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Rock Island Armory 1911A1

Why a Rock Island?

Let’s face it — the gun reviewed here isn’t particularly sexy. There’s no big marketing push, so there are no ads in magazines, and the night-time gun-review types on TV aren’t featuring it.  What we’re talking about it a budget gun with a budget price and very few frills.

So why review it?  Because I run THR, and we frequently see posts by users asking for an “affordable” 1911 that they can buy in order to evaluate the platform.  RIA is one of the most affordable options out there, is widely available, and as such is often recommended to people just starting with the 1911 platform.

The Gun

The gun being reviewed is a Rock Island Armory 1911A1-FS.  This is one step above the baseline gun — the additional $50 gets you Novak-style sights, an ambidextrous safety, a beaver tail safety, and a few other small touches that are probably worth the upgrade price.  The price wasn’t bad at all – my local gunshop had this in stock and sold it to me for $529.  If you’ve got someone to do your transfers for free then you can find this for ~ $420 online.

Here’s what it looked like out of the box:


The big thing to note here is the grips — I won’t call them “huge,” but they are the thickest grips I’ve seen on a 1911.  One of the other reviewers I took to Gunsite guessed that this is the blank that checked grips are made from, and as such has a lot more material than one would expect.  Regardless, I replaced them with thin grips while at Gunsite, and you can see the difference between the two here:

 

Thin grips on the left, versus the stock grips on the right.

I was quite pleased with the smaller grips, but then I tend to prefer thin grips and single-stack magazines anyway.  If you are more tolerant of wider pistols then you might not have the same complaint.

The Goals of the Test

I was trying to answer this question: does RIA make a pistol that’s worth recommending to shooters on a budget?  Discussions on budget 1911′s tend to offer mixed opinions ranging from “anything that costs less than $1,200 will never feed properly,” to “the RIA and other guns from the Philippines are fine guns,” all the way to “no 1911 will never run reliably, especially when dirty.”

So the test was this: use the gun for Gunsite’s 250 course, don’t clean it, and see how it performs.

Reliability

This was the part of the test I was most interested in.  How will one of the least inexpensive 1911′s on the market hold up to over 1,000 rounds in a week without being cleaned?  The answer was “much better than I expected based on what I’ve read about the platform.”   The maintenance routine looked something like this:

  • Shoot 50 rounds before Gunsite to make sure everything feeds properly.
  • Shoot an additional 200 rounds on Monday.  Clean the gun Monday night because the cleaning habit is hard to break.
  • Shoot an additional 1,200 rounds over the rest of the week, lubing the pistol a bit on Thursday night because I couldn’t stand not to (6 drops of CLP total).

That’s as close as I can remember getting to running a dirty weapon, but the RIA didn’t seem to care at all.  I had two malfunctions the entire time.  Both were from short-stroking the slide — once because I was working on a new way of manipulating the weapon while under stress, and the second time was at night (again) performing new procedures while (again) under stress.

The pistol had no identifiable reliability issues the entire week.

Not bad for a cheap 1911.

Ergonomics

Here is where we see some of the trade-offs involved in choosing a lower-priced 1911.  The overall fit of the gun was decent, but not nearly on the same level as some of the other pistols on the course.

Trigger

There isn’t much to be critical of here.  The trigger was crisp, if a little heavy at a measured 5 pounds.  The on-site Gunsmith commented that trigger work wouldn’t make the trigger any better, but he was able to adjust the sear spring down to 4 pounds in about three minutes.

Sights

The sights were Novak style.  The gun shot point of aim and I have no complaints — I had a very clear picture even during night shooting with the stock sights, and (unlike the Kimber I tried on the first day) I didn’t tear my hand open while working the slide as forcefully as we were taught to do.

The sights performed well. The safety shown here was installed at Gunsite to replace the stock ambidexterous safety.

 

 

Safety

In a word, “ouch.”  The ambidextrous safety that came from the factory was easy to manipulate and engaged cleanly, but when shooting 200 rounds per day the sharpness of the safety was enough to tear into the web of my hand, so I completed the course using a mixture of surgical tape, moleskin, and bandaids on the web of my hand.

The stock ambidextrous safety engaged cleanly and worked well, but was a bit rough for extended shooting in a short period of time.

