"Stealing" A Classic 1911

Rock Island Armory's Affordable GI Standard .45 —
A Chance To Own Your Own WW2-Style Warhorse!

The 1911 pistol served proudly in the hands of members
of the US military for decades. Image courtesy of USMC.

Sgt. Baker was seriously wounded but he insisted on remaining in the line and fired at the enemy at ranges sometimes as close as 5 yards until his ammunition ran out. Without ammunition and with his own weapon battered to uselessness from hand-to-hand combat, he was carried about 50 yards to the rear by a comrade, who was then himself wounded. At this point Sgt. Baker refused to be moved any farther stating he preferred to be left to die rather than risk the lives of any more of his friends. A short time later, at his request, he was placed in a sitting position against a small tree. Another comrade, withdrawing, offered assistance. Sgt. Baker refused, insisting he be left alone and be given a soldier’s pistol with its remaining eight rounds of ammunition. When last seen alive, Sgt. Baker was propped against a tree, pistol in hand, calmly facing the foe. Later Sgt. Baker’s body was found in the same position, gun empty, with eight Japanese lying dead before him.
—Excerpted from Medal of Honor Citation for SGT Thomas A. Baker
Killed in Action, Saipan, July 7, 1944

The Rock Island Armory GI Standard .45 is a close but not quite perfect
rendition of the original 1911A1 service pistol at a very sweet price.
Drop another $20 for a GI magazine and some plastic surplus grips and
you have an almost clone version of the original at a fraction of the cost.

One notable change on the RIA pistol from a true 1911A1 is the lowered and flared ejection port to enhance reliability and function.

The RIA GI Standard .45 sports a flat 1911-style mainspring housing
rather than the arched sort of the GI-issue 1911A1. The arguments
concerning the various salient attributes of each have yet to be resolved.

Anyone who knows their way around a traditional 1911 will be right at home with the RIA GI Standard. Note the small front sight and conventional barrel bushing system.

John Moses Browning’s inimitable 1911 pistol armed America’s warriors through four major wars. For 74 years every American who wore the uniform had some link to Browning’s 1911. Rugged, dependable, effective and awesome, every proper gun collection needs at least one.

Believe it or not, back in the old days when the military grew weary of weapons, they frequently just sold them off to American citizens. Countless thousands of M1 Carbines, M1 Garands and 1911 pistols found their way into American gun collections via this route. Nowadays the very thought would be adequate to induce the fantods in less durable members of our society.

The farther we get from the old 1911’s original production the more eligible collectibles there are. Given a fixed supply and increasing demand, prices inevitably skyrocket. I stole my mint 1944-era Remington Rand 1911A1 on Gunbroker for a cool $1,000 and was thrilled to land it. I cannot yet afford an original Colt. For those legions of burgeoning gun nerds desirous of a GI .45 of their own, there’s a more economical solution.

What is the primary difference between the RIA GI Standard .45 on the left and the pristine original 1944-era Remington Rand 1911A1 on the right? About $1,000.

The magazine that comes with the RIA GI Standard .45 packs
8 rounds instead of 7 and extends ever so slightly out the
bottom of the grip as a result.

Certain pieces of military hardware are simply iconic. This M1A1 Thompson is WWII-original, and the pineapple grenade was a standard piece of dogface kit. The RIA GI Standard .45 fits in with this rarefied company quite nicely.

An American officer and a French partisan with a Sten sub-machinegun crouched behind a car during a street fight in a French city, June 1944. Image courtesy United States National Archives.

An Unexpected Source

The 1911 design is more than a century old, and these classic pistols keep flowing forth from modern assembly lines every day. What might surprise you to know is the planet’s most prolific producer of 1911 pistols is not even located within the United States. Armscor of the Philippines is the largest weapons manufacturer in Southeast Asia, and they produce more 1911 pistols than any other company in the world. On this side of the pond their American face is Rock Island Armory.

RIA offers about a zillion different variations. Disparate calibers, magazine capacities, barrel lengths and finishes vigorously populate their product lineup. The .45 ACP brings the rain today just as well as it did a century ago. RIA 1911’s chambered in 9mm, .38 Super, .380 ACP and .22 LR are also available. Their revolutionary .22 TCM cartridge is a 9mm case necked down to accept a 40-grain .22-caliber jacketed hollow point bullet. In a high-capacity 1911 platform this zippy little monster can break 2,000 fps out of a pistol-length tube and remains my hands-down, all-time favorite handgun. But there is another great 1911 lurking in the RIA line of pistols, a no frills slab-sided 1911 called, appropriately enough, the GI Standard .45.

As it comes out of the box, the RIA GI Standard .45 includes wooden grips and a slightly extended 8-round magazine.

All the basics of a World War II-era 1911A1 are there on the RIA pistol;
a spur hammer, short trigger, low-profile grip safety, etc. It has some
inconsistencies, too, like the flat mainspring housing.

The heft, balance and operation of the RIA 1911 was just like Will’s original 1911A1, except the newer pistol shot better.

The RIA GI Standard is a very handsome pistol for a shockingly low sticker price of under $400.

