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
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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24 Responses to “Rock Island Armory GI .38 Super Contributed Review by Steve Clark”

  1. Terry C Travinsky Says:

    Dear Sir,loved your article.I own a USFA Super 38 Automatic.I never new to much about the super 38 ubtil recently when I bought one.And Im now 58 years old.Been shooting since I was 13.Is it true that John Dillinger was killed by the FBI using 38 Super Autos? Thankyou,Terry travinsky.

  2. Gunner Says:

    Terry,

    Thank you sir I’m glad you enjoyed the article. The 38 super is some gun and a great caliber. We’re pretty close in age to. I started shooting at 8 years old and I’m 56 now. A lot of shooting history for both of us.
    The 38 super was popular on both sides of the law for it’s ability to penetrate the heavy body work of cars of the time as well as the crude body armor of the time. The body armor at that time weighed in at 35 pounds and didn’t fit well but it offered protection from shotguns and most handguns except the 38 super.
    John Dillinger was shot with a variety of calibers. A 38 Super was among them. There were also 45 acp’s and 38 specials. Surprisingly the man who got credit for bringing Dillinger down,Melvin Pervis, never fired a shot. Pervis carried a 1911 in 45acp. He frequently used a mix of ball ammo and military tracers. In fact Pervis died in 1960 from an accidental gunshot wound when he was trying to remove a stuck tracer round from a 1911 given to him upon his retirement.
    History is sure interesting isn’t it? Especially from that era.

    Take Care,
    Phil

  3. Mike C. Says:

    Sir,
    I have been told that there is a .38 super 1911 pistol made by Rock Island Armory that is a hi-cap model. Also referred to as a wide body 1911.
    Have you seen or heard about this pistol?

  4. Gunner Says:

    Yes sir I sure have. In fact I handled and shot one of the 45acp versions just last week but yes they do make a 38 super as well as a 9mm version. The width of the grip is not that much wider than the stock single stack model. The one I shot was slightly used and they had a $400 price on it. You should expect to pay somewhere between $450 and $475 depending on where you live. They are GI models so if you want to do competition with it new sights etc will most likely be needed unless you want to shoot stock class. It is a good pistol with an excellent warranty.
    I just did a search for the wide body and couldn’t find one so apparently as happens sometimes they have none in the country. If you contact Ivan Wolcott at the email or phone on this link they can order one for you or at least give you info on when they will have them. They come from the Philippines direct to Armscor US.
    There are also models they sometimes drop from US sales but will special order them from overseas.
    The only downside is magazine cost. Almost $40 and as high as $45 for a single mag while the single stack is available from Wolf Gunsprings or many others for $15 to $30 depending on the company.

    I hope this helps,
    Phil

  5. Federico Says:

    I think I look like a fool for asking this; if I get a RIA 1911 .38 Super, can I use/change the following 1911 .45ACP parts without modifications: Extended Beavertail Safety, Trigger, Full Guide Rod, Hammer and Mainspring Housing. Thanks for the help

  6. Gunner Says:

    Federico,

    The only dumb question is the one you don’t ask:-) But yes you can use all those parts. Everything in the frame as well as the guide rod can be used.

    Take care,
    Phil

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  8. carlos Says:

    Hello. I
    just purschased one of this guns a nickel plated one and i can not wait to use it. I red your article was good it may my decision easier,thank you. one concern it only came with 1 magazine? and it fitted too snuggy ,ihad to buy a better magazine. thank you.

  9. Gunner Says:

    Carlos,

    Thank you I’m glad it helped you make your decision:-) I know you’ll enjoy it. The mags are usually good which is kinda strange the one that came with it fitted to snug. As an alternative the Chip McCormick mags are a good choice between quality and price. They do come with one mag. They are trying to do whatever they can within reason to keep the prices from rising.

    Thank You,
    Phil

  10. frankie Says:

    how do you take apart the 38 super i bought it 2 years and i am thinking of shooting it for the first time and i want to know to be able to clean it after…..

    thanks frank

  11. Gunner Says:

    Hi Frank,

    The takedown is the same as the standard 1911. There is a link on the top of the main page that has videos I posted on takedown procedures. Here is the link https://gunner777.wordpress.com/disassembly-of-the-1911/ some variations exist between models but these videos should do the trick for you.

