In another article, we talked about the Colt 1911 and the many different variants of the 1911 that Colt offers for sale.
Colt has been manufacturing 1911 pistols longer than any other manufacturer, and to this day, they are one of the highest quality factory 1911s that money can buy.
But there is also one major negative to Colt pistols: they’re extremely pricey. A brand new Colt 1911 fresh out of the factory will run you close to if not over a thousand dollars. And not everyone who wants a 1911 has that kind of money laying around.
If you find yourself in this situation, where you really want a 1911 but are short on cash, you basically have two options: 1. Be patient and save up for a Colt or a similarly priced model from another manufacturer, or 2. Spend your money now on a budget model.
One of the most prominent examples of a budget 1911 is the Rock Island Armory (RIA) 1911. These pistols are commonly available in the $400 to $500 range, or around half the price of a Colt.
But if a 1911 is priced that low, it can’t be any good right?
Well, we’ll see if we can find out. We’ll talk about some basic facts of the RIA 1911, what you will get out of the box, the overall fit and finish quality, its shooting and reliability performance, and a final list of its pros and cons.
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Basic Facts Of The RIA 1911
Rock Island Armory currently produces a handful of different 1911 models, including a G.I. model (which most closely resembles the M1911A1 that saw service from World War II to Vietnam), a Commander model, a Compact model, a Match model, and a Tactical model.
All Rock Island Armory 1911s are manufactured by Armscor in the Philippines and then directly imported by Armscor into the United States (specifically through Nevada).
All RIA 1911s are built out of 4140 chromoly steel using CNC equipment and are designed to be entry level models on the 1911 market, though the Match and Tactical models sport features not found on the standard G.I. model (such as a beavertail grip safety, ambidextrous extended thumb safety, skeleton hammer, an improved trigger and barrel, and so on).
For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the standard G.I. model.
RIA also currently produces 1911s in each of the following calibers:
What You Get Out Of The Box
When you purchase the RIA G.I. 1911 you’ll be given a hard plastic case. This itself is nice, since many major manufacturers (such as Ruger) ship their handguns in disposable cardboard boxes.
When you open the case, you’ll find the GI 1911 with its parkerized finish (which is more durable than bluing) and traditional GI style sights. The grips will be constructed out of wood to enhance its traditional look.
The grip safety is slightly extended in comparison to the original M1911A1 that saw service with the military. This is done to prevent, or at least minimize the chances of, hammer bite.
RIA only ships one magazine with the gun, which admittedly is a bit of a disappointment since most gun manufactures send at least two magazines or sometimes as many as three.
Fit, Finish, and Overall Build Quality
Let’s talk about the fit, finish, and overall build quality of the RIA 1911 in greater detail.
Since this is a 1911 priced in the $400 to $500 range, it’s safe to say that it’s not going to be as nice as higher priced G.I style 1911s such as from Springfield or Colt.
One of the biggest cost savings in the RIA 1911 comes in the form of the parkerized finish. While this finish is admittedly rather dull and crude looking, it actually provides better protection against rust and moisture than standard bluing does. Original M1911A1 pistols used by the military had the parkerized finish as well.
You will also notice some small machining marks on the RIA 1911 as well, but nowhere is the parkerized finish too thin that it would wear off quickly. One place where an RIA GI 1911 will commonly have machining marks is on the curve at the top of the slide.
One issue that many people have with the RIA 1911 is the lack of a bushing to contain the recoil rod and the barrel. What this means is that you will have to disassemble the RIA 1911 in a slightly different manner than you would most other 1911s (you’ll likely need an extra tool such as a paperclip or safety pin in order to field strip it). Thankfully, there are many online instructions and YouTube videos on how to do it, and you can always refer to the RIA 1911 manual too of course.
The sights on the RIA GI 1911 are also minimalistic, which is to be expected on any G.I style of 1911. While these sights are low profile and thus less likely to snag when you draw the weapon, it won’t be as easy to line them up in order to acquire your target. Fortunately, if it’s something that bothers you so much the sights are nothing that a good gunsmith can’t replace for you.
One of the biggest pros of the 1911 is the light and crisp single action trigger pull. While you may suspect that a budget 1911 such as the RIA offering would have a longer and mushier trigger pull for cost savings, this is simply not the case. The RIA G.I 1911 will have a factory trigger pull of just under five pounds on average, though granted it won’t be polished like a higher priced model.
Shooting, Accuracy, and Reliability
Many 1911s require a break-in period in order to start functioning reliably, and the RIA G.I 1911 is not an exception here. A break-in of around two hundred to two hundred and fifty rounds should be sufficient.
As far as long term reliability is concerned, the RIA 1911 functions the most reliably with standard 230 grain FMJ ammunition. It is more finicky with defense hollow point ammunition, so you’ll want to test different loads with yours until you find one it likes.
You will also notice that the slide will slow down as it accumulates more carbon with extended shooting. This is true with most guns, but you’ll still want to take steps to keep the RIA 1911 clean.
As the sights are very minimalistic on the gun, it can be difficult to hit the bullseye beyond the ten to twelve yard line. As recoil is more muffled on 1911’s in general anyway due to the extra weight, this can help aid in accuracy and particularly with follow up shots.
In short, the RIA GI 1911 is an adequate performer on the range, though you should not expect competition grade accuracy out of it either.
Pros and Cons
Here is a final summary of the pros and cons of the Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911:
- It’s a 1911 (and feels like one)
- Classic design and look
- Parkerized finish is rust resistant
- Reliable with standard FMJ ammo (after the standard break-in)
- Ships in a hard plastic case
- Very minimal sights
- May or may not be reliable with JHP ammo (test out different kinds)
- Machining marks are sometimes visible
- Only comes with one magazine
In conclusion, is the RIA G.I. 1911 the best 1911 on the market? Hardly, but for a budget priced 1911 in the $400 to $500 range, it’s about as nice of a 1911 that you can ask for.
4 thoughts on “The Best Budget 1911: Rock Island Armory G.I.”
I’ve been asking around and would really like to get an honest answer as to the interchangeble nature of the Armscor/RIA parts, with comparably-sized 1911’s: will they or won’t they?! The reason why I ask, is that I’d love to take the slide off the RIA BBR 3.10 and slap it on the polymer EAA Witness 1911 frame, which is a slightly longer, much lighter grip frame; but still relatively mil-spec.
I have owned this model for several months now and it functions pretty flawlessly. I have found that it doesn’t like steel cased ammo. It won’t cycle when it’s cold but after you’ve warmed it up with brass cased rounds the steel runs through it like it should. Having said that, just avoid the steel cased ammo altogether and stick with brass or aluminum. Besides, steel casings can damage the extractor and who needs that?
Where can I find the proper screws for the wood grips that came in my box. The ones that are on the black grips do not fit through the holes of the wood grips.
We have owned our RIA for 12 years, and we really like the gun…we have only run fmj through it, clean after each range visit, and needed one repair of the magazine release a while back…elsewise it has been accurate and reliable, fun to shoot…Uncle Sam had me carry a Colt a long, long time ago, and the RIA is a much cheaper good imitation of it…