Pertinent Particulars

The RIA GI Standard .45 is a close but not quite perfect rendition of the classic 1911A1 Government Model with which our forebearers freed an enslaved planet. The finish is a rich military-looking Parkerizing, and the hammer and 5-pound trigger are both GI-standard style. The safety is one-sided and in the expected spot, just like the original. The gun looks, strips, shoots and wears just like the 1940’s-era real deal.

However, there are a few nods to modernity. The ejection port is lowered and flared for better reliability and performance. This will offend the purists in the audience, but normal folks will never notice. Such treatment enhances ejection and makes for a better, more reliable utility gun. Also, the grips on the RIA GI Standard .45 are cut from light-colored wood rather than the original GI-issue plastic. The mainspring housing is flat like that of the 1911 rather than being rounded like the 1911A1. The debate regarding which design is preferable is vociferous, spirited and ongoing. Additionally, the extended-capacity magazine carries eight rounds rather than seven and sports a slightly thicker baseplate than the originals as a result.

For me the grips were a deal breaker, so I landed a milsurp pair of the brown nylon sort on eBay for $9 with free shipping. Two minutes with a screwdriver swapped them out, and we were ready to hit the range. I also exchanged the slightly extended magazine for a flat-bottomed aftermarket version for $10. In dim light it’s tough to distinguish between my spendy original and the RIA replica.

Naval Aviation Cadets from the Naval Air Station at Corpus Christi
at the pistol range with Colt M1911-A1 .45 caliber pistols, Corpus Christi,
Texas, United States, circa 1941. Image courtesy of National Museum of Naval Aviation.

The RIA GI Standard .45 (top) actually printed a good deal better than Will’s 1944-era Remington Rand original.

In the hands of fighting men during World War II, the classic 1911
helped free the world from tyranny. Now, thanks to Rock Island Armory,
you can own your own version of this classic on the cheap.

Do They Shoot?

To be frank, the sights on the pistol are too small, but everybody’s sights were too small back then. The grip width is the very essence of perfection, and this classic heater drops into my palm like it was born there. At rest, the trigger has just the tiniest smidgen of a wiggle, just like the originals.

Slap a magazine full of .45 ammo into the butt and rack the slide in a forceful, intentional, manly fashion. This is a serious gun cut out of big blocks of serious steel. There’s none of the flimsy “Glocktastic” plastic to be found anywhere. The 1911A1 is heavy, tough and mean, just like the nation originally producing it.

Recoil is serious without being unpleasant. The experience hearkens to the first time I met the 1911 professionally back when I initially donned the uniform. All of our guns back then had been through the rebuild process a time or three; all showed their age. My modern RIA Standard GI .45 is tight and quiet when you shake it. Our GI-issue 1911’s back in the day rattled like a baby’s plaything. However, they also never failed us, and those big fat bullets meant not having to say you’re sorry in any language.

The gun rocks through a magazine in short order, and tactical reloads set the standard for everything else. My wife’s grandfather, one of my favorite people, carried a gun such as this through two years of combat in North Africa and Europe during World War II. He carried his pistol alternately in either a shoulder holster or a low-ride thigh rig he made himself. His gun kept him alive throughout the war, and he has more combat cred than anybody I ever met.

The new RIA pistol makes for a pretty good clone of an original (and much
more expensive) 1911A1. Change out the grips and the magazine to
original-style units, and this gets it even closer to the original.

The heft, balance and operation of the RIA Standard GI .45
was just like Will’s original 1911A1, except the newer pistol shot better.

The No-Frills .45

In addition to being a near perfect ringer for the original GI-issue 1911 pistol (with my few mods added, of course), the RIA Standard GI .45 is also just dirt-cheap. I poked around and found them listed new for less than $400. Mine runs like a champ. If it doesn’t, RIA also offers a lifetime warranty.

Everybody really needs a military-grade 1911 in his collection. If nothing else shooting a GI 1911 is a unique experience adding a spot of flavor to any serious shooter’s repertoire. You can fork over a month’s pay and land a pristine original WWII-era Colt too expensive to shoot, or you could pick up an inexpensive battle blaster you won’t be afraid to really wring out. It cost me less than $10 to replace the grips with something more GI-looking, and any subsequent dings and bumps give the old girl character.

Recoil on the RIA Standard GI .45 is present without being mean, and you will squint to see the sights, just like our grandparents did back when they faced down the Nazis. If you’re old and ever wore the uniform, the RIA gun will inevitably bring back memories. For me, I recall watching one young stud launch his recoil spring plug into the stratosphere during a timed disassembly/reassembly competition at Fort Benning. That poor guy did not fare well overall.

The clothes, gear, weapons, tanks and planes our forefathers used to win World War II were the product of American industry operating at breathtaking capacity to arm the free world. The sidearm those guys carried was the best their nation could produce. Thusly equipped, literally millions of citizen-soldiers gave whatever it took to liberate the planet from tyranny. The RIA Standard GI .45 lets you get the tiniest taste of what those remarkable times were like. 

For more info:
Rock Island Armory, (775) 537-1444
Special thanks to
for their assistance in outfitting our WWII-era paratrooper.

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