What About the 1911 in 9mm? A frequent discussion topic on the forums centers on the feasibility of a 9mm 1911 rather than the usual .45 ACP and to a lesser degree, the .38 Super and 9x23mm. The general answer seems to be that the 1911 is at its best in its original caliber with a few preferring it in either Super or 9x23mm. Some owners of the 9mm 1911 will then mention their good luck or bad, depending upon how their pistol has performed.
I've only owned two 1911 pistols in 9mm. One was a Colt Combat Commander in the mid-'70's and I currently use an STI Trojan 6" Longslide. The Colt gave mediocre accuracy with most loads and was fully reliable only with ball ammunition. The STI has been extremely accurate and 100% reliable so long as at least standard velocity 115-grain ammunition is used. It eats either warm handloads or +P factory ammunition with ease. With only two 1911 pistols in 9mm, my observations are not statistically valid, but might be of use to folks considering such an automatic. I've stated many times that the 9mm Browning Hi Power is my favorite all around, general-purpose handgun. It still is, but there is much to recommend in a 9mm 1911, more than might initially meets the eye, and it might be a better choice for some people than the Hi Power.
On this site's home page, there's a picture of a Mk III Hi Power compared to a Kimber Classic Custom 1911. When you actually handle the two together, the size difference becomes more apparent than is seen in the photograph. Without getting into actual physical dimensions, the Hi Power is more similar in size to a Commander style 1911 than the full size 5" gun. I'm certainly not trying to talk anyone out of a Hi Power, but am trying to provide what I see as positives concerning the 1911 in 9mm. Both have their strong points and both will have their respective fans. I don't see that one has to like one to the exclusion of the other. I am a fan of both.
Unless you have or buy Pre-Ban magazines for the Hi Power, you'll be limited to a 10-round double-stack magazine for a maximum payload of 10 + 1 rounds. The single-stack 1911 magazine will hold 9 rounds, so you "lose" one round to the Hi Power. With its original capacity 13-round magazine, there is a clear advantage in magazine capacity with the Hi Power, but is it one that is really important for most of us? That's up to the individual user and his or her perceived needs. Frankly, I believe that in a self-defense scenario, we're likely to run out of time before ammunition with either pistol. (Do not misinterpret the preceding to mean that I support the ridiculous "high capacity" magazine ban that went into effect in '94. I ardently fought it and still believe it is inane.)
The primary advantage that I've noted in the 9mm 1911 is the more than expected reduction in both felt recoil and muzzle flip. The hottest 9x19 fired from the 6" STI Trojan truly feels similar to a .38 Special target wadcutter fired from an N-frame S&W! This allows for extremely fast repeat shots, a good thing in a match or for defensive purposes. Though not as great as with the 6" gun, the same holds true for the 5" 1911 and both have less felt recoil than the Hi Power. Combined with the extremely short reset of the 1911, a 9mm in this platform might be the pistol that could be accurately fired the fastest of any on the market. This might be of importance should someone of small stature and/or diminished strength be using the pistol for protection. This assumes a user whose skills are up to the task. Most of us cannot shoot accurately enough at the speed required to bring out the 1911's advantage. I can't, anyway.
The 9mm Browning Hi Power factory standard recoil spring is 17 lbs. and the mainspring 32 lbs. Cocking the hammer or trying to rack the slide with the hammer down can be a problem for some people. With its physically larger and heavier slide, the 5" 1911 factory recoil spring is 14 lbs. with the mainspring at 23 lbs.
The difference when actually handling the pistols is greater than the figures indicate. If you find the Hi Power a bit difficult in this regard, the full size 1911 might suit you better. It might also be a better choice for some ladies.
What about reliability? As mentioned, my 1970's vintage Commander was fully reliable only with ball, but at that time, so were most Hi Powers without work on the feed ramp as the age of hollow point-reliable automatics had not yet arrived. Both today's Mk III Hi Powers and 1911 9mm pistols seem to be much better in that regard.
While discussing reliability in the 9mm 1911, it seems that about half the gunsmiths expressing opinions favor the one-piece feed ramp with the rest recommending the conventional two-piece. I have no idea which is actually best, but will again cite my STI 1911's perfect performance with well over 2500 rounds fired, many JHPs. It has a one-piece feed ramp.
This is the barrel from my STI 9mm Trojan. The one-piece feed ramp has been reliable and there's plenty of case support for warmer 9mm loads. If you want to shoot a large volume of "hot" 9mm ammunition, I think this is a better choice than the Hi Power. The barrel has more steel around it and the 1911 is physically larger. It has proven itself extremely durable over the decades. My experience with Hi Powers has been that with 18.5 lb. recoil springs and a buffer, they can handle lots of ammunition and I've fired quite a lot of the warmer handloads and +P through mine with no problems whatsoever, but I do believe that the 1911 is stronger.
This 6" STI Trojan is extremely easy to shoot and felt recoil with hot loads is much less than might be expected. It has extremely good accuracy as well. I don't have one in the more popular 5" length in 9mm. Felt recoil in the 5" Springfield Armory 9mm 1911 pistols I've fired has been nearly as light with both being less than from a 9mm Hi Power. In a service size pistol, 9mm recoil is not "bad," but if less is more in this area, the all-steel 1911 9mm is tough to beat.
