Range Report: The ‘1911 Commander’ Way

Colt 1911 Commander with three different boxes of ammunition

The Colt 1911 Government Model served law enforcement well for many decades. The only legitimate complaint concerning the 1911 was that it was large and heavy.

Colt had experimented with shorter and lighter pistols prior to World War II, but it was the maturity of aluminum technology that made the Commander pistol possible.

The original Colt 1911 Commander featured an aluminum frame and a barrel and slide 0.75 inches shorter than the Government Model. The result was among the best-balanced and fastest handling pistols ever developed.

The 28-ounce Commander kicks more than the 39-ounce Government Model, but also carries much easier.

In 1970, with the advent of the Series 70 pistols, Colt introduced the ‘Combat Commander.’ This is the Commander with a steel frame.

Even better balanced than the original, this pistol is also easier to use well. Today, all Commander-marked Colt 1911 handguns are steel frame guns.

The aluminum frame Colt 1911s are marked LW Commander. I recently acquired a new model steel-frame 1911 Commander. It is an ideal carry 1911.

Specifications and Features

The first thing I noticed was the very nicely done blue finish—evenly applied and well polished. The grips are nicely checkered Cocobolo.

The pistol features several important improvements made in the Series 80 line, including high profile sights, a positive firing pin block or drop safety and a well-polished feed ramp that ensures the pistol will feed everything from lead semi-wadcutter to exotic bullet styles.

The ejection port is larger than the GI pistol. This allows sure ejection of a spent case and the removal of a loaded cartridge during handling.

The barrel plug features a dimple preventing the plug from taking flight during disassembly. The trigger action is smooth at five pounds even with minimal take up.

A self-loading pistol trigger must have some take up or creep, and a noticeable reset for safety. This is a good trigger action for personal defense—both tight and smooth.

A straight to the rear trigger compression, a low-bore centerline, and a grip that fits most hands well makes the Colt 1911 Commander a formidable defensive handgun.

The low bore axis limits muzzle flip—there simply isn’t any leverage for the muzzle to rise.

Prior to firing, the Colt was disassembled and lubricated along the long bearing surfaces, barrel hood, barrel bushing and loading block.

There was an overall impression of good fit and finish with no visible tool marks.

Shots Fired

I loaded several Chip McCormick magazines with HPR Ammo’s 230-grain FMJ loading. This is the traditional .45 ACP ‘break in load.’

If the pistol doesn’t function with hard ball, it will not function at all.

Some pistols require a modest break in period; however, the Colt came out of the box running.

Drawing from a long-serving Don Hume belt slide holster, I familiarized myself with the pistol by firing at man-sized targets at 5, 7 and 10 yards.

The pistol’s sights are well regulated for 230-grain ball ammunition. The bullet struck the target above the point of aim at 10 yards for the 6 o’ clock hold.

Later, I discovered the 200-grain loads struck slightly high and 185-grain loads dead on the bead—ideal for personal defense.

The Colt’s 3-dot white beads are a good touch for accurate shooting.

During the initial firing tests, there were no failures to feed, chamber, fire or eject. The Colt is reliable and brilliantly fast on target.

There is no handgun faster to an accurate first-shot hit than the Colt 1911 when properly carried cocked and locked. During the test, I added a few magazines of HPR 230-grain JHP.

Accurate and mild to fire, this load gave good results. I also fired a quantity of my personal lead bullet loads.

For economy, the pistol must be both reliable and accurate with handloads, and the Colt passed the test.

At this point, the 1911 Commander was taken home, cleaned and lubricated for another range session.

During the second range session, I explored both absolute accuracy and the pistol’s reliability with JHP defense loads. I was not disappointed.

The Federal ‘Classic’ line offers an affordable high quality combination with bullet weights of 185 grains and 230 grains. The 185-grain load proved particularly accurate.


At 920 fps, the Federal Classic 185-grain JHP delivered a 2-inch 5-shot group from a solid bench rest at 15 yards.

I also fired a few of the Federal 230-grain HST, a popular law enforcement load. The powder burn was clean and the load exhibited a five-shot group of just over two inches.

