Fans of Rock Island Armory’s 1911 handguns affectionately refer to their pistol of choice as ‘The Rock.’ This nickname is appropriate and valid. These are reliable handguns and if they do not win a beauty contest, well, we don’t call the 1911 ‘Old Ugly’ for nothing.
Another rock is the Rock Island in the Philippines. The Rock is also a popular tourist spot where folks swim and surf, and etched onto each and every Rock Island Armory slide. Located in Siargao Bay, the Rock is a fitting inspiration for a 1911 handgun.
Our Filipino allies are among a very few in the world with a respectable handgun tradition comparable to our own. Several Japanese invaders recalled their last sight was a Filipino guerilla with a 1911 .45 automatic pistol. Thus, a fitting place to build a 1911 clone is the Philippines. Armscor produces the Rock Island Armory 1911 handguns.
The Arms Corporation of the Philippines traces its history appropriately to about 1911 and a gun shop known as Squires Bingham and Company. The present company has manufactured firearms since about 1952. When I was a young man, Squires Bingham .22 rifles were common and regarded as inexpensive but serviceable rifles.
A copy of the AR-15 in .22 caliber was arguably a rifle before its time. The 1911A1 pistols presently produced by Armscor are regarded as entry-level handguns well suited to all around use. However, quite a few individuals rely upon Rock Island Armory handguns for personal defense. I have noted more than a few in competition. They work well, and the 1911 is after all the Mr. Potato Head of handguns, so do not let anyone dissuade you from upgrading your Rock.
Aftermarket grips, beavertail safeties and other additions including match grade barrels are readily fitted to the 1911 RIA pistol. But that is beside the point to most users. Some of us like the looks and feel of a GI pistol and that is why the Rock is popular. It isn’t all about price. After all, good men and the GI pistol with hardball ammunition—not a target grade pistol and hollow point ammunition—accomplished the great feats of the 1911. The GI 1911 should be good enough for most of us.
Those who follow the dictum KISS—keep it simple stupid—feel that they are being pretty smart in adopting the pistol used by doughboys, the greatest generation and veterans of many battles. The 1911A1 isn’t likely to give trouble. There are no extraneous features. The pistol is easily and quickly field stripped.
Many favoring the GI pistol point out that in a worst case scenario you may rack the slide by catching the sights on the belt and racking with one hand. I am probably not going to be in that situation, but experienced trainers point out that the GI .45 a superlative combat piece without any further trappings. Accessories are sometimes nice to have, but the only thing really worth paying for is superior barrel fitting. This is the only proven enhancement for accuracy. The tighter the pistol the less tolerant it will be of foreign material in the action.
So, the GI .45 makes a great choice for all around personal defense use. The sights are small, true, but precise once properly lined up. The RIA 1911A1 is feed reliable with modern JHP ammunition so it isn’t limited in that regard. But personal defense isn’t the only reason to own a 1911. A sense of history, nostalgia, wanderlust or whatever you call it, the 1911 has it in spades. An as example my personal 1911A1 is often carried in a Tanker Holster . It looks right and works great at the range. This M 3 shoulder holster sets you back about $30. That is a lot of pride of ownership for a modest price.
Five-shot groups from a solid braced bench rest at 25 yards.
|Black Hills 230-grain FMJ||3.75 inches|
|Black Hills 185-grain TAC +P||3.5 inches|
|Wolf (WPA) 230-grain FMJ||3.9 inches|
|Oregon Trail 200 gr. SWC/WW 231
(Handload) 860 fps
While the GI .45 is a great pistol some like to have more features. These features include high visibility sights, extended controls and perhaps an ambidextrous safety . A pistol with a few improvements could be considered a consensus gun. The consensus was the general agreement of what was desired on a combat .45. Colonel Jeff Cooper noted that the 1911 needed good sights, a speed safety and perhaps a barrel/throat polish (the latter if you were going to experiment with ‘exotic’ bullet styles). That’s it and the 1911 is good to go for personal defense and most competition.
If you like the GI gun and you wish to own a pistol similar to the ones that stormed the beaches at Anzio, Guadalcanal and Inchon then the original Rock has much merit. If you are interested in a handgun with greater practical accuracy and more features, then the RIA Tactical model is a bargain. This is the pistol we are firing in this review:
The pistol lists for a few more dollars than the GI pistol. It would cost hundreds of dollars to mill the slide and fit improved sights and to obtain and fit an ambidextrous safety to a GI pistol, not to mention the adjustable trigger, so the Tactical pistol is well worth its modest price. Let’s look at the Rock/Tactical pistol and see if the performance meets certain base standards for accuracy and reliability.
The pistol is a Government Model length handgun with a five-inch barrel weighing 39 ounces, standard for a steel frame 1911. The frame is cast, but then so are a couple of others from pretty big names. That’s fine if it is done right. Steel is expensive to forge. The fit and finish are surprisingly good with no visible tool marks. The finish is a dull finish similar to World War Two Parkerizing.
The slide features a scalloped or lowered ejection port. This is an advantage in administrative handling. The GI slide window ejects spent cartridge cases well enough, but the lowered ejection port gives us more leeway when an unfired cartridge is removed during administrative handling. The pistol features high-visibility Novak-type sights that are properly blended into the slide. There are no white outlines or white dots. The front sight is dovetailed into place.
The original GI staked on front sight would sometimes take flight after hard use. The Tactical Model sights are a major improvement over GI sights. As good as they are, these sights do not affect intrinsic accuracy. If slapped into a machine rest the GI and the Tactical pistols would be about equally accurate with the usual deviation between pistols of the same type from the same maker. Practical accuracy is improved because the sight picture is better and the sights may be picked up more quickly in rapid fire shooting.