I had the on-site gunsmith replace this safety with a Gunsite lowered safety and was much happier.

Build Quality:

The build quality was surprisingly good — the Gunsite gunsmith was even impressed.  I don’t know how to say this other than “the parts fit together well.”  One item of note: if you look at the photo of the safety above, you can see the pin on the front of the safety.  When I swapped the ambi safety for a single-sided the gunsmith ground that pin down so it would fit flush and noted that the steel was stainless rather than something less expensive.  Just like  on the higher-end brands.

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.

Holster wear on the RIA finish.

 

I’m not experienced enough with holsters to say whether this is a Kydex issue or an issue with the finish from the factory, but you should be aware of it if you’re planning on using a Kydex holster.  The following photo is from an STI Trojan that was taken to Gunsite as well.  It saw about 80% of the use that the Rock Island did, but the finish seemed to wear quite a lot less.  It’s still noticable, but not nearly as much.

Holster wear on the STI. Still noticeable, but the finish seemed to wear better. Of course, the cost of the STI is 2-3 times higher than the RIA.

Features

At the price level, this pistol is quite well featured.  The safety was set up so that left-handed and right-handed shooters could manipulate it.  The sights were non-adjustable, but this is a good thing for a defensive firearm in my view.  The beavertail safety is sufficient and reasonably comfortable as well.

Conclusion: would I recommend this to someone looking for a first 1911?

Absolutely.  This was reliable, accurate, reasonably full featured, affordable, and only became uncomfortable with extended shooting — much more than casual shooters are likely to engage in.  The changes I felt the need to make (grips and safety) cost about $140 in parts and labor, which still makes this considerably cheaper than the STI Trojan we brought along.  Now, it’s not as nice a gun, but if you’re looking for a reliable and affordable 1911 I have no qualms with recommending this pistol.

Except possibly one.  There is a question as to whether I got lucky with this gun or not.  If I was buying an Ed Brown or a Wilson 1911 I would have the expectation that every gun that leaves the factory meets their quality standards.  With a gun in the $400-500 range I’d expect that many manufacturers would leave the more difficult quality control to the buyer, with the expectation that the gun would simply be returned under warranty if it wasn’t up to par.  This is similar to the expectations one might have when comparing a two-star hotel to a five-star hotel — the the latter case you’re paying to make sure the towels have no holes, the TV remote works, the fridge is plugged in, and so on.  With the two-star these failures aren’t a big deal, and you’re supposed to call and get the problems fixed.  It’s about expectations.

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29 Responses to "Rock Island Armory 1911A1"

  1. [...] 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 [...]

  2. john says:

    I have an RIA .45 compact model 1911. I have sent over 2500 rounds down the tube and have yet to have a single gun related malfunction. I use this as my concealed carry weapon and I absolutely live it. I actually prefer this over my Colt 1911-A1 officers acp. The only change I made to the gun is the addition of a set if Pachmyr combat grips. Aside from my very, very rare Singer manufactured Colt 1911-A1 with original wooden shipping crate and holster /w Web belt and magazine pouches, the RIA pistol is by far my favorite. I would happily recommend this gun to anyone as a first piece or as an inexpensive carry weapon.

  3. Rick says:

    getting the itch to use mine, I got mine yesterday (my first 1911)
    and need time to go get ammo and get to the range, I will report back when I have shot a few hundred rounds from it

  4. taylor says:

    i have the base model 1911 by ria. i have not had a single issue with the gun. i agree its not super pretty but it does the job and does it well.

  5. Kurtis says:

    I picked up my RIA 1911 about a weeek ago, the standard, bare bones model. The only malfunction i had, was the slide short-stroked a couple of times. Also, the stock grips saftey cut into hand a little bit, other than that, i had a blast with this gun.

  6. scott says:

    i have officers model gi sites take a while to get use to i did ad ct grips only 179 at cdnnsports.com

  7. Jim says:

    I bought my RIA 1911A1 at a local gun show sfter hearing and reading about the weapon. Everything that I had heard was all good, and the price was definitely in the right ballpark. I got the “Tactical” model which has a few perks that the mil spec model doesn’t.

