The 1911 pistol is a Colt design that has been in production for over a century and has earned its reputation among civilian, military, and police as being a reliable, hard-hitting weapon that many folks happily carry every day to protect their lives or the lives of others.
A good 1911 is a true joy to shoot. Triggers are typically light and crisp, and, if you can deal with the recoil, they’re some of the most accurate pistols on the market. They also come in a variety of calibers, ranging from .38 up to .45 (there are others, but those are uncommon, for instance, the .50GI ).
In terms of usage, 1911s can come in a wide variety of barrel lengths, the longer ones being more accurate but harder to conceal. After you’ve settled on form, then there are about as many finishes and accessories as you could ever want, so it’s more than possible to make a 1911 truly yours.
But, not all 1911s are created equal. Here, we’re going to cover some 1911 brands that we would avoid. To be fair about this, it wouldn’t be right to simply declare a company bad without explaining it. Thus, we’re going to go into some detail as to why each of these companies are the ones we avoid.
For us, a 1911 brand can be bad for a variety of reasons. If it’s impossible to find parts, that’s not good for us, as we like to shoot our guns. Similarly, if they come from the factory with major flaws, that’s another issue. Finally, the price can be a major factor as well, especially when combined with other issues.
So which 1911 Pistol Brands Should You Avoid?
Norinco is an arms manufacturer owned and operated by the Chinese government. They currently make China’s small arms for their military and have been also exporting them abroad for years.
Some of their products are awesome. For example, Canadians love the M305, which is a Norinco copy of the M14, which they designed by reverse engineering captured American m14s from the Vietnam war.
The same happened with the 1911: taking pistols from Korean and Vietnam war captures, Norinco made their 1911 and imported it until 2003, when the Bush administration sanctioned China for selling arms to Japan.
From what information is out there, some of the Norinco 1911s shoot fine. Others require a lot of work to get them shooting reliably, and some never do.
For us, the bigger issue is that 2003 date. Now, if your Norinco has some major flaw, you’re on your own to fix it. Ideally, you would simply buy two of them to have a set of spare parts, but the idea of taking what was supposed to be a cheap 1911 and turning it into an expensive project gun just isn’t appealing.
Now, if the import sanctions get lifted and Norinco is willing to service and import new 1911s, then, perhaps, they’d earn their way off of this list. For now, however, we’re going to advise folks to avoid a Norinco 1911, especially as a concealed carry or duty gun.
2. Rock Island Armory
Rock Island is the name of an old, US government arsenal that made, among other things, great 1911 pistols. If you have one made in the interwar period that’s labeled “US Government” and “Rock Island,” you likely have an excellent pistol.
Rock Island Armory, on the other hand, is a subsidiary of the Armscor corporation, which manufactures cheap 1911s in the Philippines. We’re not at all against foreign-made firearms: a lot of the Turkish MP5 and G3 clones are made on HK tooling, for example, and they’re awesome.
What’s going on with Rock Island Armory is something altogether different. Their website has a lot of history, making the company seem like it’s an all-American enterprise that’s always made great products. This is a bit of a slippery history, as most of their current production 1911s are made cheaply in the Philippines.
Some folks swear by their Rock Island 1911s, and good examples do certainly exist. Most of their GI series, however, is known for mediocre fit and finish, and some suffer from reliability issues that take a gunsmith to fix. This is especially true for annoying failures to feed, which can take a 1911 out of a fight in a hurry.
Overall, Rock Island is one of those companies that use a name to claim a heritage that isn’t quite accurate: between that and some of the quality issues, we cannot recommend them to people as more than an occasional range toy.
Kimber makes some of the coolest-looking 1911s in the world. If you’re making a movie and need a firearm sponsor to go along with the flashy tactical moves, then Kimber has you absolutely covered. Similarly, if you want a 1911 with a bright turquoise slide, a white frame, and a set of safeties and grips dyed to match said slide, then Kimber is your go-to.
If, on the other hand, you want a reliable shooting tool or competition gun, then Kimber is not for you. One major issue with Kimbers is their price, usually, MSRP on a Kimber is about 2-3x of comparable guns from other, reputable manufacturers, and often with the major difference being exclusively cosmetics. This makes Kimbers a bad value from the start, in our view.
What’s worse is that Kimbers often have a hard time reliably loading a lot of different kinds of ammunition. To be fair, a lot of 1911s are finicky with blunt-nosed or hollow-point bullets, as the edges can catch feed ramps. Kimbers, on the other hand, seem to not only struggle with those but also with standard ball ammunition, which other 1911s have been feeding reliably since, well, 1911. Between that and the cost, Kimber is not a manufacturer that we can recommend.
With all of this said, don’t let this article put you off of buying a 1911. A good one is a pleasure to shoot, and there are many great manufacturers today for instance: Sig, Springfield, and Colt, who make excellent 1911 pistols.
George has been an avid shooter for twenty years. He began shooting when he was gifted a Browning SA-22 for target practice. Now, as an academic, he combines his love of firearms and knowledge of history to write for firearms blogs and is still a frequent sight at the local range.