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Kimber SIS Custom RL

Several specialized law enforcement teams and elite military units have chosen John Browning’s Model 1911 pistol as their best choice for a holstered sidearm. The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team and SWAT, the Marine Corps Special Operations Command Detachment and other elite military units are either issued a 1911 pistol or allowed to choose one on their own. Many law enforcement and military professionals view the “cocked and locked” pistol as the better choice over conventional double action semi-autos.

From the first shot to the last, the big pistol carried in “Condition 1” offers consistent shot placement due to its single action-only trigger pull. Double action triggers require an officer to transition from a long first shot pull, to a shorter and lighter pull for follow up rounds. Despite regular training, it is still more difficult to master two trigger pulls rather than just one. A quality 1911 can provide a combat trigger pull with little take up and zero over-travel.

So many manufacturers offer 1911 pistols today that it can be rather difficult to wade through the plentiful choices. There are high-end custom guns that sell for thousands of dollars, and there are low-end “Plain Jane” versions that often serve only as a foundation for a custom build-up. In the middle ground, however, there are excellent pistols for which the police firearms enthusiast may be willing to ante up a little extra overtime cash. While it’s great to have choices, deciding which brand to spend your hard-earned money on is not always an easy matter.

Kimber is a premier manufacturer of American-made 1911 pistols. Their semi-automatics fall into the middle ground of the 1911 realm. Their current catalog offers a staggering number of options to choose from, including more than 100 versions of its 1911 pistol. They usually sell in the $900 to $1,500 price range, so they are definitely not an entry level offering. However, they’re still less expensive than guns created by expensive gunsmiths. With Kimber, you get features more often found on custom-made pieces, but at a cost made more affordable by mass production.

Specifically Designed for Police Use

The Los Angeles Police Department’s SWAT chose the Kimber 1911 out of five different 1911 pistols tested by its elite unit. The LAPD Special Investigation Section (SIS) is a specialized, plainclothes surveillance team. After SWAT chose their sidearms, the SIS also submitted a request to Kimber with its own specifications for a special fighting 1911 .45 handgun. The result is one of Kimber’s most unique new models, the SIS, aptly named after the police unit that helped to create it.

The most obvious characteristic that differentiates this model from the rest of the Kimber line is the cocking slide serrations cut in the shape of the actual SIS acronym. Police agencies have a long tradition of adding their department initials or logos to mass-produced firearms as a matter of identification and inventory, but the Kimber SIS is the first to incorporate a police unit’s name in the actual physical design of the gun. On the cop “cool meter,” this pistol blows the needle right off the scale.

Like most of Kimber’s 1911 pistols, the SIS is offered in three sizes. The full-sized model is called the Custom and sports a five-inch barrel. The Pro model has a shorter four-inch barrel but retains the full-sized frame and grip. The Ultra has the shortest barrel measuring just three inches, and its matching shortened grip makes it ideal for concealed carry.

The Compact model, with four-inch barrel and shortened grip, is not offered in the SIS style but is available on other Kimber pistols. There are also Custom SIS and Pro SIS pistol versions that come with a Picatinny frame rail for mounting tactical lights and lasers. You can see why Kimber’s catalog is so thick—that’s five various options for the SIS model alone.

All current Kimber models carry the Roman numeral II after their name. This designation identifies the 1911s as having a firing pin block safety. These pistols will not fire if they are dropped accidentally. Only purposeful trigger movement allows the firing pin block to be deactivated so the firing pin can move forward and strike a primer.

While there are many 1911 pistols available in today’s market, Kimber offers one of the most extensive lines. Its pistol frames are available in your choice of carbon steel, stainless steel or aluminum. Regardless of which material is used, all Kimber frames are forged rather than cast. The SIS helps tame the .45’s recoil with its all-stainless-steel frame and slide, which is further coated with a tough, non-reflective finish called Gray Kimpro II.

Exclusive SIS Features

Several features are specific to the SIS model. The Kimber Service Melt™ is mandated because SIS officers are plainclothes and carry their sidearms concealed. All of the sharp edges are melted into curved contours. The SIS slides into the waistband of your jeans without the melted edges cutting and fraying the top of your pants. The gun also presents from a draw without snagging. A flat-topped sight plane is retained, and the Kimpro II non-glare surface keeps light reflection to a minimum.

If an officer loses the use of one arm for any reason (while using a shield, dragging another officer to safety, or becoming wounded), the ambidextrous and extended thumb safety and rear night sights cocking shoulder allow all weapon functions to be accomplished with one hand. The rear sight was specifically designed so it can be hooked on a belt, holster, table or any other fixed edge to rack the slide and cock the hammer. LAPD’s Special Investigation Section wanted this style of rear sight instead of the more common wedge-shaped and concealable rear sight. These functional sights are supplied by Meprolight and include bright tritium inserts for superior low light visibility.

A lightweight hammer speeds lock time and improves accuracy, according to Kimber. The beavertail grip safety is a must on any fighting .45 1911, and the SISs can help spread recoil out over the web of your shooting hand with hot .45 ACP +P cartridges. The extended magazine release extends out to the left slightly more than usual, making it that much faster to eject the freefalling magazines. The SIS comes with three stainless KimPro Tac-Mag premium magazines with positive insertion bumpers on their bases. These eight-round magazines are high quality and feed cartridges flawlessly.

