Kimber 1911A1 Tactical Custom II
by John Pfeiffer
After selling my last 1911 style .45 to a friend several years ago, I experienced an empty feeling that for the longest time I didn't realize had something to do with that very interaction. I was always partial to John Browning's 1911A1 design and for some reason
it was the only pistol that I could shoot real well. Glocks, Walthers, S&W's and Sigs have been in and out of my collection for years as carry and target guns, but the 1911's have always fit my hand the best and always been far more accurate than my current
Glocks and far more accurate than I will ever be capable of.
I really looked at my last .45, a Springfield stainless mil-spec, as my finest pistol. I had spent lots of money on mods to make it as comfortable and as accurate as possible. All the standard mods such as a two piece guide rod, group gripper link, beavertail safety, target sights, Commander hammer, extended slide release and Hogue grips forced the cost to twice what I had originally paid for it. Magnaporting was not really essential, but it looked cool and reduced recoil by about 20%. I had ever so slightly squeezed the slide in a large vise (do that right or you're buying a new slide) and tightened up the slide to rail fit substantially. The gun was a tack driver. When the other guys on the range would shoot water filled milk jugs on the 50 yard range, I would shoot the coat hangers they were attached to. It would really have pissed them off to know that I was doing it, for some reason they thought their little .38's and Glock 9's were responsible.
For years, I drooled over various 1911 offerings at the gun shows. Wanting to fondle each and every Colt, Springfield, Wilson, Les Baer and Para Ordnance that I happened upon. I held my ground because I wasn't sure that going back to an antiquated design such as the 1911 was a great idea. after all, I had the latest high tech, plastic pop guns with the coolest coatings and nifty night sights. You couldn't get much better than that, right? My Glock 30 was touted as one of the most accurate .45's out of the box. I still can't figure that out since it has a barrel that is barely 2" long. I know it's very accurate out to 20 yards, but past that, I haven't figured out where to aim to hit anything. It's always a bit low left at 25 yards and god-knows-where at 50. Awesomely accurate close range personal protection piece, but I miss my tack driver.
Back in 1996, I began to see a new name in 1911's arrive in the gun shops and at the shows. It was manufactured by a company called Kimber. I was reluctant to look at any of their guns. I mean, I'd never heard of these guys, who the heck were they? Toss Wilson, Les Baer, Dan Wesson or Valtro at me, and I'd say, "great, that's awesome that they're getting into the major manufacturing game, but Kimber WHO?
Years went by and I heard stories about how great Kimbers were, how great they weren't, and how expensive they are. I was still reluctant to look at them. Recently most of my gun show time was eaten up by a consuming need to appropriate a Para Ordnance 14-45 wide body 1911. Even though the magazines were in the $70+ range, it would be nice to have a 1911 capable of holding 14 rounds of nice meaty, thick and tasty 45 caliber hardball chunks of 900 fps love. Load 'em up baby!
Realizing that I didn't really need more than 7 or 8 rounds for a target, sometimes carry gun, I decided to set my sights (no pun intended) on a mil-spec 1911A1. That meant no frills such as the beavertail safety or night sights. I handled several new Springfield's and Colt mil-specs that were nice, but I then found myself looking at all the custom pieces that were available. Once I realized how much time I was spending on various websites looking for mag wells, grips and guide rods, I knew that a basic pistol was just going to be a stripped hot rod waiting for mods. I could save cash by purchasing a Springfield mil-spec for $450, then add two or three hundred in enhancements (which I knew I would do since I can't leave _anything_ alone), which would take me up to the $700 mark easily.
Looking For .45 Love In All The Right Places.
After a few weeks of deliberation about what I should do, I began to do internet research on the latest high end versions of the 1911 from Springfield, Wilson, Charles Daly, Colt, Para and Kimber. Searching the gun forums for reviews and insight into potential problems is something that I consider mandatory before buying a new firearm. Learn from other peoples mistakes and you'll hopefully make a wise decision.
I've owned Springfield's in the past and knew that they were high quality guns, but wasn't completely happy with various reviews of their "loaded" series and the configurations. The prices weren't bad, but without going to the custom shop models, I wasn't going to get the maxed out package that I was looking for. They were also using new two piece barrels. ??? I decided to stay away from THAT. Granted, I didn't need a super tight match gun, but I still was hoping for all the goodies that I had gotten used to on my previous customized 1911's. Getting a total package was required, because a fully customized pistol from the factory, SHOULD work reliably 100% of the time. I can tell you that one that receives amateur mods to a basic package will not. If you have the funds to hire the best gunsmith in your state, you may get a fully working pistol when he's done. In most cases, we do our own mods to save money and being the novice gunsmiths we are, we'll inevitably screw something up. Personally, I would leave all hammer, trigger and sear mods to a pro.
