“Rock” or Kimber?

Over the years I’ve owned and reviewed many Kimbers and Rock Island Armory 1911’s. I was thinking the other day about the values of each brand and how they compare to each other. This may seem a bit one sided since the Kimber is much more expensive than the Rock Island Tactical. At least from my viewpoint price doesn’t always mean one pistol is better than another.
I wouldn’t presume to tell you which 1911 is better, rather I’ll present some observations and facts and let the reader decide. As far as price is concerned you can buy three Rock Island’s for the price of one Kimber. The question for the buyer is the Kimber’s price worth it compared to the value of the RIA?
From an aesthetic viewpoint the Kimber 1911’s are very desirable while the Rock Island 1911 is more utilitarian but certainly attractive in it’s own way. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say.
In the last few months I’ve had a sample of each 1911 for review purposes. One is the Kimber Aegis II the other a RIA Tactical both in 9MM. Having fired well over 500 rounds from each pistol I surely have a basis for comparison.
The Kimber has a steel slide with an alloy frame. The entire pistol has a carry melt treatment with the frame front strap checkered at 30 LPI. The top of the slide is also milled flat. The Kimber also has Meprolight nightsights. The trigger, barrel and bushing are all advertised as match quality. This model is from the Kimber Custom Shop. Even so there are MIM parts.Trigger pull is between 4 and 5 pounds. The Kimber is a series 80. Retail is $1159.00.
The Rock Island Armory Tactical is almost universally respected. This is not my opinion necessarily rather information taken from many of the gun forums and feedback from friends. The pistol is forged steel and made in the Philippines. It has ambi thumb safeties, beavertail grip safety, full length guiderod and Novak type sights. I’ve spoken with a friend, who is a plant manager, who told me that the slides are hand fitted. Some hand fitting is also performed on the internals so that they all have a trigger pull between 4 and 5 pounds. The Tactical is a series 70. Pretty impressive for a pistol that retails for $450.00.
Most models have a parkerized finish. In recent months the number of models has increased. Some of these new models are two tone with a parked slide and stainless color frame. Rock Island pays attention to customer feedback with several models on the market as a direct result of this feedback.
What about accuracy and reliability? Well you be the judge. The first 165 rounds fired from the Kimber resulted in eight assorted malfunctions. After the initial problems a total of 900 rounds have been fired with no additional problems. The Rock Island Tactical was reliable out of the box with only one malfunction which was a faulty alloy cased round with a ding on the lip of the case.
The picture below shows a target fired with the Kimber and Rock Island Tactical.

I believe the photo is self explanatory. The “R” stands for Rock Island and the “K” of course stands for Kimber. The rounds fired are an equal number from both pistols. Distance was 10 yards. You be the judge:-)
The Kimber has a one year warranty. Rock Island LIFETIME warranty. Repairs on the Rock Island are seldom needed. Turnaround time for warranty repair is one week to ten days. Kimber warranty work has a turnaround time of one month from what I’ve read in the 1911 forums. Rock Island normally adds an extra magazine when returning a warranty repair gun to the owner.
Would I carry the Kimber while going in harms way? Yes after breaking it in and it having shown itself reliable after the initial problems. Would I carry the Rock Island? Yes without a second thought.
I believe this provides enough information for anyone in the market for a 1911 to make an informed decision to choose between the two brands. I welcome your comments, experiences and opinions.

My reviews for GFS have been moved to “The Firearm Blog”

Hello all I wanted to announce I will be writing gun reviews weekly for the online gun shop and accessories dealer Guns for Sale.com. These reviews will be posted from now on at “The Firearm Blog”—link above:-) I will still post on Gunners Journal.
My ethics that apply to the blog will be in place as always so the reviews you read on Guns for Sale.com will be 100% correct and honest to the best of my ability.
Your questions and comments can be posted on their website and I will respond as quickly as possible as has always been the case here. They are good folks and I encourage you to look over the guns they stock at very fair prices.
The first article should be out in the next week or so.

Happy Shooting,
Phil
Gunner777

Rock Island Armory Match 1911

December 13, 2008

Everyone who has read my blog knows how much I love Rock Island Armory 1911’s. As I have said before they are the best buy bar none in a 1911. The newer “Rock” Match version is just another example of a company that listens to the customer base and produces a fine pistol at an unbelieveable price!
I was at our police department range a week or so ago and ran into a friend who had just purchased a Rock Island Armory Match grade pistol. Yep, I was drooling to get my hands on this one. I’ve been looking for one for a month or so without much luck but at least I got to shoot one.
I told him I would let him shoot my Sig if he would let me play with his new toy:-) He had already fired about 200 rounds through it with no problems at all. I happened to have 150 rounds of 45 ball so off I went to give this fine looking pistol a workout.
This pistol has the fiber optic front sight which I find very useful and easy to pickup as well as being fast. The rear sight is the Millett type that adjust for both windage and elevation and is very precise in it’s adjustment. The perfect setup if you compete in stock class competition. The pistol felt the same as the Rock Tactical I’m so fond of so it was a no brainer getting used to. The controls were very smooth. The action was something I noticed right off as being smoother than the Tactical was when it was new. There was definately some hand fitting with this pistol.
Shooting held no surprises. It was very accurate and produced a ragged hole at 10 yards and at 15 was more accurate than my Tactical again giving excellent results. At 25 yards the pistol really shined and once again produced a group measuring roughly 3 inches with 4 magazines fired. Again, very obvious a bit of extra work went into this pistol. I completely enjoyed shooting this pistol and it just renewed my desire to find one of my own. The way it is equiped is very similar to the S&W Doug Koenig but at a far lower price. It’s every bit as good a pistol as the S&W even if it is a bit more utilitarian in looks. That is not to say it’s an ugly gun by any means. I find the fit and finish of these pistols to be very appealing.
Steve Clark is a man I’m glad to call a friend wrote a fine review for the M1911.org website and graciously allowed me to publish his review of the Rock Island Armory Match 1911. A thorough job as always and I’m sure you’ll enjoy his contributed review.

Recently, I tested a target-style pistol from STI, called the Spartan. This pistol was unique in that STI International chose to use major components (frame, slide, and barrel) manufactured by Arms Corporation of the Philippines (better known as Armscor). During the time I was waiting for the STI Spartan to arrive for testing, I learned that Rock Island Armory was planning to release a target grade pistol too. My imagination began to run wild!

