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.
I have have a Kimber 1911 45, for sometime now. Have fired a little over 500 rounds through it. Had a few miss feeds in the first 100 or so. No problems since.
I own a Norinco 1911. It would be the last gun I would part with. I carried to the bank every Monday and Wednesday morning when I owned the bar. The fact that it was a steel GI spec gun that I was trained on in the service just made it my natural carry piece. I loaded my Wilson 47 magazines with seven rounds of 230 Winchester .45 ACP with one round in the pipe and the thumb safety engaged. My chosen holster was a jackass rig that I covered with a windbreaker. I never felt undergunned.
My first 1911 was a Kimber Stainless II .45. I dropped bout $1,200 after opting to add 2 extra Wilson Combat magazines. I did my research, read all about the break-in procedure, immediately took it down & meticulously cleaned/lubed the heck out of it, only fed it 124gr for the inaugural 500 or so rounds, and made certain to clean & slather it in lube after each trip to the range. To my surprise, despite having heard countless horror stories from other Kimber 1911 owners, I had yet to experience a single issue with it.
I was very much in love with that Kimber til approximately 1500 rounds…bout 1/2 way thru a mag, the slide jammed maybe 1/4 of the way back, that sucker would NOT budge either direction, a live round 3/4 chambered, and it wouldn’t allow me to release the magazine…tried the ole’ tap & rack, no dice…the RSO asked to see if they could free it, still wouldn’t budge… keeping it pointed downrange w/my digits clear of the muzzle, I whacked the rear of the slide back against the front of the shooting bench as hard as possible. I able to force the slide forward enough to drop the magazine, which then allowed enough slide movement to eject the round & resolve the issue.
I figured it either a faulty round or maybe the spring in that magazine was getting weak, so I retired the mag & picked up some fresh, top shelf ammo for my next range session. No such luck…4 rounds in, the slide jammed in the exact same way, and continued to do so every 4-5 rounds. Upon basic inspection I couldn’t identify an obvious cause for this malfunction…so, sadly, I mourned the loss of my beautiful Kimber & shipped her back to the mothership to let them deal with it. I couldn’t rationalize trusting a weapon that had failed in such a way to save my life, and immediately sold it as soon as I received it back from Kimber.
As aesthetically pleasing as that Kimber 1911 was, never again would I feel 100% confident in it’s ability to perform as it should, and that is an absolute deal breaker when that failure could easily cost me my life. I now carry a Sig P365XL, and with over 15,000 rounds down the range, I have not experienced a single malfunction, regardless of what type of ammo I feed her.
Buy a springfield. You will be impressed. Over 2500 rounds on the way to 5000…. from cheap stuff to hot loads i loaded myself. From 118 grain arx stuff to 230 grain factory loads NEVER been cleaned not once. Oiled hell yea alot but never cleaned. It went bang everytime i pulled the trigger….and the trigger its amazing.
I also have a couple colts. Very nice and reliable. Fit is great finish not so much. Buy gloves or a box of band aids you will bleed. Great trigger though.
I had a P365XL but no more. The Magazines are a bitch to load though a mag loader works but what good will that do if you are in a fight and only have spare rounds to load up?? You put 300 fifty round boxes down range and how about a time range to expend 15,000 rounds?
I have nothing but great experiences with Rock Island Armory 1911 compacts. As accurate as my Colt m1991a1 compact. Periodically carry as my EDC. Just bought a RIA BBR 3.10 1911 and look forward to firing it soon.
Thanks for the info. Now I can try a RI 1911 compact in .45!
