Springfield Armory's "GI .45 Mil-Spec"
No B.S., just a solid, working man's .45.....By D. Kamm
Click on images for full-size picture
Springfield Armory, Inc. of Geneseo, IL bears no relation to the original government-owned facility of the same name. The original Springfield Armory had origins dating back to the Revolutionary War, and in 1794 began building muskets for the then-new Continental Army. Up until 1968 it was a major manufacturer of US Martial Arms, including weapons on contract that were designed by civilian gunmaking firms. An example of this was the Colt Model 1911 .45 caliber pistol, which although primarily manufactured by Colt for the US military, rights were granted for Springfield to manufacture roughly one-third of the needed production once Colt had already received orders for 50,000 pistols*. From 1914-1916 Springfield manufactured a total of 25,767 pistols, discontinuing production only to concentrate on manufacturing more Model 1903 rifles* (a much greater priority once the USA became involved in World War One). While Springfield never resumed production of the 1911 pistol after war's end, a few barrels were made as field replacements that are occasionally found in the hands of collectors or inside rebuilt pistols. Springfield Armory continued to manufacture rifles such as the illustrious M1 Garand and M14 until finally being closed by the government in 1968, after which it was transferred to the US Park Service and converted into a museum.
In 1974 a commercial enterprise in Geneseo, IL was formed and incorporated, taking the name of Springfield Armory. Again, this new private company was completely unrelated in everything but name to the old government armory, however they began offering replacement parts and builder's kits for M1 Garand, M1A (a civilian-legal M14), and 1911-type firearms. Their manufacturing source was a Brazilian weapons producer, Industria de Material Belico do Brasil (IMBEL). A few years after opening their doors they began to offer complete M1 and M1A rifles, and by 1985 they had released their own version of a 1911, called the "Model 1911-A1". The raw forgings were produced in Brazil, then shipped to Illinois for final machining, finishing and assembly. The first Springfield 1911-A1 pistols were dead ringers for a US military-issue M1911A1 pistol, down to everything except the markings. Only a few thousand guns into production the cocking serrations became angled forward, the ejection port was lowered, and the thumb safety changed to a Colt-style with the larger thumb shelf. Aside from that however they remained mechanically identical to the original M1911A1 for a number of years. But beginning around 1990 Springfield began to update their 1911-A1 line to incorporate changes often requested by customers. In addition to manufacturing "factory custom" guns with larger sights, rowel hammers, a beavertail grip safety, and other changes, the basic "Mil-Spec 1911-A1" was altered as well. Larger 3-dot sights were added, the ejection port was flared, a .38 Super-sized firing pin was used and the frame made with less-rounded contours on the dust cover and front strap. It is also believed that by this time the pistols were being completely manufactured in Brazil, which in addition to the frame and slide changes is thought to have helped reduce the manufacturing costs of the pistol.
Recently Springfield changed the frame on their pistols back to the original Colt-style rounded contour, and as a result their pistol has enjoyed increased sales. They also noticed the increased demand for 1911 pistols that looked more like the original WW2-era guns. The popularity of Colt's recent M1911A1 Reproduction pistol (despite its high price tag) certainly did not go unnoticed, therefore a decision was made to come out with a similar product. However, rather than come out with an identical high-priced replica Springfield chose the opposite approach, to instead make a no-frills .45 styled to look like a GI .45 but at a bargain price of about $400 retail. Their new model, listed in their catalog as SKU #PW9108L is labeled as the "GI .45 Mil-Spec", also known as the "WW2 Mil-Spec" (the "regular" Mil-Spec remains in production and has a SKU of #PB9108L). As this is written a new stainless version has also been released, SKU #PW9151L. However, as we are primarily dealing with new "GI-type" pistols on this website I'll focus primarily on the parkerized carbon-steel versions of this pistol. When first released the WW2 models had the same blocky frame contours as the earlier Springfield guns, leading this author to believe Springfield used this chance to clear out their inventory of older frames. Just how they were able to release a new 1911 pistol at a price point at or below $400 in today's market puzzled the author, therefore a decision was made to purchase one for evaluation as well as for use as a range gun. I waited until I began to see newer guns with the rounded frame contours hit dealer shelves, which all the newest production has. As stated earlier the "regular" Mil-Spec 1911-A1 is still made, and at about $100 more has the larger sights, lowered ejection port, and angled slide serrations. The WW2 model looks closer to a GI gun, although not exactly as I will describe below.
