The Auto-Ordnance 1911
By R.K. Campbell

The shooting public and the shooting industry are paying tribute to the 1911 pistol and the great men that made history with the .45 in hand. Most were soldiers or Marines but some were sailors and airmen and quite a few federal agents used the big handgun. In short, the pistol has done much for our nation. Among the pistols available is a true 1911A1 variant from Auto-Ordnance. This pistol maintains the appearance of the World War Two General Issue pistol with a couple of small improvements. These improvements are not immediately obvious and do nothing to detract from the appearance of this GI type pistol.

Before we add to the reader’s confusion, let’s discuss the storied name “Auto-Ordnance.” This company was founded by the well known military officer, visionary and industrial production expert Colonel George Thompson. The company was originally founded to manufacture the Thompson submachine gun. The rights to the company name have changed hands several times but the ownership now rests with the parent company of Auto-Ordnance, Kahr Arms. Auto-Ordnance offers a semiautomatic rendition of the Thompson submachine gun as well as the 1911A1 pistol.

There have been a number of renditions of the Auto-Ordnance pistol. Some were about as rough as any American 1911 ever manufactured. The internal parts appeared to have been beat out on a rock in Pakistan. Today there has been a considerable upgrade and the modern Auto-Ordnance isn’t a parts gun assembled from low bid vendors but rather manufactured on modern machinery. A move this author approves of is a change from a cast slide to a forged slide. Auto-Ordnance has replicated the original 1911A1 with its small sights and controls and even the plastic grips. Many feel this is an advantage and there is little to go wrong. The sights are low profile but allow the shooter to snag the rear sight on the belt if need be to clear a stoppage. The pistol features a greenish gray Parkerized finish. The controls are strictly GI. The short trigger and arched mainspring housing are preferred by many shooters. It is very difficult to fit a beavertail grip safety to the arched housing but if you pay attention to detail and grip the pistol properly you will not have a need to fit a beavertail safety. The sights are small but precise, once lined up properly. Those who have not handled a true 1911A1 with its arched mainspring housing and short trigger may not realize how well the pistol handles. While the Auto-Ordnance is a GI type with no extras, the GI 1911A1 .45 is a formidable fighting pistol.

The Auto-Ordnance pistol adheres to the original Browning tilting barrel, swinging barrel link and locking lugs design. The locking lugs fit into recesses in the slide while the tilting link allows the barrel to swing down out of lockup during recoil. The Auto-Ordnance pistol features a seven-round magazine. The pistol proved compatible with all magazines on hand including Metalform flush fit magazines and the Wilson Combat eight-round magazine with bumper pad. In the past there were a number of odd ball variations on magazines from Auto-Ordnance but the new pistol is strictly GI .45 compatible. The Auto-Ordnance pistol reflects an effort to offer a handgun with good qualities that will appeal to those with a strong sense of history. But the pistol is also economical. While anyone with the necessary skill or cash could easily upgrade the Auto-Ordnance pistol with aftermarket sights and extended controls, the pistol is a good value as it is and certainly hits as hard as any other .45 caliber pistol. The fit of the slide to the frame and the barrel bushing to the barrel are good and the link is good and tight.

The 1911A1 must ultimately be addressed on the basis of performance, not potential. The pistol was made to be shot, used hard and carried for personal defense. This pistol departs from the GI pistols in two areas. First, the feed ramp appears to be radiused for better feed reliability with sharp shouldered SWC ammunition or modern jacketed hollow point ammunition. As the 200 grain semi-wadcutter lead bullet is a popular practice load this modification is appreciated. The jacketed hollow point loads increase wound potential and add to public safety as they are less likely to ricochet or over penetrate. The second particular that has been changed is to incorporate a positive firing pin block or drop safety into the design. This is a significant departure from the 1911 type firing mechanism and one that adds to basic safety if the pistol is dropped on the muzzle. Overall, a good rendition of the GI pistol with reasonable improvements for the modern shooter.

For initial range work, the piece was placed in an ABM fabric holster that isn’t too tight. This is a range holster that isn’t too tight and hangs on the belt comfortably. Beginning with a selection of personal handloads using the Oregon Trail 200 grain SWC and enough Titegroup for 850 fps, a number of man sized targets were addressed at seven yards. As may be expected, the front sight simply hung on the target and the pistol delivered good tight groups. The cadence of fire is never set by how fast you are able to pull the trigger but by how quickly you are able to reacquire the sights after recoil. At seven yards it isn’t difficult to put the entire magazine into one ragged hole in rapid fire. Switching to Black Hills 230 grain FMJ in the new steel cased line, targets were addressed at ten yards. This is a load that duplicates the original 230 grain Hardball load. While recoil was noticeably stronger, this load remains a model of a mix of control and power. Results were excellent. The pistol came on target, the trigger was pressed, and with proper sight alignment you had a hit. While the trigger action is heavier than a target grade pistol just the same we have a controllable trigger press. You are always in control and the reset allows you to get back on target quickly. As a combat pistol versus a target pistol, the Auto-Ordnance 1911A1 is a great shooter.

It is almost laughable to test such a pistol at the 25-yard bull’s eye stage, but accuracy is always interesting. Original specifications called for the GI .45 to group five shots into a mean dispersion of five inches at 25 yards. This is a useful standard that will save your life in the majority of critical incidents encountered. As it turns out, the Auto-Ordnance was more than accurate enough for “government work.” With the loads it liked best the pistol was twice as accurate as the GI standard with some loads grouping five rounds into two and one half inches. The advantage of the type is speed into action, good handfit, a low bore axis and reliability, not target grade accuracy. But in the end the accuracy demonstrated is a level one feel comfortable with for personal defense. During the test program there were no failures to feed, chamber, fire or eject. The Auto-Ordnance 1911A1 is good enough to ride with.

Accuracy results, five shot groups, 25 yards, fired from a solid benchrest firing position

• Oregon Trail - Laser Cast 200 grain SWC – Titegroup powder - 850 fps: 3.0 inches
• Nosler 185 grain JHP - Titegroup powder - 900 fps: 2.0 inches
Loaded by Robert Alan Campbell

Factory ammunition:
Black Hills 230 grain FMJ: 3.5 inches
Black Hills 185 grain JHP: 2.65 inches
Hornady 185 grain FTX: 3.0 inches
Hornady 230 grain XTP +P: 2.8 inches
Mastercast 200 grain JHP: 2.9 inches
Wolf 230 grain FMJ: 4.25 inches
Wolf 185 grain JHP: 4.65 inches
PMC 230 grain JHP: 4.9 inches
(Two failures to fully chamber with the Starfire load)

Manufacturer: Auto-Ordnance
Caliber: .45 ACP
Barrel length: Five inches
Capacity: Seven rounds, standard
Sights: Fixed
Trigger compression: 4.5 pounds
Overall length: 8.5 inches
Width: 1.4 inches
Height: 5.25 inches
Weight: 38 ounces
Manufacturers suggested retail price; about $560.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (April 2013)
and was posted online on March 1, 2013


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