Downsizing The .45 ACP Part 2

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The Star PD.

By John Taffin

Colt’s Commander is basically the same size as the Colt 1911 Government Model except for the barrel and slide being 3/4″ shorter. The first real attempt to actually downsize the 1911 .45 ACP occurred not in the United States but from Spain and imported by Garcia — their Star PD. This was 40 years ago, and Col. Jeff Cooper found the Star PD .45 ACP much to his liking.

According to Jeff: “In the new Star PD, we have a striking tactical advance, for this is truly a pocket .45 — and it works! Heretofore you could not buy a really light, handy, concealable pistol that you could count on to stop a fight. Now you can, that is a very important development.”

That was good enough for me and I bought my first Star PD. The Star is definitely smaller, with the butt about 1″ shorter than a standard 1911 and lighter than the original Colt Commander by two ounces. There’s no grip safety, and the thumb safety positively locks the hammer. The grip frame has a built-in beavertail, however the back of the hammer is slightly too long and needs to be polished off to prevent pinching. Sights, which are black on black, are fully adjustable, with the rear sight being de-horned. The Star PD is long out of production but I had no trouble finding two reasonably priced examples in the gun shops and on the Internet.

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The first truly down-sized .45 ACP was the Star PD. John’s
was customized by Gary Reeder with Pachmayr grips.

Smith & Wesson .45’s

In the 1980’s S&W dove deeply into the semi-auto market and the joke was they were bringing out a “gun of the week” and many of these were .45’s. At the NRA Show in 1990, S&W unveiled the newest of what was then their Third Generation semi-autos, the compact version of the newly introduced 4506, this one called the 4516. I thought for the first time we had a DA .45 semi-auto defensive pistol in a compact package and at an affordable price. Fully loaded, full magazine plus one in the chamber, the 4516 holds eight rounds and weighs in at 391/2 ounces, so it’s no lightweight.

The grip supplied on the 4516 is a synthetic wrap-around style fitting my hand quite well. It’s fitted with an ambidextrous de-cocking lever and no-grip safety. Sights on the 4516 are Novak-style, low mount, non-snag rear sight with two white dots matching up with a white dot front.

Accuracy from the 31/4″-barreled S&W is quite astounding when you realize this is not a target pistol but a quick handling defensive pistol. Both the 4516 and the 4506 were dropped from the S&W catalog in 1999. The year before the models were dropped S&W introduced the semi-auto Chief’s Special in a .45 ACP version numbered as the CS45. This even more compact satin stainless steel .45 has a bobbed hammer, 6-shot magazine and a barrel length of 31/4″.

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Colt led the way in downsizing with their Officer’s Model.

Colt Officer’s ACP

Colt did come back with something even smaller than the Star PD. Actually it began not with Colt, but the Rock Island Arsenal-developed pistol especially for use by general officers of the Army and Air Force. It was known as the General Officer’s Model. This little .45 was not available to the shooting public so Colt decided to do something about that and came up with their own version in 1985. The all-steel Colt Officer’s ACP .45 is 36 ounces and has a much smaller profile than the Commander, with a shorter butt and a 31/2″ barrel.

Several finishes were offered such as blued, matte blued and stainless steel and there was also an aluminum alloy frame version which cut the weight by almost 40 percent. This frame was also used matched up with a Commander stainless steel slide and barrel and was known as the Concealed Carry Officer’s Model. Today the influence of the Colt Officer’s ACP can be seen in offerings from several manufacturers.

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Kimber’s Ultra Compact .45 with aluminum frame.

Ultra Compact .45’s

Both Kimber and Springfield Armory followed Colt’s lead of the Officer’s ACP .45, but with even shorter barrels and shortened butts making them quite a bit smaller than the Commander. I believe my personal small Kimber is the first model ever offered, the Compact Aluminum. As the name implies it’s both small and lightweight, quite a bit smaller than the original Lightweight Commander. Barrel length is 31/2″ while the grip frame is the same size as the Colt Officer’s ACP. Surprisingly the weight is identical to that of the Lightweight Commander.