I fully expected the Rock Island Armory Match pistol to be at least a fraternal twin of the STI gun. Initial inspection of the RIA Match revealed a great many similarities, such as a fully adjustable rear sight, orange fiber-optic front sight, parkerized finish, etc. However, closer inspection disclosed some features that instantly got my attention. These not-so-subtle additions had me “itching” to inspect the pistol further, take some photographs, and give it a thorough work-out on my personal firing range. I live in a rural part of Texas, where such facilities are normal.

The Rock Island Armory Match (per the label FS Match) comes packaged in RIA’s black plastic clam-shell case. The interior of the case is lined in egg crate foam, and the pistol was double wrapped in a plastic bag and bubble-wrap bag. Two black 8-round Novak magazines were included in my package (although the pistol will ship with one 8-round magazine). Under the foam lining, one will find a fired cartridge casing, the owner’s manual, a warranty card, a firearms safety pamphlet, and a card entitling the pistol’s owner to buy Armscor ammunition at a 10% discount, if he or she joins (or is already a member of) M1911.ORG. I would also like to stress that this is the first review of the RIA FS Match. No other printed or electronic publication has reviewed this pistol, so this is another first for M1911.ORG.

The Pistol

The RIA Match is a full size (5-inch barrel) 1911, chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge. Inspection of the left side of the manganese phosphate treated slide reveals the company’s logo and Rock Island Armory, roll marked in block letters. The right side of the slide lacks any markings. The ejection port is lowered and flared for improved ejection of spent cartridge casings. There are no front cocking serrations on the slide of the RIA Match. The rear cocking serrations consist of nineteen straight lines, such as those found on G.I. type 1911s. The slide fits snugly on the frame, which has a Parkerized finish applied to its surface. The exterior finish on both the slide and the frame create quite a pleasing visual. There is no movement laterally between these two major components. I was informed that the Rock Island Armory Match is not part of a regular production run at the Armscor factory, but rather the slide and frame are hand-fitted in the Armscor Custom Shop. This extra attention to detail is evident when holding the pistol, as there is no rattle when the gun is shaken. In addition, the entire RIA Match pistol has been moderately de-horned, and the effect of this treatment should be apparent in the photographs. It most assuredly is noticeable when handling the pistol. Hand cycling of the action is effortless, in part aided by the excellent cocking serrations, but mostly because of the fine fitting of the slide to the frame.

The LPA rear sight of the RIA Match is mounted on the top of the slide, and is fully adjustable for both windage and elevation. This sight blends in well with the rear of the slide, and its rear face is horizontally serrated to reduce glare. The front sight is dovetailed nicely into the top of the slide, and its edges are rounded into the slide’s contour. This sight features a bright orange fiber-optic tube.

The slide stop/release is checkered, as is the magazine release button. The trigger has a serrated face with two elongated cutouts. There is no externally adjustable over-travel screw on the RIA Match. Trigger pull was characterized by a very small amount of take-up, with a crisp release of 4.25 pounds, from the box. This was a consistent measurement, meaning the sear released at 4.25 pounds, every time that the trigger was squeezed, or activated by the RCBS Trigger Pull Gauge.

The hammer has a true half-cock notch, and is an elongated Commander-style unit. Mated to the hammer is a beaver-tail grip safety utilizing an extended palm swell. The ambidextrous safety has a serrated shelf on both the left and right controls. These shelves are extended, and the right side is secured by a small cut in the sear pin, which corresponds to a small shelf on the bottom of the safety. Operation of all safety devices is positive and reliable. The magazine well is slightly beveled for easier insertion of the magazines. The pistol is easily loaded, as fully charged 8-round magazines slide into place with an authoritative click. When released, empty magazines fall free with no resistance. The flat mainspring housing is serrated, and fitted nicely to the frame of the RIA Match.

The stocks provided with the Rock Island Armory Match pistol are finely grained wood, and compliment the business-like looks of the gun. Sadly, my example had a small crack from the top of the left side grip screw to the top of the stock. This was the only cosmetic problem that I encountered in my inspection of the pistol. This minor defect is covered under Armscor’s Limited Lifetime Warranty.

Disassembly

The field stripping procedure to be followed with the RIA Match .45 ACP is different than for other, full length guide rod equipped full size 1911 type pistols. Field stripping the RIA Match proved to be much easier than was the case with either the previously tested RIA Tactical or the STI Spartan. Make certain that the pistol is unloaded and the magazine has been removed. A non-marring bushing wrench easily depresses the recoil spring plug so that the barrel bushing may be turned clockwise. Carefully allow the plug to exit the muzzle area, relieving all recoil spring tension. The slide can then be moved to align the take-down notch with the slide stop. After the slide stop is removed from the frame, the slide and frame can be separated. After that, it is a simple procedure to remove the recoil spring and full length guide rod. Turning the barrel bushing counter-clockwise will line up the bushing for removal from the slide, and the barrel can be taken out toward the muzzle. There is no firing pin safety on the Match pistol, so firing pin and extractor removal is accomplished following standard procedure.

Reassembly is in reverse order.

While I am admittedly no big fan of full length guide rods, the ability to use a bushing wrench is preferable to lining up the take-down notch with the slide stop while the pistol is still under the tension of the recoil spring. I applaud Rock Island and Armscor for this improvement.

Shooting the RIA Match Pistol

My normal shooting protocol with any new pistol consists of firing enough rounds to determine functional reliability before accuracy and chronograph readings are taken. This initial test was conducted using the two supplied 8-round Novak magazines, and 100 rounds of Armscor Precision 230 gr. FMJ ammunition. The pistol was discharged from a distance of 10 yards, using a modified Weaver stance.

The Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C 8″ target shows that most of the shots fired were slightly left of dead center. As I tend to sometimes pull my shots to the left, I decided to forego any sight adjustments until accuracy testing commenced. Ejected casings consistently landed four to five feet to the right of my firing position. All 100 rounds fed and ejected without incident. The RIA Match handles recoil admirably, and is easily brought back on target during rapid fire.

During this phase of the test, I decided to try some Hornady 200gr. TAP FPD +P ammunition was kindly provided to M1911.ORG for use in conducting pistol tests. This is a relatively new type of jacketed hollow point, and I felt that if a problem with feeding JHP rounds was to appear, this would provide a good test.

