By R.K. Campbell
Never lose sight of your goal. It isn’t the work that is important but the purpose. An evaluation has been completed of the Springfield Champion .45 caliber pistol that included firing well over 1,000 rounds of ammunition. The end results are positive. The Champion is a compact pistol with good features. It will not accomplish what a Loaded Model 5-inch pistol will do but performance comes readily with a high degree of reliability.
The Champion has origins in the U.S. Army Officer’s Model. The Officer’s Model was developed as a single action 1911 sidearm for issue to U.S. Army field grade officers. During the 1960s, Army gunsmiths developed short slide and short barrel versions of the 1911 service pistol and the first pistols were virtually handmade. A great deal of research and development went into producing a reliable short slide handgun. The original short slide 1911, the Commander, featured an aluminum frame and 4.25-inch barrel. While 3/4-inch off of the slide makes for a more compact pistol, the standard barrel bushing could be used. The Officer’s Model was a different matter. Experiments showed that 1911 handguns with a barrel shorter than four inches did not allow enough barrel tilt for the pistol to function properly. The barrel bushing was eliminated in favor of a belled barrel and bushingless lockup. The slide was shortened and the locking lugs modified to allow the slide to recoil more to the rear proportionately. Detail changes including a taller ejector that completed the Officer’s Model modifications. The frame was shortened enough that a six shot magazine was now standard.
A number of custom pistol smiths were successful in fitting the short Officer’s Model slide to a Commander frame. Springfield designed the compact Champion as a counterpoint to other handguns. The Champion is a steel frame pistol with the full size frame. It takes a seven shot magazine or eight shot magazine of the modern type. The Champion features a four inch barrel in its short slide and the lockup is the bushingless type. With the full size grip handle and short slide, the Champion has a balance that appeals to many shooters. They appreciate the speed with which the Champion may be deployed and the balance of accuracy, with more emphasis upon short range speed of sight acquisition. The sights are excellent Novak high visibility sights with Tritium inserts for 24 hour capability.
When carried concealed, the short slide Champion is very comfortable. A five inch pistol may pinch the buttocks when you sit but the Champion is short enough that concealed carry comfort is considerably improved. Such a handgun may not be completely comfortable but it is comforting to carry and ready for action. The short slide 1911 is quite fast on target. In coarse shooting to ten yards the Champion is noticeably quicker to a hit than the five inch barrel Government Model .45. The primary disadvantage of a short sight radius is that small movements in the front sight are not as noticeable and repeatability of the sight picture is not as sure as with the five inch Government Model. There is a trade off between accuracy and pure speed. The Champion is an accurate handgun but you have to work harder for accuracy at longer range and pay particular attention to sight alignment.
Springfield has worked hard to produce a reliable short slide handgun. Among the purpose built advantages is a ramped barrel. Compared to the original two piece feed ramp design, the ramped barrel offers not only less chance of a problem in feeding but also the ramped barrel more fully supports the cartridge case head. This design is advantageous in both feed reliability and safety. The Champion has proven feed reliable with lead semi-wadcutter and flat point bullets and all types of hollow point bullets.
Cycle reliability is good with a wide range of loads including +P loadings. Short slide handguns are often finicky concerning bullet weights. The Champion proved reliable with bullets ranging from 160 to 230 grains. In testing the pistol during a bullet shortage and a tight economy, handloads have been important for the author. Approximately three quarters or 750 of the rounds fired during this evaluation were handloads. When I began police work many years ago I used a beautifully made old Star loader to crank out .38 wadcutters. Today it is a RCBS turret press and hard cast bullets from Oregon Trail. I have also used economical jacketed bullets from Zero bullets. My powder of choice has been the economical and clean burning Winchester 231. Performance of all loads tested has been good.
The majority of drills during the initial evaluation included drawing and firing at a target placed at 7 yards. We drew as quickly as possible and fired for center mass. All raters found the Champion brilliantly fast into action. It was hang the front sight on the target and get a hit. At ten yards we were able to make cranium (hostage rescue) hits on demand with attention to the sight picture and trigger press. The Champion has proven to be a viable performer. At longer ranges more attention to detail is needed in addressing the sights, but the Champion will deliver. At fifteen yards, firing from the barricade, the pistol will group five shots into three inches on demand. The Champion has never failed to feed, chamber, fire or eject during the test program.
The pistol features a speed safety that is positive in operation, with sure handling. The beavertail grip safety releases the trigger properly at the half way mark as the grip safety is depressed. Trigger compression is a smooth five pounds with no creep. Like all 1911 handguns, the Champion fits all hand sizes well. The checkered wood grips are attractive and give good purchase during tactical movement. Human engineering and balance are excellent. The only real drawback is that the Champion does not display the severe accuracy of other longer barreled Springfield pistols. This is a trade off – the Champion is a fast handling personal defense and service pistol. If you need more accuracy you probably need a Loaded Model.
In bench rest testing for accuracy at a long 25 yards we used Black Hills ammunition for the final graduation. Black Hills offers first class ammunition for sport and defense and some of the better choices for service use and a representative sample of ammunition from other makers was added. With care in choosing a load, the Champion is as accurate as most four inch barrel 1911 handguns.
Accuracy results, 25 yards – five shot groups measured from the inner center of the most widely spaced bullet holes:
Black Hills 185 grain JHP: 3.65 inches
Black Hills 200 grain SWC: 3.4 inches
Black Hills 230 grain JHP: 3.9 inches
Black Hills 230 grain RNL: 3.5 inches
Zero 230 grain JHP: 4.1 inches
Wolf 230 grain RNJ: 5.0 inches
Fiocchi 230 grain FMJ: 4.0 inches
Hornady 200 grain TAP: 3. 6 inches
200 gr. Oregon Trail SWC 800 fps: 3.9 inches
230 gr. Oregon Trail RNL 790 fps: 4.0 inches
Since the Champion is primarily a personal defense handgun, we carried the pistol in a Sideguard inside the waistband holster. This holster is among the most comfortable and well designed holsters we have tested in some time. The weight of the pistol is spread about the back and the pistol may be drawn quickly. Good kit for a good pistol.
The only change we would have made on the handgun is that the slide lock safety may be too large. The standard Springfield safety is adequate. The extended design on this pistol sometimes rubbed off when worn in tightly fitted holsters. The Sideguard was fine, but this is a consideration for those who chose to deploy the Champion. For hard use the stainless version is probably preferable. Overall, this is a good pistol with no flies on it.
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