Jeff Cooper’s Ideal 1911 Concept Still
Makes Sense In A Modern Fight.
By Dick Willims
Photos By Takashi Sato
Re-reading Jeff Cooper’s 1987 article The Serious Pistol, I was struck by two things. First, he was not tolerant of any sub-calibers when dealing with evildoers. Second, he never confused important issues with “frills” when defining a good defensive pistol. In his article, Jeff defined (and offered for sale at Gunsite) what he considered to be the optimum defensive pistol. It was, of course, a Model 1911 chambered in .45 ACP.
What was somewhat surprising were the minimal amount of alterations Jeff made on what he considered to be a good basic chassis — in this case a Springfield Armory replica of the Model 1911A1 he felt was made of quality steel and showed good structural integrity. In accordance with years of his own teaching doctrines, he first went to work ensuring a manageable trigger, easy-to-acquire sights, and a thorough “dehorning” job.
On the Gunsite Pistol (called the “GSP”) the resident armorer hand-fitted a trigger — breaking between 3.5 and 4 lbs. A set of high-visibility fixed sights originally designed by Robbie Barrkman were then fitted to the gun.
A “properly designed” speed safety was installed on the left side of the gun after which all sharp corners were rounded. The standard hammer was bobbed to prevent “bite.” The original collet bushing was replaced with a solid, oversized one to ensure there would be no breakage at the worst possible moment (which is usually when things tend to break). The feed ramp was smoothed and rounded while the extractor was smoothed on the undersurface. Finally, the firing pin stop was press-fitted into the slide to make sure it wouldn’t move during recoil.
The end result was truly a working pistol — perhaps not the gun you would wear to a BBQ, but one on which you would be willing to bet your life.
The K.I.S.S Principle In Action
The article listed only two options available on the GSP. Since Jeff was not a believer in ambidextrous safeties, the pistol came with a left-side thumb safety only, unless you were left-handed, in which case the armorer would install a right-side safety. The grip safety on the GSP was left operational unless the shooter requested it be deactivated. Jeff observed about one shooter in four was unable to depress the grip safety with his or her hands in the proper firing grip.
I’ve actually had this problem with a couple of 1911’s in my shooting career, but I had no idea it was such a common problem. Jeff stressed deactivating the grip safety did not make the 1911 any less safe. After all, it was included in the original 1911 design only as a requirement dictated by the Army (or, more specifically, the Cavalry). Today, thousands of police and federal officers are equipped with striker-fired pistols that can be fired simply by grabbing the gun and pressing the trigger, whereas the 1911’s thumb safety must be manually deactivated by a deliberate motion separate and distinct from the draw stroke. For years politicians were terrified of the visible “cocked and locked” appearance of a holstered 1911 but are now content with a weapon simply because they can’t see an external hammer.
One other element of the GSP development process that really impressed me were the calibration procedures. First of all, befitting a fixed-sight pistol, the only ammo used was 230-grain factory-equivalent ball. Accuracy testing was not done at 5, 10 or 15 yards, but rather at 50 yards, and it was done by the armorer shooting prone at the same type camo-pattern targets still used at Gunsite today, with no bullseye or brightly colored aiming point.
The sights were adjusted as needed and the pistol re-tested at the same 50 yards. Groups pictured in the article appeared to be 6″ to 9″ rather than the 3″ to 4″ clusters demanded by bull’s-eye shooters. Yet all were in the kill zone, indicating a high probability of a quick end to the fight. If your gun can shoot this well at 50 yards, you can do it at “powder burn” range.
Minimalist in nature, but effective by design.
Don’t let the fancy JC logo fool you. This pistol means business.
I mentioned the name Robbie Barrkman earlier. Robbie was the Gunsite armorer who helped design and develop some of the hardware on the early GSP pistols. Today Robbie is the man and the name behind Robar Guns, and he is offering not one, but two “Serious Pistols” in commemoration of Jeff Cooper and his influence on defensive pistol doctrine. Both guns are indeed based upon the same 1911A1, but instead of searching for an acceptable basic platform to modify, Robbie CNC ROBAR has US-made heat-treated 4140 steel forgings CNCed to their specifications and hand assembles everything using parts designed and built by legendary names in the pistol world since Jeff’s early efforts — Ed Brown, Cylinder & Slide, Novak, Wilson and Brownells. Both guns share many of the same parts with only six components being different. Let’s look at some of the differences and similarities.
