Custom Combat 1911 History

Discussion in 'Beginner's Corner' started by Baldwin, Mar 20, 2019.

  1. Baldwin

    Baldwin Well-Known Member

    Feb 16, 2018
    retrieverman likes this.
  2. WC145

    WC145 Every day is Saturday and every night's a party!

    Jan 1, 2013
    I've seen that article before, it's just the tip of the iceberg of custom 1911 history. Gunsmiths have been modifying 1911s for accuracy and performance since the beginning, though it really took off in the '50s-'60s and hasn't slowed down. I have a soft spot for vintage custom 1911s, the guys named in that article were building incredible guns at a time when there wasn't any parts aftermarket. You couldn't just call Brownell's or Midway and order Wilson or Brown or EGW parts, they were making what they needed by hand or with simple machining tools. 'Smiths like Swenson, Capone, Hoag, and Clark were pioneers in the 1911 parts aftermarket. I've been lucky enough to own guns built by Jim Hoag, Austin Behlert, Jim Clark, "Al" Capone, and others. They may not be as refined as the guns the current crop of 1911 'smiths are putting out, but they're still incredible shooters, accuracy and reliability don't age or go out of style.
    AJP, Old Sea Dragon, RMF308 and 2 others like this.

  3. Old Sea Dragon

    Old Sea Dragon Well-Known Member

    Feb 10, 2018
  4. retrieverman

    retrieverman Well-Known Member

    May 16, 2013
    I’ve never had the opportunity to personally handle a 1911 built by the gunsmiths you named, but you’re saying today’s gun are more “refined”. Is that necessarily a good thing?

    I’m more interested in reliability than refinement. You can have the most refined gun in the world, but if it won’t feed an entire magazine without some sort of malfunction, what good is the gun?!?
  5. WC145

    WC145 Every day is Saturday and every night's a party!

    Jan 1, 2013
    When I say not as refined, I'm talking about aesthetics. In the first couple of decades of custom 1911 builds form followed function, guns were not built as "functional art", they were built to work. You didn't see a lot of machine work for the sake of doing machine work for looks - French borders, ball cuts, lower slide edges beveled, seamless grip safeties. If you wanted a textured front strap checkering or stippling was pretty much it, unless you were having Jim Clark build you a gun, then you could get his "Tiger Tooth" stippling. Some 'smiths like Swenson and Hoag were doing squared trigger guards, Behlert did some trigger guard work and front strap finger postioners. Finishes were pretty much limited to bluing, hard chrome, nickel, and parkerizing. Not that the guns weren't beautiful, but they were, IMO, beautiful in their spartan appearance. Also, some of the work being done was stuff that wasn't necessary in later years. For instance, Austin Behlert was known for his cut down 1911s, BHPs, S&W 39s, and S&W N-frames, he was building compacts by hand before Detonics came out with the CombatMaster or Colt offered the Officer's ACP. Not only did that involve cutting and welding frames and slides, even the mags had to be cut down and reworked because no one was making short 1911 mags. It was that work from Behlert, the John Jovino Gun Shop, and others that pushed the factories into offering compact versions of their "service" handguns. From the mid-'80s forward you could just go to your local gun shop and buy compact autos and revolvers that just a few years earlier would have required commissioning a custom build. Behlert was also building long slides by cutting and welding two slides together before the factories were making them.

    It wasn't until the '90s that you really started seeing machine work done just to set a particular 'smiths work apart from others. For instance, Marc Krebs came out with scaled or "snake skin" texturing for front straps, MSHs, to replace slide serrations in the '90s when all you could get was checkering that hadn't changed in decades. His work opened the door to all the different textures you see today, and Kimber and S&W still copy his snake skin machine work.

    But, one thing they all had in common was building accuracy and reliability into their guns. When 'smiths started working on 1911s it was for bullseye competition accuracy, the "combat" customs came later. So, many of the guys that were know for their work in the '60s and '70s cut their teeth on bullseye guns. Some, like Austin Behlert, would set up a mobile shop at events like Camp Perry and do trigger and accuracy work and repairs right there while you waited. All of that experience carried over into their carry and defense builds, accuracy was king.

    Sorry, got long winded. Hope that answers your questions.:grin:

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