The Wilsons were just outright TOO expensive. The lower end models that I liked exceeded $1000 easily, and even though Wilson ranks up there with Les Baer and Valtro for beautiful pistol work, I just didn't have that kind of budget. Actually, my budget was more frugal and in the $500 range, but I just can't leave something alone without modifying it, so the budget went up. Pay me now or pay me later. Well, I didn't feel like shipping the pistol out for various mods so...
The Charles Dalys. The Charles Daly pistols are actually produced by Armscor in the Philippines. The basic pistols are sound, but there are so many complaints of bad triggers, accuracy problems, parts breaking and overall poor workmanship that even their custom beaver tailed, guide rodded upper models were only good for their frame and receiver. Yes, they're only $329, but a match grade barrel (standard on many other upper end 1991's), was at least $120, and then the other upgrades (night sights, mag well, nicer grips), would put me in the $600+ range and all I'd have is a imported 1911 copy. For the price, the Daly was tempting, but I simply don't want to mod a pistol that's already modded but doesn't have decent parts.
Colt dropped out of the 1911 biz for a few years. This really made no difference to me in choosing the right 1911. They had dried up their civilian sales and tried to go exclusively Police and Military while offering only the high end Match type 1911's to the public (a financial juggling feat was required for most people to buy a Gold Cup). For 2002-3, they have come back with their 70 series, a revamped 1991A1 line and the 80 series in addition to their Cold Cup guns. After looking at some of these newer pistols, especially the 1991A1, I found them to be overpriced for the content received. The base mil-spec model used to be a good deal years ago, when it was in the $400 range (or less), but it also has gone up in price in the typical "we're Colt, we're popular again, so we're trendy pricey". Nix to Colt on a 1991A1 or series 70 purchase.
Para Ordnance has some kind of fear of legal retribution. Lately, it seems that all I could locate at the local gun shops and shows is their LDA series of 1911 clones. The LDA's are a redesign with a double action trigger in lieu of a single action. They say that the trigger pull is as smooth as a single action trigger (one pull releases the hammer ), but as safe as double action trigger (where the trigger cocks back and releases the hammer in one pull). I wasn't impressed with the LDA. Gimme the single action trigger and damn the lawyers. The gun isn't going off unless I pull that trigger. If you doubt your common sense enough to require a double action semi-auto for safety, maybe you should carry a baseball bat for protection instead. I’d feel better.
And The Winner Is:
Kimber. They didn't arrive on the scene until 1996. How could they really know the 1911? Over the years I made plenty of snide remarks about them because they weren't Colt or Springfield and I thought that they were priced too high. Many statements that I may have made about the company early on may have been true, but the last few years have been a little different. I've seen more and more articles praising the Kimber line
and giving many kudos and accolades. Every time I looked at a gun mag, Kimber was getting yet another award! I read through many Springfield, Colt, Para, et al forums on the net and the only forums that had consistent praise by the people posting was the Kimber forum. If you didn't count the few cases of problematic magazines and sights being off (easily remedied), the Kimbers were tight, accurate, reliable pistols with a top notch fit and finish. After years of snubbing my nose at Kimber, I was starting to warm up to them.
Then I found out why they had improved so much. They had hired Chip McCormick, IPSC champ and aftermarket 1911 parts developer to consult and do development of their pistol line. Maybe that's why so many posters on the Kimber forum were so positive about their experience with their Kimbers. Without all the great feedback in the reviews and forums, I may have never considered a Kimber, but now I was sure that it was the direction to take.
It would be an easy decision if Kimber only made 2 or 3 variations of 1911. Picking from a dozen wouldn't be too bad. Choosing from 53 different pistols was a bit harder. I went down the list of don't like/don't need. Stainless was out. I was looking for a carry piece, not a showboat. Kimbers stainless isn't exactly a super polished bright finish, but I really wanted a non-reflective gun and even brushed stainless is too bright, That brought the count down to about 28. No need for the polymer high cap bodied Kimber, so I was down to 23. Target sighted guns were out. Most were too expensive and I wanted night sights, so I was down to 18. I wanted a checkered front strap and mag well, and preferred to stay with a full size 5" barrel. I was down to two guns. The Kimber Tacticals. The Custom II was the aluminum version of the TLE and had the extras I was looking for.
The Tactical Custom II definitely came with all the goodies. Forged aluminum frame, the front strap checkering, beavertail safety, skeletonized hammer, full length guide rod, night sights, mag well, external extractor and a beautiful set of laminated wood grips with the Kimber logo laser etched midway down the grip. It was a beaut. It was about $300 over my budget, but sometimes you have to make that sacrifice. ~_^
The Kimber Tactical Custom II's frame is machined from 7075-T7 billet aluminum, which is much lighter than steel, although may show signs of wear past 20,000 rounds I would think that if the gun is lubricated properly, wear would be greatly reduced, but if signs of wear were present, having Robar Co. plate the frame in NP3 (Nickel plating impregnated with teflon) would halt much future wear. The slide and most other parts of the gun are steel, the slide having a black oxide non-reflective coating on it to contrast the anodized grey of the frame. Each part was outstanding in quality of casting, forging or machining. I had read about some Kimbers with less thant resonable finishes, but this was definately not one of them. This quality on this pistol is AWESOME.
