For most of the latter half of the 20th century, somebody somewhere was chopping down 1911 .45 automatics and making them smaller. Army Ordnance Units did so to create the General Officers’ Pistol. And for the public, work was done by legendary gunsmiths Armand Swenson, George Sheldon, Lyn “Trapper” Alexiou and Austin Behlert. By the ’80s, Colt caught on and started manufacturing their own baby .45 called the Officers’ ACP, complete with a 3.5-inch barrel.
But even this was not enough. Bill Laughridge at Cylinder & Slide Shop created his Adventurer pistol; it’s tube chopped all the way back to 3 inches with the magazine proportionally shortened. The wonder of wonders, it worked. Colt, in a flash of brilliance, hired Laughridge as a consultant. Thus was born the Colt Defender, the best small .45 auto the company ever made.
Broken barrel bushings had been a curse of the Officers’ ACP. Laughridge’s bushings barrel eliminated this. The Officers had never been particularly accurate. The Defender could deliver 2-inch groups at 25 yards with the ammo it liked best. Most Officers pistols needed to be throated out to feed reliably with anything but hardball or Remington hollowpoint. The Defender was omnivorous.
Not every effort at producing a sub-3.5 inch barreled .45 was so successful. ParaOrdnance, which had earned a reputation for extreme reliability with its P-12 3.5 inch barreled .45, created a jam-amatic in the first runs of their P-10, cut down to 3 inches.
We fool Mother Nature at our peril. 1911 built its reputation for reliability with a 5-inch barrel and proportional slide. When things were shortened, the slide mass/spring compression rate changed dramatically, as did the slide velocity and cyclic rate. A shortened 1911 had to be a reinvented 1911, re-invented yet again for each incremental reduction in barrel length.
Enter the Springfield Micro Compact
Springfield introduced their Micro .45 auto in 2001. This was a 3-inch barrel concealed carry piece that, like the Colt Defender, had been left with an Officer’s length grip-frame instead of being commensurately shortened at the butt.
This was done for two reasons. First, it was thought that availability of aftermarket Officers length magazines would be a selling point. Second, the Officers size frame has already proven itself amply concealable. And shortening it any further made the gun distinctly harder to grasp.
The purchaser profile in the compact .45 market is much different from, say, that of the .25 auto market. The buyer of the pocket pistol often runs a couple of mags through it and then proceeds to carry it, with further practice sessions few and far between.
But the person who pays good money for a chopped and channeled 1911 .45 tends to be a serious shooter who visits the practice range constantly. Such a buyer appreciates a gun whose shooting characteristics are as good as its concealability characteristics.
The Micro Compact can be had in two formats. The plain Mil-Spec is packetized and comes with Novak night sights as SKU (stock-keeping unit) PX9808L, with a suggested retail price of $749. It has a steel frame.
The fancy Bi-Tone has a hard chrome slide with the same good Novak sights with Trijicon glow in the dark ampoules. Otherwise known as the SKU PX980IL, it carries a manufacturer’s suggested retail tag of $1,060. Its frame is lightweight alloy. And we tested both pistols. Albeit separately.
The Micro Compact guns are beneficiaries of two safety devices standard on Springfield Armory’s 1911s since approximately February of 2001.
One is a titanium firing pin with extra-strong spring. It had long been the custom gunsmith’s answer to the danger of an inertia discharge when the pistol is dropped or struck at one end propelling the standard firing pin against the normal spring hard enough for it to reach a primer.
Dave Williams of Springfield made S.A. the first company to manufacture all its 1911 pistols this way. It’s an effective resolution to the problem and is S.A.’s answer to the Series ’80 firing pin safety of Colt and ParaOrdnance and to the Swartz type safety of the Kimber “II” series.
The other feature is the ILS, an integral locking system, and also a Williams brainchild. A locking bolt built into the mainspring housing blocks the mainspring cap from moving. When the hammer is down on an empty chamber, the shooter inserts a key and twists it a quarter turn. The rigidly locked mainspring now prevents the hammer from rising and therefore from falling, and also prevents the slide from being retracted to chamber a round.
There is no way it can lock by itself. Those who don’t like the idea can simply leave it unlocked, throw away the key, and pretend it isn’t there. The shooter can also remove the ILS mainspring housing and replace it with a standard one, just as the ILS can be retrofitted to most existing 1911 pistols, either a Springfield or another make. The ILS unit can be had in either a flat or arched mainspring housing format. We tested one of each with the Micro
Once up and running with proven reliability — you never carry a self-defense gun that hasn’t proven itself to your satisfaction — each gun was worn for a while in different holsters.
