Do you guys remember a time, roughly 2005ish when the only 1911s on the market seemed to be overly expensive custom guns? That was a helluva time, wasn’t it? Kimbers and Colts in semi-custom platforms were even expensive. What if you just wanted a simple 1911? For historical purposes? Or just to have one?
What if you wanted a GI model 1911? This gun is something that was a close representation of what the troops actually used? Apparently, enough of us wanted an affordable, and simple 1911 because Rock Island Armory hit the ground running and their GI model 191s became instant favorites of the gun community.
A 1911 in the sub 500 dollar range that replicated the guns of WW2? When I heard that I certainly asked to be signed up, and what I received was the Rock Island Armory GI model. Mine is an early one, produced in 2006 that still wears their old grey finish. The new finish is darker and more black than grey. The GI series started as a standard 5-inch 45 ACP 1911 and has grown into 38 Super and 9mm as well as shrunk to Commander and Midsized platforms. The one we have today is a standard 5-inch government model in 45 ACP.
With this specific model of 1911, the most significant use I see is historic preservation and the ability to handle and shoot a weapon without risking harm to an actual antique. The gun is the result of stripping out all the modern features of a 1911 and bringing it back to a simpler time. A time where men were men, and women were men, and children were also men. By that I mean WW2 where everyone pulled together to beat back the world’s evils, The Rock Island Armory GI model is an excellent representation of a classic pistol.
Some may argue this could also be an affordable platform to start a custom build, but I don’t see it. Too much cutting and trimming would be needed compared to the also affordable Para GI series. The Rock Island guns are fantastic for what they are but don’t have a traditional use like home defense, concealed carry, or even competition. I’m sure someone in the comments will say this is the gun they stopped a ninja home invasion with or shot Grand Master with, and maybe you did, but that’s not the intent or purpose of this weapon.
(After writing this I learned of something called Zoot Shoot which is like Single Action shooting society but in the Depression era. This 1911 is perfect for this competition.)
The GI 1911 is a simple gun that represents the 1911 in it’s purest form.
Barrel Length – 5 inches
Overall Length – 8.56 inches
Height – 5.5 inches
Width – 1.5 inches
Weight – 2.47 pounds
Capacity – 8 rounds
How do you list the characteristics of a gun that really has none? Typically we talk from a perspective of what makes a great gun right? I do anyway, so the features that make this gun great would make a 1911 designed for combat typically terrible. The GI is built on a series 70 frame so you can get the best trigger possible, which is undoubtedly something 1911 purists will love. There are also a few features that were present on original 1911s we’ll talk about.
The gun features what has to be some of the tiniest sights this side of a Ruger LCP (not the LCR revolver). They are super small open sights. The rear is a small piece of metal with a cut in the middle. The front sight is nothing more than a rounded blade. No fancy night sights or even three dot combat sights here.
The safety is only on one side of course and chews up your hand like nobody’s business. It’s tiny but just large to rest your thumb on while it’s in the off position. The beavertail is super thin, and the hammer is short and stubby, barely even textured for easy manual cocking. The gun comes with cheap wood grips, but unfortunately one of mine broke, which was my fault for being fast and loose taking the grips off, so my model has some cheap plastic grips as placeholders.
The rear serration is nice and short, easy to grip and easy to rack the weapon. The trigger is just a plain metal trigger, no skeletonized nothing here. The grip safety is small but has no issue being depressed. The GI series of 1911s are, and the features they have are simplified. If you know what you are getting into you won’t be disappointed, but if you want a comfortable shooting and modern 1911, this isn’t for you.
I mentioned above that there are a few features present on this gun that is not present on original 1911s. The first is a lower ejection port which will increase the gun’s reliability when it comes to ejecting rounds. The magazine well is also slightly beveled which makes reloading easier. Rock Island Armory also tunes the weapon to make hollow points reliably feed. Lastly, the gun has a flat mainspring housing instead of a rounded one found on most WW2 era 1911s.
Fit and Finish
The fit and finish are rough admittedly. It doesn’t look great at first, but it is tough. The finish on my is scratched, kicked and abused and its a gun I’ve had for basically 12 years now. It was a gift before I was old enough to own a gun, so it was mostly in my Dad’s collection. However, we shot it a lot. Its scratched and chipped over time, and it’s even stained from a variety of holsters.
That being said the finish itself does its job well and protects the gun decently. The gun has never rusted or even showed signs of rust. In terms of fit things are a little sloppy, not in a bad way. The gun rattles when shaken showing a loose slide to frame fit which could improve reliability at the cost of accuracy. A loose gun is not always a bad thing. The controls are all tight. The safety clicks into place with a tactile feeling, as does the hammer and magazine release.
