Kimber: The Modern Classic
By R.K. Campbell

There aren’t a lot of modern classics in the various fields. In the automotive field Jeep remains strong with their late 1930s look. Cessna still builds good aircraft and Cross makes beautiful pens. In the handgun field there have been too many cuts and sops to economical production. But one handgun has managed to rise above the rest and arguably become a rarity – a modern classic. This handgun is the Kimber Custom II. This pistol has reached the zenith of its popularity less than twenty years after its introduction with no end in sight. It is not the most expensive pistol on the 1911 format and it is the least expensive of the Kimber pistols. If you elect to argue for one pistol or the other as a modern classic, that is your prerogative, but not to the exclusion of the Kimber. The pistol is used in competition but is also a first line police and military pistol. The Los Angeles Police Department has adopted the Kimber pistol as the standard issue for LAPD Special Weapons and Tactics unit. The Kimber is usually the first choice when police agencies purchase a 1911 handgun. The Kimber has also seen widespread military use, particularly by the Marine Corps. For a handgun to reach the classic status it must have seen considerable military, police and civilian use. That is the Kimber Custom II.

Another important hallmark of a classic is originality and longevity. One may make an argument for the Duesenberg over Mercedes, but obviously Mercedes won the marketing contest. Various companies have come and gone. Some have failed due to under capitalization but product quality is also a factor. The Kimber Custom II remains in production in its original form, which is surprising. Other pistols have gone through numerous generations. Of course, there have been many offshoots of the original pistol including the TLE law enforcement pistol and the Gold Combat and the Gold Match pistol, but these are special purpose handguns that while useful are also more expensive. The Custom II is still with us. The Kimber Custom pistol created a sensation when introduced and, incidentally, created a market shake up – there was no one competitive with Kimber once the pistol was on the shelves. The various GI and Enhanced versions of the 1911 then current were outclassed overnight. Truth be told, quite a few custom shop packages that included modern high visibility sights and extended controls were no longer cost effective. The Kimber pistol featured an extended slide stop safety, an upswept beavertail safety, well designed grip panels, and high visibility dovetailed sights. But best of all, the pistol featured quality construction. There have been competitors that attempted to match the Kimber’s package but few have succeeded for one reason: Kimber quality control was European in scope they said and they were proven correct. At the time American makers had virtually lost the police market and the comparison to what was perceived as superior European products was a valid one. The Kimber also features a ramped barrel. A ramped barrel is an aid in feed reliability and also a safety feature as the ramped barrel more fully supports the cartridge case head. It wasn’t a problem to introduce the ramped barrel into production from the outset.

The only design change to the pistol in its long life isn’t obvious to the casual observer. The Custom became the Custom II with the addition of a grip safety activated firing pin lock. This is a non intrusive safety that does not affect the trigger action. The Stainless II is simply a Kimber Custom II in stainless construction. These are among the most desirable and reliable handguns in general use today. There are certain features on the Kimber that I like and they are not treated to excess. The grip safety is the proper design for my hands and probably for yours as well. Some of us like to use the thumbs forward grip that sometimes lifts the palm off of the grip safety. The Kimber beavertail safety with memory groove neatly solves this dilemma. The slide lock safety is a speed safety type but not an overlarge gas pedal. The slide lock is not an extended type. Extended slide locks will short circuit the fail safe design of the 1911 and lead to malfunctions. Forward cocking serrations allow gloved hand use and give plenty of leverage in a worst case clearance drill. High visibility sights offer an ideal sight picture that is easily acquired in rapid action drills. Feed reliability with my two examples has been perfect. I have never experienced a failure to fire with the Custom II or the Stainless II in firing well over 10,000 rounds through the blue steel Custom II and over 5,000 rounds in the Stainless II.

The advantage of the ramped barrel was made apparent a few years ago when the author made an amateurish but common mistake in handloading. I used the same powder charge I had used with a 230 grain FMJ bullet but switched to a 230 grain JHP for a new test. The JHP seats more deeply. I knew that but the old load was fairly mild at 860 fps. When I fired the first 230 grain JHP over the Competition Electronics Chronograph it clocked an astonishing 1,223 fps. Nonplussed, I fired a second round and this clocked 1,219 fps. Recoil was stout. I picked up the spent cases. Both were very bulged in the head region, but remained intact. I took the rest of these loads home and used the Quinetics bullet puller to disassemble them. The Kimber was unfazed but this isn’t good for the gun. The Kimber ramped barrel isn’t going to keep you out of trouble if you make a serious mistake but it will offer a greater margin of safety.