Twenty rounds into the Shoot-N-C target provided ample proof that the RIA Match will reliably feed this type of JHP ammunition. Subsequent accuracy tests with a variety of factory FMJ and JHP ammo produced no malfunctions. I moved my shooting position to take advantage of a natural tree wind-break, but this forced me to shorten my range to 20 yards. All of the above readings and accuracy tests were made at 25 yards, except the Armscor results. From that point to the end of my shooting session, all firing was done from 20 yards.

The NRA target pictured above was engaged with 5 rounds of Armscor Precision 230 gr. FMJ at a distance of 20 yards. This group represented my best of the day, although later groups were centered on the target much better. A one click adjustment on the LPA rear sight brought everything in line. Memorizing the most ideal setting, I made several adjustments to the rear sight to determine how far a click would affect the impact on the target. Considering the windy conditions, I estimated that one click would account for one inch of impact difference at 60 feet. That is on a par with my previous encounters with adjustable sights on 1911 type pistols.

Total round count for the test exceeded 500. More of the full metal jacket ammunition was expended than the jacketed hollow point loads, but that is more a factor of cost per box than what the pistol prefers to digest. The donated ammunition from Armscor and Hornady is greatly appreciated. In addition to the ammunition mentioned in the accuracy and velocity table, I fired the following brands: Winchester SilverTip 185 gr., Speer Gold Dot Hollow Points 185 & 230 gr., Federal Hydra-Shok 165 & 230 gr., Taurus Copper Hollow Points 185 gr., and Remington Golden Saber 230 gr. Twenty rounds of each brand were fired through the RIA Match, with no failures of any kind.

Evaluation

The Rock Island Armory FS Match .45 ACP pistol is assembled and fitted in the Custom Shop at Armscor, in the Philippines. As stated earlier in this review, the slide and frame are hand fitted, and the rest of the components of the gun consist of parts that are made by Armscor. These parts are primarily Metal Injected Moldings, as told to me by Ivan Walcott. The M1911.ORG Forum is full of positive and negative comments concerning the use of MIM in handguns. Correctly manufactured parts that are covered by a Limited Lifetime Warranty should cause no denigration of the quality found in a Rock Island pistol. A manufacturing fact of life is represented by the use of MIM parts. They do not require labor intensive fitting, and allow the manufacturer to pass cost savings on to the consumer. I have thus far tested three guns that are either solely a Rock Island product, or that contained major components from Armscor. I have found nothing wrong with the quality of any of those three examples. I might add that I normally put more ammunition through a test pistol in the course of a review, than a majority of handgun owners would fire in a span of months. I have experienced zero failures in my test samples.

The Parkerized finish held up to several hundred rounds of various types of ammunition being discharged. In fact, the finish on the RIA Match is superior, in my estimation, to those of the previous test pistols, and the aforementioned guns had a dandy finish! I don’t keep a test pistol long enough to measure the effects of holster wear on the finish.

From the time the pistol was removed from its box until I cleaned it and re-packaged it, the trigger pull was excellent. The sear released at a consistent 4.25 pounds of pressure. This exceptional trigger pull, coupled with the adjustable sights and the hand fitting of the slide and frame, make for a wonderfully accurate handgun. Although windy conditions forced me to shorten my testing distance to 20 yards, I feel certain that the RIA Match would have delivered the same degree of accuracy at my normal distance of 25 yards. The bright fiber-optic orange front sight is easily picked up through the LPA adjustable rear sight.

Although I had some issues with earlier test guns and their stocks, I find that I grip these pistols in a different manner than my personal 1911s. That different grip allows me to keep my hand stationary throughout my range sessions, which ultimately yields better results on the target. Perhaps too, it is the type of beaver-tail grip safety that is standard on these target models. In either case, the “feel” of the pistols is growing on me, and I cannot find reason to complain.

I am yet to encounter a Rock Island pistol that refuses to eat hollow point ammunition. While the RIA owner’s manual specifically states that the guns are not warranted to reliably feed this type of ammo, it is gratifying to know that these guns are built to shoot a variety of factory loads and configurations.

My déjà vu reference in the opening of this test/review had to do with the similarities between the Rock Island Match pistol and the STI Spartan that was previously tested. Each of these guns is accurate, a pleasure to shoot, and an economical way to buy a target-grade pistol. However, I must be fair and state that I prefer the Rock Island Match because of the ease of disassembly. While my carpel tunneled and arthritic 57 year old hands can still manage quite a bit, anything that provides easier use is appreciated. I also favor the use of straight rear cocking serrations on my personal guns, and the RIA Match delivers on this option. The Rock Island handgun does not have front cocking serrations, a positive omission in my book. Finally, there is the absence of any type of firing pin safety on this weapon. That non-feature alone gets an A+.

Ivan Walcott (Sales Manager for Advanced Tactical Firearms, the importers of RIA pistols to the United States) states that the suggested retail price of the Rock Island Armory FS Match pistol will be in the plus or minus range of 650.00 U.S. dollars. Considering the quality and accuracy of this gun, I would rate this handgun as a “best buy.”

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank President Martin Tuason and Sales Manager Ivan Walcott of Advanced Tactical Firearms International Corporation, for providing the Rock Island Armory Match .45 ACP pistol used in this test. As soon as the handgun was available to them, it was sent to me for testing. We strive to provide the readers of the M1911.ORG E-zine with the most up-to-date information. In addition, these fine gentlemen also provided me with several boxes of Armscor Precision .45 ACP ammunition. This was my first exposure to this highly accurate, clean burning ammo. I was quite pleased with its performance, and I recommend it to anyone looking for quality in affordable ammunition.

My thanks go out to Hornady Mfg. Company for their donation of several boxes of their new 200 gr. TAP FPD +P .45 ACP ammunition. I have been pleased with the results in my shooting tests with this ammo, and I look forward to conducting some personal ballistic tests with this brand in the future.

As always, my Competitive Edge Dynamics Millennium chronograph performed above and beyond my expectations. Frankly, the chronograph put up with the wind better than I did!

Finally, I am indebted to Bill Lamb at GREAT GUNS in Burleson, Texas. He consistently stays on top of the test pistol situation, as well as providing a variety of factory ammunition, accessories, and gun expertise. I couldn’t do it without you, Bill, and I am obliged. Many thanks are expressed to your daughter, as well, for her assistance last week.