Nothing wrong so to say, but nothing extraordinary.
The 1911 as a design is a good example of how great ergonomics work. The gun places all the controls in easy reach of your firing hand and it’s very easy to use and learn to use. It’s remained such a popular platform for the last 107 years for a good reason. There is also a great reason why the gun has been so heavily modified over the years. The Rock Island GI shows exactly why the design was changed.
First off, the safety is sharp and will cut into the web of your hand after a few hundred rounds. It’s pretty painful after some time and gloves are a good thing to have on hand if you want to go hog wild with a crate of ammo. The thing beavertail is rough too. It doesn’t cut your hand but it does impact your hand and gets tiresome pretty fast.
This keeps the gun from being as fun as it could be, but it gives you an authentic experience. As I said before the controls are all still easy to reach, this includes the safety magazine release, etc. The gun is still a great representation of the 1911 and its excellent ergonomics.
On the Range
The aforementioned pain problems don’t show up until you are well into a few hundred rounds. It starts simply as being uncomfortable. This isn’t terrible at first and the gun is still fun to shoot, but really what gun isn’t fun to shoot? The magazine included is a nice polished Mec Gar 8 rounder that is super reliable and well made. The gun is probably mechanically more accurate than I am, but the sights kind of suck.
At close range, I can make similar groups to a more modern 1911. 1.5 inches at 10 yards isn’t hard to do. However, once you move back from the target it gets harder and harder compared to more modern 1911s. The small sights are not quick to pick up either so combat shooting with speed is more or less just point shooting. I can slow down, breath deep and ring steel at longer ranges but I am missing way more than I am hitting.
The gun is fun to shoot, but it has to be kept cleaned and lubed. The gun is very quick to fail and jam here and there. I got a number of failure to feeds as the feed ramp got filthy. These are always frustrating and its smart to keep lube on hand when shooting this gun. The only reliability issues is the failure to feeds. I haven’t had light primer strikes, misfires, or failures to extract or eject. That 1911 joke about the gun being a jamomatic rings true sometimes.
The trigger is quite nice and short. A little take up before it breaks, but the pull is light and pleasant. It’s an easy trigger to master and control.
It’s hard to say nice things about this gun, but judging it compared to modern automatics is like trying to compare a Colt SAA with an S&W 686. It’s not a fair comparison. This gun is still fun due to its faults, and the errors, besides reliability, are part of its charm. The failure to feeds are the only things I really get angry at. This gun is purely a range gun, and as a range gun, I’m not relying on it for much more than going bang.
Rating Each Category
Looks: 3 out of 5
I’m glad Rock Island got away from billboarding their guns with a logo. My older model has a crazy big logo I hate. The idea that this is supposed to rep a WW2 era 1911 is excellent, having it rep a large logo of a company that didn’t exist at the time is dumb. Other than that the wood grips are excellent, the grey finish works, and the old-school look is satisfying.
Ergonomics: 2 out of 5
Everything is okay, just okay, maybe 2.5 would be a better score. However, the pain that comes from shooting the gun kicks back on the well-placed and easy to use controls. Is it a significant problem on a gun trying to be period correct? Maybe, but I get why.
Accuracy: 2 out of 5
The sights kill the gun’s accuracy. The trigger is indeed there, and the inherent accuracy is there. The small sights make distance shooting difficult, and the same goes for speed shooting. I consider both slow and fast fire as factors when judging accuracy.
Reliability: 2 out of 5
Failure to feeds is a big issue, come on now, this is a big problem. The gun gets a little dirty, and it barely works. That’s an issue. If you keep it clean, it will run, or if you only shoot a little at a time, you won’t run into these issues.
Customization: 4 out of 5
You can do a number of things to change the gun. Even if this kind of defeats the purpose of what the gun is made to be. Grips, sights, barrels, safeties and more can be installed on the popular series 70 frame.
Price: 5 out of 5
The RIA guns are always quite affordable, and these are great guns for what they are. Far from perfect, but still very nice for the price, and very fun. It’s not a duty grade gun, and it’s not trying to be. The price point of these guns certainly makes them incredibly attractive.
The Rock Island Armory GI Series are nice guns, especially the newer models. Who doesn’t want a chrome 38 super? These are fun guns, and that is what they are made to be.
They aren’t perfect, and they aren’t even 100% historically accurate, but the price and the features make them the most affordable representation of a classic 1911 on the market.