The Olympic/Safari Arms Matchmaster .45 ACP comes out of the box “match ready”; the Springfield Armory Trophy Match needs significant upgrades to make it run right.
Limited-Class United States Practical Shooting Association competition is growing, which is spurring a renewed interest in the firearms that make up this class. To qualify as a Limited Class USPSA pistol, a firearm must not have too many performance modifications, which leads to a more level playing field because cost is not as great a factor as it is in the Open or Unlimited. Specifically, the USPSA rules say a Limited gun must be a “factory produced, caliber specific pistol or revolver of at least 9mm caliber, available to the public for at least 12 months and that has had a minimum production run of 1,000 firearms during that period.” In addition, it may not be ported or have a recoil compensator, electronic or optical sights, external weights, or be of a caliber other than that for which it was originally designed. However, Limited guns may have various cosmetic and functional modifications to improve accuracy, reliability, shooting comfort, and visual appeal, including replacement metallic sights, safeties, grips, hammers, barrels, slide stops, magazine wells, and triggers. Trigger jobs, checkering, enlarged ejection ports, extended ejectors, and functional internal modifications to improve reliability or accuracy are also allowed.
Top Limited Class shooters generally agree that minimum modifications should include: an accuracy tune-up to obtain 1- to 2-inch groups at 25 yards; a good trigger that is dependable, predictable, and has a pull weight no greater than 3.5 to 4 pounds, a set of good adjustable sights, a beavertail grip safety for comfort during extended practice sessions, and a magazine funnel to allow quicker reloads. Above all else, a pistol must be 100 percent reliable because no alibis are allowed.
Some custom gunsmiths are marketing Limited Class .45 ACP versions of the popular 1911 Colt-type pistols for prices approaching $2,500, and there is a wait of up to one year for delivery. Also, there are other “semi-custom” Limited guns being promoted by a variety of manufacturers, such as the Brolin Pro Stock, the Kimber Gold Match, and the Colt 1970CM. The first two pistols are supposedly available, but we were unable to find suitable Brolin and Kimber models to purchase for this test. It seems these companies have promised their product to customers before delivering the goods, which we think shows poor judgment on Brolin and Kimber’s parts. Similarly, we couldn’t locate the Colt pistol we wanted in the retail pipeline, but we were able to order one from the Colt Custom Shop. Because of manufacturing and shipping delays at Colt, however, we didn’t receive the 1970CM in time to include it in this test. We will run its evaluation next month.
Two companies which do make Limited pistols and which can ship them in a reasonable time frame are Olympic/Safari Arms and Springfield, Inc. We tested two guns from these firms that sell for a fraction of the cost of a custom unit: The $919 Springfield Armory Trophy Match .45 ACP and the $770 Olympic/Safari Arms Matchmas-ter. We preferred the Matchmaster in this head-to-head matchup, for reasons we detail below.
Springfield Trophy Match
The Trophy Match comes in a fitted synthetic case with a sight-adjusting tool, cleaning rod, bore brush, and Allen wrenches for adjusting the trigger and removing the two-piece guide rod for disassembly. The pistol sports a polished-blue finish on its sides and a matte blue on the serrated top surface of the slide. Its overall appearance was excellent with the exception of some unpolished machine marks on the slide stop. It comes with checkered walnut grips, a single magazine with bumper pad, extended ejector, wide extractor, an adjustable lightweight alloy trigger, a lightweight slotted commander-style hammer, unobtrusive extended thumb safety, gripping serrations along the front strap of the frame and a well-executed, beveled, magazine well. The grip safety is an abbreviated “rat tail” variety rather than the wide beavertail preferred by action competitors.
The Trophy Match’s grip panels exhibited sharp edges at the lower rear that were uncomfortable in the hand, and the thumb safety with its sharp serrations bore against the inside of the thumb when a firm grip was applied. We think this will cause abraded skin in extended firing.
The Springfield had excellent sights. The rear sight is a foreign-made Bo-Mar type with fully serrated blade and positive click adjustments. The front is a semi-ramped type with a fully serrated rear surface that gave a clean picture with excellent light bars.
The slide of the test pistol fit the frame with just a slight amount of lateral play, and the barrel locked up without any play when in battery—both good accuracy indicators. The lock up was bearing on the link rather than the barrel lugs, but this had no adverse affect on accuracy, we found.
While the trigger on the Trophy Match had a gritty let off initially, it had a total pull weight of only 3.5 pounds: 1 pound of take up and another 2.5 pounds to release. After 50 rounds, it settled in to a clean, 3.25-pound pull that was very controllable in both slow and rapid fire.
Despite of its excellent accuracy and appearance, the Springfield pistol did have a few shortcomings, we thought. The grips had sharp edges at the lower rear that caused some discomfort in the hand, although during firing the sharp edges were pulled out of hand contact and caused no problem. The thumb safety, although functional, did cause significant abrasion and discomfort to the inner thumb after 150 rounds. The thumb safety also required considerable pressure to disengage from its On position and slowed the draw-to-first-shot sequence at 7 yards from a competitive 0.95 to 1.05 seconds to an average of 1.23 seconds. Some minor contouring and polishing of the safety’s edges and decreasing its disengagement pressure is needed, we think.
The commander-type grip safety was effective in preventing hammer bite, where the web of the hand is caught between the hammer and grip tang upon firing, but its slim profile and 90-degree corners wore painfully into the web of the hand. The pistol should be fitted with a full beavertail safety, in our view.
Also, though this pistol had a suitable bevel on its magazine well, we believe it should incorporate a flared magazine funnel to enhance reloading. Additionally, the magazine release was gritty and stiff. This should be remedied by polishing the locking surface and lightening its return spring. While we could accomplish reloads in our testing with an average time of 1.82 seconds shot-to-shot, from experience we know that it can be done reliably in about 1.50 seconds with decreased release tension and the addition of a quality magazine funnel.
