Jim Hoag “FBI” Gun…
By Jason Burton
(Click on images for larger version...)
Jim Hoag has been on the playing field for a long time. He was a contemporary of the great Armand Swenson and, IIRC, got his start at Kings Gun Works under “Al” Capone. Much like Swenson, Hoag is an innovator in the industry building some of the first good “long slide” 1911s (both 6” and 8” guns), as well as one of the first beavertail grip safeties and, among other things, developing a screw-in barrel bushing for the P35. Along the way Hoag also spent a great amount of time and effort perfecting his craft on the mechanics of the 1911. In the past the cosmetics of a custom pistol weren’t held in the regard they are today and this could be for two reasons. First, much of the cosmetic modifications that are preformed today simply weren’t done in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Secondly, the ‘smiths of the past may have thought it much more important that the gun run every time you press the trigger than look museum quality perfect... so that’s where they spent their time. That’s not to say that the 1911s of yesteryear were ugly or full of flaws just that cosmetics are now held to a much higher standard than they were in the past. Much of the techniques and skills that a 1911 ‘smith might employ today are routed in the work of the past and have been well tested and tempered by time. Current custom 1911s not only can but also must have perfect cosmetics. After all, with the factory guns that are being produced today a customer expects something above and beyond. So why might this all be important you ask. See below...
The gun pictured here is a fitting example of old world craftsmanship (and by “old world” I mean one of the originals) meets new gun technology. Now I know what you’re all saying, ‘ain’t nothin’ new about the 1911’ and I agree, mostly. But what is represented here could be the best example of why Jim Hoag is still thriving as a ‘smith and why he was named in American Handgunner as one of the 10 most collectable 1911 ‘smiths ever, staying power. That staying power is Hoag’s ability to meld and change with the industry over the last 35+ years. It’s that ability and knowledge that allows Hoag to build not only current flavor 1911s like the one pictured here but also “retro” 1911s with squared and checkered trigger guards and K-frame sights, ahhh the good ol’ days.
I acquired this piece through another gunsmith who occasionally hangs out on this board and we affectionately named it the “FBI Gun” due to its similarities with the current FBI Springfield. The gun is built on a 1978 Colt Series 70 and finished in a deep black with Bear Coat. Like the current FBI gun it delivers 45 caliber slugs through a Nowlin barrel fit up to a bushing of unknown manufacture and the round top slide wears a set of Novak sights with tritium inserts.
The front strap is checkered at 20lpi and the back strap matches with an S&A mainspring housing with attached mag well.
The thumb safety and tool steel ignition components are from Cylinder and Slide and the trigger, a 3-hole unit, appears to be from Wilson Combat. The gun sports an extended and checkered magazine release, Colt slide stop, and very well fit S&A grip safety. Both the extractor and firing pin stop are of unknown manufacture but appear to be machined as opposed to cast or MIM.
Now for the details...
As you pick up the pistol one of the first things you will notice is the checkering job. Traditionally 20lpi checkering is known to be a good bit sharper that 30lpi but this gun has a very subdued feel to it.
The checkering is definitely more sticky that most 30lpi guns I’ve handled but not nearly as sharp as most 20lpi guns. From a texture standpoint it’s about as perfect as 20lpi can be. It affords the shooter a very firm and positive hold with out the abrading that can so often accompany 20lpi checkering. Hiding this piece underneath a t-shirt and extended range sessions has caused no discomfort at all. From a users standpoint this is 20lpi checkering done perfectly.
As I cycle the slide one word comes to mind, smooth, and I would imagine that the Bear Coat finish may have a bit to do with that feel. The way this gun runs is very slick and the slide, which has obviously been fit to the frame, shows a miniscule amount of side-to-side play. The gun unlocks with a faint “snick” and returns into battery with a positive ”snap” displaying no play in the barrel hood.
The bushing is fit very snug to both the slide and the barrel and requires a bit of effort to remove it from the slide.
Like the front strap checkering, the main spring housing has the same subdued feel I mentioned before.
The diamonds are just sharp enough to get a
firm hold but not too sharp as to abrade ones clothing or skin but the real
jewel of the MSH is the attached mag-well.
The mag-well has been beautifully blended into the frame in a manner that exhibits just how well Hoag has mastered his craft. Running your finger over the seam inside the mag-well it’s almost impossible to perceive that these are two separate parts.
This is how it’s done ladies and gentlemen, and this is yet another example on the long list of how a custom gun excels over its production counterparts.
Moving up to the S&A grip safety you’ll find a part that is fit as only few can.
I always take particular interest in this area of a 1911... it’s the first thing I look at when I pick up a gun. Fitting a beavertail grip safety may not be to terribly difficult but to do it well takes an experienced hand. There is a special combination of cutting and blending that is needed to make the grip safety appear as if it was once part of the frame separated only for easier disassembly and this gun shows that Hoag has a firm grasp on what that combination is. The lines are blended to perfection and the transition between the frame and the grip safety is smooth and seamless no matter if the safety is in the “on” or “off” position.
The safety shows only a hint (a hint may actually be too much) of side-to-side
play and the side of the frame matches the safety exactly.