    Just had an opportunity this past Saturday to take it out and put a few rounds down range. I was VERY pleasently surprised. The weapon was very easy to handle and shot pretty tight groups. Even my youngest son (who this was only his second time on the range) was shooting some pretty good groups.

    There was not a lot of play in the trigger (which I liked) which I think contributed to the weapon’s accuracy. Honestly, I don’t think you could jerk this trigger if your life depended on it. About the only real problem that I had with the weapon was that the slide did not lock back after the magazine was empty evey time. If is continues, I’ll consult a gunsmith and/or the company.

    The ambidextrous safety is nice (I’m a lefty, but I shoot righty). Didn’t run into any issues with sharp edges like other folks did, so I don’t know if maybe its just a manufacturing flaw.

    The case the weapon came in was pretty cheap, but hey…bargain prices means they have to scimp somewhere (and it wasn’t in the weapon itself). I did not get an owner’s manual with the weapon (had to download it from the internet), and it did not come with a spent shell casing for ballistics like all other weapons come with these days.

    All-in-all…a very very nice weapon! I definitely recommend it as a handgun for the novice shooter as well as the experienced shooter. Happy shooting folks!!!

    1. BK says:

      Jim — Try a quality magazine for the slide lock prob. before you go the g-smith or factory route

    2. Rich Arland says:

      Jim;

      I agree with BK….I have purchased three Chip McCormick mags and have never had a “last-round-lock-back” problem. Here in Georgia they cost about $20+ but are worth the money. Midway USA sells CMC Mag’s base pads w/screws for the bottoms of these high quality mags, making them a truly outstanding 8 rd mag.

      I have the standard 1911-A1 model and have added the ambi-safety, combat trigger, and extended slide release (all from Wilson Combat). I could not ask for a better full sized .45 ACP. Never could understand folks who would spend $1500-$2000+ for a carry gun. My RIA Standard Model 1911-A1 is an outstanding value for money. Great you have your son shooting at a young age.

  8. Sumter Davis says:

    I have a 38 super I put a 9mm barrel from Midway in a 52 dollar, true drop in fit.This bargain gun now performs flawlessly with any ammo using stock springs.I cleaned and polished the stock trigger parts and lightened the trigger pull to 3.5lbs.I bought the gun as a beater so as to save wear on my considerably more expensive gun. I love the $368 price I cant beat this gun as I now can use cheap ammo.After this experience I bought a 45 caliber Ill probably buy a caliber change barrel for it also.I wish I could find adjustable target sights that don’t require milling.Great buy excellent value.

  9. Bee says:

    can I replace rock island armory 2011 model’s grips with colt 1911? It’s can substitute or not? thanks

    1. Derek Zeanah says:

      I’m pretty sure the answer is going to be “no” to that one. All of the high-cap 1911′s I’ve seen have very narrow grips so as to keep the grip size small. None that I’ve seen are the same size/shape as 1911 grips.

  10. Major Habu says:

    I just picked up my 1911 GI RIA .45 ACP today from my local gun shop. I bought it for one reason: I am taking a VoEd gunsmithing course and need a “project pistol” and I figured that this would be an ideal platform for me to become proficient in upgrading the 1911. From everything I have read, including comments/reviews here on THR, I feel that I made a correct and very economic choice. My on pressing question: some of the “upgrades” I have in mind doing are directly out of Brownells. Will the triggers, extended beaver tail, skeleton hammer, adjustable sights and upgrades like this be directly replaceable in the RIA 1911? OR, would the better solution be to contact RIA and get their parts from the GI Tac model and perform the mods in this fashion?

    Tnx

  11. mec says:

    There is some hope that the quality control is consistently high. The Tuason family is very proud of their family legacy. They maintain a U.S presence in Parump Nevada and fully warrant the products for life. I shot several Rock Island/ Armscor pistols at a media conference and all worked perfectly.

  12. mec says:

    Kydex is amazingly “adept” in removing finish from handguns. It eats up blue and the bake on gunkote in common use now.