Moving to the Hornady 185-grain Critical Defense, the FTX load broke 974 fps from the Colt’s 4.25-inch barrel—solid performance.

A 15-yard group initially printed a 4-shot cloverleaf with the fifth shot opening the dispersion to 1.5 inches. This dog will run.

The Hornady 200-grain XTP is a loading preferred by many professionals based on reliable expansion and a balance that favoring penetration. This load settled into 1.9 inches.

The 1911 Commander is reliable with a good mix of ammunition and accurate enough for personal defense with any load. At seven yards, any of these loads will cut a single ragged hole.

The Commander is an excellent concealed carry handgun and a good service pistol as well. It is compact, short enough for concealment, and fast on target.

This pistol is among the best Colt 1911 handguns to date.

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Do you have a favorite Commander-length 1911? Share your experiences with it in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (52)

  1. Not too early writing my input, but maybe 5 yrs late. I was a SWAT COP back in the early 70s. Bought a Swenson 4.25” Colt Commander 45 ACP used, from a Beverly Hills cop. It was a LW Alum frame when he got it. Swenson’s TM back then was to square the trigger guards. Well it cracked. So it was fitted with a new Colt steel frame and sold to me for $625.00 around 1975. I have carried it more than half my life and recently rebuilt it from the bottom up with all WILSON Bullet-Proof parts. Still has the S&W K-Frame adjustable sights. Still packing it today and the satin hard chrome finish still looks like new and runs like a fine Swiss watch!

  2. First guns I purchased were two 70 series Satin Nickel Colt Combat Commander .45s, from a nice little Collectibles store in Walnut Creek. Almost twins one was a stock early 70’s with smooth darker wood grips with silver colored medallions and the other was a later 70’s with a slightly larger slide lock safety switch and lighter checkered wood grips with gold colored medallions, an aftermarket “Micro” barrel bushing and Allen head grip screws. I sold the later one but luckily was able to get it back. Both have seen 1000’s of rounds though the earlier model doesn’t go out anymore since it is in nicer condition and all original.

  3. I have a 1970 lightweight Commander inherited from my father. Shooting only factory ammo and low power wad-cutters, there is a discernible crack at the front of the frame due to recoil I suspect. Contacted Colt, no repair or replacement part is avail. so I have a Colt firearm that’s basically a wall hanger? NOT IMPRESSED. I may purchase a new frame from Fusion Firearms and retro fit. I would not recommend the lightweight Commander and am totally disappointed in Colt. I was told to purchase another firearm. Well it wont be a Colt!

  4. Was issued a colt .45 in Nam. Loved that weapon. Friend has a commander that he claims is all stainless steel. Can’t find anything on a stainless commander. Did colt ever make one or is my friend mistaken. Thx for any info you can give me on this.

    1. Colt model 04019u stainless commander. I own own, only aluminum is the trigger. Great gun

    2. Series 80 stainless Combat Commander. Shot one that performed flawlessly that belonged to a friend years ago. Ended up with that pistols twin years later, and it shoots as well as I remember my friends shooting 20 plus years ago!

  5. Not me…I was too busy making money so I could retire decently.., with the right insurance…now here I am fat and happy with my colt .45; I couldn’t see my self in the squaller of the hippe generation dope was never my thing, neither was STDs I spent my money on quality firearms, good food, good friends, and good family….make sense…??

  6. San Francisco California is still free, but changed. The 60’s attitude never left, it was just inherited. Now its become a sanctuary for all the Illegal aliens from wherever they came from, and Mary/jane (pot) is becoming legal and the dope heads are returning in droves. I’m glad I moved out. I feel very scared to go too go to SF BECAUSE OF THE CREEPS that have migrated there. Yes, your right it was a different time.

    1. Back in the ’60’s & ’70’s the “illegals” was us!!! The dope flowed freely, as did the sex, & no one was hurt – except the occasional “OD”. I’m scared of SF too – same reason – “The Creeps” but also the “authorities”. If they had computers back then everyone would have a felony sheet longer than your arm. No. SF is not free today … then again tell me of a place that is in today’s “Brave New World”!

