Smith and Wesson E Class 1911 Handgun

By R.K. Campbell

When I first became aware of the Smith and Wesson E class 1911 handgun my mind’s eye conjured up a picture of the old E for Excellence badge painted on Navy fighters. The aviator had earned the honor. After spending several months with the Smith and Wesson pistol I have to state affirmatively that Smith and Wesson has earned an E for excellence with the E class. Like the E class Mercedes Benz automobile, the E class handgun leaves nothing to be desired. The E Class pistol illustrated is the TA version with light rail; with TA standing for Tactical Accessory. The pistol features an integral M1913 specification Picatinny rail and is finished in rugged black Melonite, although the pistol is also available in stainless steel. When you examine the E Series pistol it is obvious the new Smith and Wesson isn’t quite like your grandfather’s 1911. By the same token a solider issued the 1911 for action in Mexico in 1916 or France in 1918 would have no problem picking up the SW1911 and swiftly and surely operating it. It is all 1911 but there are improvements that are exciting and tactically sound. These modifications have been integrated into the design without taking anything away from the 1911’s good features. These features include a grip that fits most hands well, a straight to the rear trigger compression, a low bore axis that limits muzzle flip, excellent balance and unequaled reliability.

There are modern 1911 pistols that are excellent examples of the gunmaker’s art. There are others that would drive a 1911 fan to tears they are so poorly made. The SW1911TA is among the former and arguably one of the finest production 1911 handguns available.

The E series is manufactured to close tolerances on modern CNC computerized machinery. Just the same in those areas in which the 1911 demands hand fitting a keen observer will find that someone that knows their way around the 1911 have had their hands on the pistol. There are design features exhibited by the SW1911 pistols that differ significantly from other 1911 handguns. A defining feature of the SW1911 is the scalloped cocking serrations. They appear fish scale like to one eye and serpentine to the other. These serrations give excellent purchase and give the pistol a distinguished appearance. The front grip strap is checkered in a manner that is arguably custom grade. This checkering affords excellent adhesion when firing the handgun, particularly with sweaty hands or heavy loads. The rear of the slide is serrated in what may be more artistic flourish than artistic element, but it comes out well. There is also a cut between the sights that resembles the Smith and Wesson revolver frame cuts from the heydays of production. There is a cut out in the frame just under the trigger guard that enhances the already low bore axis and also aids handfit for those with small to medium hands. The mainspring housing features a checkered surface that gives the user excellent adhesion. The top of the slide is finished in a distinctive pattern - E class all of the way. The slide stop, magazine release and the safety are all well fitted. The slide lock safety features a positive indent and a brisk snap as it locks into place. The beavertail grip safety is an excellent design. The trigger is released about half way into the beavertail’s compression. If the pistol is dropped or the grip relaxes for any reason the grip safety immediately makes the pistol safe by blocking the trigger. An additional safety feature is a lightweight titanium firing pin. Strong, this light weight firing pin is designed as a drop safe measure. If the pistol is dropped this light firing pin will not take a run against the heavy duty firing pin spring and move forward to strike the primer. With this positive safety feature the SW1911TA does not require an additional drop safety or firing pin block. The grip safety activated firing pin block of previous SW1911 handguns has been deleted. The sights are Novak low mount, the standard by which all combat sights are judged. The SW1911TA features tritium night sights. These self-luminous iron sights give the pistol a true 24 hour capability. The sight picture is crisp and well defined.

Slide to frame fit is excellent, with little to no lateral play in the fitting. When grasping the frame in one hand and attempting to move the slide in the other, little to no perceptible motion is detected. This type of fit goes a long way in eliminating eccentric wear. The more likelihood the slide goes back into battery in exactly the same manner after every shot, the greater the accuracy potential of the handgun and the tighter the fit the less sloppiness and less potential for excessive wear.

The 1911 is often personalized or adorned with custom grade grip panels. I cannot imagine changing the grip panels on this handgun. The grip panels are of attractive laminated wood with a scalloping design that matches the cocking serrations. The E class emblem is centered in these grips. The fit, feel, adhesion and abrasion are excellent examples of the breed. All of these features add up to a great looking and great handling handgun. The fit of the barrel, the barrel bushing and the locking lugs are excellent. When you rack the slide the barrel rolls out of battery and the locking lugs slide back into the slide very smoothly. The fit of the barrel bushing is excellent, not too tight for field stripping but good and snug. I used the Perry Competition barrel bushing tool to facilitate disassembly. You may pay for features on a high grade handgun but the only upgrade that enhances accuracy is good barrel fitting. While there are good features and accessories present on the E series handguns, the only improvement that will enhance accuracy in a 1911 is superior barrel fit. The E Series has that barrel fit.

The trigger action of the E Series is very smooth with little to no perceptible creep or backlash. Trigger compression in my personal example is 5.75 pounds even, ideal for personal defense and all around use. The trigger is fitted rather than installed during assembly. Smith and Wesson places great importance in supplying a handgun with a good crisp trigger action. They have succeeded if all pistols are like my personal example and there is no reason they should not be. The overtravel screw, in my opinion, should be set properly and then loc tighted on a service pistol.

