In our view, the Versatility and Custom Classic outshot and sported better features than Colt’s Combat Target.
The word production is taking on new meaning as it relates to the manufacturing of .45 ACP semiauto handguns. An increasing number of shops are making, taking, matching, and fitting frames, slides, guide rods, triggers, grips, magazines, grip safeties, safety slide releases, and other components to fashion what some makers call semi-custom or custom production guns. The aims of companies such as McCormick, Baer, Wilson, STI, and others is to supply what their customers want, of course: Guns that shoot straighter, work faster, and operate more reliably.
Formerly, however, these performance enhancements were the province of custom guns, which were slicked up at great expense. That meant that the rest of us couldn’t buy into the party, and we longed for better products at reasonable prices. Into this void came the custom production guns, which used parts milled to an assembler’s specs, and other, better components than customers could buy in regular distribution guns. Good examples of these “parts” guns include Briley Manufacturing’s Versatility and Kimber’s Custom Classic. Briley, for instance, takes a variety of parts, such as McCormick frames and Caspian slides, adds carbon-fiber composite triggers, cocobolo grips, and other niceties, and sells the gun for $850. Kimber does likewise, but at the factory level. The company’s Custom Classic has a beavertail grip safety, a beveled magazine well, match barrel, extended guide rod, and other features, all of which are manufactured by Chip McCormick of Austin, Texas. Kimber sells its branded parts gun for $575.
We wondered how these products compared to a run-of-the-mill production gun from Colt, where the 1911-style gun originated. We tested the Briley Versatility and the Kimber Custom Classic against the Colt’s Manufacturing Co. Combat Target Model 08120E .45 ACP, and learned why the semi-custom guns are exploding in popularity. Of the trio, the Briley shot the best overall, and despite its higher price tag, would be our pick. Next up would be the Kimber, which features more specialty parts for less money than the more expensive Colt gun.
Below, we indicate our reasons for making these judgments:
How We Tested
We used a Ransom Pistol Rest with windage base mounted on a 24-inch-square plywood base that was 1.4 inches thick. This platform was C-clamped to a 1-inch-thick steel sheet attached to a steel pipe concreted in the ground. We shot all our test groups outdoors at 25 yards. We fired 10 five-shot groups to collect our accuracy data, spotting the rounds with a Nikon 20- to 60-power Field Spotting Scope. Using a Parker-Hale cleaning rod and jag, we cleaned the guns with Pro-Shot lead and powder solvent between lots and then fouled each gun before shooting the next test lot. We measured all the groups to the nearest tenth of an inch using a Neal Jones benchrest-scoring device. To collect the 10-shot chronograph data, we used an Oehler Research 35P chronograph.
We used a variety of factory ammunition to test for both accuracy and function, including Federal Gold Medal 185-grain FMJ-SWC Match, Federal Classic 185-grain Hi-Shok JHP, Hornady 230-grain JHP XTP, PMC 185-grain JHP, Remington 185-grain Metal Case Wadcutter Match, USA 230-grain FMJ, Winchester 185-grain SWC, and Winchester 230-grain JHP. We also handloaded one round, using a Sierra 200-grain FPJ with 5.5 grains of Hodgdon’s International & WLP primers in mixed cases.
Briley Manufacturing’s $850 Versatility is the company’s base model of six guns models it offers. Our test gun was made on a frame manufactured by the Chip McCormick Corp. of Austin, Texas. Under the guidance of Claudio Salassa, Briley has built an excellent firearm to serve as the base gun for the line of custom 1911s it produces. The matte-blue frame is topped with a polished, blued slide that gives the gun a two-tone finish. Waylan Custom cocobolo grips contrast with the metal surfaces to create a clean, good-looking firearm.
Of course, it’s always nice when a good-looking gun also shoots well, which is the case with the Versatility. The gun shot eight of nine of our test ammos under 2 inches at 25 yards. The best groups came with Hornady’s 230-grain JHP, averaging 1.29 inches. The best group we shot with this combo was 0.44 inch.
On the features side, we also liked the Versatility. The gun’s skeletonized carbon-fiber (plastic) trigger broke crisply at 2.75 to 3 pounds. It also had an overtravel screw. We noted very little side-to-side movement in the trigger. Also, this test gun has a beavertail-style grip safety, which prevents the shooter from getting painful web pinch. A checkered mainspring housing adds to the firm grip that shooters will like on this model. A beveled magazine well is included.
The gun’s extended manual safety was easily engaged or disengaged with the right thumb. It clicked positively when we operated it. The slide release was a standard 1911 style with no modification. The Caspian slide was topped with a Bo-Mar adjustable rear sight. We would have liked for the edges to be rounded a little to make clearing a jam, removing the gun from a concealed holster, or other quick handling more comfortable. We liked that the Patridge front sight is dovetailed into the round-top slide and then pinned in place. It’s not going anywhere. The match-grade 5-inch barrel is fitted with a Briley spherical bushing, which makes the barrel lock up consistently. We noted that Briley had cut eight serrations on the sides of the slide near the muzzle. They gave a positive gripping area for clearing the firearm of live rounds, jams, or safety check.
