The Custom 1911 Pistol Evolution

Specail Combat Government-14

We have seen 1911 clones and variants offered with certain “Custom” features on production guns these days. Features that were once the venue of the custom smith. How did these things come to be accepted as the norm? More importantly…where did they come from and why?

The answer is simple. All of them have their roots in competition. Bullseye, and later…action competition like IPSC, and later… IDPA and USPSA competition.

We’ll start with the Bullseye pistols and some of the modifications that most want, even if they don’t understand why…or what their intended purpose was originally.

Dan Wesson ECO-3

The lowered, flared ejection port was born in Bullseye competition at places like Camp Perry. But…why?

Bullseye competitors roll their own ammo. They don’t like dented or creased brass…and it’s not because it doesn’t look pretty. The reason is purely practical. Dented brass decreases case volume. Decreased case volume increases pressure. Increased pressure increases velocity. Increased velocity changes point of impact. Bullseye shooters are second only to benchrest shooters in their anal retentiveness over consistent velocities. They’ve spend big bucks on their pistols, and they don’t want to blow a match over inconsistent velocities…and lowering the port eliminated most of the dents and dings.

The “flared” port. We’ve all seen that neat little teardrop-like cut made at the rear of the ejection ports, and…because it lends a true custom look to our pistols…many desire it on theirs without understanding its true purpose.

Bullseye again. At places like Camp Perry, the competitors are lined up, each man concentrating on his target and striving for a perfect string of X ring hits. If the brass from the pistol immediately to his left is crossing his line of sight…or worse…bouncing off his head…his concentration suffers. Timed just right, it could cause him to blow a shot. The “flared” port was born.

The term is “Rollout” or “Rollover” notch, and along with small tweaks to the extractor and/or the ejector…it directs the airborne cases at an angle to the rear…behind the shooter to your right.


The ramp and throat job:

Here is a reliability modification done on Bullseye pistols, not only for smooth feeding with lead SWC bullets…but to prevent damage to the bullets, and a better chance of finding the mark. It’s done not because of the flat nose, but because of the shoulder. Incidentally, the primary purpose of the shoulder is in cutting a clean hole in paper and increasing the chances of cutting a higher scoring ring and leaving less room for argument over which ring is scored.

The bullet diameter shoulder makes hard contact with the barrel ramp, which causes the barrel to move forward as the bullet drags it along. If the barrel moves forward, it also moves up. If it moves up too early, the front corners of the upper lugs crash with the rear corners of the slide lugs…and the result is called a Three-Point Jam. The TPJ not only damages the bullet…it damages the case wall. While alibis are given for malfunctions, it breaks the shooter’s concentration and throws him off of his “Zen” for the next few shots.

Dan Wesson ECO-8

The checkered or serrated front strap.

Here is a modification that helps the shooter maintain a consistent grip, purely and simply. Pistol shooters understand that consistent shot groups are largely a matter of not allowing the gun to shift between shots…or in reacquiring a the same grip each time. The textured front strap aids in not losing the grip to begin with. It’s a good modification for slow-fire Bullseye competition, but not so much for action matches that require fast draw because if the wrong grip is attained…it doesn’t allow fast hand adjustments on the fly. As one man remarked: “Checkered front straps let you get the wrong grip and keep it.”

Specail Combat Government-3

Upswept “Beavertail ” grip safety. By the way, it looks more like a duck’s tail than a beaver’s. A true beavertail safety is an entirely different design.

Born in IPSC and IDPA/USPSA competition, it prevents blistering the web of the hand from the standard grip safety, and allows the shooter’s hand to grip the pistol as high as possible…minimizing muzzle flip and promoting fast followup shots…but it’s not conducive to the consistent hand placement required for Bullseye. All serious rifle shooters understand the importance of the “Spot Weld” for accurate shooting. The standard grip safety provides a spot weld for the hand on the pistol. The upswept safety doesn’t. A simple matter of modifying the gun to perform its best in a given discipline. Action shooting doesn’t demand precise accuracy, so the spot weld isn’t as important to the shooter as recoil control.

Colt M45A1-23

Front cocking serrations…or as they’ve been called…”Grasping Grooves.”

Here’s one that has caused much consternation among 1911 fans. They tear up leather holsters and they seemingly serve no real purpose, though some have opined that they allow a safer way to press-check the pistol…so they believe that’s why they’re there.

This one came from the racegun/speed shooting craze that started in the early 90s, and the optical sighting devices that were mounted on some of the more radical machines. So far removed from the 1911 design that the competitors don’t even refer to them as pistols, they call them “Shooting Devices” or simply…”Devices.” The optics mounted on the guns made it necessary to find a way to hand-cycle the slides due to the ones in the rear being all but inaccessible.

These features that once came from custom builders are now available on production guns. The market demands it, but very often…or maybe most often…the shooters don’t even understand what they’re for. The see them on the top competitors’ guns, and they want them on theirs, the same as the car makers responded to the demand for racing stripes on Boss 302 Mustangs and Z/28 Camaros during the muscle car era. The manufacturers and the custom smiths responded with the standard wisdom that the customer is always right….even if it adds nothing practical to his gun.

6 thoughts on “The Custom 1911 Pistol Evolution”
  1. I have followed John’s writings for 8 years, he never ceases to amaze me with his knowledge of the venerable 1911.

  2. John, do you remember a very short lived fad in the mid to late 80s. that I was trying to remember what it was called the other day. It was sort of a washer around the muzzle adn the idea was it was supposed to protect the gun from a contact shot . idea being it would stop blood or guts from getting int he slide as the action worked during recoil. it did not project out nor was it a stricking device but just sort of looked like a bushhing that stayed around the barrel at the muzzle?

    1. I seem to remember something along those lines, but so many fad modifications have come and gone over the years that I don’t usually give’em much thought.

  3. What about the full length guide rod? It is my understanding that also came from either Bullseye or IPSC, I don’t recall which. While only one of my 1911’s has one, I understand that they may induce FTF’s. So, none of my carry 1911’s have them.


  4. This was an interesting article, John. I had bought one of the Colt models with an upswept grip safety, and while I was able to prove to myself that it was mechanically more accurate than my basic Series 80 Government, I had to work harder to realize that accuracy. Maybe a different implementation of upswept grip safety might have rectified that issue, but I found that since I don’t suffer from hammer-bite from a typical Goverment model, the upswept grip safety has turned out to be an solution in search of a need. Thanks for explaining why.

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