  13. rodger treat says:

    i purchased an RIA 3 days ago, i carried a true colt 1911 a1 when i served in the us army, and to be honest my RIA is or to me seems to handle better, shoot straighter and just all around feels better, i havnt had one bad issue with this hand gun, but ive only shot 300 rounds through it, im really impressed, i was a little worried because of the price, $399.99 brand new from my local gun shop. any one looking for a well made and all around usfull 1911 and arent rich, buy a RIA youll be glad you did, i am

  14. Dan says:

    I bought the Rock Island 1911 Tactical for my 50th birthday last month. 400 rounds later of just about any ammo you can buy, not one single hiccup. This is my first 1911. I carry a Glock Model 22 on duty and I gotta say my Rock shoots better than the Glock. I absolutely love this gun. I put some Hogue rubber checkered grips and it thinned the gun out quite nicely. The gun came with a decent case, spent cartridge and DVD about the company and how to break down and clean the gun. Overall, I am very happy I bought my Rock Island 1911.

  15. Brian Connelly says:

    I have had a Rock Island Compact 1911 for over 2 years now, shoot it at the very least once a month, and have kept records on it when I do shoot it and it is now at 3500 rounds through it, I have had not one single issue with it, I did though customize it a bit to my liking, opted for a heavier recoil spring, added a mainspring housing with a built in magwell, and changed the trigger to a Nighthawk Custom….But all these changes were just to modify it to my liking not because it actually needed any of it. Its a great pistol, the company produces great quality weapons consistently, and they back their weapons with a lifetime guarantee no questions asked. Its hard to beat that. I know around 20 people that own Rock Island products, one had an issue with his, and it was dealt with immediately and they replaced the pistol for him. I recommend these to everyone I know. Is it a Kimber…..No but its a great 1911

  16. Edward P says:

    I bought a USED bare bones, full size model from my reputable local gun store. Paid $389 for it and it was in great condition. Took it to the range and it didn’t do well. The rounds kept nosediving and had all kinds of feeding issues. Since it was used, I knew it could’ve been anything. I called RIA, and they told me that their weapons have a lifetime warranty and it follows the gun. Not the owner. They emailed me a FedEx label and they had it for about 3 weeks. I got it back with a new recoil spring, tuned, cleaned, sighted, with a new free magazine, and with a polished feed ramp and barrel. All of this was FREE. Took it to the range and it had zero issues. Now it will even fire hollow points and wadcutters as well. I have to congratulate and praise RIA for EXCEPTIONAL customer service. My next handgun purchase will be a new RIA 1911 GI compact. When combining price, performance, and customer service, you can’t go wrong!

  17. Tim says:

    I just got mine this weekend. I went to the range Monday afternoon and put about 50 rounds through it. No problems with the weapon at all. I do want to change the trigger to a smoother surface as it left my finger sore after the 50 rounds. I want to change out the grips, but I prefer the thicker wooden ones. I got the plastic ones on mine.

  18. Charles says:

    I have the base model RIA .45 and I absolutely enjoy it. Reliable , and inexpensive.

  19. Bill says:

    Just bought my RIA 1911A1 FS today
    After a good cleaning I shot about 60 rounds and was very happy with results. First ten rounds was to check accuracy. The gun held a two inch group at 10 yards. The next 50 rounds I decided to check the reliability. I loaded the 8 round mag and fired as fast as I could squeeze the trigger stopping only long enough to reload mag, this was done with zero malfunctions. Trigger is crisp with about a 4 lbs pull. If i change anything it will be the grip saftey,beaver tail digs into the hand a little. For a 500.00 budget gun I am very happy. To answer question about part interchangeability I took alot of parts off my Kimber 1911 just to answer that question for myself and everything I tried fit and functioned.

  20. gabriel says:

    had one of these in a .45 with a crimson trace grip laser never failed me great gun!

  21. LouisianaMan says:

    My base GI version worried me at first due to a lot of FTF malfunctions. I took the manual at its word, however, and it specifies that the gun has a 500-round break-in period. By 500 or a few more, it was running like a champ, and hasn’t malfunctioned in 400-500 rounds since then, other than the slide failing to lock back on three mags that have a convex magazine follower. 4-5 other makes of mag don’t have this problem whatsoever.