My pistol was purchased off the shelf at a local dealer. Immediately upon bringing it home I began to give it a thorough look-over. Observations, from top to bottom:
*Fitting and finish is excellent. Tooling marks are minor and confined to the interior of the pistol. Edges are straight, the parkerized finish is even and uniform, and the parts are all fitted together very well. The slide to frame fit was very snug, but not too tight. I've seen some pistols that seemed to me to be just a bit too tight. A true military 1911 would normally have some play in the slide and frame to ensure reliable operation in battlefield conditions. This being a civilian pistol however, most customers seem to only want a snug-fitting gun so Springfield aimed to please. The parkerizing is a dark slate-grey, not quite the same color as most GI pistols I have observed but close enough for, umm, "government work". It comes closest to the finish on my 1945-vintage Ithaca M1911A1, and similar to my 1944 Remington Rand.
*The markings look nothing like those on true USGI pistols, proving that Springfield's intent was not necessarily to create an exact replica, but simply a low-cost look-alike. The left side of the slide is simply marked "MODEL 1911-A1" in plain block letters, and the right side is marked "SPRINGFIELD ARMORY" in identical fashion. The frame of course has the maker's name and address, along with a serial number starting with "WW". The frame markings are relatively large and deeply struck, which is a bit inelegant to my eyes. Many of the small parts are clearly marked with letters here and there, such as "K" on the inside face of the extractor and numerous similar markings under the slide. These bear no relation to the assembly and inspection marks seen on true GI guns, and are apparently just normal Springfield Armory assembly or identification marks. Underneath the dust cover is marked "IMBEL BRAZIL" in faint letters, while the same along with the year of manufacture (2003) can be found underneath the right grip panel once removed.
*The slide, frame, and barrel are forged steel. The small parts appear to be a mix of investment-cast and MIM (metal injection molded) steel. There are no plastic components other than the brown checkered grips. Early production (the ones with a blocky frame) came with black grips by mistake, but word from the factory is that they will replace black grips with brown ones for the customer at no charge. It is something I advise, as the black grips I've observed are brittle and have a tendency to break in half.
*The sights are true to GI guns, with a tiny serrated ramp front and small square-notch rear. Interestingly, Springfield has always used a proprietary tenon size for their front sights. Older Colt and most military guns have a .058" width slot in the slide for the front sight tenon, while post-1988 Colts use a .125" tenon. Springfields by contrast use a .088" tenon size, so keep that in mind if you plan to order new replacement sights. The .125" tenon can be trimmed down by a gunsmith, but an easier solution is the correct-size sights offered by King's Gun Works in Glendale, California.
*As already noted, Springfield now uses a .38 Super firing pin in all models, which has a narrower tip than a .45 firing pin. Again keep this in mind if you need to buy a replacement. In addition, the factory firing pin is made of titanium and uses an extra-heavy firing pin return spring to allow Springfield's guns to pass the laws in California regarding drop-test safety requirements. While Colt and other 1911 makers use a firing pin safety block system to avoid discharge should a loaded pistol be dropped, for now Springfield has been able to avoid this by using the titanium pin/heavy spring setup. As a comparison, Colt's new Series 70 and WW1/WW2 replica pistols use a standard steel firing pin and spring, and therefore are not certified for sale in California. Whether they will actually likely discharge if dropped is subject to debate, but for now Colt hasn't been willing to submit their guns to CA-DOJ for testing and find out.
*The slide itself otherwise is identical to GI guns. The cocking serrations are vertical, with 19 grooves. The ejection port is the narrow type. The extractor is a pure GI-spec unit. I could not tell if it is made of MIM, cast, or barstock steel. Those who are concerned can easily replace it with a quality aftermarket extractor, which I recommend if the pistol is to see a lot of use. The extractor is at the heart of 1911 reliability, and a sub-standard part simply will not do. This one may actually be a quality unit, but I can't be sure. Unfortunately requests for information from Springfield regarding construction of their guns has yielded no answer as of this writing.
*The barrel is conventional, but is has a slightly larger taper starting 3/4" from the muzzle. While not a feature of GI barrels, it does making fitting a tighter aftermarket bushing easier as it provides drop-down clearance for the barrel during recoil. The barrel is also stamped "S.A. .45 AUTO" on the chamber hood. Early WW2 Mil-Specs had the same polished stainless barrel as the regular Mil-Specs, along with a loaded chamber indicator (really just a small slot cut into the barrel hood extension). The one on mine is also stainless, but is black-oxide coated all over to look more like a GI barrel. The chamber mouth is throated as on most new pistols, and is done perfectly on my example, so feeding JHP ammunition shouldn't be a problem. The recoil system is pure GI, with a checkered plug and short spring guide. The ejector is the conventional non-extended type, and is pinned into the frame (some earlier Springfield products used ejectors held in place with Loc-Tite adhesive).