You may discuss about this pistol, ask questions or in general discuss about this review, in this thread in our Forums Site:

http://forum.m1911.org/showthread.php?t=26573

 

  

I was determined not to like this gun – Colt/Kimber/Springfield snobbery at work, I guess. I went at it with the intention of finding fault. At the same time, I love M1911A1’s, and precious few gun makers are building true M1911A1’s these days. They may look like them on the outside, but inside, they’re polluted with a bunch of lawyer-friendly, California suck-up perversions of the design, like Swartz safety firing pin blocks, external extractors, integrated locking systems and other “answers in search of a question” devices that degrade the trigger and add unnecessary complexity to the design. Personally, I really like the M1911A1 design, which is sometimes referred to as the “Series 70” format (even though “Series 70” and “M1911A1” are really two different pistols). People use “Series 70” to mean 1911’s that don’t have firing pin blocks (or in Kimber parlance, Series 1). (Go here to get a complete description of the Series 70 Colt.) Kimber had taken to adding these “improvements” with an external extractor and a Swartz-type firing pin block, but the Marines rang their bells when they ordered a batch of 1911’s from Kimber, but specified that they should have no firing pin blocks or full length guide rods, and they should have internal extractors – in other words, they should be real M1911’s and not the lawyer friendly crap that has developed recently.  So, even though my Colt/Kimber/Springfield snobbery was blazing bright, there was some serious sympathy for an outfit that is still willing to build a true M1911A1, and RIA (actually Armscor of the Philippines through their subsidiary, Twin Pines) is doing that.

The RIA guns are being sold at extremely attractive prices. The “M1911A1” is selling for about $350-$370 and that price point is generating a lot of interest, especially when guns like the Springfield Mil-Spec are commanding $560 and most Kimber and Colt models are going for $800+.

There are some ways that the RIA M1911A1 is not a true M1911A1. The most obvious is that it has a flat mainspring housing. The G.I. M1911A1 has a curved mainspring housing. Contemporary 1911 shooters seem to prefer the flat mainspring housing which was characteristic of the older M1911 over the curved housing of the WW II era guns. The RIA pistol, like most modern production 1911’s, has a lowered ejection port with the scallop relief to the rear which is a good idea for reliability, but is not characteristic of the G.I. gun. It has a beveled magazine well and a somewhat enlarged thumb safety flange – again, modern modifications that make sense, but which were not found on the G.I. gun. It also has smooth wood grips rather than checkered bakelite. The RIA is like the M1911A1 in that it is parkerized, has the short trigger of the M1911A1, has authentic sights, short guide rod and spring plug, no firing pin block, and a mil-spec trigger of about 5.5-6 lbs.

  
   First Test
It shot really well close. At seven yards I got a ragged hole. At 25 yards I got a pattern the size of a cantaloupe 8″ low at 8 o’clock. (By way of comparison, I shoot a baseball-sized pattern at point of aim at 25 yards with the SA XD 9mm at this same range under similar lighting conditions). It could have been my eyes and those tiny sights in the indoor range. I’m not ready to blame that totally on the gun yet. Probably a bit more testing is in order. I did the “magazine from hell” test (running every weird old magazine in my collection through it for reliability testing) and it only had one problem – a no-name Chinese knock-off magazine failed to lock back on the last round. There were no failures to feed (FTF). I did nothing to prep this gun for the test. I just took it out of the box, wiped the packing oil off of the outside and fired it – no lube, cleaning or “fluff & buff.” The only real problem was that I got some bitchin’ hammer bite. I don’t usually get hammer bite with M1911A1’s but this one sure did. When I got home, there was blood on the hammer flange and beavertail. All in all, it was a pretty decent performance for a $350 pistol. It was better than I expected it to be.

Second Test
Without cleaning it, I took it to a training session. For this session the RIA performed in the second gun role, with the trusty Combat Commander as the primary. I shot about half of the session with it, around 50 rounds or so. Again, the RIA performed flawlessly; again there was bitchin’ hammer bite.

   Third Test
I remembered to grind off the sharp end of the hammer this time, but aside from a bit of wipe off when I took the hammer out of the gun, I still had not cleaned or lubed it. This session was at an indoor range and I ran 100 rounds of Winchester White Box through the gun. Again, it performed without a single bobble or hiccough. That made approximately 250 rounds of hardball through a new gun, without any cleaning or maintenance. All ammo was Winchester “White Box.” I have to admit that I’m warming up to the gun at this point.

Critique
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and you would expect that certain corners might be cut in order to keep the pistol in the $350 range when most other M1911’s are bringing $800 and up. If you want to find nits to pick, you can. The sights are very authentic narrow blade sights like those used on the G.I. guns. In the dim light of the indoor range, they were hard to pick up. The smooth wood grips strike me as a little chintzy. Like many guns these days, the RIA has a number of MIM (metal injection molding) parts. If you look at the MIM parts with a 10x loupe, you will notice tiny surface imperfections like pits that appear to be the result of not quite enough polishing after the part came out of the mold. Also, a gun billed as an “M1911A1” should have an arched mainspring housing rather than a flat one. There seems to be a collective decision in the 1911 universe that we all prefer flat mainspring housings over arched ones. It really depends on an individual’s hand shape and geometry. Flat MSH’s aren’t perfect for everyone. The slide and frame are castings rather than bar-stock milling. I know for a lot of folks this is a negative, but you have to keep reminding yourself, “$350.” Last, if you look at a real government issue M1911A1, you will notice that the finish is dark gray with green and brownish tints. Like most “mil-spec” 1911 clones, the parkerization on the Rock Island Armory gun is black. Personally I like the black, but it’s not completely authentic.

What’s to Like?
Well, there’s price, price and did I mention price? For the money, I think this gun is an excellent value. The Rock Island Armory M1911A1 would be an excellent “first gun” for someone who wants to try out the M1911 platform without over-committing resources. Based on my testing so far, it has the reliability and accuracy to serve in the personal defense role. It might be able to go places with you where you wouldn’t want to take the “safe queens.” And, by the way, I still haven’t cleaned and lubed it, and it’s still running fine.

