The 1911 is the most ubiquitous and recognizable handgun in existence today.
You’ve seen the 1911 in hundreds of movies, and it’s probably the first gun that comes to mind when you think of a pistol.
Before we take a look at our top picks for cheap 1911s, let’s explore the history of this iconic gun.
History of the 1911
The 1911 pistol is an American icon. It has been in the the hands of 5 generations and its popularity is still rising. This pistol has become synonymous with power, durability and the American military.
Military and law enforcement quickly adopted the original design by John Moses Browning (JMB) as a sidearm. The high versatility of the perfect and straightforward design of the gun made it appropriate for different purposes from self-defense to hunting, target-shooting or competitions.
At the end of the 1800’s, there was a huge demand for a more reliable gun, a self-loading pistol.
The standard back then was the .38 Long Colt, but a more reliable .45 was required. This was exactly what JMB had in mind when he crafted the semi-automatic pistol that would pass the most rigorous US military tests.
Simulations included shooting the gun after it has been thrown in mud, submerged in acid or loaded with deformed cartridges. Over 6000 test rounds were performed at the time on this piece of metal, which was the only one to emerge from the competition with other notable brands such as Smith & Wesson and Savage.
The 1911 stood the test and that’s why it’s still a badass gun to this date.
The U.S. was so impressed with this weapon it bought over 2.7 million M1911s and M1911A1 between 1911 and 1986 when Beretta replaced it. This gun has been everywhere from WWI, WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War.
Even now some units of the US Navy, Marine Corps, and Special Forces use it as their sidearm.
How it Works
The 1911 is a single action, magazine-fed, recoil operated, semi-automatic pistol, usually working with a .45 ACP cartridge. For more about ammunition – check out our bullet and caliber guide.
The pressure of the combustion gases pushes the round down the barrel at speeds averaging 850 feet/second. The empty case is then ejected by a kick in the rear, the slide is pushed forward by a spring and pulls a new cartridge from the angled magazine, depositing it into the firing chamber.
1911’s durability is due to the lack of fasteners except for some grip screws. The recoil spring keeps the vital components in place.
The great thing is that this pistol can be disassembled and reassembled by using its components as tools.
The model employed by the military comes with a grip safety and a manual safety, while commercial models also include a firing pin safety. Some 1911’s have rails to mount scopes and other add-ons for hunting or sports, being the weapon of choice in many competitions.
The original M1911, originally produced by Colt (one of the original AR-15 makers), has become a portfolio item for a broad range of manufacturers, both American or foreign, and nowadays you can find 1911s manufactured in South America, Asia or Europe.
It is almost like every major company has their flavor of the classic, yet the pieces are not equal.
At the beginning of the century, the 1911 was made primarily by Colt or Springfield Armory, which belonged to the Government. Starting with WWI, Remington also got a license to produce it along with other Canadian and local companies.
The trend continued during the WWII, when even the sewing machine company Singer joined the lines, creating guns that are now considered collector’s items.
Since the 1911 pistol is a standard, whenever a gun company is expected to be taken seriously, it develops a 1911 of its own. It is both a benchmarking and a maturity test at the same time.
For the buyer, this creates both an array of opportunities and a headache to select the best piece of metal for their money.
The natural question is “what is the best 1911?” and is the price justified for the expensive ones?
To cut through the confusion of multiple models and prices I’m going to look at some of our top models to find share our best picks.
But first, check this handy chart.
|1911 Model||Price Range||What We Like|
|ROCK ISLAND ARMORY||UNDER $700||Best Value|
|METRO ARMS AMERICAN CLASSIC||UNDER $700||Great 2nd Choice|
|BdcziBSPRINGFIELD ARMORY MIL-SPEC"||$700-$1000||An American Classic
|RUEGER SR1911||$700-$1000||Great for Beginners|
|COLT DELTA ELITE||$1000-$1500||Great Price for Reliability/Power|
|$1000-$1500||Most Classic 1911
|WILSON COMBAT CQB TACTICAL LE||$1500+||Unbeatable Quality|
Best 1911 by price range
Most guns in this range are not produced in the U.S., but offer a fair amount of quality for the price. You can expect minor flaws, but they still score high in reliability and can act as a trustworthy partner for self-defense.
Rock Island Armory (RIA) GI 1911 Pistol – Cheapest Choice
This handgun crafted in the Philippines is a good pick for the under $500 price tag. It can be used immediately, with no breaking in period required.
Usually, displays no failures in either department, including feed, chamber, fire or cartridge eject. Designed by Armscor, the pistol follows the lines of the original WWII patent carefully.