*The spur hammer is serrated, which only replicates the ones seen on late-war Ithaca M1911A1 pistols. Other GI guns had checkered hammers. The sides are narrowed to avoid ugly rub marks, but again it's not an authentic feature. The slide stop is also serrated, but most Remington Rand and Ithaca pistols also had serrated slide stops so that's not a big deal. However I was displeased to see it is clearly made of MIM steel, whish is a bad thing. Slide stops take a pounding in a 1911 pistol, and it's not uncommon for them to break after heavy or extended use. This part should be made of forged steel, and I will definitely replace it in my pistol with a quality aftermarket part. The trigger and magazine catch are also serrated, but on original GI guns these parts were checkered as well. The serrated thumb safety is similar to current Colt units, and unlike the small-shelf part that rode on original GI pistols. However the newer-styled part is easier to manipulate thanks to the larger thumb shelf, so for a working gun it is fine as-is. At least it isn't an extended unit as seen on many custom pistols, which I do not like.
*As mentioned the grips on mine are brown plastic, and they are similar to those seen on GI guns. On my pistol I removed them after these pictures were taken, and substituted a set of authentic WW2-era Keyes Fiber Co. grips. As this is written the newest pistols are coming with wood double-diamond grips with a large "US" mark in the center (see photo at the bottom of this page). It's also worth mentioning that the frames on Springfield 1911's have smaller frame cutouts under the grips than Colt or other maker's 1911 pistols. But you'll never notice unless you buy a set of grips that indexes off the frame cutouts as well as the grip screw bushings (99% of them don't, so don't worry). Some users have reported the grip screw bushings were too tall on their Springfield pistols and interfered with the installation of aftermarket grips, but I encountered no problems with mine.
*The arched, serrated mainspring housing has a lanyard loop at the base and is serrated like on many GI pistols, but also has a new proprietary ILS (Integrated Locking System) device built-in. It consists of a small cylinder that is turned with a small key, and it will lock up with the special mainspring cap to lock the hammer from retracting. It is a modern safety device intended to allow sales in areas where some sort of handgun locking device is mandatory. While it doesn't interfere with normal operation of the pistol when unlocked, many owners will no doubt remove the ILS housing and replace it with a standard non-ILS housing out of principle. If you choose to do so, you will also need to replace the non-standard parts that work with the ILS housing as well. In addition to a standard mainspring housing, a standard GI-spec mainspring, mainspring cap, and mainspring cap retaining pin will also be required. As far as I am concerned, the ILS housing isn't hurting anything so I'm leaving it installed in my pistol for now. Looking at the base of the gun I did find one small flaw. On my example the MS housing retaining pin hole is drilled slightly high, so that the MS housing isn't flush with the bottom of the frame. I tried other housings I had on hand and the result was the same, so I'm certain it's an off-center hole in the frame causing it. For what it's worth I looked at another WW2 Mil-Spec at another dealer, and it didn't have the same problem. Fortunately it's just a cosmetic issue and won't affect functioning of my pistol.
The pistol is shipped with one 7-round GI-style magazine with a flat follower, and comes in a cardboard box with Styrofoam liner along with a manual, two ILS housing keys, a tiny disassembly tool for the housing, a steel cleaning rod, brush, and coupon good for accessories from Springfield.
So far I have run about 500 rounds through my pistol as this is written, about 400 rounds of S&B 230gr. Ball and 100 rounds of Winchester 230gr. JHP. There have been no issues with functioning, although I did unknowingly have a bad magazine with me during one range visit. It caused problems both with this pistol as well as a genuine GI Colt M1911A1 I brought along as a baseline comparison. The feel and handling of the new Springfield is identical to the GI gun I shot alongside it, with the same gritty trigger pull and same standard of accuracy. You quite literally could have blindfolded me and put either pistol in my hand, and I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference in feel or functioning (and no, I don't advocate shooting while blindfolded!). Interestingly the GI pistol was just as reliable with the JHP rounds, leaving me to suspect that in this day and age we can't blame 1911 feeding issues on ammunition incompatibility anymore. The days of exotic-shaped, jam-prone bullets are behind us now that they've developed effective ammunition that maintains a rounded hardball-shaped bullet ogive.
In a nutshell, there was nowhere I could see where shortcuts were made in the manufacture of this pistol in order to be able to sell it for such an excellent price. I suspect either Springfield has a low margin on this pistol to increase sales, or else they are relying exclusively on cheap Brazilian labor to make these. In either case I know they could charge $100 more for this pistol and still sell it, so I recommend not waiting if you're thinking about one. Mine is a solid performer, and with just the minor changes already mentioned above I expect to be able to fire many thousands of rounds through this pistol in the field and on the range without any problems.
Text and photos Copyright 2004 D.Kamm