Getting Back To Basics

Or ... Is A Nickel plated .38 Super A Fashion Accessory?
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I had fun shooting some old battle-weary Colt 1911’s — tossing in a Rock Island Armory basic mil-spec 1911 too — a few issues ago (Insider, July/Aug 2016). Called the G.I. Series, Rock Island has them in a few calibers and with different barrel/slide lengths. Think of them as WWII era G.I.-type guns. But they also have a nifty nickel plated .38 Super too, in the same category. I didn’t do much shooting with the .45 ACP version in that previous look, so added a .38 Super and figured we’d revisit “basic guns” thinking it might be fun.
So, was it?

Indeed, it was, and still is as a matter of fact. It’s one of those situations where it’s always delightful to have more than you expected delivered to your door. At about $400 in the real world, the Parkerized .45 ACP version is a tiny-sighted, skinny grip safety, standard thumb safety design, just like the ones we fell in love with when we were gun-crazy kids.

The .38 Super model, in polished nickel (about $600 or so in the real world), reminds me of early Colt .38 Supers and the ones the Federales (Mexican Federal police) used to carry when I worked along the border of Tijuana when I was a San Diego cop. Before that, I used to compete in Mexico (against the Federales and local cops) when I was a Chula Vista PD reserve and even then always cast an envious eye at their shiny Supers.

They didn’t carry .45’s but .38 Supers since only the army could have .45 ACP or 9mm guns. And the Colts they carried were almost always that beautiful Colt nickel, sporting fancy gold and silver grips to go with their expensive cowboy boots, creased Wranglers, pearl-snap western shirts and spotless white straw cowboy hats. I recall many of the grips said “El Tigre” in gold script and often had a steer with big horns inlaid with red jeweled eyes. They were undeniably interesting times and I will have to tell that story later.

But anyway, I always secretly admired those fancy .38 Supers in those carved holsters and it took me until now to lay hands on at least something like one for this bit of fun. What’s my goal here? I think with all the talk and fuss over high end 1911’s I think it’s good to be reminded we can still have good, clean fun without a big investment. After running these two guns some, I realized once again, sometimes “adequate” is just fine.

Think of it as the difference between a Craftsman wrench set and an elegant one from Snap-On. I enjoy the “can-do” attitude I seem to adopt when I put a Craftsman wrench to work. They seem to exude a sort of “Hey, I’m not pretty but you can’t stop me!” strangely satisfying attitude. I’m also not concerned about scratches and dings. Does the same apply here? I think so.

Rock Island’s basic G.I. is a workhorse in .45 ACP
and gets the job done. Think: Craftsman wrench.

Just like the original Colts, the shiny plated sights were a challenge but add
to the retro-charm. This gun is for fun, so learn to live with what you have
just like they did 75 years ago!

Now What?

I cleaned the .45 and the .38 Super and lubed them well, and since each seemed to have about the 6-pound trigger they were supposed to have, I left that alone. The trigger sort of “rolled off” rather than breaking cleanly and after some shooting I came away convinced if I did a trigger job on them groups would likely shrink.

One thing striking me was the wide variety of .38 Super we have out there. After going through my stash I was surprised to see there’s no lack of options today. I had seven different loads on-hand, mostly left over from a test a couple of years ago, and a bit of newer stuff from SIG and Wilson. I also dug out a pretty decent lineup of .45 ACP loads, including some Armscor .45 ACP ball loads, which seemed appropriate.

Specs on these guns pretty much mirror a factory Colt of the era. They are all steel and hefty, have those tiny sights and fit and finish are, well, up to the standards you’d expect on guns in this price range. Nice, but nothing Now What?

I cleaned the .45 and the .38 Super and lubed them well, and since each seemed to have about the 6-pound trigger they were supposed to have, I left that alone. The trigger sort of “rolled off” rather than breaking cleanly and after some shooting I came away convinced if I did a trigger job on them groups would likely shrink.

One thing striking me was the wide variety of .38 Super we have out there. After going through my stash I was surprised to see there’s no lack of options today. I had seven different loads on-hand, mostly left over from a test a couple of years ago, and a bit of newer stuff from SIG and Wilson. I also dug out a pretty decent lineup of .45 ACP loads, including some Armscor .45 ACP ball loads, which seemed appropriate.

Specs on these guns pretty much mirror a factory Colt of the era. They are all steel and hefty, have those tiny sights and fit and finish are, well, up to the standards you’d expect on guns in this price range. Nice, but nothing fancy. Think: Craftsman. The nickel gun displayed a bit of waviness in the final polish but the edges were clean and the color had the slightly warm gold/silver look a good nickel has. At this price point, you can enjoy shooting them for the sake of shooting them and not obsess over the distraction of trying to keep a $5,000 gun pristine. And that’s a nice break, believe me, as I have a good deal of experience with the anxiety of shooting somebody’s custom gun — and fretting over a scratch on a $1,000 blue job. Yikes.

Also from Rock Island, the same basic G.I. gun, but nickel plated and
in .38 Super sort of ramped things up some, according to Roy. Still, like
the .45, it delivers good value for your buck.

Shooting

What’d I learn? I learned these guns ran fine. Since both were essentially brand new, I let about 150 rounds go through each to get things smoothed out some. I had a couple of failures to completely close the slide on the .45, but the Super ran, um … super. At 25 yards over a solid rest, the .45 averaged around the 3″ to 4″ mark, but if I took the two worst shots from most groups, I think it’d go 2.5″ pretty regularly depending upon the ammo. The slide closure thing seemed to sort itself out. I’m thinking a slightly stronger recoil spring might help, regardless.

The .38 Super was great fun. Lots of blast and blammo and some snap to it, but those silvery sights were a challenge and glinted and danced in the sun. But after using a Sharpie to blacken them, I got a best group of about 2.75″ solid without taking out the two bad ones. The gun ran just fine, but I made it a point to use good ammo and keep a firm firing grip.

I plan on doing more shooting — and enjoying — these simple, functional autos. I’ll do trigger jobs on both and possibly tweak a thing or two, then report back.
But excuse me, I need to make sure my white straw cowboy hat still fits.

Hasta luego mis amigos!

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