The most annoying feature can be the fact that the flat sides do not fit the grip frame perfectly, a problem that can be addressed by installing aftermarket grips.
The RIA is a GREAT choice for self defense. If you want a simple weapon to defend your home and family this is an affordable choice that is highly reliable.
The Metro Arms American Classic II 1911
The Metro Arms is rugged enough to keep in a tool box, under the car seat or in the glovebox.
It has an extended slide stop for safety and beavertail grip for comfort. Expect a skeletal combat hammer and a tuner trigger. The wooden scaled grip might seem odd, but can be replaced if you want something more aggressive.
Impressive accuracy and sturdiness. A buck well spent. I have 2 Metros as backup pieces.
The Taurus is an affordable gun, made in Brazil, hand-fitted for accuracy, with dovetail sight, lowered and flared ejection and 5″ barrel.
The nice thing about this piece is that is hammer forged, and you can see that by checking the serial numbers on the parts. A good crisp short trigger completes the ensemble.
This particular piece ranks high in safety due to the ambidextrous safety and Taurus’ special system on the hammer that disables the gun.
Comes with two magazines and a bushing wrench. Great price and a high quality item for sure.
Auto-Ordnance 1911 – Best Value American Made 1911
If you will settle for nothing less than American, there is the AO 1911A1 pistol to satisfy your needs. It excels at trigger compression, doesn’t stutter and gives top accuracy after you pass the break-in period.
Be sure to give it enough time and rounds, lubricate long bearing-bearing surfaces and expect some malfunctions during this time.
This is as close as it gets to the mid-XXth century gun.
If you do not have the patience and just want a weapon that works just out of the box, this is not the option for you. Great choice and value once again.
In this price range, you can expect a high standard of quality. Expect to find some trademark names including Remington, S&W, Springfield, Sig, Kimber, Para and of course, Colt.
As long as you are not looking for anything custom made, but more for a long-lasting piece of equipment, you are in the right place.
Springfield Armory Mil-Spec 1911 – Top Pick
You can expect an original 1911 short trigger and a GI style thumb and grip safety, as well as a GI hammer.
The beveled magazine assists in quick loading and unloading, holding seven rounds.
The performance and accuracy of this gun are impressive, just needs some little extras, like a beavertail grip safety.
A SOLID pick for anyone looking for an upgrade on the cheaper 1911s.
Magnum Research Desert Eagle 1911G
The full-length recoil guide rod makes the handgun operate and cycle much smoother, also improving the lifetime of the slide.
The grip made out of checkered wood enhances control. For ease of recharging the beveled magazine well can help a quick change. It has an extended thumb safety and beavertail grip safety.
The shooting accuracy of this piece is hard to match, offering an excellent price-quality ratio.
Remington R1 – Most Similar to Original 1911
You can choose the simple or enhanced model of the 1911 made by one of the first manufacturers after Colt.
This is one reliable, accurate and enduring handgun. It does not wander too far away from the original WWII piece, with a crisp trigger, dovetailed rear and front sights, and checkered double diamond walnut grips.
A subtle evolution of the standard 1911 is the lowered and flared ejection port for eliminating the empty cartridge faster and more accurate.
The enhanced model comes with extended beavertail safety.
It comes with a full range of accessories such as sights, triggers, and grips to transform it into a tool suited for your needs.
Rueger SR1911 – Great for Beginners
Produced from a single piece of metal to keep the homogeneity of color and hue it also features the lowered and oversized ejection port.
This is one of the guns that keep the original design as much as possible, including the three-dot sight. Comes with a bushing wrench and it is a favorite for sturdiness and reliability.
It has no loose parts, and has one of the easiest recoils.
Para 1911 Expert
Think of it as your companion for self-defense or your best friend in a shooting competition.
The most useful feature of this gun in the green fiber optic front which helps in an accurate target acquisition and fast switching between targets.
The two eight rounds magazines keep you in the game, while the skeletonized trigger is crisp and precise.
The only downside of this gun can be the grip which is made from polymers, and some might consider cheap-looking, but has no impact on the superb performance.
A step up, but this is where the real quality comes into play. These are the kind of 1911s you can get and keep for years.
Colt Delta Elite
You can buy it and shoot it on the same day, no break-in period needed. This one scores high on safety, featuring a large beavertail grip safety against slide cuts. The thumb safety is ergonomic, offering an excellent firing grip with the thumb on top not under the safety lever.
The sights, front and rear are dovetail-mounted in the slide, yet some adjustable sight would improve that a bit. The three-white dots, a standard option which comes in handy during night-time enhances accuracy. I’ve also seen these used with holographic optics systems before.
