot at all and I certainly wouldn’t bet my life on it. The same rough treatment found on the gun’s exterior carries through to the internals. From the bolt face to breach, this gun seems unfinished. It’s pretty clear that Rock Island stopped working on the gun when they were done, not when it was ready for your holster.
There is inexpensive, and then there is just cheap. This is gun is the latter. Oh, and before anyone asks, RIA is free to pull a Cabot: Fly me to the Philippines to fix this gun, take me on a Armscor International factory tour and have me shoot it again. Just sayin’ . . .
Rock Island Armory 1911 GI Specifications:
Length: 8.56 inches
Height: 5.5 inches
Barrel Length: 5 inches
Weight: 2.47 lbs. (unloaded)
Front Sight: Fixed, low-profile
Rear Sight: Fixed
Price: GI Series is about $475 retail (about $419 via Brownells)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Appearance * *
So this gets 2 stars because it’s a standard GI 1911. But the tool marks, the rough edges, and the cheap handles make the gun look ugly. No Parkerized finish looks great, but this one looks like some of the first finishes I did in my garage. And that’s not good.
At contact range this gun is a tack driver. Beyond that, things get iffy.
I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. A Government Model 1911 can be beautiful, reliable, and accurate. That’s why I carry one for self defense. But all that comes at a price. Apparently that price is higher than $470. And if you want a GI 1911, buy one, maybe that says Colt on the side of it. You might be happier with an RIA TAC-level model.
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