Kimber Custom Classic CL45
Kimber of America has introduced at least one and plans to introduce other 1911-style handguns. One currently shipping gun is the Custom Classic at $575 retail. Other models in the works include the Classic Custom Royal ($715) and the Classic Gold Match ($925). We purchased the Custom Classic to see what features it delivered at a price well below Colt’s Combat Target gun.
The firearm’s finish is matte blue with no polished surfaces.
In our view, the gun’s trigger pull was a bit too hard at 4.25 to 4.5 pounds, but it was crisp. The carbon-fiber trigger has no overtravel screw. We detected a slight side-to-side movement in the trigger, but we nonetheless think it was fitted satisfactorily.
This test gun has a beavertail-style grip safety with an extended area above the checkered mainspring housing for better gripping. The magazine well is beveled to facilitate magazine changes. We thought the magazine-release button operated too stiffly, but that problem might work itself out over time. The extended manual safety was slightly smaller than on the Briley model, which makes the gun more comfortable for those who will carry it in a holster. Double-diamond black-rubber grips were included with this model.
The low-profile, fixed rear sight has rounded corners that make the front of the gun suitable for carry. Also, it has a serrated rear area that provides a no-glare surface for easier sight alignment. The front sight is 0.11 inches wide and is dovetailed into the slide with a Patridge-style sight that is 0.17 inches above the rounded top slide.
Six serrations on the both sides of the slide offered a good gripping surface. To our hands, these serrations, which had beveled edges, felt better than the Briley slide cuts.
This model had a hefty recoil spring, which caused minor feeding problems with 185-grain target loads. Shooters who might use the gun for bullseye target practice may need to change out springs to solve this problem. Our test gun had an extended guide rod.
Accuracy wise, the Kimber outshot the Colt-brand, recording several groups below or near 2 inches at 25 yards. Federal’s 185-grain JHP shot best in the Custom Classic, notching 1.90-inch groups on average. Overall average was 2.20 inches.
Colt’s Manufacturing Company Combat Target
The Combat Target is one of almost two dozen 1911-style models offered by the Hartford, Connecticut-based manufacturer. The model we tested, catalog number 08120E, is a beefed-up version of the standard 1991A1 Government Model. The company’s 1996 catalog describes the Combat Target model as a product that combines “many of the most popular features of the Gov’t Models with extremely competitive pricing. In addition to enhanced lockup and action, it also features a kidney cut steel trigger, flat top slide, flared and lowered ejection port and beveled magazine.”
For those features, the customer pays a $230 premium over the cost of a base M1991A1, which retails for $538. The Kimber sells for only $39 dollars more than a base A1, and it has several features lacking on the $768 Colt’s piece.
Our Combat Target had a matte-blue, no-glare finish that almost looks like black parkerizing. Trigger pull was the heaviest of all the test guns at 4.5 to 4.75 pounds. The gun’s steel Gold Cup-style trigger didn’t have an overtravel screw. We noted a slight side-to-side movement in the trigger, but it was satisfactory. This test gun had a flatter beavertail-style grip safety than the Briley and the Kimber guns. The grip safety didn’t sweep up as far away from the serrated mainspring housing as the others. The gun’s magazine well was beveled behind the leading edge of the well, but the exposed lip was not beveled as on the other guns. Fully checkered black-rubber grips with a front wraparound were included with this model.
The manual safety and slide release were the old 1911 style. The gun has an adjustable rear sight sitting atop a flat slide. The front sight is a Patridge-style blade that measures 0.125 inches in width.
We were disappointed in some aspects of the Combat’s accuracy. The best it shot was with Federal’s 185-grain semiwadcutter target round, 1.89-inch groups. It also performed well with the Remington 185-grain semiwadcutter ammo (1.90-inch groups), and the Sierra 200-grain FPJ handload, 1.93-inch groups. The rest of the rounds’ group sizes crept above 2 inches. Of course, not every gun will shoot every ammo well, but the Briley and Kimber shot more rounds better than the Colt.
Performance Shooter Recommends
We would buy the Briley Versatility ahead of the other guns. It was much more accurate, and had a reasonable feature set for the $850 the gun commands.
Even though the Kimber Custom Classic CL45 lacked adjustable sights, it was otherwise featured on par with the Colt Combat Target model. It also clearly outshot the more expensive gun. For the money, it offers a lot.
The disappointing product in this test was the $768 Colt Combat Target gun. It was whipsawed by the two parts guns on a price/performance basis, we thought. Though it was $70 cheaper than the Briley Versatility, it shot fewer of our test ammos well, and it lacked the Briley’s Bo-Mar adjustable sights, metal and wood cosmetics, trigger overtravel screw, high-ride beavertail-style grip safety, pinned Patridge front sight, match-grade barrel and spherical bushing, extended guide rod, and slide grip serrations. In contrast, the Kimber kneecapped the Colt on price without sacrificing much in features. It retails for $200 less than the Combat Target, but it shot its top three ammos as accurately as the Colt, and it produced tighter groups overall. In the feature set, it lacked the Colt’s adjustable white-outline rear sight, but the Kimber had an extended guide rod and other niceties to compensate.