Kimber Custom II pistols are very consistent. Trigger compression is the only variable as the trigger demands a certain degree of handfitting, however, the trigger compression on Kimber pistols is usually smooth and crisp. My original blue steel Custom II came from the factory with a smooth five pound compression. It has settled into a nice four and one half pounds. The Stainless II has remained consistent at just over four pounds during its service life. I have added a set of Smith and Alexander checkered cocobolo grips to the blue steel pistol along with a Wilson Combat front strap foil. This foil does a good job of giving us a checkered front surface on the cheap. The Stainless II now wears Hogue finger groove grips. These grips may be a vanity but I like them and they do the business. The Kimber is as well balanced and fast into action as any 1911, but the smooth trigger and good sights make a considerable difference in speed to a first shot hit. And that is what a defensive pistol is about in the bottom line.

As for accuracy, the Custom II is easily among the most accurate service grade pistols. Part of the reason is the tight specifications Kimbers are produced to. The frame to slide fit is tight. When a pistol is well fitted such as these are, the result is less wear. With less slop there is simply less eccentric wear and the pistols will wear evenly over time. During this time you will experience excellent accuracy potential. Like all quality firearms, the Kimber will prefer one load to the other but the pistols may be counted on for five shot twenty five yard groups of three inches or so. Occasionally a two inch group may be realized but for consistent accuracy of that type the Gold Combat is recommended. As for the three inch group this is the high end of service grade accuracy. The sights are well regulated, usually striking an inch or so high at 25 yards with 230 grain ammunition. This gives us a good playing field to 50 yards.

In high speed drills the Kimber’s sights and trigger are an advantage. The magazine well is lightly beveled to allow rapid replenishment of the ammunition supply. Kimber magazines are available as an aftermarket accessory. A good supply of magazines isn’t really an accessory item but a necessity. If you prefer a magazine that rides flush as John Moses Browning designed it, then the Kimber is a first class design. These are Government Model steel frame .45s. This means they weigh in at over 38 ounces and that they are over eight inches long. That is fine. It is a big gun and a gun that is controllable in recoil. If you need something shorter and lighter the Custom Defensive Pistol is a good choice. The Pro Carry with its four inch barrel and aluminum frame is light on the hip and works just as well as the five inch gun. I simply prefer the comfort, accuracy and controllability of the five inch steel frame pistol.

Carrying the Kimber

It is imperative to have on hand more than one holster for the many situations you will face in concealed carry. Those living in true four season climate may deploy a belt holster for part of the year and an inside the waistband holster for another season. The long but flat and well balanced 1911 offers good concealment if you choose your leather well. I use primarily inside the waistband holsters. One of the newest designs that I have used is the Stakeout from Ritchie Leather. Ritchie studied under the late Lou Alessi and learned well. This holster features the ideal draw angle for rapid presentation. The Stakeout is of high grade leather to comfortably carry the .45 automatic. With a built in sight track and strong belt attachment this is a holster with much to recommend.

The Kimber Custom II and its stainless sibling, the Stainless II, are modern classics. These pistols feature workmanship and quality well above the norm. Accuracy and reliability have been proven in departmental testing and serious use among qualified individuals for over a decade. The Custom II is a best bet and a best buy.

Accuracy 25 yards, 5 shot groups

Kimber Custom II

Black Hills 230 grain RNL        790 fps        2.0 inches
Black Hills 185 grain JHP        1,020 fps        3.0 inches
Black Hills 200 grain SWC        860 fps        2.5 inches
Cor Bon 200 grain JHP +P        1,055 fps        3.1 inches
Cor Bon 230 grain JHP +P        922 fps        2.5 inches
Cor Bon 230 grain Perf. Match        800 fps        1.9 inches

Kimber Stainless II
Black Hills 230 grain JHP +P        911 fps        2.25 inches
Cor Bon 185 grain JHP +P        1,144 fps        2.75 inches
Federal 185 grain Hydra Shock +P        1,101 fps        3.0 inches
Speer 230 grain Gold Dot        834 fps        2.5 inches
Fiocchi 230 grain JHP        852 fps        1.9 inches

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (May 2013)
and was posted online on April 5, 2013


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