Grips
These gorgeous grips are from http://www.gripus.com
Photo courtesy of MCPO a member of m1911 forum

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Rock Island Armory GI 38 Super

“Courtesy of the Model 1911 Pistols Organization E-zine”

  

   I have had the good fortune to test all of the Armscor products
featured in the M1911.ORG E-zine. When I read in the M1911 Organization
Forums that Armscor and Rock Island Armory were shipping their
Government Model pistol chambered in Super .38 caliber to the United
States, I immediately put in a request to test this pistol. My
eagerness was twofold.

  • Impressive performance has been the zenith of the RIA pistols
    submitted to the E-zine for evaluation. Each weapon tested displayed
    outstanding accuracy, and each had a penchant for devouring any type of
    ammunition, regardless of bullet design or weight.
  • Secondly, I had never fired a pistol chambered for Super .38 cartridges.

Ivan Walcott and Ray Witham Jr., of Advanced Tactical Firearms, saw
to it that one of the new pistols was sent out to me. These fine
gentlemen also supplied enough donated ammunition to insure that the
gun got a thorough firing session. Since the availability of ammunition
chambered for Super .38 is a “hit or miss” proposition in my area, as
well as the prohibitive cost of said ammo, this donation was
appreciated more than mere words can express.

A Brief History (courtesy of WIKIPEDIA)

“The .38 Super is a pistol cartridge that fires a .356 inch diameter
bullet. The Super was introduced in the late 1920s as a higher pressure
loading of the .38 ACP. The old .38 ACP propelled a 130 grain bullet at
1050 feet per second (fps). The improved .38 Super Auto pushed the same
130 grain bullet at 1280 fps. The .38 Super has gained distinction as
the caliber of choice for many top pistol match competitors.

The .38 Super is dimensionally identical to the older .38 ACP but is
loaded to higher pressures. It was intended that the cartridge would
headspace on the semi-rim, however all new .38 Super pistols headspace
on the case mouth as with other cartridges in this class.”

(Author’s note)The Super .38 was developed in a joint venture
between Colt and the law enforcement officials during the turbulent
late 1920s in the United States. Criminals such as John Dillinger,
Lester Gillis (Baby Face Nelson), Clyde Barrow, and Bonnie Parker stole
and/or modified their weapons to the extent that police of the day were
woefully outgunned when confronted by such gangsters. The Super .38 was
devised (as was the .357 Magnum over at Smith & Wesson in 1935) to
give law enforcement officers a sidearm which would deliver a
projectile capable of penetrating the steel bodywork of the automobiles
of the era. At the time of its introduction, the Super .38 was the
“most powerful handgun” in the world. The agents of the U.S. Justice
Department’s Division of Investigation (later changed to the F.B.I. in
1935) clamored to get the new pistol, as did their adversaries on the
other side of the law. It’s not hard to figure out why!

Most police of the day carried .38 Special revolvers, firing a
158 gr. round nose lead bullet at around 750 feet per second. The Super
.38 of the time delivered a 130 gr. full metal jacketed bullet at a
muzzle velocity approaching 1,300 feet per second. The new cartridge
was even able to defeat crude bullet-proof vests available at that
time. Cops and criminals alike were impressed by those statistics, and
the Colts chambered for the new round were bought (and stolen) like
hotcakes.

“In 1974 the industry added the +P headstamp to the 38 Super to
further distinguish it from the lower pressure 38 Auto. Most current
ammunition manufacturers label ammunition for the Super as 38 Super +P.
The .38 Super offers higher bullet velocities than the 9mm Luger in
factory cartridges. Greater case capacity allows for more powder and
higher velocities at lower pressures. Also, because most .38 Super
firearms were designed for the larger 45 ACP, .38 Super guns tend to be
strong enough for heavier loads.

The .38 Super has made a huge comeback in IPSCand USPSA sports
shooting, particularly when equipped with a compensator, because it
meets the minimum power factor to be considered as a Major charge,
while having more manageable recoil than .45 ACP.”

The Pistol

  

The gun was shipped from Advanced Tactical wrapped in plastic, covered
in bubble wrap, and secured in a Fed-Ex shipping box. The package
contained one magazine and a small envelope containing two fired
cartridge casings. Consumers’ guns are shipped in a black, foam-lined
clam shell case with an owner’s manual and accompanying paper work, as
well as the aforementioned cartridge casings.

As represented in the photographs, the Rock Island Armory .38
Super is Armscor’s tried and proven full size Government Model pistol.
The weapon comes from Armscor’s plant in the Philippines with a
manganese phosphate (Parkerized) finish.

Unlike some RIA pistols I’ve seen and read about, this finish is
consistent over the entire surface of the gun. There is no noticeable
difference in the shades present on the frame, slide, or control/safety
surfaces. The carbon steel 5 inch barrel is also Parkerized, and
displays “Cal. 38Super” on the exposed barrel hood.

The left side of the slide has “Rock Island Armory” roll-marked on its
surface, as well as the Rock Island logo. The right side of the slide
is void of any markings. The slide-to-frame fit on this pistol is
tight, with absolutely no discernable movement when the gun is in
battery. Additionally, the pistol cycled beautifully, with no gritty
feel between slide rails and frame. This gun is assembled well, and the
attention to these small details is duly noted and appreciated.

The single thumb/slide safety engages and disengages positively, and a
basic safety function check revealed no anomalies with the grip safety
or disconnector. This pistol does not have a firing pin safety!

The trigger released the sear at 6.5 pounds of pressure, as indicated
by my RCBS Trigger Pull Scale. While this is heavier than I’m use to on
my personal pistols, it is nonetheless representative of the vast
majority of the G.I. configured guns available in the market today.
There was just the barest amount of take-up on the trigger, but it
broke in a clean and crisp manner every time.

G.I. sights are the primary reason I don’t own any GI Models..
When I had young eyes and excellent vision, I experienced difficulty
accurately shooting Colt Government Models. That difficulty is now
multiplied by my middle age and trifocal lenses. More on that situation
will be addressed in the “Firing Line” portion of this review.

The non-checkered wooden stocks are well formed, and are similar in
grain and appearance to the stocks of previously tested RIA guns. In
earlier reviews of RIA pistols, I commented rather negatively on the
size of these stocks in relation to the frame. Or rather, the lack of
size, in that the stocks do not extend as far forward toward the front
strap as do the stocks on my privately owned guns. The more I’m exposed
to this set-up, the better I like it. The pistol rides comfortably in
my hand, and I don’t experience any slipping of my firing grip during
shooting. The front strap is smooth, while the flat mainspring housing
is vertically serrated.