These guns are short enough that a slender person can carry one in a right horizontal shoulder holster, which Chic Gaylord proved half a century ago is the single fastest drawing angle for an underarm rig. The gun is short enough that in such a holster, properly made, neither grip tang nor butt protrudes at the front. Nor does the muzzle protrude from under the rear of the armpit. The short slide also makes for quick clearance in a current hip-holster draw.
But we had already known these small, light guns would be comfortable and convenient to carry hidden all day. But the question remains — how will it shoot?
Micro Compacts On The Firing Line
On an unseasonably warm November day, the bi-tone fancy Micro was taken to the 25-yard standard outdoor pistol range at Pioneer Sportsmen Club in Dunbarton, N.H. The shooting was done by a hand held bench rest. Each five shot group was measured overall, then again for the best three shots, in hopes of factoring out human error enough to get a better idea of the gun’s inherent mechanical accuracy. Measurements were center to center of the farthest shots to the nearest .05 inch.
The fancy version averaged 3.8 inches for the five shot groups with eight different loads, including one the gun hated and wouldn’t group tighter than five inches for as many shots. Had that round been factored out, overall grouping would have been tighter.
To see how much was the gun and how much was me, I tried a group with the full-size 1911 I was carrying that day, and got a 1.90-inch group, with the best three in 1.10 inches. The best three-shot average of the baby Springfield was 1.70 inches. It was clear that this gun could shoot, and equally clear that a short sight radius makes it tough to live up to a pistol’s inherent accuracy without a machine rest.
The Plain Jane version did not come in for testing until the first quarter of 2002. By then the outdoor range was too cold and windswept to provide the pistol a fair test.
We took it instead to the Indoor Firing Line in Manchester, N.H. and set about duplicating the same test. Nine loads were used here, the same height as with the fancy twin plus Gold Dot 200 grain +P from Speer.
The little gray gun liked this round, putting five shots into a group measuring 2.75 inches and the best five into 1 inch on the nose.
Groups fired with the eight loads tested in each gun were as follows: The less expensive gun averaged 4.50 inches for five-shot groups and 1.79 inches for best three shots with the same eight loads tested in its fancier twin. Factoring in its good performance with the ninth load, the 200 grain +P CCI Gold Dot, brought this number down to 4.30 inches and 1.70 inches, respectively.
The pricier gun had won, but not by much. If you consider the Gold Dot, which the cheaper gun preferred more than anything except its discontinued sister Lawman load, it was the same on average for “best three shots,” and was only half an inch looser on the average in five shot groupings than the more expensive version.
Recoil wasn’t that bad. A standard pressure 230-grain load in one of these kicks about like shooting a +P round in a full-size 1911A1. A +P, of course, kicks more, but it won’t be anything a trained and experienced shooter can’t handle. The alloy gun didn’t jump that much more than the all-steel specimen.
Finicky About Magazines
The years have taught me to expect reliability from Springfield Armory pistols. I didn’t get it with the Micro Compact guns — at first.
“Fancy” proved finicky, with more than one six o’clock misfeed with the factory-provided magazines. I switched to Wilson-Rogers Officers-size magazines and the problem cleared up. Current production mags of the same length from Colt likewise worked fine. In 1911 pistols, when you’re having feed problems, switching to Wilson mags have proven to be the first fix to try. It worked in this case.
“Plain” was also picky. There were unintentional slide locks in the mid-firing cycle, and repeated failures to go into battery along with occasional six o’clock nosedives. Exasperated, I called the factory.
Their first question was, “Do you have blue magazines or stainless?”
“Blue,” I replied.
“Damn,” I heard on the other end of the phone.
These two test guns were among the first 50 Micro Compact pistols to leave the factory. In exhaustive testing, the Springfield engineers discovered the altered slide velocity with a 3-inch barrel and proportionally shorter slide had required a special magazine.
These, it turned out, had not been sent with either gun. But Springfield Armory is good on customer support, and a day or two later a FedEx package showed up with little stainless steel magazines whose followers were dimpled farther towards the back than those of the earlier mags.