The gun might seem too sharp on the edges; it could use some rounding. It also has a pronounced recoil, more than the .45 version, so you need to handle it firmly.
Springfield Loaded Operator
The .45 handgun comes in 5 different styles, so there is a high degree of customization and offers options for everyone.
One of the few models with an ambidextrous thumb safety, and the standard extended beavertail grip. The Springfield has a lot of room for customization including accessories that can be added all over.
You can attach lights and lasers. The only downside could be the fact that it uses seven rounds mags instead of 8. T
Colt -XSE Government .45
Meet the grandson (or grand-grandson) of the original 1911.
Good features still run in the family with a few modern twists, including white dot sights and a lowered ejection port for extra reliability. It also has a great recoil spring system, long trigger, and a flat mainspring housing like the Colt legend.
The grips consist of elegant checkered rosewood adorning the solid carbon steel frame.
This gun requires a bit of strength to use effectively as the trigger is pretty stiff.
The XSE only carries 7 rounds in the magazine which limits it a bit. Either way great design and functionality.
The cadillacs of 1911s.
These are usually highly customizable and enjoy the finery nuts of bolts of design and craftsmanship. Some justify the price tag by manufacturing and precision, others by uniqueness and brand.
We have made a selection of some of the best 1911s if you have some cash to spare.
Wilson Combat CQB Tactical LE – My Top Pick
In this price range, you can expect some pro toys. The tactical gun from Wilson is just what SWAT units and Military Special Operations have in their holsters.
You get a real powerhouse which includes a light mount frame and a massive cone barrel.
The CQB Tactical LE’s trigger works crisply and clean. It is available in. 45 (8 rounds), 10mm, 9mm (10 rounds) and .38 super.
Features a beautiful combat finish with no glare and at this price tag, you should take advantage all the additional modifications you can add to it.
Kimber Amethyst Ultra II – Best Women’s Concealed Carry 1911
This pistol is also ready to shoot right out of the case. The 9mm or .45 mini which can hold up to 7 rounds in the magazine also features a full length guiding rod and ambidextrous thumb safety.
Considering its target market, consisting of ladies, the slide cycle is notably heavy, and the grip could be improved.
Cabot Vintage Classic
The antique feeling of this piece can make enthusiasts forget about the price. As the manufacturer describes it, “here is an ode to John Browning”.
The look is achieved through a proprietary chemical process applied to the steel. These are not the only Cabot innovations you can find on this piece.
The Cabot Machined-in-Place Perfect Fit Ejector, the Cabot Billet One Piece Guide Rod and the Cabot’s Full-Cycle Technology are just a few of the patented parts that make the handgun distinct from its lookalikes.
Cabot really made a name for themselves with this piece.
Ed Brown Classic Custom
It has a mirror finish to make is stand out, but only on the parts that don’t interfere with the sight, to preserve accuracy. Serrations are inserted on the rear of the slide for the same reason.
The producer believes in the product so much it offers a lifetime guarantee. Since this is a customizable product, you can go wild and mix patterns, engravings, and grips to make it match your imagination.
A beautiful 1911 for anyone who is a firearms collector in your family.
Nighthawk Custom Turnbull Vip 2
The motto guiding this company is “one gun, one gunsmith at a time”.
They create unique, hand-crafted, custom made 1911s. This is an eye-catching pistol featuring ivory grips, 14K gold front sight and most likely will be part of a collection.
Of course, you can shoot .45 like any other Government 1911. The rear sight is a Heinie Pro, and the gun features a design with a smooth recoil spring plug with a thick barrel bushing, and this is just an example.
Depending on your needs and budget there is always a 1911 out there for you.
Before you make your choice, take your time to study the market. Always consider cheaper options if you are not a collector.
Some are bare bones, but sometimes it’s all you need to cover self-defense necessities with a sturdy and reliable handgun.
The difference in price sometimes comes only from the economic differences between the originating country and the US.
You should not always take this as a mark of inferior quality.
If you’re looking for a gun to last you a lifetime, an investment in a well-known brand such as a Colt or a Springfield might give you the best value for your money.
Some folks treat their guns as an extension of their bodies and even personalities, not just as a utilitarian tool. Therefore, it makes sense to select an accessory that speaks for itself.
The 1911 pistol is most of the times a workhorse, but collectors like to take it a step beyond. By ordering custom-made, sometimes one-of-a-kind pieces that satisfy both technical and aesthetic desires they create a legacy piece.
The sky’s the limit for the price tags on these pieces. However, this is irrelevant when you’re creating a custom pistol.
The 1911 is so much more than a gun, is a symbol of freedom, courage and lineage.