Rock Island Armory GI .38 Super Contributed Review by Steve Clark
December 25, 2007
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
“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 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.
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
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
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
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
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
Rock Island Armory .38 Super
Barrel length: 5 inches (127 mm)
Overall length: 8.5 inches (215.9 mm)
Weight: 38 ounces (1077 grams)
Magazine Capacity: 8 rounds
Caliber: .38 Super
Trigger Pull Weight: 6.5 pounds (2948 grams)
Manufactured by Armscor in the Republic of Philippines
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,
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.
Pistol and Armscor Ammunition
Advanced Tactical Firearms
150 N. Smart Way
Pahrump, NV 89060
Web Site: http://www.advancedtactical.com
Competitive Edge Dynamics USA
P.O. Box 486,
Orefield, PA 18069-0486
Orders: (1) 888-628-3233
Phone: (1) 610-366-9752
Fax: (1) 610-366-9680
Web site: http://www.CEDhk.com
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