The C&S thumb safety engages and disengages with a positive ”snick” and, as one has come to expect, has been contoured to follow the curve of the frame. Hoag also did a nice job of de-burring the backside of the safety to insure it wouldn’t cut through the finish.
After having engaged and disengaged the thumb safety countless times the finish underneath is still unblemished.
The trigger, like other aspects of the gun, has been fit with out any perceivable play and smoothly trips what is probably the best part about this gun, the trigger pull.
If I hadn’t yet convinced you of Hoag’s prowess and expertise one press of this gun’s trigger and you’ll have no doubt that Jim Hoag has mastered the 1911. One of the only ways I can describe the way the trigger feels is “easy”. After a small amount of take-up one will find a rock-solid feel of engagement between the trigger and the ignition components. With a continued “press” that engagement is overcome to end with a trigger pull weight that feels like 2# but is actually 3.25#. There is a very small amount of what I would describe as “roll off” but by the time you’re aware of it you’ve already broke the shot and the gun is again ready to fire.
Watching the hammer fall as one dry fires the
gun only adds to the “easy” perception I mentioned before. This is a
sub-4# trigger that would be more than acceptable for any carry gun and it
really makes the gun easy to hit with.
As one would expect the gun feeds without fault. Extraction and ejection are both consistent and positive. The gun is fit with a slightly extended ejector that combined with a relieved ejection port still makes it possible to eject a live round of ball... and since that’s all I shoot it’s a aspect I appreciate.
I’ve put somewhere around 5000 rounds through this gun all of which was done out of a holster and so far the finish has held up much better than I expected. I’m not a fan of spray-on bake-on wonder finishes and tend to keep my guns simple from a finish perspective, blue or hard chrome are still the two best choices as far as I’m concerned. Still the Bear Coat finish has proven it self to be some pretty tough stuff and it’s held up better than similar finishes I’ve seen. It’s interesting to note that when the finish was applied it was applied everywhere on the gun. With the exception of the sear, disconnect, and the front sight Bear Coat covers everything to include the springs. Additionally, the rear sight was coated along with the slide and it looks like a piece of tape or something similar was placed over the inserts to protect them during the finishing process.
There’s not much left to talk about except the
accuracy of the piece and to be honest with you its kind of a boring subject. I
could go on for pages about how well this gun groups with loads A, B, and C at
ranges of X, Y, and Z and like the guy said “only accurate guns are
interesting”. So with out taking up too much more room I can tell you that the
gun shoots better than it looks and is more accurate than my hands are capable
of. I’ve got numbers and test targets if ya’ need them but is there really any
doubt in anyone’s mind that a custom 1911 can’t shoot tiny little groups at
distances out of the range of practicality. Trust me, this one does too.
The Good and the Bad...
I’ve pretty well covered the good parts about this gun. The trigger is quite impressive and the grip safety fit makes other pistol envious. The barrel locks up as one would expect and the slide reciprocates like it’s on ball bearings or any other analogy you wish to insert. The mag-well fit is pure artwork, the checkering is just right for a 20lpi work gun, and along with a good set of sights the parts used in this gun provide a solid platform for a fighting gun. Best of all it wears the pony and proudly says Colt on the slide and frame but the gun is not without faults.
First, it’s got front cocking serrations... I bet you thought I was gonna’ leave those out.
While these may have been at the request of
the original owner or just something Hoag threw in they are totally unnecessary.
IMO, they only serve to take away from the traditional lines of a Colt. If I
could change only one thing about the gun the front cocking serrations would be
Second, the finish, while durable, is ugly and a nice matte blue finish would be much more appealing to the eye.
Third, there is a very small gap between the slide and the front sight.
It’s not in the dovetail but rather between the sight blade and the slide. I know there is no chance of the sight drifting out as it is secured with a vertical pin but nonetheless the gap is there.
Fourth is the barrel, specifically the distance it protrudes out from the face of the bushing.
I believe this to be something common with
Nowlin barrels as I recall the FBI Springfield guns are the same way and while
it doesn’t effect the function of the gun or its fit in a holster a traditional
length barrel or even one that is flush cut with the bushing would be nicer. Not
better, just nicer.
Fifth and final nit pick is the over buffed roll-mark on the left side of the slide. It’s just a bit of a bummer and I think it may be slightly exacerbated by the Bear Coat finish. Not much I can do about that one.
This may go back to the attention to cosmetics
I mentioned before or it could be due to necessity such as pits that had to be
removed. I know that there are some ‘smiths that won’t even work on a gun that
has out of spec’ cosmetics for fear of ruining what would otherwise be a perfect
pistol and while it takes nothing away from the function of the gun it is an
aspect that would stand out in a collection of nice pistols.
Even with the small grievances I have with the gun there is no doubt in my mind of the skill Jim Hoag possesses. Hoag unquestionably knows how to build a 1911 and as I said before this gun represents a complete understanding of the old and “new” technology that makes up the custom 1911s we are seeing today. The gun is a pure joy to shoot and anyone who selects Hoag to build their next blaster no matter how basic or how fancy is doing their self a great service.