As the name implies, the Kimber’s frame is an aluminum alloy finished in matte black, the slide is steel, and instead of a bushing there is a sharply tapered barrel and a full-length guide rod. Sights are excellent, square and black, hammer and trigger are skeletonized, the thumb safety is extended and the grip safety is of the beavertail design. The flat mainspring housing is finally checkered. Even with this small grip frame the magazine holds seven rounds.

A most attractive Springfield Armory pistol is the V10 Ultra Compact, which is basically the same size as the Colt Officer’s ACP. The V10 gets its name from the fact it’s ported with a 1″ slot on each side of the front sight revealing five round holes for porting. The V10 Ultra Compact has a two-tone finish with a stainless steel frame and a blued slide. Barrel length is 31/4″ and is tapered to the front instead of having a bushing. With its all-steel construction, felt recoil is held to a minimum. Unfortunately, it’s no longer cataloged but is certainly worth searching for in used gun outlets.

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Compact Springfield Armory pistols: the V10 (top) and XD-S.

Springfield’s XD-S

Not only did Springfield Armory make their XD(M) slightly larger with the XD(M) 5.25, they also went the other way, shrinking the size of their very popular XD series .45 ACP to where it will actually fit in the top of my boot, while being totally reliable, even with its very small size. The result is the Single Stack XD-S.

This is not a semi-auto to be shot for a long pleasurable afternoon, but rather a serious self-defense gun. Firing any .45 ACP load certainly gets my attention in it. I did all my testing before I compared it to my full-sized XD .45 and was really quite surprised at just how small it actually is. After more than a century of .45 semi-autos, it’s not difficult to make a totally reliable pistol, nor is it all that difficult to make a small pistol. The rub comes when you attempt to make a small reliable pistol, and that is exactly what Springfield Armory has accomplished. Comparing it with the full-sized XD reveals just how much engineering went into this down-sizing project.

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The .45 ACP Glock Model 30 has a magazine capacity of nine rounds.

Glock 30

Since introducing the original Glock .45 several variations — down-sized versions — have been introduced, including the G30. This version weighs in at 261/2 ounces with a barrel length of 33/4″ putting it in between the Colt Commander and the Colt Officer’s ACP. It has all the basic features of every other Glock, including the inherent ability to perform flawlessly with about any quality .45 ACP ammunition. Its smaller grip frame allows the use of 10 rounds as opposed to the original 13 rounds of the Glock 21. However, 10 rounds in such a small pistol is quite comforting. As is the case with the smaller .45’s, it’s harder to shoot accurately than the full-sized pistols but is not all that difficult to accomplish.

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Dan Wesson’s Officer’s-sized model is the ECO.

The Dan Wesson ECO

This down-sized 1911 is also the size normally referred to as “Officer’s” sized. The ECO .45 ACP with its anodized aluminum frame weighs in at 25 ounces with a 31/2″ barrel. The sights are excellent Trijicon tritium sights and the finish is matte black. The hammer is Commander-style and the beavertail grip safety is generous. Trigger pull measures 41/4 pounds on this very small pistol. Even with its compact grip frame, the flush-fitting magazine holds seven rounds.

The grips are quite spectacular. They are thin and finished in a half-smooth, half aggressive pattern dubbed “DW Carry G10” grips. They are mated up with 25 LPI checkering on the front strap and mainspring housing. The ECO’s match-grade, target-crowned, ramped bull barrel is bushingless.

Wesson Firearms says: “The recoil system is unique for this style of 1911 as we use a solid, one-piece guide rod and a flat recoil spring rated for 15,000 rounds in .45 ACP … This recoil system also gives the benefit of a smooth slide for easier operation and less felt recoil.” During my tests, functioning was absolutely flawless, and accuracy was way above adequate for self-defense use, with many loads resulting in one-hole groups.

There are many other compact .45’s being offered with new ones arriving constantly. If your favorite isn’t here, it’s simply because I stuck to guns I’ve had personal experience with, and any of these would do the job protecting you and your family.

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