Why an American Classic?
I believe a Commander-sized handgun is a terrific compromise between the often opposing needs of concealing well and shooting well, being compact enough to conceal, but large enough for accurate shots. The American Classic Commander is one of a couple of Philippine-made guns the Shooting Reviews staff wanted to review, the other being a Rock Island Armory full-sized 1911. There are many higher-end 1911s; we wanted to see if a budget shooter could acceptably compete.
The gun being reviewed is an American Classics 1911 Commander, model ACC45B. It wasn’t an expensive-looking pistol, with workmanlike bluing and reasonably attractive diamond checkered grips, but it didn’t have the clunky, cast-metal appearance the “bargain” alloy guns have. I would describe it as looking functional and sturdy. The trigger pull was stiff, and had some creep, but seemed adequate enough.
Here’s what it looked like out of the box:
Can one of the least expensive 1911 handguns acceptably stand up to several days or a week’s worth of heavy shooting? The Gunsite 250 course seemed a good balance between the “light” reviews that just fire a few rounds and the opposite, extreme! tests that include deliberately dragging a firearm through dirt or mud. I planned to see how the cheap import compared to much more expensive 1911s, including a similar-sized polymer-framed piece from upper-end manufacturer STI. It would be an enlightening, and sometimes painful, lesson.
I make a habit of giving at least a cursory cleaning to every firearm after shooting. I intended to shoot the American Classic with no cleaning during the test period. 50 rounds were fired before coming to Gunsite, with malfunctions noted when fully loaded magazines were used. The gun was then cleaned and lubed.
I began shooting the American Classic on Tuesday, the first full day of shooting at Gunsite. A few malfunctions during the 200 (some say 500) rounds break-in period is expected, but I had at least 10 malfunctions during the approximately 165 rounds fired before lunch. When I talked it over with Gunsite gunsmith Cory Trapp, I described the malfunctions, which usually seemed to be a failure of the slide to go fully into battery that were solved by the smack in tap, rack, bang. Cory buffed the feed ramp, and I took the Commander back after lunch.
About another 85 rounds were fired after lunch. The ramp buffing did seem to have helped somewhat, as I only had 2 more malfunctions, which was a dramatic improvement! I did not apply any lubrication that night, or clean the weapon. I fired another 200 rounds Wednesday, with 2 more malfunctions. On Thursday, I only used the American Classic during the night fire exercise. I am willing to believe that limp-wristing may have been a factor in the malfunctions I experienced during the night fire, as course participants used several different flashlight holds as they addressed their targets. The lack of the usual firm two-handed grip probably contributed to the incredible 16 malfunctions I experienced during the 70 rounds fired.
I’m still seeing issues with this pistol. Without fail, the second round loaded from any of the magazines we tested would fail to chamber properly, like this:
Slapping the base of the grip causes the pistol to go into battery consistently, but the problem still exists. Reading John’s review, I’m inclined to think that slapping the magazine to re-seat it was done so often that it became an issue of muscle memory — I thought his malfunctions with this pistol were much worse than he reported here.- Derek
The trigger was hard, and crunchy. It worked well enough at close range, but certainly contributed to less accuracy as the line of shooters moved further away from our targets.
There were some sharp edges on the Commander which were not very noticeable until a few magazines’ worth of ammunition had been fired. The sharp edge on the left side of the frame, at the top of the grip safety, was especially painful. I had a large hole at the base of my thumb before the end of my first full day of shooting the American Classic. Liquid bandage, bandaids, and sometimes, medical tape were used to protect and cushion the area, and I even used liquid bandage to cover the entire area. At lunch on my second day of shooting, I had Cory dehorn the grip, but there was only so much he could do.
The sights were Novak style, with small white dots. Point of impact was acceptably close to point of aim with the Aguila FMJ used for most of the class. The slide was worked with the off-hand palm down, towards the back of the slide. I noticed no abrasion resulting from rapid manipulation of the slide during loading and the malfunction-clearing I performed.
The build quality looked acceptable to me, though not as good as the RIA tested. The big problems were the malfunctions and the sharp edges on the grip. I was drawing from a Kydex holster throughout the week, and there was some resulting wear on the finish. It’s blued, so that’s to be expected, but the wear was higher than on an STI we brought along to review as well.
The Final Word
After some work, the American Classic became considerably more reliable, but it still had sharp edges that became painful with any amount of shooting. The trigger was difficult to use, and when not held firmly with two hands, it was not reliable at all. Is the American Classic Commander worth the cost as an entry-level piece? Not in my opinion. For the cost of making the American Classic actually useful, a better 1911 could be purchased. If quality protection on a budget is the main goal, I’d say, “Get a Glock”, as I have fired many accurate rounds from Glocks without the reliability issues or pain shooting the American Classic caused. Other good options in the same price range might be the Smith and Wesson M&P, or Springfield XD. Any of these handguns should be expected to be “good to go” out of the box, without additional modifications or smithing required.