We hear lots of love stories for the 1911s. Total poppy cock. The real reason for the love of 1911s it the inability of many shooters to shoot double action. With the hammer back the trigger is a scary 3 pounds away. By this time it’s obvious that I rely on Glocks. I know of no one who has ever taken a 1911 out of the box and made it through a 100 rds without a malfunction. Conversely, with a Glock 17, I have two out of the box with no cleaning, no lube, and no mods whatsoever. 1 with 7000 plus rds and the other with 5000 plus rds. Yes I own a very expensive 1911. A Coonan Classic in 357 magnum. It must be ran wet with FMJ 150 grain ammo to be fairly reliable. Of course it is a range toy. It loves PPU ammo. ’nuff said, let the haters hate! 😅
Wow David. Let’s start with a few facts. The 1911 pistol is the most manufactured pistol in world history. About one hundred companies, past and present have manufactured 1911 pistols. A design so reliable and favorable, it is still an issue firearm, in armies around the world, and with Police, and Police SWAT units. American special operations units, like Delta Force, use it. Gee wiz David, if Delta Force, found the 1911 a good, and reliable pistol, I would have to tell you you are simply dead wrong. Hey Glocks are great pistols. I own one myself, but I am tired of intellectually lazy people, of what I call, “The Polymer Generation,” criticizing 1911 pistols, without any factually researched arguments, using only emotional statements. I will say this. The 1911 pistol, if carried as a every day carry, takes more dedication to training with it. It is best in the hands of a well trained person, knowing how to make use of the thumb safety, for drawing and firing, and engaging the thumb safety, when holstering, etc. It is simply training to a point, that it become second nature. I hope David this has helped you understand the 1911 pistol better.
Plus David, you are shooting a whimpy 9mm.
In regards to your Coonan .357 magnum, are you really that shocked that a semi automatic might have issues feeding revolver rounds? My first two handguns were Glocks and I got rid of them both after I fired a Springfield 1911 and a SIG P320 (just as reliable but nicer to shoot) for the first time. A Honda Accord might be more reliable than a ‘67 GTO. But if I had to choose between the two, I’m picking the GTO every time.
Reminded me of my 64 Goat!
Now you do! Kimber Rapide purchased in November, 2021 and has 600 rounds of various makes of FMJ and HP ammo. Not one problem.
You are correct that DA/SA are more difficult to shoot well.
That being said, as a newbie, I started with what most newbies are advised to get: a Glock 19. For some reason, it never clicked with me; I had the trigger, magazine release changed, and different grips installed. I rented a Beretta 92 from a local range – and it was love at first shot. The feel, the handling. I got a 92FS INOX; as I’ve gotten more into shooting, I’m an ‘old-school’ weapons kind of gal (10/22, Mini-14 .223/5.56, M1A 6.5 Creedmoor). I have a Beretta PX4 Compact that I’m finding a challenge – I’m also a Big Girl, 6’2”, and I like a Big Gun
I recently shot a 1911 (I’d been scared because newbies are often advised against 1911’s) at a meeting of Armed Women of America – and again, I was hooked; the slide was like silk, the action marvelous. I just ordered a ‘beginners’ kind of 1911: Springfield 9mm Garrison – looking forward to trying it out!
No! No! Noooo! Has to be .45 or it ain’t a true 1911!
I disagree on your analysis of Rock Island Armory products. I own five of their guns. One 1911 full-size, two 1911 compacts, a .38 Special M206 snubby revolver, and a 12 gauge pump shotgun. Fit, finish, and function are excellent on all of them, and I’ve had no issues with any of them. I will gladly buy and recommend RIA firearms in the future.
The 1911 has been in every conflict that America has been involved in since 1911. It works. People carry it because they want a connection to that history. It takes more training to be good with the 1911 but that’s OK. As far as the problems with out-of the box 1911’s not feeding, it is usually due to trying to load hollow point ammo. The 1911 was designed for ball ammo. It runs on it. Often it takes a gunsmith to make the flat nosed hollow points feed up the ramp. That’s to be expected with a 100 yr old design. What US military history does a Glock have? The 19x failing the GI pistol tryout after the 1911 was our pistol for over 70 years?
It was 30 years before 1911. And also don’t say things that will make you use dumb. The policemen that are kicking down your door to stop the bad guys….. yeah, that’s glock buddy.. don’t be dumb
I have owned three Kimber’s (2 45’s and 1 9mm) and they all worked flawlessly. If you look at reviews of people who have actually OWNED a Kimber, the vast majority (over 90%) of reviews are positive. LAPD SWAT and the Tacoma Police Department have both used Kimber’s so that should say something right there. This article has zero credibility.