The lowered and flared ejection port prevents malfunctions caused by ejecting brass, and the slide features an internal extractor. The machined one-piece barrel has a small notch at twelve o’clock that allows visual confirmation of a loaded round. A match grade barrel bushing mates to the match grade barrel, and a standard short guide rod holds the mainspring in place. The Ultra and Pro versions sport bull barrels without barrel bushings and feature full-length recoil spring guides.

The trigger is solid aluminum, and only a small amount of take up is felt as the trigger disengages the firing pin block safety. The trigger breaks at an excellent combat weight of four pounds, five ounces. The trigger’s face has a small allen screw for over-travel adjustment, but there was no over-travel at all as it came from the factory. Officers with seasoned shooting skills broke into approving smiles after dry firing the SIS for the first time. Everyone who handled or shot the SIS Custom RL came away impressed.

The front of the grip is finely checkered for a firm hold without abrading your hand. The mainspring housing is straight and fits officers with various hand sizes just fine. The edges are slightly rounded due to the Service Melt, and the SIS didn’t poke my large palm the way other 1911 pistols have in the past. The 1911 pistol is rather thin at 1.28-inches compared to high capacity police pistols with thick grips.

The single stack magazine keeps the grip circumference and trigger reach comparatively small. The laminated wood stocks are black-stained and stippled for a secure grip. They’re also laser emblazoned with the Kimber logo for a handsome look. Allen head grip screws add to the SIS’s purposeful and serious appearance.

The SIS has a tight slide to frame fit. Shaking the gun produces no rattles. It is as quiet as a midnight shift’s police radio at 0200 hours on a Sunday during a snow flurry. Some tightly fitted guns need extra tools just to be able to disassemble and clean the gun. It is impressive that the Kimber doesn’t need them. I was able to field strip the Kimber without the need of a bushing wrench.

Basic disassembly of this 1911 is accomplished as it has been for almost a century. As always, remove the magazine, making sure the chamber is empty and that the gun is unloaded. Depress the non-checkered recoil spring plug and rotate the barrel bushing clockwise. Be sure the plug doesn’t go flying through the air where it will most likely be lost in an abyss. If that does happen, remember that Browning designed the 1911, so an empty .45 case can be used in a pinch until a new plug is obtained.

With the recoil spring pressure relieved, the barrel bushing is then rotated all the way back the other way, counter-clockwise, and then removed out of the muzzle. The slide stop is aligned with a notch on the left of the slide and then pushed out. This frees the slide to move forward off the frame, and the recoil spring and its guide can be lifted out. The barrel removes out of the muzzle, and this completes field stripping of the 1911 pistol.

All guns should be thoroughly cleaned and lubricated by their owner when purchased new. I have had police officers come to the range with new guns that subsequently jammed during practice or qualification. Most firearms are test-fired at the factory as a standard measure, and some states require a fired case to be included with the pistol. Cranking out guns on an assembly line leaves little time for the manufacturer to clean each gun after testing. Many are simply sprayed with a protective coating. It’s up to each officer to go over their new gun and make sure it’s well cleaned and oiled.

An Accurate .45

The Kimber SIS Custom RL proved to be a gun with an effortlessly accurate shot. The light trigger allows a consistent press that doesn’t upset the easily aligned sights. The SIS’s 39-ounce, unloaded weight helps subdue recoil, along with the aid of its beavertail grip safety. Clusters of holes touching each other were the norm at seven yards, shots in the ten ring were common at 15 yards, and standing offhand qualification hits were easy at 25 yards. The SIS was 100% reliable during the test firing of more than 400 rounds of various bullet profiles.

When I test a firearm, I like to get the opinions of my fellow police officers, especially those with a keen interest in guns. Everyone was impressed with the Kimber SIS. The combination of the slick Gray Kimpro II finish and the SIS slide serrations caused some officers to question if the slide would be too slippery to rack by hand. When gently handling the pistol, the serrations’ texture seemed a bit too slippery. However, under more realistic conditions, there was plenty of grip purchase to work the slide without a problem. Reload drills proved the SIS slide serrations to be a non-issue.

The Kimber SIS Custom RL’s MSRP is $1,522, but actual store prices are usually slightly lower. None of the officers balked at the price tag. Everyone agreed that the Kimber was well made and offered a holster full of desirable features.

If you’re a police officer looking to arm yourself with a .45 caliber 1911, the LAPD SIS has already done the hard work for you. They have researched and suggested the features law enforcement professionals need the most. Kimber brings those results to market with the SIS Custom RL and offers us a package that is ready for duty.

Steve Tracy is a 21-year police veteran with 19 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

Published in Tactical Response, Nov/Dec 2009

Rating : 10.0

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Posted on : May 23 at 9:30 AM By Steve Tracy

Kimber has discontinued the SIS model due to political pressure from the Los Angeles elected officials. The SIS is an excellent representation of the entire Kimber line, but the Special Investigations Section guns are now going to be collectibles.

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