The semi-automatic 1911 pistol, developed by John Moses Browning, is a highly esteemed handgun with a rich military, law enforcement and sporting history that spans more than a century. You can find plenty of folks in all three of those shooting categories who will gladly sing its praises, and with good reason. This handgun is still here and selling well because there's a good deal to like about it.
This Government Model PT1911 is chambered in 9 mm with a carbon steel frame and slide treated with a matte blued finish.
Recently, I had a bit of a wake-up call when a social media personality with a flowing white beard gave the camera a wide smile as he said that his pistol was chambered in “.45 AARP.” It was a reminder that with the exponential growth in the popularity of polymer-framed, striker-fired 9 mm pistols over the last two decades, the venerable 1911 has slipped a few notches further into "geezer gun" territory than some folks would like to admit. And with mid-priced models (~$1,500) and high-end options ($3,000 +) costing significantly more than many polymer guns ($350 - $850), the appeal of owning a 1911 may have slipped even more.
The metallic Novak 3-dot sight system is dovetailed into the slide.
The most logical first step in introducing the merits of “old slab-side” to up-and-coming handgun enthusiasts would be to find 1911 options with prices closer to those of polymer-framed semi-automatics. As it turns out, there is a good selection of more budget-friendly 1911 models currently available from various importers.
These companies provide both bare-bones and factory-custom 1911s from manufacturers like Forjas Taurus S/A (Brazil), Girsan Gun Industry (Turkey) and Armscor (The Philippines). These overseas gun makers have decades of experience producing military-grade arms that they pass along to civilian customers through their commercial product lines. Not all imports are created equal. But over the years I've had the opportunity to evaluate imported 1911s that proved to be better guns than their lower costs might imply, including the Rock Island Armory 1911 Tactical II FS, Iver Johnson Eagle XL, EAA Girsan MC1911 Match Elite and the Tisas Stingray Carry.
The grip panels are basic textured black polymer but the extended ambidextrous thumb safety, Commander-type hammer and extended beavertail grip safety are factory custom upgrades.
Imported 1911s have suggested retail prices ranging from around $450 up to $900 which translates into real-world prices closer to $350 to $800. This brings their 1911s in line with many popular polymer pistols. But no matter how you slice it, handguns built with milled metallic frames simply cost more to produce than those with injection-molded polymer frames - even when they are produced overseas. This means that in order to keep a 1911's cost down, the manufacturers have to make some trade-offs in the manufacturing process.
In moving down to the bottom end of the price scale, guns in this class will likely have more utilitarian finishes while other features, including the barrel, recoil assembly, sight system, controls and grips are more likely to be of the stock variety. And don't expect to get a fancy set of magazines with the pistol. That being said, among the most well-balanced budget 1911s I've worked with have been members of the Taurus USA PT1911 series. I tested a PT1911 Commander 9 mm a few years ago and enjoyed the experience of working with it.
Other external controls include the standard slide stop lever, a skeletonized aluminum trigger and checkered left-side magazine release button.
But some readers will be quick to point out that Taurus products have suffered from less-than-consistent quality control at times in the past. However, in 2019 the company went through a change in management and a shift in production focus. Since then product quality has improved, odd-ball models have dropped from the catalog and new pistols like the GX4 T.O.R.O. 9 mm and the TX22 Compact have been added.
But before posting an article stating that the PT1911 is a lot of bang for the buck, I wanted to shoot another pistol from the series to verify my earlier findings. This time around I requested a Government model 9 mm which has a 5" barrel instead of the Commander's 4.25" barrel. Otherwise, the finish and features of these two guns are the same.
The grip’s front strap and mainspring housing feature fine-line checkering for improved purchase.
Although the PT1911 does bear some of the earmarks of a budget 1911, I'm still impressed with the overall package which belies its reasonable cost. This particular 9 mm model (1-191101-9MM) had a suggested retail price of $679.99 at the time of this writing with online prices hovering just under $500. Other makes and models can be found for $50 to $100 less. But this is one of those cases where that $100 difference makes the difference! And I'll explain why.
This Government model size 1911 features a carbon-steel frame and slide with a matte blue finish, both of which fall into the more basic model feature set. It tips the scales at 41.1 ounces with the 9-round Italian Mec-Gar magazine it ships with in the grip. That makes this gun heavy by today's standards, which is a good thing for two reasons. The all-steel weight works to stabilize the gun when forming a sight picture and to reduce felt recoil. As I've mentioned in other reviews, full-size 1911s chambered in 9 mm provide a superior sense of control, especially when shooting standard pressure ammunition.