I agree with you. My Kimber 1911 45 (Artic) has worked flawlessly since I got it.
Kimber AWESOME guns
If it’s not a Colt, it’s a copy…
No truly the original would be Browning, as in John Moses Browning, or Springfield 1911 the Armory you know the one John F Kennedy shut. I love my Colts but they bought the design.
colt is a copy. learn the colt history. you’ll see colt hasn’t been colt for a very long time.
Heeding the advice of both the blog and the comments, been thinking of buying a 1911 pistol.
I too own two(2) Kimbers, a .45 ACP and a 9mm. Have had no problem with either, I also own a few center-fire pistols, but there’s something special about carrying a piece of American history on your side.
i have an old colt .45 , has a stamp that says not english made on frame just above the trigger on the right ide. what if any significant does that mean. the slide inthe top is pretty badly corroded , has wooden grips ser. number appears to be c 146405. the last number not clear. overall I would say its a bit rough. it came with a .22 barrel and another slide, which isn’t too bad. any idea if its worth anything?
Let’s see. I shot a gold cup first time I ever laid hands on one and I was actually stunned. 10 yards in a quarter all eight rounds. I have an ATI from S.A.M. 4.25 a 3.5 from Armscor RIA It’s the Tac version and a full size Charles Daly by Brixia in Italy on the same machining they used to build the Valtro. Strangely enough Daly used to import the Armscor for their brand. Glad I waited to get my full size. The one I don’t shoot is a first gen Delta Elite in bright stainless. All of them are great the first three all take common parts the Brixia has a wilson combat spring kit but I have never fired it and likely won’t. The ATI has never been fired but I could see myself shooting it. When I first got it the sear spring wasn’t properly tuned and the grip safety just flopped around. I fiddled with it and it seems g2g now. Seriously don’t listen to this clap trap all of the phillipine guns are quite good and priced great. Learn about the guns and know how they work they aren’t that hard to understand. One of the greatest issues with any of them are the mags. Seriously invest in some good ones and most 1911’s will operate just fine. Kimber- if you can find one built before they got the swat contract it is a hand fitted match grade gun. After that they slipped a little. But like most others at their core they are good guns. Except the aluminum frame ones that’s just blasphemy.
I have a Rock Island Officer size. Never had a problem of any kind. I only run Winchester White box thru it. I trust this gun with my life.
Wow. Not to be rude, but this goes against many other articles and written opinions. Rock Island has very high praise and so does Kimber for good reason. the reviews at store websites do all the talking for testimonials. both of which are always very high. like another here stated, I also own a target stainless 6″. it is the most accurate gun I have ever owned, period. it does not fail. ive run many thousands of rounds through it and straight out of the gate until now, its still my favorite with second far behind. I also own a Rock Island GI 10mm bull barrel. zero issues. I’m disappointed with the opinion of this article but that’s what it is. that’s what it should start with. Only an opinion and not a matter of fact.
To quote Peter Finch in the movie ‘Network’, “This is mass madness, YOU MANIACS”!!
1911philes are stark staring NUTS. You praise and worship this mechanical p**p-chute in one breath and then comes the loooooong list of problems and malfunctions with it. The extractor. The feed ramp. The magazine. The This. The that. And while we’re at it here, what is with this horses**t that it “Won 2 World Wars? IT DID NO SUCH THING. Pistols do not win wars. Atomic bombs do.
I dumped my last 1911 27 years ago and haven’t touched one since. You want to talk reliability? Accuracy? Ruggedness? Good trigger? Fast handling? I have a Smith 44 Special made in 1929. All original parts. Locks up tight and scary accurate. Half the bluing gone from nearly a century of shooting and handling. Let’s see a clunky 1911 match that. Never gonna happen. Do yourself a favor and take that clunker down to the nearest auto wrecking yard with one of those big-*ss shredders that turn old cars into confetti and throw the worthless P.O.S in it. Then go buy a gun that f**king works. A Ruger GP-100. A Beretta M9. Lots of better choices out there. Just don’t buy anything from Colt. They’re anti-2A and they’ve been making cr*p for the last 50+ years.