    In retrospect, most of the FTF’s were probably caused by the fact that I was shooting mostly reloads with a flat-nosed Lee 230g cast bullet, and subsequent chronography showed that my VV N310 powder charge was much weaker and less consistent than I had imagined, as in 620-740 fps or thereabouts. So, light load, plus very blunt bullet with tacky-feeling tumble lube, probably combined low slide velocity with a sticky, blunt bullet that was a challenge to chamber. Thus, a failure to go into battery that was routinely corrected by pressing lightly against the rear of the slide.

    It’s since been flawless with a mixture of Rem/UMC 230g JHP, 230g Fedingchester ball, 200g and 230g handloaded XTP’s, and even the light cast bullet load that likely extended the break-in process in the first place.

    Only modifications were (1) dropping in a curved mainspring housing a friend gave me–unknown make, but a drop-in fit; (2) replacing OEM grips with EBay checkered grips that I sanded down to eliminate abrasions from the sharp checkering, especially in the little dished-out bottom corner of the grips. Rubbed in a bit of Ballistol and the grips look & feel fine.

    Bottom line: I’m very happy having this gun and a batch of loaded mags on the nightstand. I look forward to buying a Compact model as a primary choice in my carry rotation. I wanted a close copy of the 1944 Remington-Rand I carried for 5 years in Germany, and that’s what this RIA has given me. It always works, it hits where I look, and that’s why I have it. No offense to the expensive, highly-customized 1911′s that are de rigeur these days, but I wouldn’t replace my RIA with any other 1911 as a fighting handgun.

  22. southtxcowboy says:

    Finally bought my first 1911 always wanted one but most are high priced. Found a RIA 1911 Tactical at a local gun shop priced well under$450.00, can’t wait for weekend to get here and visit the range.

  23. Dave Bolin says:

    I’ve been a happy Rock shooter for about eight months now. My 1911A1 FS has been reliable, accurate, and comfortable to shoot. Two FTE’s in the first three mags fired and not one malfunction since! It has impressed me enough that I had no qualms about buying a new .22 TCM/9 mm 2011 double-stack pistol from Rock Island. You can pay more for a 1911 but you can’t find a better one to shoot.

    1. southtxcowboy says:

      I just bought a RIA 1911 Tactical waiting for the weekend to visit range. Can’t wait to shoot my first ever owned 1911. I’ve heard and read good reviews on RIA reliability.

  24. Ed W says:

    I’ve put about 500 rounds through my base model RIA 1911 in 45ACP so far, with zero mals and I’ve been very ‘relaxed’ about cleaning regimes. It is better with Pachmayr grips (the stock ones were a bit sharp edged) and a lot easier to make follow-up shots quickly because of the finger grips on the front strap. It seems to handle reloads well, including some semi-wadcutters I was a little fearful about running through it. Overall, this is a fine example of a classic 1911 and it manages to do precisely what was originally intended from this platform – it throws 45′s down range reliably. I’ve got a few other 1911′s in my stable, and this one might be a little less ergonomic than my Kimber custom for example, but it’s just as accurate in the hands of someone who’s not a picky trigger nut (read ‘someone who needs a light trigger with glass-rod break to compensate for lack of self control’), and just as reliable as the other so far (certainly more so in early-life than the others). Incidentally, I have a great fondness for Chip McCormick mags, but I’ve used the stock mag with this pistol so far and it seems to work very well. I’ll fill up a few Chip mags and try them out too, but 100% reliability seems pretty telling so far!

    Improvements? Gips are a must (cheap), extended slide release will be nice (coming soon) and a dab of sight paint front and rear to increase target acquisition is about all I can imagine doing to this, other than the usual buff job on the ramp and slide when it’s raining outside and I’m bored, but it seems to be pretty well finished there too. There I was hoping for a project, and I got a ‘Rock’ solid concealed carry tool instead, I guess I’ll have to buy another just to make sure the QC is consistent. ;)

  25. aris angeles says:

    bhutz angeles ( philippines )

    yes! I agree with guys.. I bought an armscor 1911 a1 tactical series last february 2012 and already test it to the range and found out that this gun is accurate, reliable and easy to handle. performance is good and i think you can compare it to glock and other brand. thanks to tuazon family who manufactured inexpensive but reliable guns…

    proudly philippine made… mabuhay armscor !!!!!