Signature Custom’s Bob Marvel Signature Custom .45 ACP 1911.
Let me be candid. While the 1911 market is crowded and populated by pistols which may — or may not — live up to their pricetags, Nighthawk pistols have developed an enviable reputation for reliability, accuracy and amazing consistency. By best count, I’ve had six Nighthawks in the Ransom Rest over the past five or so years. They have all averaged 2″ or better at 25 yards and made it through my standard 500-round reliability test with flying colors.
One thing making Nighthawk so good is the fact they’ve looked outside their own doors for guidance, reaching out to highly-regarded custom pistolsmiths such as Bob Marvel and Richard Heinie. In addition to incorporating their advice into the way the guns are built, Nighthawk also offers Signature Series pistols by both Marvel and Heinie, built by Nighthawk to the ’smiths’ own specifications.
Well-known in the bull’s-eye field for his hyper-accurate .45’s and .22 conversions (the first .22 I tested in 2000 averaged 1″ at 50 yards and shot down to an MOA), Marvel also makes a mean defensive pistol. The Signature Series Marvel pistol is a Commander-sized 1911 intended for concealed carry.
One of the Nighthawk distinctives is a single gunsmith builds the entire pistol, rather than having each element of the gun built by a different ’smith. Representing a substantial investment in training time. It takes longer to learn how to build an entire gun than it does to, say, fit a beavertail. This one-gunsmith approach adds to pride of workmanship, and the ’smith’s initials are stamped on the gun beneath the grip panel. The Marvel pistol has taken this a step further, as Bob himself trained a single Master Gunsmith to build this model. This months-long educational process ensures the gun bearing Bob’s name not only looks like one of his externally, but is also built his way through-and-through.
A True Custom
Flat out ominous in matte black Melonite, the only flashes of color on the Marvel .45 are the dull silver of the medium-length solid trigger, the marbled olive VZ grips, and the logos. Bob Marvel and his logo are on the right side of the slide and Nighthawk’s is on the left. They are cut through the black finish into the silver of the steel below.
On the top of the slide, a tritium front sight is pinned securely in its dovetail, and its rear counterpart is a Bo-Mar style adjustable with two tritium dot inserts. Both the front and rear sights are milled neatly into the textured top of the slide. Cocking serrations are found fore and aft, and machined in the broad, sharply-raked pattern I associate with Marvel’s pistols. All the sharp edges are gone, and the rear of the ejection port has the usual shallow Nighthawk scallop.
The slide moves to the rear with a glasslike smoothness belying the solidity with which the barrel locks into place. Yes, I like this pistol. The barrel bushing is done away with and the muzzle mates to the slide via a belled sleeve giving the barrel its bull-like profile. It, and the full-length guide rod, have been machined flush with the end of the slide, giving it a monolithic appearance. The dustcover of the slide is cut in a gentle but defined arc, which the recoil spring plug follows beautifully. While I’m usually not in favor of either bushingless barrels or full-length guide rods, they give this gun a nice aesthetic. Not to mention it works and hits — but more on that later.
Frame-mounted controls are a contoured slide stop, a well-rounded and extended thumb safety, and an extended mag catch. That extended mag catch is a feature I usually avoid on carry pistols due to the likelihood of accidentally dumping the mag at an inopportune time. Full disclosure here — my daily carry pistol came with one I have yet to remove, in spite of my conviction it’s a bad idea, and it has yet to bail on me. The grip safety is well-fit, top and bottom, and while there’s a perceptible motion in the trigger shoe, the trigger pull is flawless. It drops the skeletonized hammer in what feels like the high-3- to low-4-pound range, with zero discernible creep or overtravel.
The rest of the human engineering consists of the VZ Operator II grips, which combine diagonal, concave grooves across the back of the panels with the golf-ball-like dimples of the Simonich Gunner grip up front. There’s also frontstrap checkering in the 25 LPI pattern pioneered by master metalsmith Pete Single. The flat mainspring housing is also checkered at 25, and the bottom of the housing extends forwards into an integral, fully-machined magazine funnel. The extra weight of the funnel, coupled with the relief cut beneath the trigger guard, helps the pistol fall naturally into place in the hand. While the 4¼” barrel does make the gun something of a compact, it shoots with the aplomb of a bigger gun.
Part of this is no doubt due to the Nighthawk/Marvel Everlast recoil system. Employing a flat coil spring, instead of the usual round-wire spring, the Everlast system offers significantly less recoil and muzzle flip. Guaranteed to 10,000 rounds, I’ve got well over 1,000 through a Falcon with the system, and it has yet to show any weaknesses.
From the Ransom Rest, the Signature pistol averaged a click over 1.5″ at 25 yards with defensive ammo, with a best group of 0.85″ center to center. While that’s exceptional performance, the impressive part was the consistency. Of the 12 groups fired from the Ransom Rest, all but three were at or within striking distance of an inch and a half, and nearly a third of them were around an inch. And just so you know, the Marvel Nighthawk never malfunctioned in 289 rounds fired during this test.
Shot by hand, the pistol seemed to come alive. We had no trouble dinging a 4.75″ steel plate at 50 yards with it, and any closer was a lot like cheating. At 40 yards, a miss was rare. Really, any gun delivering groups under 3″ or so is more than acceptable for a defensive pistol. Once you get to the 1.5″ range (an average of all loads tested) a gun acquires a certain can’t-miss characteristic making it a joy to shoot.
The Marvel had that in spades.
One of the marks of true greatness is the willingness to acknowledge the greatness of others. Nighthawk’s partnership with Marvel has resulted in an exceptional handgun which is a credit to both. One can only wonder what’s coming next.
By Jeremy D. Clough
Photos: Chuck Pittman, Inc.
Nighthawk’s Heinie Signature Series 1911’s make it possible to have a
well-built 1911 designed by pistolsmith Richard Heinie, whose pistols
are otherwise virtually unobtainable for most shooters.
Photo: Jeremy Clough
In addition to the Marvel signature pistol, Nighthawk also offers a line of Heinie Signature pistols designed by Richard Heinie. Standard in 9mm, but available in .45 ACP, I requested a Compact test pistol in .45 auto. Combining a forged Officer’s size receiver with a 4.25″ slide, the Compact has a narrowed frame and slim grips to make the pistol easier to carry and more comfortable for those with smaller hands. Frontstrap texturing is Heinie’s deceptively smooth scalloping — deceptive because it feels quite smooth when you run your finger down it, but when you grip it hard, it grabs you back. For those of us who have ripped the linings out of countless suit jackets with sharp-edged carry pistols, this is the best of both worlds. Add in a high relief cut under the trigger guard and a well-shaped beavertail, and you’ve got a pistol dropping neatly into place in the hand.
Controls are a contoured strong-side-only thumb safety, operating quite positively, and a slightly extended mag release. There’s also Nighthawk’s usual lightweight aluminum trigger which drops the skeletonized hammer crisply but with an uncharacteristic touch of creep. All the sharp edges have been removed from the gun, even from the places many ‘smiths forget (such as the two horns where the magwell meets the frontstrap). The stainless bushing is both well-beveled and mates elegantly with the deeply crowned muzzle of the NM barrel. Sights are a dovetail front and Heinie fixed rear coming with a pair of tritium dots (one front, one rear) lining up in Heinie’s “Straight Eight” pattern. The top of the slide has been serrated “on the round” lengthwise.
On the range? It averages under 2″ at 25 yards with hollowpoints, and hasn’t malfunctioned yet — exactly what I expect from a Nighthawk.
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