Those of you who have known me for a while are aware that I’m cheap. I dislike parting with money, unless I know that I can rely on the thing that I’m buying. That being said, I do occasionally take a risk, when the possible reward is great enough. In May of 2008, I bought a Charles Daly 1911 for a bit over $300. I knew that it was the low end of that design of handgun, but that was what I wanted: an introduction to the invention of John Moses Browning (blessings be upon his name). It’s been a long journey since then, but finally I can say that the purchase was worth it.
Have a look at the model in question:
Mine has black rubber grips, but otherwise, it’s identical in appearance. It’s functioning, on the other hand, differs from the reviewer in the link above.
Hollow points are the ideal defensive ammunition, but my Charles Daly wouldn’t shoot them for a long time. No matter what brand, it would fire one or two and then jam. That gave me plenty of opportunities to practice clearing drills, but would have been no good in time of need, and it was bloody annoying even at the range. So for much of our time together, I’ve fed mine hardball, full metal jacket rounds. Those can work, especially considering that our military has fought many wars using exactly that kind of ammunition, and hardball is cheap. But there’s the danger of overpenetration that a responsible shooter has to take into account.
But just the last couple of times at the range, all of the sudden, my 1911 is cycling Winchester White Box (read cheap) hollow points. In two and a half years of owning and shooting the gun, I’ve probably put 3,000 rounds through it, and it seems that it has finally been broken in. The lesson here is that you need to test your ammunition choices in your carry weapon, but don’t give up.
There’s more to the story, naturally. The first item that broke on mine was the barrel bushing. In the pictures on the link, it’s the oval piece of metal that fits around the muzzle. Its job is to compress the recoil spring as the slide retracts. This means that it endures a lot of force during firing, and the bushing on mine cracked early on. That was a simple part of replace for $10 or so. I had to smooth out the inside of the new bushing to make it fit, but that was easy.
Now look at the larboard side picture. You’ll see a tube that goes between the thumb safety and the slide stop. That’s the plunger tube. It has spring-mounted pins on either end that hold the two levers in place and a pair of pins that attach the tube to the frame. Those pins are a common point of failure in the 1911, and mine sheared off after a few months. That cost around $60 for the part and the work (I didn’t have the required tools for that job).
That’s the complete list of problems that I’ve had. Two repairs and a lengthy breaking-in period, and now my cheapo gun is a workhorse. In case you’re thinking that somewhere around $400 for a 1911 sounds like a lot, a Springfield model starts at over $500 on the low end; a Kimber doesn’t even open the bidding until about $800, and Les Baer or Wilson Combat–well, do you have any bars of gold lying about?
What do you get for the high end models? (I wish I knew. . .) Um, from what I have read and heard, you get much better finishing (better bluing, no tool marks, etc.) and somewhat more mechanical accuracy from a tighter fit of the parts. I have two responses to those:
1. My mother had a useful chair. We stood on it when we needed something from a high shelf or wanted to paint the ceiling. Then one day my grandmother stripped off the layers of paint and discovered that the thing was a Polish 1920s antique that was valuable! Now it sits in my parents’ living room collecting dust because it’s too important to use.
That’s how I look at fancy guns. If they’re too pretty, I’ll be afraid of sweating on them or getting dirt in them or getting gunpowder residue on them and won’t shoot them. The fancy fitting is also a problem from the standpoint of reliability, since the tighter parts have to be cleaner to work. If you want to race on a closed track, a Ferrari may be the car for you, but if you need to cross a muddy field, you want an old truck.
2. The increase in accuracy is only slight anyway, and I’m not good enough to notice the difference. My goal with a carry weapon is to be able to hit a 20 oz. soda bottle within reasonable self defense distances, and I can do that with any of my handguns. I’m not trying to put one hole through a piece of paper at fifty yards with thirty rounds. That kind of shooting requires far more practice than I have time or money to give to it, and it has little application in the everyday world.
Besides, if astonishing mechanical accuracy is what is required, Browning’s pistols are not the best. No, I’m not casting aspersions on the genius of the firearms world. All handguns that follow Browning’s design use a barrel that tilts downward to unlock from the slide in the firing cycle. Most locked-breech pistols have that. There are designs, though, that use a fixed barrel, and that is supposed to give some increase in mechanical accuracy (in other words, how accurate the gun would be when fired from a rest). Again, I’m unlikely to know the difference, especially since I don’t use a rest to practice with handguns. I imagine that there are people in this world who could tell the difference, even when shooting off hand, and much good may that do them.
To sum this up, it’s taken a while, but my Charles Daly 1911 is finally operating reliably and desirably. It was a cheapo and remains so. I removed the rubber bumper from its magazine’s base, and I’d like to change out the issue hammer with the original GI design, but other than that, it looks to have years of service left to give me.