Moving to the frame, the pistol features an ambidextrous safety. Obviously a 1911 isn’t useful to a left-handed person unless an ambi safety is fitted. This one is more robust than most. The ambidextrous safety is held in place by an extended sear pin. A groove in the safety runs into a slot in the sear pin. It was once the bane of ambidextrous safeties to work loose or even fly off.
Some 1911 pistols feature safeties with a component that runs under the stock for greater stability. Many more expensive 1911 handguns do not feature an ambidextrous safety at all. The RIA Tactical pistol gets high marks for including this safety and a strong recommendation based upon the design of the safety.
This component is well fitted and crisp in operation. The edge of the safety is sharper than I would like, but this is easily sanded if the safety doesn’t work well with your grip style. It isn’t going to cut your knuckles; it is simply noticeable during firing strings.
The frame ramp meets the barrel portion of the feed ramp properly with the requisite 1/32-inch gap between the two to ensure proper feeding. The pistol features a full-length guide rod. While the FLGR complicates field stripping some believe that the FLGR prevents the recoil spring from kinking up under heavy recoil. There is equal belief the FLGR does nothing.
Trigger compression is smooth with little creep and no backlash. The trigger breaks at five pounds. This isn’t a trigger you are likely to clutch during speed drills. The action is smoother than expected. Most important the trigger is consistent and useful for a trained shooter. While some trigger actions break at a little less, the RIA’s five-pound trigger action is ideal for a personal defense handgun.
The combination of a smooth trigger action and good sights add up to good practical accuracy. The proof is in the firing. The pistol was delivered in a hard case along with two, eight-round magazines. These are quality Novak magazines. The pistol was lubricated along the long bearing surfaces, the barrel hood and the cocking block. Any 1911 handgun should feed lead-bullet handloads properly, and the RIA Tactical was first fired with a combination of the Oregon Trail 200-grain SWC and enough WW 231 powder for 860 fps. In firing 100 rounds of these loads, there were no failures to feed, chamber, fire or eject. The pistol was fired primarily in combat type shooting at 7, 10 and 12 yards.
The Rock is all 1911 with a low bore axis allowing little leverage for recoil. The bore axis is simply the height of the centerline of the bore above the hand. The pistol came onto the target quickly and the trigger and sights ensured good results. A good feature I particularly welcomed was the front grip striations. This feature adds to the shooter’s purchase on the handgun without going to the expense of checkering the front strap. Many 1911 handguns have no type of roughening of the front strap at all.
(The GI gun was improved with a Wilson Combat checkered front strap that neatly solved any problems with adhesion for about $10.)
The original grips are adequate for the task, but after all, the 1911 begs to be personalized. With a quick swap, the pistol felt better in the hand. As testing continued, I moved to heavier loads including a number of my favorite all around loadings. These are personal defense loads well suited to general outdoors work in a go anywhere do anything handgun.
The Black Hills 185-grain JHP is faster than the original 230-grain ball or GI hardball. This loading shows a good balance of expansion and penetration and shoots flatter to 50 yards than the heavy bullet loads. For dusting off coyotes and the occasional feral dog, this load gets the nod. A heavier bullet often demonstrates an ideal balance of expansion and penetration. The Black Hills 230-grain JHP is among these. Accurate and demonstrating a full powder burn, this is an excellent go anywhere do anything loading—the Mack truck of .45 loads.
As the accuracy charts show, the Rock is more than accurate enough for all around use. Accuracy standards for the GI pistol were 5- and 10-inch groups, respectively, at 25 and 50 yards. It would be unfair to expect a clone of the GI .45 to beat this standard by much but the Rock Island Tactical pistol is more accurate than most GI .45s.
After firing some 320 rounds of mixed, lead-bullet handloads and jacketed factory ammunition, the Rock Island Tactical pistol did not exhibit eccentric wear and never failed to feed, chamber, fire or eject.
The pistol is fast on target like all 1911 handguns. That means there is nothing faster than an accurate first shot hit. There always seems to be someone with little to no experience in the field downplaying the effectiveness of the .45 ACP cartridge. I cannot comprehend the reasoning. Simple mathematics and observation, without confusion, clearly illustrate the obvious.
Unreliable sources, invalid studies and unrepeatable tests are not something I care to discuss or place stock in. The only gauge of confidence is scientific, repeatable testing. The test of science, however simple the experiment, is that it is repeatable and verifiable. The bottom line—the .45 ACP exhibits 60% more frontal area than the 9mm. If you prefer another caliber then choose it on the merit of control, velocity or accuracy. If you downgrade the .45 with junk science you will only look foolish.
The .45 ACP cartridge combines low pressure, a full powder burn, good accuracy and excellent wound ballistics in a relatively flat and compact platform. If you have a genuine need for greater penetration, the 10mm will do things at 50 yards the .45 cannot. Otherwise the .45 ACP is an excellent go anywhere do anything handgun. The pistol is controllable and if a fast and accurate second shot is needed the .45 is up to it. A steel frame 1911 is particularly controllable.
After living with the RIA Tactical pistol for several months I find a durable reliable handgun that will save your life. I had rather have it than any non-1911 handgun. 1911 handguns are individuals and be certain to proof your individual Rock. This is not an inexpensive handgun it is a GI gun and that means a working gun. My example is good enough for who it is for.
Five-shot groups from a solid braced bench rest at 25 yards.
|Oregon Trail 200-grain, SCW WW 231
(Handload) 860 fps
|Oregon Trail 230-grain. RNL Titegroup
(Handload) 770 fps
|Black Hills 185-gr. JHP||3.8 inches|
|Black Hills 230-gr. JHP||2.9 inches|
|Wolf 185-gr. JHP||3.5 inches|
|Wolf 230-gr. FMJ||4.1 inches|
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