“The comparison between the GT-R and 911 is not appropriate for the 1911 [vs. polymer pistols],” TTAG commentator Dave Y writes. “Rather a comparison to a Harley Davidson is more appropriate. They’re from the same era, are evolutionarily unchanged since inception. However, where the HD is never going to win a race with a modern motorcycle, a 1911 can and often does shoot as accurately or better than modern pistols.” David Y’s Harley analogy is very, very close to my thinking about 1911s. But not quite . . .
First, I love Harleys. I’ve owned an example of just about every modern motorcycle made, from flying brick Beemers to F1-fast Hondas to monstrous Ducatis. I loved my Harley-Davidson Fat Boy the best. The brakes sucked, the handling was horrific and it sounded like an dinosaur gargling. But that Harley had soul. It was the only FMM (Five More Minutes) motorcycle I’ve ever owned; everything else was a straight shot into the garage and done.
I feel the same way about 1911s. I’ve shot three grand examples of John Browning’s 100-year-old design and 1911s so decrepit they make downtown Detroit look like The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. All of the pistols had genuine character. Firing the gun made me feel, well, manly. (Female readers are directed to the catchphrase for Irish Spring soap.) Like the Harley, the 1911 puts users in touch with mechanical parts, red in tooth and claw, ready to kick some major ass.
Of course, so is most every other gun made. And when it comes to the ass-kicking part of the program, there are are better choices than a 1911. Guns that are just as accurate as a 1911, equally comfortable, nowhere near as stylish, completely devoid of historical relevance and ten times more reliable. Yes, reliable. ‘Cause we can sit here and argue about the importance of ergonomics to accuracy (i.e. the best gun is the one you shoot best), but if a handgun goes click instead of bang when you need bang, that’s a magazine of not good.
My statement has no statistical evidence to support it and depends on a strict set of variables. If nothing else, you have to compare like-with-like. A high-end properly maintained 1911 is more reliable than a P.O.S. polymer pistol that’s been treated like a Japanese POW. And vice versa. But there’s no denying that the Glock (and its followers and imitators) take handgun reliability to another level. The modern gun’s mechanical simplicity and relatively advanced materials have the edge in the click not bang department.
That said, if you buy a well-made 1911, find out what ammo it likes, feed it just that ammo; fire, clean and service the gun regularly; keep the pistol away from heat and humidity and generally lavish it with love and respect, there’s no reason to expect the weapon will let you down when push comes to shove. In the same way you can keep a Harley running like clockwork—if you take the time and effort to do so.
But—what if you don’t? What if you want a handgun that delivers equal or superior reliability with minimal maintenance? One that can be treated like dirt, with dirt, and still fire thousands of rounds without fail? Then the Glock and its ilk win. All a modern combat handgun needs is an occasional clean and maybe not even that (lubrication is tantamount). Think of it this way: if a polymer gun wasn’t more reliable than a 1911 when abused and neglected, they wouldn’t exist. And modern police forces wouldn’t issue them.
The fact that elite special forces military units still use 1911s does not undermine this argument. If anyone’s likely to give a 1911 the care and feeding it needs to achieve combat-ready reliability, it is they. Which begs the question, why bother? Why not use the less finicky and thus ultimately more reliable pistol and call it good? Because JMB’s gun shoots big ass bullets with feeling. And, thus, astounding precision.
If nothing else. the 1911’s single action trigger requires less manual dexterity than the average—hang on. Why have we excluded revolvers from this discussion? Another time. Where was I? The 1911’s trigger requires less travel and effort than a polymer pistol‘s go pedal. This “easier” trigger pull disturbs the gun less, enabling greater accuracy. Note: the 1911 itself isn’t more accurate than a well-made combat gun. Some people are far more accurate shooting a 1911 than a combat pistol. How great is that?
That’s not a rhetorical question. As the rabbi and other gun gurus will tell you, the 1911 is the best gun in the world to shoot someone with—and the worst gun in the world NOT to shoot someone with. In other words, the 1911’s light trigger pull requires serious training and discipline. In the heat of battle, you MUST keep your finger off the 1911’s trigger until you fully intend on firing. Otherwise, you WILL let loose the bullets of war. A negligent discharge is only a finger twitch away.
I reckon this is the crucial fact that explains the cultural divide between 1911 devotees and owners who prefer combat guns. The people who favor the 1911 know that their gun requires more commitment on all levels: maintenance, storage, operation (including manipulating the external safety) and training (including reloading). These requirements bond them to their weapon, and reward them with the thrill of mechanical mastery. They love their 1911s and see themselves (not without reason) as an elite.
Combat weapon supporters prefer tools that do their job with the least amount of physical and mental effort, letting them concentrate on the business at hand (aiming, shooting, not shooting). They trust themselves to wield their weapon safely, but see no reason to depend on that trust for their survival when they don’t have to. And as a group, they like the extra confidence that comes from extra bullets.
If that’s you, the 1911 sucks. Truth be told, I fall into that category. I carry a Springfield XD-M chambered in 9mm. But I understand 1911 elititism perfectly. If I was a different kind of person, I’d carry a 1911 in a heartbeat and tell the polymer pistol people to piss off. But I’m not so I don’t. Or at least not yet. In fact, I’m giving serious thought to buying a serious 1911 because they don’t suck really. They’re just like a Harley only WAY cooler. And that’s saying something. I think.