  7. … probably did!
    What a different world back then.
    San Francisco was the “free-est” place on the planet. Now? A “Liberal” stronghold of limitless rules & regulations. Blinding expensive. Physically dirty & run down. Mismanaged. …& on & on.
    That said, on those magical sunsets it is still San Francisco!

  8. I bought my commander meany years ago; I liked it, but it kicked to much so I modified it and put a compensater on it,had the slide cut to fit the comp and now it shoots beautiful. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to make things better…{;>)))

  9. The Commanders were also designated with CLW in their serial numbers. Earlier production were xxxxLW and the later model 70-era were CLWxxxx format.

    1. Whoa! Gimme’ that again … “the later model 70-era were CLWxxxx format.”???
      I have an all steel CLWxxx Combat Commander I bought in San Francisco in the early 70’s. I’ve tried everywhere, even contacted Colt who told me it was an 80’s model – couldn’t explain it to them that I carried it every day in my lunch pail in a greasy rag during the 70’s!
      Anywayzzz your post is the first that gives me a clew about an all steel Commander w/ a CLW serial number.
      Please tell me more.
      My email is: if you wish.

    2. J/B…I also bought my colt commander in the 70’s. It has an aluminum lower, and a steel upper; I bought it from the old “Ellingtons” sporting goods in San Mateo California, on El Camino Real. It is a colt made firearm . I use Chip Micormic 10 shot magazines. What was the problem with I/d on the commander..?? they were made long time ago for officers in the military because they didn’t like carrying a heavy weapon around, so colt did their best to satisfy the request for a lighter weapon. The all steel commander was still to heavy so Colt went to a Half/ Half design..this was the best that could be done. I have that half/half commander with a new Clark barrel and parts system, I can shoot all factory ammo and all my reloads which I load to factory specs. I have never had a functioning problem. I took it to Jackson’s gun shop in San Mateo and had Jack (the owner) do a wonderful re-construction on it, sometimes I think,,, why didn’t I buy two commanders,,,one of my mistakes in life. If Colt said that iwas an ’80s model how come we bought them in the ’70s…???

    3. So my question to you – & “PJ” – is why does my all steel Combat Commander have the CLWxxxxx designation? …& yes, I’m sure it’s all steel!!!

    4. ?????????don’t know…as long as it works is all that counts…make sense…???

    5. ps … bought mine on 2nd & Market in San Francisco. It was another world then!

    6. John….you bought your .45 in the old “Nates” gun store…??? We probably walked right by each other, we may have even b/s ed a little.

    7. CLW…means….”Colt Light Weapon” why CLW was put on an all steel colt .45….? but that’s what CLW means…when I enlisted in the Marines in 1960 and issued my .45 in 1960 an all steel firearm there was a CHWxxxxx in the serial number…which I was told meant “Colt Heavy Weapon” this information came to me from a WW2 veteran who use his .45 to dispatch many enemy troops. I’m assuming CLW on my half aluminum and half steel is beyond me… I think the.45 I was issued was used in the “revolutionary war” but I cleaned it up and we got along just fine.

    8. Yeah, I know – tho I thought it only meant Colt Light Weight. See? That’s the interesting part – a steel 70’s steel Combat Commander w/ the CLW designation. Been trying to get an answer for many years on many boards!
      Lost so many pistols in ’68, it was a sin. Should’a taken some home! Now’a’daze I’d probably be court-martialed or hung! The Crotch ain’t what she use to be…

  10. I have a Colt Combat Commander that I bought new in about 1973, during the time when local handgun competition was mostly K-frame police practical and Combat Pistol was not yet going in my area. It is satin nickel and I took it to Peterson’s gun shop in Mt. Dora for fluff n’ buff, the addition of Micro adjustable rear sight and a radical new idea – a flat rectangular beavertail welded onto the grip safety. Other than the very first Pachmayr rubber wraparound grips, those are the only changes I made to the gun. Still have it, still shoots great, son-in-law looks forward to inheriting it and my gunsmith hopes I wont continue to shoot it. It’s my all-time favorite handgun. Thanks for reviving many fond memories of this great gun – while I have one or two full-size 1911s, generally I stick to the Commander-length for all the reasons you describe.