The magazine well is of the standard G.I. configuration, meaning it is
not relieved or beveled in any manner. The single magazine looks as if
it is configured for nine (or more) rounds, but I could only load
eight. Perhaps this is the way these magazines are set up.

Field Stripping

The pistol is field stripped in the time honored tradition of
all Government Model pistols utilizing a standard recoil spring, barrel
bushing, spring plug, and guide rod assembly. The parts of this gun are
so well-mated that I field stripped the gun, removed the firing pin (to
clean the firing pin tunnel of any grease/oil), and reassembled the
pistol in much less time than it takes to type this.

Internal inspection revealed no unsightly tool marks (other
than some serial number markings smoothly etched on the disconnector
shelf), and all bearing surfaces are sharp and cleanly defined.

The Firing Line

I started this review with a disadvantage I’ve never experienced
with any previously tested pistol. My usual testing protocol calls for
the rapid firing of about 100 rounds to determine functional
reliability (out of the box) and to establish an idea of the gun’s
inherent accuracy. So, I loaded up the magazine, and stepped out the
door to my gun range. The first shot (from 45 feet) was dead-center
bullseye, but the gun jammed! I cleared the weapon, and the second shot
was a repeat of the first, including the jam! The next cartridge from
the magazine was hanging up on the extractor, and jamming before
entering the chamber. I tried repeatedly to get the pistol to fire a
complete magazine, but was unsuccessful.

I tried to contact Ivan or Ray at Advanced Tactical, but their
offices were being remodeled, and I was forced to wait two weeks for
them to return. When they did, Ivan immediately told me to send the
pistol back for evaluation. This was done, and the gun was back to me
in a week. As things sometimes happen, Advanced Tactical’s resident
gunsmith had set this pistol up for a dimensionally different round,
and I had gotten that altered gun. I mention all of this to reassure
any prospective buyer of the excellent service provided by the Advanced
Tactical folks. It is also worth noting that the gunsmith at Armscor
had no idea that the altered pistol had been the one selected for my
gun tests.

With the rejuvenated RIA Super .38 once again in my hands, I
strolled back out to my range, but this time the results were
astounding! Functioning was perfect, and as with my initial firing of
the pistol, accuracy was phenomenal. The photograph (shown below) is
the results of 50 rounds of Armscor Precision .38 Super ammunition
fired at a VisiShot target from a distance of 45 feet. A two-handed
modified Weaver stance was used for this exercise, and I fired the
pistol as rapidly as I could reload the magazine.

   

My local Wal-Mart Super Center doesn’t carry Super .38 cartridges. A
local gun dealer had one box of cartridges, while my friend and FFL
dealer Bill Lamb had none. So, it was off to the “big city” to scour
out the gun shops for any ammunition they had available. Budget
constraints and a definite lack of variety meant that a lot of this
testing was done with the donated Armscor 125 gr. FMJ ammunition.

Don’t read this as a negative comment!

Armscor manufactures some dandy ammo. I have found all of it to
be reliable and accurate. The major ammunition makers produce various
loads for the Super .38, but you’re going to have to search for it, and
it’s not going to be cheap when you find it. The true potential of the
Super .38 is discovered by hand loading, and I’m not set up for that at
this time. So, save your brass and cook up your own best loads!

The Competitive Edge Dynamics Millennium Chronograph was set
up to test the various loadings I had to work with. The ambient air
temperature at the time of the test was 68 degrees Fahrenheit, with 78%
humidity, and 10 to 15 mph winds out of the south. The sky was clear
and sunny.

Firing the Rock Island Armory Super .38 for accuracy proved to be a
little more difficult than what I’m accustomed to. The tiny G.I. sights
meant wearing my prescription glasses so I could see the front sight
clearly. I also discovered the sights are regulated to a six o’clock
hold on the target, in order to hit dead center. In spite of my late
50’s eyesight and the tiny sights, I was pleasantly pleased by the
results.

As can be seen from the chart, the Rock Island Armory Super .38
is a tack driver!!!! Other than the aforementioned need for a six
o’clock hold on the target, the sights are perfectly regulated for
windage. The Remington +P 130 gr. FMJ cartridges were not only the
fastest, but the most accurate as well.


This photograph shows an Armscor .38 Super 125 gr. FMJ, followed by the
Winchester Flat Tip Metal Jacket 130 gr. +P, and the Remington 130 gr.
FMJ +P. Please note the extra length of the Winchester round.
The left hand target shows 8 shots fired at a miniature FBI target,
using the Armscor ammunition. The center target was engaged with the
Winchester ammo. The right hand target reveals the results of firing
the Remington cartridges. I called that “horrible” flyer the instant
the gun discharged!

One special note about the Winchester ammo used in this test:

The flat tip full metal jacketed bullet is longer than the FMJ bullets
of the other two manufacturers. The magazine supplied with the RIA
pistol would only accept 3 rounds at a time of the Winchester brand. I
had been warned by Ivan, Ray, and our very own Hunter Elliott that the
Winchester .38 Super ammunition left a lot to be desired. It shoots
well, and it is very accurate. You just can’t use it in this particular
magazine-fed weapon.

Evaluation

When I initially phoned Ivan to inform him of the malfunction with the
RIA Super .38 he was dismayed. He told me his gunsmith had successfully
fired many rounds from the pistol before it was sent to me, and it had
functioned perfectly for them. As previously stated, the gunsmith had
altered the pistol to fire a cartridge dimensionally different than the
supplied Armscor Precision .38 Super rounds. In addition, Ivan knew
something that I was unaware of. The Rock Island Armory Super .38 is a
fantastically accurate and reliable pistol, and a malfunction as I
described was very strange. Luckily, it was a minor issue that was
quickly corrected, and the test was able to continue with only a brief
delay. It is a testament to the fine construction of this pistol that I
fired over 500 rounds without malfunction. In fact, other than wiping
all the grease and oil from the gun when it arrived, I didn’t even
field strip the pistol until all shooting tests were completed.

Despite the abysmally small G.I. sights, I was able to get
some of the best 25 yard groups in my experience. For those readers who
prefer the retro-look in their 1911s, this pistol is fine
representation of the breed. I am not a big fan of Parkerized finishes,
but I can appreciate the reasons for their use, and the Rock Island
Armory Super .38 has one of the better ones I’ve seen in a while. I’ve
yet to scratch a Rock Island gun, and a couple of them have gotten some
pretty heavy use while in my care.

