The Model 1911 pistol will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2011, and it has never been more popular. Colt Firearms first manufactured the result of John Browning’s design genius, and the semi-automatic .45 ACP pistol was adopted by the United States Army on March 29, 1911. Today, Browning’s masterpiece is produced by dozens of firearms manufacturers.
Police officers have a difficult decision when choosing which Model 1911 to spend their hard-earned dollars on. There are .45s on the low price-end of the spectrum that will get the job done, and there are works of art on the high end that can cost a month’s take-home salary. With so many offerings, is there one Model 1911 that can be labeled as the “best bang for the buck”? The Model 1911s of Dan Wesson just may be the perfect choice, offering superior build quality at a reasonable price.
Daniel B. Wesson II was the great-grandson of D.B. Wesson, co-founder with Horace Smith of the famous firearms manufacturer Smith & Wesson. In 1968, Daniel B. Wesson II set out to build an improved version of the double-action revolver. He utilized the unique, modular design of firearms inventor and former Dayton, OH
police officer, Karl Lewis.
Dan Wesson’s .357 Magnum revolvers showcased Lewis’ innovations that set them apart from the models available from Colt, S&W and Ruger. The Dan Wesson Model 12 and Model 15 double-action revolvers sported the unique ability to quickly interchange barrels. This feature allowed the same gun to be used for uniformed duty with a 4-inch barrel, off-duty carry with a 2-inch snub nose, and then as a target/practice/hunting gun using a 6-inch or longer tube. These revolvers were known for both accuracy and ruggedness.Enter the Model 1911 .45
Daniel B. Wesson II passed away in 1978, and the company was taken over by his son and daughter-in-law. They declared bankruptcy in 1995, and the firm was purchased in 1996 by gun enthusiast Bob Serva. The company was moved to Norwich, NY
, and serious money was invested to infuse the manufacturing process with state-of-the-art machining equipment, polishing hardware, CNC lathes and modern lasers. Serva’s intent was to once again produce the Dan Wesson/Karl Lewis design at a high standard that would have made Wesson proud.
In 2000, Serva utilized the company’s superb tools and techniques to begin the manufacture of a Model 1911-style pistol. The police market had seen a move by tactical officers, gang officers, violent crime officers and SWAT back toward the Model 1911. Elite military units have also re-embraced the single-action Model 1911. The consistent single-action trigger pull and .45 caliber knock-down power are the design’s main draws, even after 100 years.
In 2005, CZ-USA acquired Dan Wesson Firearms and further invested in moving forward to make the company a top manufacturer of Model 1911s. Today, Dan Wesson produces a Model 1911 line equal to its superb revolvers. The company’s Web site (www.cz-usa.com
) currently shows five different Model 1911s in .45 ACP, .40 S&W and 10mm.
The Pointman Seven, Valor, SS Custom and RZ-10 are full-size, 5-inch barreled, stainless steel handguns. The fifth model, the Dan Wesson Commander Classic Bobtail (CBob), has a shorter 4 ¼-inch barrel/slide for more convenient concealed carry. The CBob was selected for this test and evaluation as an example of the company’s entire line.
Most police departments choose their officers’ duty weapons for them. While some also mandate a particular off-duty weapon as well, most allow officers to choose their own guns for when they’re not working in uniform. If you’re able to make your own choice for a duty or off-duty weapon, you want the most for your money. The CBob was listed on some Internet sales sites for around $975. This price is very favorable compared to the competition.Custom Features Included
While there are many cocked-and-locked, single-action .45s to choose from, the Dan Wesson offers a lot for your money. The company’s investment in new CNC machines, tooling, fixtures and laser engraving has paid off. The stainless steel frame is hand-fitted to a forged stainless steel slide for a super tight fit. Other pistols rattle when shaken, but the CBob’s silence proves the excellence of its construction. The close tolerances between mating parts, along with the match grade barrel, result in superior accuracy.
The most notable feature of the CBob is its namesake—the Bobtail mainspring housing. This part is manufactured by Ed Brown, one of the world’s finest gunsmiths. He produces his own line of high-end firearms and supplies parts to Dan Wesson. The entire lower rear of the Model 1911 grip is re-contoured to eliminate the sharp grip point.