  11. I have had a variety of 1911’s, both full size and compact. After careful consideration and price, I have constructed one for my personal “carry model”. It is a AMT Hardballer frame, Colt Commander slide, custom elk stag grips, with Wilson magazines, Stormlake barrel & bushing. i have qualified with perfect scores on my CHL & renewals. It has been through a lot of use and performs perfectly!

  12. I whole heartily agree with your assessment of the Colt Commander. While I’ve owned an all steel Combat Commander, I prefer the LW model. Have 2 of them; one in .45 ACP and the other in .38 Super. While I’m a big fan of the .45; I prefer shooting the .38 Super (flatter shooting and less recoil). Thanks for the article.

  13. I have a blue Combat Commander that my father in law purchased in 1985 and later gave to me. It is my favorite gun to shoot (I also have Glocks, Sig Sauer and Walther pistols). It is absolutely reliable and has shot all the different types of ammo I have fed it.

    I had one in brushed chrome, and stupidly traded it away. Still regret having done it.

  14. I carried a 1911 in the service. I also carried one during my time in law enforcement. Now my daily carry, as well as competition weapon, is a Dan Wesson Commander Classic Bobtail with Trijicon sights. I have had it since I bought it new in 2007. I use the Hornady TAP FPD 230 gr +P. No problems, and it is going in my coffin with me…

    1. Dear Dr. O’Penley-

      Given your fine taste in pistols, I don’t think you’ll be needing to carry your Colt where you will likely be going, since all those folks you wouldn’t want to be caught dead with will being going to ‘the other place’.

      Best regards-

    2. Apologies, Dr. O’Penley, I meant to key in your ‘DW Commander’, and not ‘your Colt’.

      Regardless, I hope you see fit to pass it on to someone else worthy of carrying on your tradition with .45’s.

    3. No problem, Mr Berton. I’ve had both and not much difference except the DW seems to have closer tolerances (than my Colt Combat Commander). m

    4. Oh, and I feel like my Grandson understands my passion for a well-designed, well-built, excellent fighting weapon. And, he will probably get my 1911s when I die (provided the liberal commies allow it by then). m

    5. Put them in a trust. Then the fascist government can’t just come a take them.

    6. What is the process to that…? The government can get everything, and anything it wants…like any hungry MONSTER…!!!!! THAT IS SO CONFUSED, AND LOST IN IT SELF !!!!!

    7. Well said!
      Since I will be caught up in a whirlwind and lifted to Heaven I may have to chuck the Colt on the way.

      Best regards!

    8. Dr O Penley,

      Sound like a great set up!

      Those TAP loads are very accurate and I also like them a lot.


      Bob Campbell

  15. Bought one new in early ’70’s.
    An all steel Combat Commander w/ an LW serial #!!!
    I’ve contacted Colt who assures me it is an ’80’s gun w/ an Aluminum lower. Imagine! Those previous 10 years I owned & carried it every day, then someone came & switched it or all those meds gotten back in the 70’s weren’t bogus, dude!
    Anywayzzz I love the piece. It has been w/ me for going on 50 years. Maybe I can take it w/ me!!!

  16. I have a Series 70 Colt’s Combat Commander in satin nickel finish, ideal for what I was using it for in the early to mid ’70’s as a patrol officer in South Mississippi…I formulated my own service loads using a speer 200 grain rapid expansion hollow point, new Remington nickeled casing and put the velocity at 1050 feet per second…not a load you want to shoot all day, but when it counts it will definately do the J.O.B…being former military I was quite comfortable with the .45 auto even though most of my co-workers poo-pooed it and favored the S&W Model 66 4 inch…when I had to used a wheel gun I kinda liked the S&W too…but my first choice was always my Colt…

  17. I agree with Mr. Campbell’s article wholeheartedly! Even though I own high capacity polymer 45’s (Glock & HK), it’s like visiting an “old friend” when I pick up my Kimber Super Carry Pro HD, a 4-inch all steel, bull-barreled Commander. For me, nothing feels, points or shoots like a 1911, whether it is a Commander or Full-Size format! My Kimber carries close to my hip and conceals extremely well, far better than either my “fat” Glock or HK and even though it “only” has a 7+1 capacity, I am never concerned with its threat-stopping ability! My preferred self-defense load is the Speer 200 grain +P Gold Dot, which is a superb Law Enforcement load. In fact, here in Las Vegas, the standard issue duty load for Las Vegas Metro is the Speer Gold Dot! I also own a NightHawk Custom Predator 1911 chambered in 10mm, an absolutely magnificent weapon!!