A trip to the outdoor range for function testing in the biting cold proved these magazines worked perfectly. Even the premature slide lock problem cleared up. Apparently, the incorrect mags had been holding the rounds at an angle where they were hitting the interior portion of the slide stop. It’s that “can’t fool Mother Nature” thing. The whack of a .45 ACP’s recoil drives a small slide at high velocity, and compensations have to be made in the magazine (and elsewhere) to keep everything in a smooth cycle. Don’t expect a gun with a 3-inch barrel to work with magazines designed for a gun with a 5 or even a 3.5-inch barrel.
Once the correct magazines were in place on both guns, reliability went up to the 100 percent mark I have learned to expect from Springfield.
The less expensive gun came with the same excellent Novak/Trijicon sights as its classier sister. This is a good thing. The quality of the sights is usually one of the first things to go when a gun company puts together an “economy” model.
Though they call this little pistol Mil-Spec, this term usually means it will only feed ball ammo or something with a similar ogive. This, happily, was not true of the low-priced Micro Compact. Once the right magazines were in place, it fed even the infamous “Flying Ashtray” from Speer and its equally wide mouthed successor, the highly effective Gold Dot.
The action was smooth. This may look like a grisly gray gat, but it’s not a grisly and grating gray gat. And designed for concealed carry, who cares what it looks like? This one has the arched mainspring housing and short 1911A1 trigger.
I prefer this trigger length to the long one, as does my colleague Chuck Taylor. I like the short trigger because (a) it will better fit a short-fingered person; (b) it allows me to reach the trigger with the distal joint of my index finger, giving me more leverage for controlled high-speed shooting; and (c) it leaves more room for a gloved finger, reducing the danger of premature discharge when handled with gloved hands. Pull was around 4.5 pounds, clean, with just enough movement to warn the shooter of impending let-off but no right creep that would impair marksmanship.
Downsides? There is only one manual safety lever, set on the left of the frame for a right handed shooter. It worked perfectly well, but there are southpaws to consider & also those of us who like to be able to shoot ambidextrously in an emergency without impediment.
Also, it has what Springfield calls the “commander” style grip safety, with a fairly narrow tang not nearly as comfortable to shoot as a beavertail. Exactly why this is there puzzles me unless the factory had a bunch of them left over from years past. A source at S.A., who must remain nameless, assures me it doesn’t cost S.A. anymore to make a beavertail than to make an old fashioned and obsolete design
Upscale Micro Compact
Let us now look to the superior version. The grip safety is the desirable beavertail, with memory groove no less. The manual safety is ambidextrous. The medium-long Videcki type trigger breaks much like that of its Plain Jane sister at a clean 4.5 pounds or so.
The gun has been given an excellent melt job with almost all sharp edges beveled. Because of the grip safety, it is a more comfortable gun to shoot than the Mil-Spec, despite the lighter weight of its alloy frame and supposedly greater recoil.
The flat gray frame finish contrasts nicely with the matte silver of the hard chromed slide. I’m sure that slide is going to resist corrosion longer than any parkerizing I’ve seen in my several decades in this business. It is certainly a prettier gun than the economy model, more user-friendly (thanks to the Ambi-safety and the beavertail), and in my sample ever so slightly more accurate.
The deluxe model also comes with slim line, checkered wood, grip panels. These may conceal better by some tiny increment, but mainly they fit a lot of people’s hands better. The grips on the Mil-Spec version are standard in thickness and made of a generic composite. Without question, the fancy gun gives a little more pride of ownership. But in the end, that’s often what “fancy” means.
The fancy gun costs $311 more than the plain one. Unless the alloy frame is preferred for your requirements, I will consider ordering the Mil-Spec version. Plan A would be to only order the Mil-Spec from the factory with Ambi thumb levers and beavertail grip safety, but I’m told that’s not possible. Springfield Armory ain’t Burger King. You can’t always “have it your way.”
However, given the plethora of qualified 1911 mechanics scattered around the country, it would be a simple matter to have the Mil-Spec outfitted with your choice of ambi and beavertail safeties. For that matter, you can return your pistol directly to Springfield for these upgrades.
That still leaves you a lot of money saved for ammo, for training, or for some Wilson-Rogers magazines, which I think would be an excellent idea. These are both good guns and good values. For my money, however, this is one case where “plain” beats “fancy” in the final judgment. I’d be more inclined to order the Mil-Spec version of the Springfield Armory Micro .45.