If one is looking for an economical 1911 chambered for the Super .38
cartridge, a very serious look at the Rock Island Armory Super .38 is a
must.

Specifications

Rock Island Armory .38 Super

Barrel length: 5 inches (127 mm)

Overall length: 8.5 inches (215.9 mm)

Weight: 38 ounces (1077 grams)

Finish: Parkerized

Magazine Capacity: 8 rounds

Caliber: .38 Super

Trigger Pull Weight: 6.5 pounds (2948 grams)

Manufactured by Armscor in the Republic of Philippines

Acknowledgments

As with all my gun reviews in the M1911 Pistols Organization E-zine,
this one relied on my good friend Bill Lamb at Great Guns in Burleson,
Texas. Bill’s attention to the behind-the-scenes details involved in a
gun test/review help make these evaluations possible. From the prep
work with FFL issues to the proper shipping and insurance for the
return of tested pistols, Bill handles it all with a friendly
professionalism that makes the process a pleasure. Thanks again Bill,
for everything.

Ivan Walcott and Ray Witham, Jr. are the primary reasons that
Rock Island Armory pistols and Advanced Tactical Firearms have become
synonymous with quality service both before and after the sale. Were it
not for these two gentlemen, the RIA Tactical, RIA FS Match, and the
RIA Super .38 would never have been featured in these pages. In
addition, their generous donations of Armscor Precision Ammunition to
those of us who test these guns (as well as competitors’ pistols) have
helped to insure that a comprehensive shooting session accompanies each
and every review. Ivan and Ray, I am proud and humbled to call you my
friends. Thank you!

“Courtesy of the Model 1911 Pistols Organization E-zine” Also many thanks to a great guy who rights one heck of a review Steve Clark! I appreciate you allowing me to post your review.

Phil

SOURCES

Pistol and Armscor Ammunition

Advanced Tactical Firearms

150 N. Smart Way

Pahrump, NV 89060

USA

Phone: 775-537-1444

Fax: 775-537-1446

Web Site: http://www.advancedtactical.com

Chronograph

Competitive Edge Dynamics USA

P.O. Box 486,

Orefield, PA 18069-0486

USA

Orders: (1) 888-628-3233

Phone: (1) 610-366-9752

Fax: (1) 610-366-9680

Email: info@CEDhk.com

Web site: http://www.CEDhk.com

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As promised I am giving my second range report on my Rock Island Tactical. This report was from my shooting yesterday(Friday) 11-05-07. I started out early in the morning at 8:00 the weather was clear and the wind was calm. My Rock has previously had 100 rounds through it with no failures to feed or hang ups of any kind. The pistol was field stripped, cleaned and lubed after my last shooting session. I changed grips for some black double diamond rubber grips with finger inserts. Shooting positions were Weaver stance or sitting with no rest. In the first target I used 185 grain SWC  hand loads. I used 230 grain round nose white box ammo with no problems prior to this outing. I was having feeding trouble throughout the shooting session with lead semi wadcutters and will discuss that later. I loaded three of my own Power Star magazines with 6 rounds and the Novak magazine that came with the gun with 8 rounds. Shooting the Tactical was a pleasure and I was happily surprised at the groupings. After the initial 80 rounds the wind picked to a 5 mph breeze it was still bright and sunny. At this point I changed target and ammo to the 299 grain SWC and continued shooting, I shot 100 rounds of this weight bullet and the accuracy is still holding true. I found out that the Rock Island did not like these bullets and was still getting the same feeding difficulties. The difficulty ratio had gone down to 2 out of 8 failure to feed from 4 out of 8 failure to feed. This hole in my target was getting larger so I changed to the 160 grain SWC ammo. I was happy to see that I had almost no problems with this weight ammo so I proceeded to shoot 50 more rounds. I had maybe one or two failures to feed and the target will show how much my frustration had subsided. My accuracy was best using this weight bullet and it didn’t take me long to finish the whole box. As you will see on my target, I was able to keep all of my shots within the three inch diameter target. Observe also how accurate the pistol allowed me to shoot at the heart drawn on the target. I have never shot this good and am looking forward to going again. The distance for all shooting was 25 feet. I field stripped the Rock Island after shooting and found nothing wrong with the internals. Nothing loose and no metal burs. Compared to the Thompson 1911 that I own the Rock Island is much better as far as accuracy. The Rock is a lot better shooter. It’s comfort level is as high as its accuracy. I have never enjoyed myself as much as I did yesterday. Next time I go I’ll bring 100 rounds of round nose and practice double taps, I am also going to shoot rapid fire to see how the Tactical performs. I have a feeling I won’t be disappointed Well that’s about all for the range report. There was a couple of guys there that asked me to shoot it and after shooting 8 rounds each they asked me for my Center fire systems catalog because they were going straight home and order one for themselves. Another shooter turned up his nose when I told him much it cost me but after shooting it he changed his mind quick . I guess a dream job would be a Rock Island salesman:-) Phil thanks a lot for telling me about the Rock Island Tactical! It has been a valuable addition to my weapon arsenal. Above all it is a definite keeper.

Horace I hope that’s not a self portrait–LOL!


  Just a note I’d like to add to Horaces review. This concerns feeding problems with lead semi wadcutters. Most any 1911 will have difficulties with these type of bullets. If you intend to shoot a lot of lead semi wadcutters it’s a good idea to take your 1911 to a competent gunsmith who can polish the feedramp and if needed change the feed angle to accomodate the semi wadcutter bullet.

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Second Range Report

Range Report- Rock Island Tactical 1911

This range report is on my recently bought Rock Island Tactical 45 acp 1911. I purchased my Rock on October 17th. I bought it from CenterfireSystems and paid a total take home price of $429.00. This is my second 1911.
I shot a total of 150 rounds through the pistol. They are hauling dirt at the pistol range section so I measured 30 feet distance for my shooting. I was using a shoot n c 5 inch target. The ammo was 100 rounds of Winchester 230 grain FMJ and 50 rounds of 200 grain SWC reloads. I also had 25 rounds of Doubletap Ammo 185 grain Gold dot rated at 1225 fps from a 5 inch bbl.I figured if I can shoot this ammo then all of the other defensive round ammo would not have a problem.


