Sometimes a gun writer’s day starts with a surprise. I was into my second cup of coffee when I received a text from my local gun store that I had two transfers ready for pickup. Two? I normally know when I have a firearm coming from a manufacturer, and I wasn’t expecting any. Well, there was a Ruger Bearcat on backorder, and Ruger doesn’t always let me know I have something coming when they ship a product that has been backordered. So that had to be it — the Bearcat, but what else?
It would be fun to see. When I got to the store, the clerk set two seemingly identical cases on the counter. They were black cases with red handles like the ones Ruger uses for some of its fancier models. Rugers, I thought, wondering what the other Ruger could be. When I got to the counter, I discovered one of the cases had the Ruger name on it, but the other one had the Savage logo on it.
I had not received a notice from Savage telling me that I had a pistol coming. Inside the case was an attractive two-tone 1911. Checking my saved emails, I found where I had ordered a Savage 1911, but that was in January, and this was almost July. I’d forgotten about it. Fortunately, the folks at Savage hadn’t. Evidently, Savage was busy fulfilling orders for its distributors.
It was an attractive gun, but the invoice that came with it was a bit steep (even at the writer’s discounted price). I don’t send many evaluation guns back, but this one was going to have to impress me a lot to earn a place among the 1911s I already own. So began the mission to educate the readers and myself on the merits of a 1911 handgun built by one of the most respected American rifle manufacturers.
Features and Models
Previously, Savage had only released one pistol in the nearly 100 years, since its entry was the runner-up in the U.S. Army’s competition that resulted in the 1911 being chosen. That was the Savage Stance introduced last year. With this new line of 1911s, Savage indicates it is firmly in the pistol business. To successfully market 1911s priced in the $1,300 to $1,500 range, the Savages will have to be some very impressive 1911s. So, are they?
I only have one of the 12 variations Savage is currently releasing. In addition to the impressions that I’ve gained from handling and shooting this model, I did a lot of reading and searching YouTube to get impressions from people who have more experience with the Savage 1911 than I do. Let’s start by talking first about the different models currently being offered. They are all 5-inch models available in .45 ACP and 9mm.
The pistols are offered in either a black Melonite, stainless steel, or a two-tone finish. Each is offered with or without a rail on the dust cover. Depending on the model’s finish, the Savage 1911 will come with two black or stainless eight-round magazines. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) starts at $1,350 for the all-black Melonite and all stainless models, $1,425 for the two-tone models, and $1,500 for the rail guns.
Savage targeted the price point for similarly equipped models offered by brands such as Ruger and Smith & Wesson, but also took into consideration the premium parts it manufactures in-house, and those it obtains from other parts manufacturers. These are all 5-inch Government models. I’m a big fan of Commander-size 1911s. What I got from Savage on this was, “Patience. Let us get this launch successfully underway, then we’ll look at Commanders.”
Barrels and slides are made in-house by Savage, which should make adding Commander sizes to the mix a piece of cake. The unique dual recoil spring surrounds a standard-length guide rod. The Savage 1911 was designed using the Series 70 system, which means it offers a crisper trigger than Series 80 1911s. The Series 70 assembly doesn’t have to lift a spring-loaded safety plunger in the slide before the titanium firing pin can move forward.
Savage’s Senior Product Manager, R.J. Contorno, came from Colt. He has been a key leader of the 1911 project since its beginnings, but he has been quick to publicly praise the Savage design team. Contorno knew people in the industry who helped them make the right build-or-buy decisions. Using some of Contorno’s connections, Savage partnered with companies including Novak for the sights and thumb safeties, Greider Precision for the triggers, and EGW for the extractor and various pins and other small parts. There are no MIM parts, everything is forged. This explains, in part, why the Savage 1911s are priced as they are.
The Savage 1911 retains Browning’s internal extractor versus an external one, but it is an improved, stout, EGW design. The firing pin is also unique for its durable titanium-nitride (TiN) finish. The mainspring housing and grip safety are machined by EGW and require no additional blending by skilled labor to achieve the fit each of these pistols has. The same goes for the contour of the thumb safety when depressed.