The Bobtail changes the entire feel of the Model 1911 in your hand. It’s definitely a change for the better, too. The handgun is a pleasure to shoot, and the Bobtail eliminates the sharp corner of the gun’s butt that can “print” under clothing when worn concealed on your hip.
The Bobtail mainspring housing is not a part that can be simply swapped onto a standard Model 1911 frame. The retaining pin is in a higher location, and the gun’s frame must also be shaped to match the Bobtail. I appreciated the look, feel, firing and concealable nature of the Ed Brown part so much that I plan to install one on my old Colt Combat Elite. Ed Brown’s Web site (www.edbrown.com
) sells the Bobtail housing and the jig for cutting your own frame and then drilling the new pin hole.
The CBob also utilizes Ed Brown’s parts bin with its slide stop and memory groove grip safety. The high beavertail grip safety prevents hammer bite to the web of skin between your shooting hand’s thumb and index finger. It also allows a higher hand grip than other styles, which reduces felt recoil and aids in follow-up shot recovery.
The extended thumb safety snicks positively on and off. An ambidextrous thumb safety can be added at extra cost for left-handed shooters or for those who shoot competition, which requires weak-hand firing. For a standard carry gun, I have found that I can manipulate the safety with just my left hand if necessary.
The magazine catch is slightly extended and allows fast ejection as magazines fall free. There is not a magazine safety, so the pistol will fire without its magazine in place. Two eight-round stainless steel magazines came with the pistol, each equipped with positive insertion bumpers. The magazine well is also slightly beveled for easy reloads.
The CBob’s ejector is oversized, causing very positive ejection of spent cases. The internal extractor is a custom tuned, machined piece of stainless steel. The one-piece barrel is match grade, and it locks up with a standard style barrel bushing. The muzzle is recessed and target crowned for accuracy. The company’s concept of not reinventing the wheel—but rather including excellent parts made by others—is furthered by the use of Wolff springs throughout the pistol.
Checkering cut into the front of the grip measures 20 lines per inch and gives a secure purchase in your hand. Occasionally, checkering can be too sharp and cut into your hand, and sometimes it is so minimal that it doesn’t perform its task of keeping the weapon firmly in place during rapid fire. The Dan Wesson’s checkering is like Baby Bear’s bed…it’s just right.
The elongated, round hammer is a snag-free configuration that also provides quick thumb cocking if necessary. The skeletonized aluminum trigger is grooved and features an adjustable over-travel stop. A match grade sear interacts with the trigger’s stainless steel bow, and it broke at just 4 pounds, 2 ounces as measured on my Lyman digital trigger scale. That’s a perfect weight for a carry gun.
The trigger transmits only a slight amount of take up, it provides a super crisp let off, and it follows up with zero over-travel. You know that look that shooters get when they dry fire a gun with a terrific trigger pull? It’s the look where they glance up with a smile after the hammer drops and they say, “Oh, that’s really good!” I saw that look many times while other officers evaluated the CBob.
The Dan Wesson is quite handsome, too. The polished side flats contrast with the otherwise non-glare, matte finish. The angled slide serrations grip your fingers when retracting the slide, and the ejection port is lowered and flared. The laser cut writing on the frame is much sharper and more pleasing to the eye than the roll engraving used by other manufacturers.
The slide is devoid of markings except for the simple and small script laser cut on the left side that reads “Classic.” Traditional double diamond coco-bola handles are shaped to match the Bobtail mainspring housing and showcase stunningly beautiful color and grain. The stainless Allen head grip screws complement the wood handles perfectly.
The CBob comes with outstanding low-profile Trijicon night sights. They feature set screws, so they will never shift accidentally. The steel of the front sight is contoured to match the radius of the slide’s top. While this is a small detail, it exemplifies the custom attention given to Dan Wesson arms. The front sight’s dot is green, while the rear’s two dots are yellow.