The Italian Mec-Gar magazine is a reliable brand available in 9- or 10-round configurations.
Choosing a 9 mm instead of a pistol chambered in .45 ACP or 10 mm Auto also has the added advantage of firing one of the most common handgun rounds available. It costs significantly less than larger calibers. This pistol accepts 9- or 10-round single stack magazines. This is a lower round count than typical 12- to 18-round double-stack magazines used in polymer guns, but the 5" barrel squeezes more performance out of those rounds than pistols with 3" to 4.25" barrels.
The slide assembly has been upgraded with front and rear cocking serrations along with a top-notch set of Novak-type metallic 3-dot sights. The linked barrel is made of stainless steel, instead of carbon steel, and the recoil assembly features a full-length guide rod instead of Browning's original short guide rod, or “plug.” Whether or not the longer rod is a necessary change is one of those topics regularly debated by 1911 aficionados. In this case, I'm going to call it an upgrade and move along.
Disassembling the PT1911 for routine cleaning follows the same steps as other 1911-pattern pistols. Note the full-length guide rod and stainless steel barrel.
The frame is fitted with a set of textured polymer grip panels which are basic but serviceable. For those who want a fancier set of grips, Government-size panels are quite plentiful and available in a wide variety of materials, colors and texture styles. This model's slide stop lever and checkered magazine release button both fall into the basic component category.
The skeletonized aluminum trigger, ambidextrous thumb safety and beaver tail grip safety are factory-custom upgrades. I've heard reports of older PT1911s having uncharacteristically rough and tough triggers for a 1911. That was not the case with either the Commander, which had a trigger pull of 5 lbs. 11 oz., or the Government size pistol's trigger which weighed in at 5 lbs. 5 oz. This is a bit on the heavy side but the triggers were smooth and clean with just a hint of take up before the break.
All steel 1911s chambered in 9 mm, like this one, are comfortable and controllable to use at the shooting range.
One of the nicer touches that caught my attention with these pistols is the fine-line checkering of the grip's front strap and the straight mainspring housing. Full-size 1911s are not the best fit for my hand shape because they are just a bit too wide for me front-to-back. Less expensive 1911s usually leave these portions of the frame smooth which in turn means working a little harder to maintain control when shooting. The checkering, which is usually reserved for more expensive 1911s, improves grip purchase with or without shooting gloves. This contributes noticeably to an already enjoyable shooting experience.
Mec-Gar makes good magazines and the 9-round, blued steel model provided with the gun worked flawlessly. My only complaint is that it’s a 9-rounder instead of 10 rounds and there is only one of them in box. Folks who are new to 1911s should know that it's something of an unwritten rule among all 1911 makers, not just Taurus, to ship these pistols with just one minimalist magazine.
The two PT1911 pistols the author has tested have proved to be reliable with a variety of 9 mm ammunition.
Including just one basic magazine with the pistol cuts costs, of course. But the logic is that 1911 fans tend to be picky about which magazines they use, and they are going to replace the magazines anyway. Unfortunately, this industry practice puts first-time owners in the position of having to seek out additional magazines while those who buy polymer-framed pistols receive two, or even three, with their factory-fresh guns. An affordable and reliable option for these and other 1911 pistols are the 10-round, blued steel Mec-Gar magazines which can be found on line for around $25 a piece.
Once again, the PT1911 proved to be utterly reliable at the shooting range with all the ammunition fired. Test ammunition consisted of standard pressure loads in typical bullet weights including practice-grade and premium defensive options. Here are the formal test results using ammunition produced by Federal Premium, Remington and SIG Sauer:
In wrapping this up, I want to be clear: You can't buy a $1,500 1911 pistol for $600. If you want the finish, features and refinements of a $1,500 gun then you're going to have to save up for one. What is available for $600 may be just what you're looking for. The Taurus PT1911 models are nicely fitted, have good triggers, and run reliably. And the upgrades you do get are a step up from what one might expect. This makes the series a great fit for folks who want to test drive the platform, or to diversify their handgun collections, without breaking the bank. For more information, visit taurususa.com.