    Thanks,
    Phil


  12. [...] on them. One said, they have a new .38 super model. If this is so that might be the one for me. Rock Island Armory GI .38 Super Contributed Review by Steve Clark Gunner’s Journal The Rock Island Armory Guns A Very Special Super joo can also get it in the bright nickel [...]

  13. sandrar Says:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  14. Steve Green Says:

    Gunner: I just purchased a RIA .38 Super 1911 and took it to the range and with two boxes of Fiocchi 129 gr rounds. I had similar problems as mentioned in the article/review. It would not go fully into battery. The shell casing appeared to wedge behind the extractor. Sometimes I could bump it forward into battery and sometimes not, needing to clear the mag and rack the slide. Then I’d get a few good cycles before it happens again. Out of 100 rounds I had 3 failures to extract also. I know the break in period is 500 rounds but I sure hope things smooth out before that. It just seems like the angle is too sharp to feed reliably.

  15. Gunner Says:

    Steve,

    I’ve been gone a few days sorry:-) I would bet up to about a 90% chance the problem is that Fiocchi ammo. I’ve had several guns that just don’t like that brand at all. I’d go and pickup some Winchester ball, Federal or any American brand and see if that doesn’t cure the problem.
    RIA’s really don’t have a break in period and pretty much work 100% right out of the box. If that doesn’t cure the problem please contact me and I’ll give you the USA main office phone number and the CEO’s name and number. It’s rare one needs repair but if so it will only take about a week and cost you nothing.

    Best of luck,
    Phil

  16. David Ledet Says:

    I bought mine today used at a local gun show. What no one seems to mention, (an I am sure industry censorship will delete my posting), is the fact the 38 Super model barrel bushing is a total pain to turn off the barrel and remove. I had to use a pair of flat electrician’s pliers just to make it move at all!!! It CANNOT be field stripped without the GI bushing tool or a heafty pair of pliers. Everyone knows this but no one says a word about it. It is like the stock market peoplle where no one dares say the word SELL.

    It is a true fact, one cannot remove the barrel bushing without tools, yet on one says so. Please do not mislead new buyers into a disappointing experience. Say the truth. All will benefit. It is a wonderful, reliable pistol, but DOES need tools to field strip.

  17. Gunner Says:

    David,
    David

    I never censor anything. You have the right to say most anything here. If you bought it used that tells me somebody who didn’t know what they were doing put an aftermarket bushing on it. The bushing you have is a gunsmith fitted bushing that the last owner forced on.
    They always disassemble without tools unless someone pulls a stunt like that. I would go to a gunsmith and have the bushing properly fitted.
    In fact if you call RIA and explain the problem they will most likely send you a stock bushing. A new one can be had for a few dollars also. Junk that bushing and get a pre fit model for a 38 super. When you call RIA ask for Arnell the gunsmith.

    Phil

  18. GRG Says:

    Question- I’m looking at the Rock Island Armory 1911 – 38. I already own a 38 special, can I shoot 38 special ammo in a 38 super gun? I know I can’t do the opposite.

  19. Gunner Says:

    No not at all! It would blow the gun up or damage it severly. Even though it’s a 38 the dimensions are very different.

    Take care,
    Phil


  20. [...] quote from here: The Super .38 was developed in a joint venture between Colt and the law enforcement officials [...]

  21. Gunner Says:

    Yep, in order to penetrate the body armor of the day as well as car bodies:-)

  22. jim Says:

    I just purchased this pistol for my father as a birthday gift. I did so in part because your blog was very descriptive and informative. Thank you for taking the time to educate us newbies. We haven’t fired the pistol yet so I’ll post the outcome of that shortly. Thanks again.

  23. Gunner Says:

    Jim,

    I’m happy to help out:-) I’m sure your Dad will enjoy and I look forward to hearing about the range trip!

  24. cmblake6 Says:

    My 38 Super RIA has a beavertail and some decent sights on it. It is my top carry pistol, but what I really want to do is get it in a CCO variant. Love the concept, want to stay Rock Island for the combination of price and quality.


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