My experience with primarily one 9mm 1911 has been with the one-piece feed ramp and if they are inherently unreliable in the 1911, I've not seen it. Perhaps this is true in the longer rounds like .45 ACP or .38 Super; I don't "know," but other STI 9mm Trojan owners remark about lack of felt recoil and fine reliability so it appears that I didn't just get lucky. Likewise, Springfield Armory 9mm shooters report pretty nice things about their 5" pistols. Some have had some problems, but this holds true with 1911s (and other pistols), regardless of caliber. What I'm getting at is that I do not believe that the current 1911 pistols chambered for 9mm are inherently unreliable.
Unlike some times in the past, factory 9mm ammunition more inexpensive than it has ever been. Many reloaders opt to buy the loaded stuff as it is so cheap. A 9mm shooter can afford to feed his pistol more ammo per dollar than he can with .45 ACP, .38 Super, or 9x23. There's much to be said for practice and one can more easily afford the ammunition to do so in 9x19mm.
What about "power"? This always comes up when 9mm is mentioned. I've said on more than one occasion that I do believe with the better loads, the .45 ACP is probably a more potent "stopper" than 9mm. I also believe that with its better loads, the 9mm provides an effective defense round and that I personally don't believe the "gap" between the two is all that great. Assuming decent placement, either should suffice, but without it, neither is potent enough to deck an opponent for physical reasons, though he might indeed drop from psychological ones.
Corbon lists their 9mm 115-grain JHP +P at a nominal velocity of 1350 ft/sec, while their 125-grain averages 100 ft/sec less. They offer .38 Super in the same 115-grain JHP at 1450 ft/sec and the 125-grain at 1350 ft/sec. There is a bit more power in the .38 Super from this company.
Winchester offers the .38 Super +P 125-grain Super-X Silvertip Hollow Point at a listed velocity of 1240 ft/sec.
Remington shows one listing for .38 Super, UMC 130-grain FMJ at 1215 ft/sec. I could find no JHP listed at their site.
I located no listings at Pro Load Ammunition for .38 Super, but they did have 17 different ones in 9mm. Black Hills Ammunition also showed no listing for .38 Super.
In 9x23mm, I found but one company, Winchester, offering but two loads for it. They had a USA 124-grain JSP listed at 1460 ft/sec and a 125-grain Super-X Silvertip Hollow Point at 1450 ft/sec.
I have no chronograph figure to substantiate the claims made by the companies in either .38 Super or 9x23, but do in 9x19mm. Since I don't have a 1911 5" in 9mm, I'll use average velocities from the Hi Power with the standard factory 4 21/32" barrel. The average velocities are based on 10-shot averages.
Load Average Velocity (ft/sec)
Corbon 115-grain JHP +P 1381*
*This was a "low average velocity." A different lot number of the same weight Corbon 9mm averaged 1411 ft/sec.
Corbon 125-grain JHP +P 1220
These are pretty close to Corbon's advertised velocities, one being about 31 ft/sec over and one, 30 ft/sec under. I suspect that their listings for .38 Super are similarly accurate. Using the 115-grain 9mm, and the "low average velocity," we're about 69 ft/sec slower than their .38 Super in the same weight and roughly 130 ft/sec slower in the 125-grain 9mm load. Corbon's 125-grain JHP at a chronographed 1220 ft/sec seems to be equivalent to Winchester's 125-grain .38 Super Silvertip hollow point to me. The 9x23 does best the 9x19mm, but ammunition is more scarce and costly. Corbon's .38 Super is slightly more potent in the 125-grain weight with the Super, but in the lighter bullet, the same for all practical purposes. What I'm saying is that with the exception of Corbon and perhaps another company or two, factory-loaded 9mm +P and +P+ ammunition and .38 Super are about the same. Handloaded or with heavier bullets, the Super will outpace the 9mm.
Again, I chose the velocity figures from the closest thing I had to a 5" barrel 1911 9mm. They do go higher in the 6" barrel 9mm pistols I have and lower in the 4" guns. So does the Super, but regardless of barrel length or actual velocity, the 9mm can be had for significantly less cost per shot in the FMJ rounds used at the range and provide a wider selection of JHP ammo for protection needs.
With its low felt recoil, folks learning to shoot or those who are recoil conscious will probably do better with a 9mm 1911 than the same gun in .45 ACP. This would probably hold true for people who don't shoot as frequently as many of us as well. A person suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome would likely be better served with a 9mm 1911 as well.
If you favor the 1911 platform over the Hi Power or just trust nothing "less" than the .45 ACP, a 1911 in 9mm might make you a good "range gun" so that you could use the less costly 9mm ammo for practice while using the forty-five for protection needs. You'd still want to practice with the .45, but you could still keep your hand in with the 9mm.
Right now, I'm not sure which companies other than Springfield Armory and STI are making 1911 pistols in 9mm, but there may be some. Critics will say the design is too large for the caliber and it is true. The gun is larger than it "needs" to be, but I'm not convinced that's necessarily a bad thing.
If you get the chance, shoot one and I think you'll see what I mean.