The pistol also features a larger ejection port than is usually found on even the most modern 1911 handgun. This enhances reliability by giving the spent cartridge case plenty of space to clear the pistol. In the event of a misfire, a loaded cartridge may be cleared much more efficiently with such an enlarged slide window. Another modification to the original SW1911 is the new design external extractor. The new extractor grasps approximately twice the case rim of the earlier design, making for positive predicted extraction. These are important modifications and improvements on the original 1911 design. However, there are still more. The muzzle features a carefully cut match grade crown that is both chamfered and recessed. This makes for less chance of damage in handling and also results in less deformation of the projectile as it exits the barrel.

Shots Fired

The pistol was as new and unfired before the test began. The SW1911TA was lubricated on the long bearing surfaces before the test began. The first magazines were filled with Black Hills 230 grain FMJ, from the Blue Box remanufactured line. These loads are put up on the same machinery as the factory new loads; they simply use carefully selected fired brass. The savings are passed on to the consumer. During the initial firing stage the pistol was fired at man sized targets at 5, 7 and 10 yards for familiarization. The pistol simply hung on the target; with the front sight centered on the X ring there were few misses. During this evaluation the pistol suffered two failures to go into battery. The rear of the slide was nudged and the slide closed. This is actually encouraging as a well fitted 1911 handgun often requires a break in period. These stoppages occurred during the first four magazines fired. There have been no further failures to feed, chamber fire or eject. We attribute these failures to lock as a break in period characteristic of the type. All commented on the pistol’s low perceived recoil. The pistol weighs 41.5 ounces. A steel frame 1911 in this weight class should be controllable and the SW1911TA certainly is controllable. Practical accuracy is high.

Next, a good number of steel cased loads were fired. In this time of shortage and a high and seemingly ever increasing demand for ammunition, steel cased ammunition offers economy. The Hornady Steel Match with the 230 grain HAP bullet proved both reliable and accurate enough for meaningful practice. We took a few shots at long handgun range with this load and more often than not we were rewarded with a hit on the steel gong. The new style extractor proved up to the task and took a good hold on the cartridge cases. In order to proof the pistol with a wide spectrum of ammunition the SW1911TA was also fired with +P ammunition. There is some question as to whether the need exists for an extra power loading in .45 ACP caliber. The original loading, 230 grain FMJ, has proven effective on the battlefield. The bullet cuts a .451 inch hole in the target and creates a larger wound on exiting. Penetration is in the ideal range. For a service pistol in police holsters an expanding bullet is demanded for public safety and to limit over penetration and ricochet. The Speer 200 grain Gold Dot +P load breaks about 1,050 fps from the SW1911TA’s five inch barrel. Recoil is noticeably greater than the standard pressure loads but not so much greater the pistol isn’t comfortable to fire and controllable. The push is certainly there. This load proved reliable. Slide velocity was increased but feed reliability from the eight round magazines remained good. During the test period rapid fire testing and evaluation was made easier by use of D and L Sports quad magazine carrier. This carrier is designed for use by uniformed officers and tactical teams. The carrier securely holds four magazines in the perfect angle for a rapid deployment. This carrier is well designed to allow rapid access to spare magazines during a critical incident. While designed for service use it makes range testing less of a chore.

After the pistol had fired some 300 rounds the SW1911TA was field stripped and cleaned. There was no sign of eccentric wear. It was noted that small parts such as the slide stop and the ends of the guide rod showed good attention to detail, with beveled and polished ends not normally found on production grade 1911 handguns. In short, this is a sterling example of the factory custom breed of 1911 handgun and a pistol well worth its cost. The final test was to benchrest the Smith and Wesson .45 from a solid bench rest, taking every advantage to insure accuracy. This was among the most comfortable handguns I have fired from the benchrest position. The excellent sights and trigger action coupled with the steel frame pistol’s weight gave predictably good results. By any standard the SW1911TA is accurate enough for target grade work. All in all this is a handgun well worth its price and an admirable spear carrier for Smith and Wesson.

Carrying the SW1911TA

The SW1911TA isn’t a concealed carry piece by most definitions but a belt gun or service pistol. But more than a few professionals carry the service gun concealed and feel that the advantage is worth the acclimation to carrying a five inch 1911. The holster was carried under a covering garment in the Crossbarsleather.com high ride holster. This holster features three belt loops for good adjustment and offers a good sharp draw. For deep concealed carry an inside the waistband holster is preferred. Aliengearholsters.com offers an IWB for a light rail equipped 1911. This holster proved comfortable enough for concealed carry. The combination of leather backing and a Kydex holster of uncompromising rigidity gives the user confidence in carrying a serious fighting pistol concealed. While I am not likely to give up my Commander size .45 for a tactical rail gun, there is some promise for carrying the pistol concealed.

Accuracy Results

25 yards, average of two groups, from a solid bench rest firing position.

Load/Group in inches
Black Hills 230 grain FMJ, Blue Box: 2.65 inches
Black Hills 230 grain JHP: 1.9 inches
Hornady 230 grain Steel Match: 2.5 inches
Hornady 200 grain XTP: 2.1 inches
Federal American Eagle 230 grain FMJ: 2.0 inches
Speer 200 grain Gold Dot +P: 2.4 inches

This article first appeared in SmallArmsReview.com on April 25, 2014


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