The 1911 has come a long way since Colt’s original 1911 Government Model.

The differences between Colt 1911 Models in .45 ACP:

  • Government: 5-inch barrel, 8+1 capacity (originally 7+1).
  • Commander: 4.25-inch barrel, 8+1 capacity.
  • Officer: 3.5-inch barrel, 6 and 7+1 capacity.
  • Defender: 3-inch barrel, 7+1 capacity.

The venerable Model 1911A1 was manufactured by Colt (and others during World War II) until 1971. Shortly after the war, Colt introduced a new gun, the Commander, which was based on the Colt 1911 Government design. This gun was essentially a shortened version of the A1 and was manufactured with a 4.25-inch barrel. Formerly, a 5-inch barrel had been the standard for full size semi-autos. The new gun was the first to feature an aluminum frame. It was a startling innovation at the time because the handgun mindset was mostly limited to steel. Nevertheless, the shooting public readily accepted the Commander.

Model 1911, early commercial model
Early commercial Colt 1911 Government Model.

Subsequently, Colt produced the same pistol with a steel frame and named this more traditional model a “Combat Commander.” Ever since, the term “Commander” has been used to designate 1911s that have 4.25-inch barrels. (The aluminum-framed gun was eventually, but not immediately, dubbed the “Lightweight Commander.”)

Not long afterward, Colt introduced a pistol with a 3.5-inch barrel, looking to develop a firearm that would satisfy the concealed carry market. Colt called this gun the “Officer’s Model.” It had a shorter length overall frame and used lightweight six-round magazines. This model name is used today to denote the smallest versions of particular models, versions with shorter barrels and frames.

Combat Commander, blued fi nish
Combat Commander, blued finish

In the 1970s, the MK IV Series 70 Government Model superseded the standard Government Model. The main modifications in the new model were a slightly heavier slide and a slotted collet barrel bushing.

In 1983 Colt introduced its MK IV Series 80 models, which had an additional passive firing pin safety lock that did not allow the pistol to fire if the trigger was not pulled to the end of its travel. Although some people feel that the change had a negative effect on trigger pull, it is probably a necessary evil in a highly litigious world. Still, it has not been completely accepted by higher level competition shooters who want a “decent trigger pull” on their firearms. (An identical firing pin safety mechanism is also used by the way in high-capacity pistols from Para Ordnance.) At this time, the half-cock notch was also redesigned.

Mk IV Series 80 Offi cer’s ACP
Mk IV Series 80 Officer’s ACP

In the 1990s, Colt developed an “Enhanced Series” of 1911s. These were of course modified Series 80 pistols, with several factory alterations that many serious shooters would previously have performed by a custom gunsmith. The alterations included a beavertail grip safety, beveled magazine well, flared ejection port and a notch underneath the rear of the trigger guard, which allowed the pistol to sit lower in the shooter’s hand.

At the beginning of 1992 another change was made and the resulting model was designated the 1991A1. Colt then recommended this pistol, with its flat mainspring housing, as an updated version of their classic 1911. Included in the series were the Government models, the Commander, the Officer’s model, the Gold Cup and the Combat Elite.

Colt Model O Series 90 Defender
Colt Model O Series 90 Defender

All of these enhancements — along with caliber choices — were the result of Colt’s desire to meet shooters’ demand for a more customized pistol. Colt selected several of the most popular modifications to incorporate in their new and enhanced models. The changes included a beavertail safety grip, a slotted Commander style hammer, a relief cut under the trigger guard, a beveled magazine well, a slightly longer trigger, a flat top rib and angled slide serrations. Consequently, from its earliest incarnation – which the casual observer would with difficulty distinguish from the latest – the Model 1911A1 may be the most modified handgun in the world.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from the Standard Catalog of Colt Firearms, 2nd Edition.


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