The only thing I was concerned about was the plastic mainspring housing and mag well. I don't know how they'll hold up over time, but they look sturdy enough. I almost didn't notice that the were palstic until I stared fondling the gun. <sigh>
The main problems with Kimbers that I read about were with the supplied magazine. I'm not sure who manufactured it, but mine doesn't look like a Chip McCormick Shooting Star mag. If it is, it's a poor example since the mag follower is nearly impossible to press down inside the mag body unless you force it. I can see where the last round may not make it into the breach area if that follower doesn't pop up past the mag body lip edge. I solved that problem by purchasing four Wilson 47D eight round mags. I have no doubt that the Wilson's are the best 1911 mags that I've owned. Just the follower design makes that mag worth the extra several bucks over the Chips and the Metalform's that many 1911 owners are using. It's a serious, no nonsense designed mag that works every time. Why use cheap mags for competition or self defense if you can't trust them 100%? I'll pay the extra and take the reliability please.
Home On The Range.
It wasn't more than a day after purchase before the Kimber was on the range. I had high hopes for it, although I knew that the first few hundred rounds weren't going to be the most reliable because of the break in period. I had one stock Kimber 8 round mag and four Wilson 47D 8 rounders to keep it company. I had my Glock 30 along for the ride (that ate over 150 rounds itself that day). I was obviously looking to compare the two.
It had been awhile since held a 1911 and I had forgot how good a feel it had. It's one of the most comfortable pistols that I've held but I began to wonder if the 30lpi frontstrap checkering had been a good idea. Even before my first shot it was already biting into my fingers. No biggie. BANG!
Hmm. Not bad. Not at the center of the 25 yard target, but we're talking first shot out of a brand new pistol. BANG! BANG! Better. Closer to the center, but it looked like I was jerking the trigger. Very touchy. My Glocks are quite a bit different and I don't tend to jerk the pistol down when squeezing the trigger. At least the recoil was light. 1911's really are cuddly puppies when it comes to recoil.
BANG! X 250.
I got it so dirty that I was surprised that it wasn't having lots of FTF's or FTE's. I did have 2 failures to feed at about rounds 100 and 240. These were primarily due to the one stock 8 round mag. That one's going to have to get tossed into the back of the safe for resale if I ever sell the Kimber (NOT).
Overall the accuracy was excellent, with sub one inch groupings at 25 yards. Even with the gun being filthy at 250 rounds, it was still functioning fine and grouping great. It feed hardball with ease and didn't notice when I switched to a 50 count box of 200gr hollowpoints. I was more than happy with it's performance and feel that it will shoot even better after the 1000rd break in.
Cleaning the Kimber was an adventure in itself. As usual, the Glock 30 was hosed down with GunScrubber, barrel swabbed and patched, and put back together in under 3 minutes. The Kimber took another 15 minutes of scrubbing, wiping, swabbing and cursing (this was when I was trying to put the firing pin retention plate back on while holding in the extractor plug and pressing the Swartz safety button in the slide all at the same time). It almost makes me not want to dirty the gun again! Well, it's only an extra 12 minutes longer than the Glock to clean. Not terrible I guess. If that's the price to pay for something as jewel-like as the Kimber, then so be it. Then again, if I'd put a sane amount of rounds through it at the range instead of wiping out part of my ammo reserve, cleaning would have taken a little less time.
OK, enough of my rambling. If you're a 1911A1 connoisseur and want the best bang for your buck (again, no pun intended), the Kimber Tactical will give you all the options without the heartbreak of time and cash consuming mods. I really can't think of anything else that I could do to this gun except add a target sight, and I'm really not interested in that. For those who feel it's a daunting task to drag a 1911 around in a concealed carry mode, with the purchase of a Sidearmor Kydex holster or the excellent leather offerings from Milt Sparks, FIST or Brommeland holsters, you can carry even a full size .45 IWB (inside the waistband) in comfort. My Sidearmor and FIST IWB are so comfy that I don't notice them most of the time. The mag well on the Kimber does make it a bit harder to conceal, but if someone's looking that close at your anatomy, then your newfound friend probably won't mind or care if you're carrying a firearm.
Kimber 1911A1 Tactical Custom II
$849 + tax at your friendly local gun shop (aka Guns Galore in Fenton, MI)