Both are all-steel guns with 5″ barrels. One has adjustable Bomar sights, the other has fixed Novak tritium night sights. Jeff’s initials (a gold-inlaid JC) is on the slide of the Bomar-sighted model. I did all velocity measurements and group-testing using this version, and the results in Table 1 speak for themselves. I attribute my success to the crisp trigger and adjustable sights. But who knows? Jeff’s initials on the slide may have had a motivating effect! Needless to say, when I can shoot sub-2″ groups at 25 yards with iron sights and my aging eyes, I’m delighted. And yes, I did use a bull’s-eye target.
The adjustable sights allow you to zero the gun for your preferred load whereas the fixed Novaks come zeroed for 230-grain factory ammo unless you specify otherwise.
Both guns feature front and rear cocking serrations. The two-tone
“Cooper initialed” model (right) features fully adjustable Bomar
sights, while the other gun sports Novaks.
For daylight use, which is when I did the range tests, I like adjustable sights with a brass bead up front, but for the most serious possible defensive pistol, I’d get the fixed Novak Mega Dot tritium night sights. Both guns have match fitted barrels, and as long as reliability is 100 percent, I’m with Jeff and will always opt for minimizing group size. Why else would he specify testing at 50 yards?
There are no guide rods on either gun, an unnecessary feature on full-size 1911’s (and greatly simplifies life for us non-gunsmith shooters). Both featured the low-mount Gunsite thumb safety, which simplifies the draw stroke and helps ensure adequate depression of the grip safety with a proper firing grip. The other option is deactivation of the grip safety, and you’ll have to talk to Robbie about this when you order a gun.
Trigger length is a function of your hand size, particularly the length of your fingers. My stubby fingers suggest a short trigger. For rapid shooting at close range, I can work with either length trigger, but for more precisely delivered rounds at longer distances, I prefer the short one. If you’re not sure what’s best for you, a professional trainer should be able to help you sort that out very quickly.
Both guns have front and rear cocking serrations, which gives you options for chamber checks, and a positive grip during reloads. I like using the front serrations because they allow for visually verifying a loaded round in the chamber. Even in the dark when I can’t see, I can check by feel this way. If you’re older or have periodic bouts of rheumatoid arthritis (which I do,) curling your fingers tightly around the rear of the slide can become difficult. In any case, front serrations, as far as I’m concerned, are by no means an unnecessary frill on a fighting handgun.
I’ve used 8-round magazines, particularly Wilson’s, and found them to be 100-percent reliable. Having bumper pads helps ensure proper magazine seating, especially during speed reloads. And who would prefer a 7-round reload over an 8-round one? I prefer ROBAR’s Satin Black Roguard finish, but truthfully, it’s more aesthetic than practical. A better selection technique might be to choose the finish offering the most protection and lubricity, particularly for those of us who are less than scrupulous in keeping our weapons clean.
The thumb cut-out on the left grip panel does help in operating the mag release, especially for those of us with short fingers. It may not seem like a big deal, but anything to speed up a reload could mean the difference between winning or losing a gunfight.
Robar’s stippling deserves special mention. Most custom guns feature fine-line checkering on the front and backstraps, which frequently produces sharp edges and points to snag an outer cover garment. This strikes me as counterproductive, particularly if you’re going to dehorn the gun anyway. Fine checkering looks great when you’re showing it to your buddies at the range, but it may entail taking band-aids to any training school where you’ll be shooting quite a bit more than a box or two of ammo a day.
The Robar stippling is nowhere near as aggressive as metal checkering, yet provides more than an adequate grip assist in rapid fire. Between the stippling and VZ grip panels, a proper shooting grip places all parts of your hands in contact with a slightly “sticky” surface which won’t tear skin nor snag clothing.
I’ll admit some of my 1911’s have components some might consider more frivolous than serious, but what’s wrong with a desire to stir envy in the hearts of your friends? And all my 1911’s stand ready, willing and able to defend me in the most serious manner possible. Robbie’s Jeff Cooper pistols are built to deliver 100-percent reliability when your life is on the line.
The guns never once hiccupped on the range and provided uncompromising accuracy with serious defensive ammunition. The fact one of them has engraved initials on the slide doesn’t make it frivolous. The letters simply honor “The Man” who developed and codified the doctrine of the modern defensive pistol. Seems appropriate to me!
$100 from the sale of an RC-1911JCP and RC-1911TSP goes to the Jeff Cooper Legacy Foundation,
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