    1. Thanks for reading.

      Good information, thanks for sharing. Gold Dot is a very good loading.


      Bob Campbell

  18. My first auto was an Argentine licensed Colt 1911 clone. Great gun. Later, while working in Iraq, I carried a Kimber full sized 1911 issued to me by my employer; very smooth and reliable and lots of the other contractors who were carrying 9mm’s were openly envious.

    The only 1911 I own currently is an ATI 1911 Commander model with a threaded barrel and a nice set of Hogue contour grips. It’s accurate and very reliable.

    But I do have to admit that these days my EDC is an XD .45 with 13+1. But I couldn’t rest at night if I didn’t have at least one 1911 in my collection. Fortunately, I am blessed with a wife who loves guns almost as much as I do and bought me one fro Christmas. 🙂

  19. I have a Kimber CDP Commander that I have carried almost every day for the last 15 years. Accurate and reliable and I’ve never had an issue with it.
    Oddly though I also have a Sig Sauer Compact (officers model) Nitron that will outshoot all of my other 10 .45’s and it cost the least of any of them.
    It doesn’t get a lot of carry time because it’s like lugging a brick around (all steel) but it sure is fun at the range.

  20. I carry a Colt New Agent, with the tunnel sight, & Crimson Trace laser grip. An exceptional combination.

    As an aside. I carried a 1911 Mfged, under license by Singer, in the Navy. I’ve always found it humorous that it was made by a sewing machine company. Yesterday I was leafing through a huge reference book, published in 2008, at the library. I ran across the entries for Colts mfged for the military during WWII and discovered that there were only 500 of them made by Singer and they were worth $48,000 EC, $40,000 VG, $28,000 Good… Mind boggling.

    1. “I’ve always found it humorous that it was made by a sewing machine company. ”

      As an IT person I just had to get an M1 carbine made by IBM….:-)

  21. In South East Asia I didn’t carry a riffle (M-16) I carry a 1911 with only two extra magazines. I came to depend on my 1911. It’s a great weapon (Fire powder) wise but had a small magazines. I was to pick up prisoners by chopper and return them for questioning in the south or maybe they did’t trust me. So today I carry 45 cal Glocks with a larger magazines than the 1911 Gold Dot brand with hollow points.

  22. I have a first-year of manufacture Colt LW Commander made in 1952 or 1953. My dad, an Army officer, carried it in Korea. He gave it to me in 1965 when I enlisted in the Army, and I carried it as an Army officer until I resigned in 1977. I am a long-time collector and have had many pistols, but this old LW Commander remains my favorite handgun for home and personal defense. Two years ago, I restored it by polishing out all the toolmarks and rust-bluing the slide. The anodized finish on the frame had mostly worn away, so I polished the frame to bright aluminum. I added a larger beavertail, an extrended mag release, new springs, and combat sights as shown in this article. It has never failed to feed, never jammed, and never misfired. For some reason, even though it’s been shot a lot and still has the original barrel, it hits dead center at whatever target I aim for. The balance and ergonomics just can’t be beat. This pistol is the only gun I have ever owned that I trust for reliability 100% of the time.

  23. Grabbing the grip on my 1911 feels as natural and comfortable as slipping on a pair of broken in work boots….

    1. I carry a Springer GI Champion Commander 1911, Meprolight night sights, replaced the spur hammer with Commander hammer (rowel hammer), replaced the grip safety to accommodate the Commander hammer, removed the firing pin block to make it a Series 70. Not liking the bull barrel, wish it were straight like the Colt’s with usual barrel bushing, but it works flawlessly. Had it cerakoted in dark Graphite, installed OD green Ergo grips on it. Awesome pistol. Feeds flawlessly, even with a chip out of the feed ramp!

    2. I’m fond of the (4″ not 4.25′ bbl) Champion, and also have a delightful low-cost Charles Daly in that size.

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