I’m not a big 1911 fan these days, but back in the day, I spouted Fudd lore with the best of them. I needed a .45 ACP, but I was also quite young and underage at the time. I must have made enough of a stink because my Dad ended up buying me this Rock Island Armory GI 1911 for my 16th birthday.
Now, 13 years later I still own that first centerfire handgun of mine and if there was ever a gun I could review after lots and lots of use, it’d be this one. Not only was it my first centerfire handgun, for some time it was my only centerfire handgun.
As a kid, I worked for my dad and a lot of my money went directly into .45 ACP, 7.62×39, and .22LR ammunition. I shot a ton and even got into bowling pin shoots at a local range where I burned through most of my summer paychecks in ammo and range fees.
I eventually progressed from being a broke teen to a broke grown-up in the Marine Corps. I couldn’t afford new guns, but I could afford ammo for the ones I owned and bought what I could.
I shot as often as possible at a local indoor range and became rather sharp with my old 1911. Before we dive too deep into the review let’s talk about what Rock Island Armory defines as a GI 1911.
The Joy of Minimalism
The Rock Island Armory GI Standard 1911 is a simple gun, meant to evoke the original Browning design and the guns issued to American soldiers for decades. Of course, it’s chambered in .45 ACP as God and JMB intended.
My RIA GI Standard 1911 came with one 8-round Mec-Gar magazine. The RIA GI 1911 is about as simple as it gets. You could call it a replica of early military-issue 1911s, but it’s certainly no authentic clone of those old guns. It is similar, though, in terms of being bare bones and basic.
The gun lacks ambidextrous safeties, any oversized this, or enlarged that. It sports a simple manual safety, a simple grip safety, a standard size beavertail, and just about the most rudimentary sights out there.
The gun also came with non-checkered wood grips, but in years of rough and tumble abuse, they became quite ugly and were replaced.
Over my years of ownership, this gun has traveled extensively, been tossed around, beaten up, and shot a metric ton. And it’s held together through thick and thin. Something can certainly be said for the elegance of simplicity.
Outside of the grips (which were still functional) I’ve never replaced a single part on the pistol. The finish is quite roughed up, but I prefer to think of it as well-loved.
The 1911 has extremely functional ergonomics. A svelte, thin grip, an easy-to-reach magazine release and a very simple and effective safety.
The beavertail allows for a bit of leverage, as well as a high and tight grip on the gun. The safety acts as a convenient shelf for my thumb and JMB’s 1911 is one of the few guns where my long, fat thumbs don’t prevent the slide from locking back.
The RIA GI Standard slide has a simple set of rear serrations and they are somewhat shallow. They work, but I wouldn’t want to use them with a compromised grip.
After a ton of use over the years, the slide operates oh-so-smoothly. It’s as if it’s on ball bearings.
My only ergonomic complaint would that the beavertail feels sharp and pokes and prods with every round fired. I have a healthy amount of callous built up from years of shooting this gun (and others), but I still feel the sting when I’m shooting the weapon for an extended period of time.
Should guns have a break-in period? I’ve experienced it with semi-auto shotguns, and this is the only handgun I’ve ever experienced the need to break in.
I remember a lot of frustration when I was younger with this gun. It had a major issue returning fully to battery. Regardless of how I oiled it or how often I cleaned it, there were always issues. I’d have to manually push the slide the last 1/2 inch with my thumb at least once a magazine.
I remember the RSO of our bowling pin shoots once asked me who made it after the third issue it had mid-match. I told him and he shook his head and mentioned something about Colts and foreign guns. Then, one day, my 1911 it stopped failing and just worked.
I changed nothing and it has fed reliably from there on out. That being said the GI Standard 1911 seems to be a gun that likes to run wet so I ensure it’s well lubed before range time. It also tends to be picky about ammo and likes the 230-grain variety of .45 ACP. And don’t you dare mention semi-wadcutters.
Because of that, it’s not a gun I’d use for defensive purposes. It’s a range gun through and through.
Have Rock Island Armory 1911s improved in the intervening years? Absolutely. I also own a 22 TCM and 10mm Model and they both ran like champs from day one. And the newest GI models I’ve seen look to have improved greatly, at least on the outside.
Regardless of the early problems I had, the gun is still a lot of fun to shoot. It transports you back to a time when handguns were much simpler in design. Take, for instance, the sights. The rear sight is a piece of rectangular metal with a small notch and the front sight is a small oval cut in half. They are very small.
That said, the Rock Island Armory GI 1911 is plenty accurate. At 25 yards I can always place round after round into the vital zone of a headshot target. I hated the small sights at first but realize now they’ve forced me to learn front sight focus.
As for the trigger, 1911 triggers are hard to screw up and the Rock Island Armory trigger is an excellent trigger overall.
It has a short and smooth pull and the reset is downright delightful. One of the primary advantages of the 1911 is it’s a wonderfully smooth, crisp trigger. RIA’s GI Standard 1911 is no exception.
Recoil on this 2.8 pound government size gun is a shove rather than a snap. That’s one of the interesting things about these .45 ACP guns. They makes it easy to shoot, even for a 16-year-old who was just learning how to shoot real handguns.
The Rock Island Armory GI 1911 is a smooth-shooting gun that’s fun to take to the range. It’s more than accurate enough, although it’s not particularly fast and accurate. If you want to be precise the small, low-profile sights mean every shot requires a good sight picture, which takes a moment to acquire.
The GI 1911 is an excellent gun if your goal is to have a gun that evokes what the troops had to use for decades in both war and peacetime. It’s a look back in time and shows how combat handguns have evolved over time. The Rock Island Armory Standard model is an affordable 1911.
Just be sure to feed it the ammo it likes. This one wouldn’t be my first choice for home defense, concealed carry, or any other task beyond enjoying some quality time at the range.
Specifications: Rock Island Armory GI Series 1911
Caliber: 45 ACP
Capacity: 8 Rounds
Barrel Length: 5 Inches
Overall Length: 8.56 inches
Height: 5.5 Inches
Weight: 2.84 pounds loaded
MSRP: $537 for the current model of this gun (about $400 retail)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style * * *
This is your basic, garden variety 1911. The greyish finish isn’t smooth or especially good looking, and mine has taken a beating since I’ve owned it. As a GI 1911, it has naturally excellent styling overall.The 1911 frame is an American classic that has its own undeniable style.
Customization * * * * *
It’s a 45 ACP 1911 so if you want to change anything or everything on it you can. There’s no rail on this model, but it’s still a 1911. Then again, why would you go crazy with a $400 1911? I don’t know, but hey, you can if you want to.
Reliability * * 1/2
The gun had a heavy break-in period, and it’s picky about ammo. Beyond that, the gun also likes to be well-lubed and kept clean. If you use the right ammo and keep it wet and clean, this gun runs fine. However, that does knock off some reliability points for sure.
Accuracy * * *
If I swapped the sights out, I could do a better with this gun when it comes to combining speed and accuracy. If you take your time and focus you can be accurate enough.
Overall * * *
The Rock Island Armory GI 1911 is a great range gun. It’s a gun I still have fun shooting to this day and I tried to leave out any affection or bias I have towards the gun and our years together. It’s far from perfect but it’s a gun I still enjoy regardless.