Furthermore, we were disappointed to experience six failures of the pistol to fully chamber rounds in the 250 rounds fired in testing. This amounts to one jam for every 42 shots fired and indicates that, from the factory, the Trophy Match could not be expected to complete a 120-round local match without several costly malfunctions. The problem was traced to a chamber of minimum internal dimensions measuring 0.476 inch diameter. When you consider that the nominal outside diameter of the .45 ACP cartridge is 0.473 inch, and cast bullets are generally 0.001 inch oversize, a chamber only 0.002 inch larger leaves little tolerance for fouling residue to accumulate before rounds will fail to chamber fully. To allow enough chamber tolerance for flawless function, especially with cast bullets, it would be necessary to ream the chamber to between 0.479 inch to 0.481 inch.
PFS Recommends: At a suggested retail of $919, the Springfield Trophy Match shows a lot of potential, but we’re disturbed that its shortcomings weren’t remedied at the factory. Also, the gun needs a full beavertail grip safety and magazine funnel. We estimate it would take an additional $325 in parts and labor by a knowledgeable 1911 pistolsmith to bring it up to snuff for Limited use and to reblue the thumb safety and frame after modification. At the minimum, the chamber would need to be reamed before acceptable reliability could be expected.
Olympic/Safari Arms Matchmaster
The Olympic/Safari Arms Match-master is a stainless-steel pistol with a matte beadblasted finish. It sports some features that are unique among 1911 type pistols. Upon opening its black synthetic carrying case, the most obvious difference was the single finger groove integral with the front strap. Its function is to secure the position of the middle finger of the strong hand. Cosmetically, it also lends a futuristic appeal to the gun’s overall appearance. The front strap is checkered below the finger groove and the trigger guard is squared with a small finger hook at its leading corner. The smooth walnut grips have Safari Arms’ scorpion logo engraved on each panel.
Custom features include an extended adjustable alloy trigger, beveled magazine well, a Bo-Mar type adjustable rear sight with fully serrated blade, a fully ramped serrated front sight, full beavertail grip safety, extended slide release, extended ejector, wide extractor and narrow tactical extended thumb safety. It comes with a sight-adjusting tool and one magazine without bumper pad.
As we examined the Matchmaster, we found the grip panels and single finger groove felt good in the hand. There was no significant displacement of the fingers. The full beavertail grip safety fit smoothly into the web of the hand and positioned the hand high on the grip with the thumb reaching the lever of the thumb safety without stress. The beavertail, although comfortable, did lack the smooth, flowing fit of a custom installed unit. The thumb safety, with very sharp serrations and edges, was uncomfortable even when merely gripping the pistol normally. Under outdoor lighting, we noted the front sight showed up as a gray rather than the desirable contrasting black. The adjustable rear sight was crisp to adjust and held its zero.
In terms of overall fit, the slide-to-frame mating exhibited good fit both laterally and vertically. The hood of the barrel fit the slide well, and the barrel lugs maintained a firm lock up against the slide stop. The fit of the barrel bushing did, however, allow 0.006 inch of muzzle freeplay. The lack of a tight fit in this area usually contributes to decreased accuracy, with a tight central group expanded by fliers being the norm. We noticed this problem during accuracy testing. While the accuracy was acceptable for a good production-level pistol, without the fliers it may well have been exceptional.
The trigger broke at a total of 4 pounds, with 2.5 pounds of take up and another 1.5 to release the sear. It was controllable, predictable, and crisp from the start. Overall, the grip and thumb safeties, slide stop, and magazine release were positive in function and smooth in operation.
Shooting the Matchmaster for accuracy, we had five jams, with the round trying to enter the chamber at an angle. This is usually a result of poor, or damaged, magazine feed lips that do not control the cartridge during cycling. Inspection of the supplied Italian manufactured Mec-Gar magazine did indeed show damage to the left feed lip letting the cartridge go prematurely. We used Metalform magazines to supplement the factory-supplied magazine in our tests, and the gun functioned flawlessly with them.
As we suspected, the thumb safety caused discomfort while shooting. After 50 rounds, it was necessary to tape the thumb of the shooting hand to protect the skin. Another feature that caused discomfort was the finger groove. In our rapid-fire tests, it hammered against the second joint of the ring finger and the first joint of the middle finger. These areas became bruised after 200 rounds.
The squared trigger guard presented a logistics problem. We began testing with a Safariland 008 holster, but the spring retainer could not accommodate the trigger guard. We switched to a Hellweg competition model that relies on a firm fit to retain the firearm in place, and this solved the problem.
Once equipped with undamaged magazines and a compatible holster, the Safari Arms gun acquitted itself well. It functioned flawlessly, ejected vigorously, and the smooth controls allowed a clean draw that approached our expected times for a tuned custom-built firearm. Though it felt strange to have the middle and ring fingers spread slightly by the finger groove on the draw, it caused no misalignment problems when indexing the target. The Bill Drill times showed no unexpected handling problems, and differences in the reload times were not significantly different than the Springfield Trophy Match.
PFS Recommends: While the Matchmaster’s groups could be improved by a tighter barrel bushing, its accuracy was adequate. The only functional problems encountered were with the damaged magazine supplied with the gun. The thumb safety and finger groove might cause some discomfort, but with good magazines you could reasonably expect to take it out of the box, sight it in, and start shooting matches with it.
At some point you could add an aftermarket magazine funnel, smooth the surface of the thumb safety, and tighten the barrel bushing fit. These tuneups would add $200 in cost to the gun’s suggested retail of $770—which would give you a pistol that competes very ably with many $2,500 Limited Class custom products.