30 foot target

After setting up I proceeded to empty 5 different magazines on the Winchester ammo. Next I loaded 4 magazines with the reloads with the same results, not one ftf,no problems whatsoever. I shot two-handed and one handed with my strong hand. It seems that the more you shoot the Rock the better it gets. Next I tried the doubletap ammo. I used 5 magazines with 5 rounds in each one and shot rapid fire. I was very impressed. Some people that have used some of my doubletap ammo in their Kimbers and Springfields had a few problems with feeding. Again I must say that my Rock Island fed the high impact rounds flawlessly with no hiccups.
After shooting I field stripped my pistol and checked it over with a magnifying glass. I did not find any metal shavings or cracks at all. There was the normal grime and dirt from shooting this amount of bullets and everything was in order. I have now shot over 500 rounds of different types of ammo in the Tactical and am confident enough to use it for my daily carry pistol. I am planning on changing most of the internals and replace the beavertail, trigger,hammer,slide stop and slide safety’s with Wilson drop-in parts. This will be done after the next 100 rounds. I will post a picture of my Rock after this is all done. One thing I did after this shooting is install a patch of skateboard tape over the frontstrap. I will continue to use the black rubber double diamond grips until I can afford a set of alumna- grips for it. There is also a duracoat job in the future but I haven’t decided what color I will use on it. I want to thank Phil White for all of the assistance and guidance he has given me these past few months. He is an inspiration to me and I trust his knowledge and ability in the use of a 1911. This blog is a valuable to use in the upkeep of your weapon and also a real good reference point. I hope to remain a good friend of Phil for a very long time.

Rock Tactical

Rock2

I’m sure by now you all know how much I love Rock Island Armory pistols. A short while ago I decided to refinish my Tactical model using Lauer Weaponry’s DuraCoat. It was a fun project and one I can recommend to anyone with even a moderate amount of experience with 1911’s. I chose the DuraCoat finish after doing considerable research on the net and determined this was the best finish out there for durability and good looks. If you need help in disassembly of your 1911 check my video at the top of any page on the blog on “disassembly of the 1911″.
To begin you need to get all the materials you’ll need. I ordered a 4 oz bottle of matte black liquid DuaraCoat from MidwayUsa. It comes with a 2 oz bottle of hardener. I also ordered Lauer thinner just in case the liquid was to thick for my airbrush. I got on the internet and found an airbrush with airtube for $8 plus shipping. At this point you have a choice of using an air compressor or canned air from Lauer. I already had a modeling air compressor so it was no problem for me. The airbrush arrived with two sizes of bottles for the DuraCoat as well as a small wrench to take the airbrush apart for cleaning (very important). I also purchased some 1200 grit wet dry sandpaper to rough up the parkerized finish on the gun. I now had all I needed to start the project. One thing I need to add at this point is something I left out on the original post that someone on the M1911 forum pointed out and that is degreasing the gun before you start to put on your spray coats. I use Break Free Powder Blast. This is much easier on you than most of the other products that are frankly pretty toxic especially if you have a breathing disorder. Break Free Powder Blast doesn’t burn your skin or cause breathing problems. After you liberally spray the frame, slide and other parts they will turn a lighter shade of gray with some areas lighter than others. Not to worry it won’t harm the gun or finish. Also, after you use the sandpaper, detailed below, you need to degrease again to remove any loose articles left behind.
If you have a non parked gun (blued) you will need to use a little rougher grit sandpaper to strip the finish down so the DuraCoat will adhere to the steel. Once the finish is almost completely removed go back to the 1200 grit and smooth things up a little. Of course you must tear the pistol all the way down and set all the internals off to the side. You will be working on a bare frame and slide. If you don’t know how to do this don’t be tempted to spray it with all the parts in the gun unless you feel comfortable putting tape over any opening the spray will get into.
Once you get all of this done it’s time to mix the DuraCoat. The mix is 2 tablespoons of DuraCoat with 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of hardener. Practice some with the airbrush before going on to spraying your gun. Just use some cardboard and practice from different distances as well as adjusting the amount of air you use. Before long you’ll get the right combo of air and distance. Normally about 5 to 6 inches away from your gun will be about right. You want to use light coats. Don’t be concerned with covering the entire gun the first coat you put on. If your spray is to heavy it will effect the way the slide fits to the frame as well as filling in all the nomenclature on the slide as well as filling in the serial number. After you spray the slide, frame, mag release button, grip safety and thumb safety place the small pieces on some tin foil after it dries enough not to rub off when you put it onto the foil. As you spray move the spray gun back and forth in even smooth strokes. For the slide and frame use two pieces of coat hanger (plain not painted) and bend them so you can hang the slide and frame on the oven rack. Have your oven heated to 110 degrees. After the coats are applied place them in the oven for 15 minutes. Then you remove them and hang them up to cool down. After cooling apply another coat. Remember, light coats! On my gun I applied a total of four coats. Yours may vary depending on finish. A parkerized finish is ideal for this type of refinishing.
A couple of hints. As you spray you may notice the spray coming out erratically or no spray at all. At this point you need to stop place the parts in the oven as if you completed the whole part. You need to use a regular paint thinner, take the airbrush apart and clean it completely. Put it back together and test spray to get the same setting you had before cleaning the airbrush. Another small problem that may crop up is the airbrush clogging often. If this happens use 1/4 teaspoon of Lauer thinner and add it to your mix. Normally you won’t have to do this. I didn’t on mine. If you have an instance where the finish gets some gunk sprayed on it not to worry. Let it dry and sandpaper the area and just spray as usual. You’ll never know it was there. Now it may seem complicated but it really isn’t. I just wanted to make sure I covered any and all gltches you might run into.
After you finish the gun and are satisfied with the results let it cure overnight before assembling the gun. I would also advise you wait about a week before putting the finished gun in a holster or shooting it. I know the Lauer website doesn’t include some of this information but from my experience it’s a good idea to be patient and allow the finish to cure even though you used the oven to cure it to some degree. The finish gets harder and more durable as time passes. It actually penetrates the steel to some degree making it adhere better over time. Mine has had approximately 2000 rounds fired through it since I refinished the Tactical and the finish is tough. There are no marks or signs of wear at all.
I hope you have found this helpful. If you have any questions please feel free to post a comment and I’ll email you and help as much as I can.

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