It seems much more natural to quickly line up the slightly different colored dots than it does to line up three dots of the same color. The brain seems very capable of selecting the single color of the front sight and automatically placing it between the two contrasting rear dots. That is how it worked for me, and other officers agreed.
When Colt introduced the firing pin block safety on its Model 1911 pistols, the pistols became known as “Series 80” pistols. Colt Model 1911s and their clones without the firing pin block safety are referred to as “pre-Series 80” pistols. The Dan Wesson Model 1911s do not have the firing pin block safety.
When carried in a quality thumb break holster, a cocked-and-locked Model 1911 is quite safe. The trigger is covered by the holster, the thumb safety is on, the grip safety is not depressed, and there is a strap between the hammer and the firing pin. Officers should be aware that dropping a Dan Wesson pistol could result in an unintended discharge.Shooting the CBob
At the range, the Commander Classic Bobtail balanced perfectly in my hand. The barrel/slide has ¾ of an inch lopped off from the standard Model 1911’s 5-inch barrel length. This lightens the gun’s weight from 36 ounces (empty) down to 33 ounces, and its overall length is shorter. Although ¾ of an inch doesn’t seem like much, the CBob’s muzzle won’t poke down into your car’s seat like the 5-inch model. Its shorter muzzle also conceals better under a shirt or jacket when carried in a hip holster.
Some high-end firearms require an extensive break-in period and are almost expected to jam during the first few hundred rounds. With today’s ammunition prices, break-in periods are an expensive proposition.
A piece of paper came in the lockable, hard plastic case that boldly read, “Lubricate liberally during break-in period.” The case has the Dan Wesson logo/signature molded into its top and contains a color instruction manual, barrel bushing wrench (again with the Dan Wesson logo), and even a sticker boasting the logo and brand.
I disassembled the CBob Model 1911 and found that the bushing wrench was not needed. The CBob comes with a standard recoil spring guide—not the more complicated full-length type. I applied gun oil liberally per the instructions. I then proceeded to fire Winchester Silvertip, Winchester SXZ Personal Protection, Hornady XTP and Speer hollowpoints through the Dan Wesson Commander Classic Bobtail without a hitch. Several other brands of full-metal-jacket rounds also cycled and fired flawlessly.
Dan Wesson’s literature states that the guns are test fired for reliability before shipment, and I believe it. While high-end target pistols often require specific ammo, guns carried to save your life should work with a variety of bullet profiles. The CBob performed without error, just the way it should.
The gun hits directly to point of aim from the factory without the need to adjust its sights. The perfect trigger pull aids in accuracy, and the excellent Trijicon dual color (green and yellow) night sights help obliterate the 10-ring until it becomes nothing but a black hole. In the hands of a skilled marksman, the CBob will create a single cloverleaf in the center of the target.
I fired 420 rounds through the CBob without any malfunctions. I shot three “off-duty” police matches, open for guns with 4 ¾-inch or shorter barrels, with the Dan Wesson. I earned my highest score of the year with the CBob. The fact that the .45 recoils more than the two pistols I had previously used (my Glock 23 .40 caliber and my HK P7 9mm) proves just how accurate and easy to shoot the Dan Wesson sidearm is.Best Bang for the Buck
Because only the word “Classic” is laser scripted on the left side of the slide, it’s difficult to immediately tell just who produced this handsome Model 1911. The fit and finish are first rate, and it exudes a high level of class. Officers who examined the CBob peered at the smaller frame markings before they identified it and said, “It’s a Dan Wesson, huh? I didn’t know they made a Model 1911. This really looks and feels impressive. So how does it shoot?” My answer was, “Just as impressive as it looks.”
The CBob’s price tag falls into the middle price range of Model 1911s on the market. Its cost is well within the reach of the average police officer looking for a top-of-the-line Model 1911. Most of us can’t afford carry pistols costing more than $2,000. The Dan Wesson line has custom features, superior hand-fitted parts, inherent accuracy and excellent functionality. The CBob definitely qualifies as the “best bang for your buck.”Steve Tracy is a 22-year police veteran with 20 years of experience as a firearms instructor. He is also an instructor for tactical rifles, use of force, less-than-lethal force and scenario-based training. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.