The frames are forged for Savage and come to the Westfield, Massachusetts plant fully machined. The front strap is smooth, which is the one disappointment I have with the gun. I like some type of texture on the front strap. The fact that Savage 1911s feature such a smooth contact between the grip safety and the frame reveals how consistent and precise the machine work was prior to assembly.
Fit and finish on the slides and barrels are excellent. The muzzle features a tightly fit, thick, barrel bushing that’s fitted to a heavy-profile barrel with an 11-degree target crown. The muzzle of the barrel also fits flush to the bushing. Combined with its no-wobble slide-to-frame fit, dual recoil spring, and slide lockup with the barrel lugs, the Savage 1911 possesses all the necessary ingredients to be an extremely accurate pistol.
The Novak sights are available as a standard white dot or Mega Dot Glow Dome for the front dovetail. My pistol has the Mega Dot Glow Dome front sight. The rear sight has a solid tritium bar below the notch. The rear sight is height adjustable and drift adjustable for alignment. The rear sight has a set screw that prevents it from drifting out of alignment. The Savage 1911 has Novak’s extended ambidextrous safety lever. A small set screw holds the right-side paddle to the pin, so no additional relief under the right-side grip was required.
The ejection port is lowered and flared for uninterrupted case evacuation. The slide was given a bullet nose relief for easier removal of unfired cartridges. The slide also features forward-leaning serrations at the front and rear. Above the front slide serrations is an attractive stepped cut. Linked grooves cut on the slide between the front and rear sights are there to reduce glare. The pattern is attractive and continues on the backstrap.
Available with either a black anodized or matte aluminum trigger shoe, the single-action trigger is medium in length. A skeletonized, bobbed hammer and beveled magazine well help finish things off. The handgun is equipped with G10 panels from VZ Grips. To ensure the screws do not loosen when firing, Savage installs the grips with rubber O-rings to increase tension against the screws.
The first element of range testing included the Savage with approximately 20 other handguns on the loaner bench. I didn’t see everybody who shot it, but one of the shooters (who knows my collection well), shot it and commented on its accuracy. I made sure to gather some of their targets and have some photos of them here in the photo gallery. I didn’t get a chance to shoot the gun that day, so I looked forward to taking the Savage to my favorite indoor range where I could test the gun.
Whenever testing a new gun, I like to compare it with similar guns, taking into consideration slide operation, sights, trigger, and accuracy. I picked three 1911s I felt would be comparable to the Savage 1911: Kimber Custom LW Shadow Ghost, Springfield LW Operator, and Colt M45 — all .45 ACP Government-sized guns. I cleaned and oiled the four 1911s in preparation for the session. For ammo, I packed a couple of boxes of Winchester Defense .45 ACP 230-grain jacketed hollow point ammunition along with several brands of ball ammo.
At the range, I shot five rounds at a time in alphabetical order with each gun having its own target. This was an interesting experiment. If someone had been handing me the guns one at a time, rather than me selecting each one and picking it up, I would not have been able to identify which gun I was shooting. They were that close in feel and performance.
I expected to be able to distinguish a difference in recoil between the two lightweight guns — the alloy Kimber and alloy Springfield — but I didn’t. Three of the guns had identical-feeling G10 grips. The Springfield had factory wood grips with a checkered pattern. Although the sights were slightly different in construction, in the dim light of the indoor range, all I was aware of was aligning the middle dot between the two rear dots on each gun.
Accuracy? No gun had an advantage over the other three. Triggers? They were all four smooth 1911 straight pull triggers. The Savage was the only trigger I was aware of letting off a little to get the reset. My takeaway from the range session is that the Savage 1911 is equal in value and performance to the other guns in the test. Prices vary, but the build quality was nearly the same across the board. Springfield Operator – MSRP $1,184; Colt M45A1 – MSRP $1,699 (no longer available); Kimber LW Shadow Ghost – MSRP $868. That Kimber price is representative of some of Kimber’s recent price reductions, which I suspect were designed to get them back in the market.
There’s another factor to add to the decision to purchase a Savage at its introductory prices, and that is the potential collector’s value that might accumulate with one of Savage’s first 1911s in 100 years.