Battle of the Basic 1911s: Colt S70 Repro vs RIA GI
When I was a young buck of 18 and managed to find someone to sell me a handgun in a private transaction, there was only one that my weirdly fudd-like brain would accept; the 1911. It was my first and (for a while) only handgun. I pressed it into many roles: home defense, CCW, truck gun, camping gun, etc. It was a relatively new at the time Remington R1 that I kept for a few years before trading it for something else down the line shortly before my 21st birthday so I could upgrade to my dream 1911: a Colt Series 70 reproduction. The original by God 2 world wars 1911! No sissy firing pin safety! Horsey! I picked that bad boy up and felt like the biggest dick swinger in the west. Then I signed up for a handgun fundamentals class and actually did pretty well with it.
Aaaaaaaaaand I haven’t truthfully shot it that much in the 5 years since I bought it. I’ve bought too many handguns and too many that were inherently nicer to shoot than a GI 1911 with a long hammer spur and short grip safety. I made a few tiny improvements to it over the years like an oversized NM bushing, a medium pad trigger shoe and flat mainspring housing to replace the old A1 style counterparts, and within the past year a 10-8 national match rear sight that looked the same as my factory one but had a much more generous u notch in the rear. While the MSH and trigger length helped a bit ergonomically and the rear sight was much easier to get a good sight picture with that still did not help the fact that it continues to chew up the web of my hand. So I’ve recently decided to finally upgrade to a tasteful low profile beavertail and classic commander ring hammer to go with it and also pop my front sight a bit with a gold bead.
While the gun is still mostly stock, I thought it might be fun to compare my Colt to a 1911 a recently got in a trade and what most of the “gudenuf” crowd recommends- the RIA GI full size for $400. My Colt in my opinion was a reasonable price when I bought it back in 2015, just under $900 after shipping and transfer. When it comes to factory 1911s it usually ranks pretty high as far as quality goes, with some industry insiders like Ken Hackathorn and Larry Vickers claiming modern Colt 1911s are better now than they have been the past 40 years. So how does it stack up to the budget RIA?
The Colt rattles more than the RIA
Frame precision on Colt is superior, frame ends not far after grip panels, MSH is more flush to frame, grip safety is more flush to other nearby parts
Barrel feed ramp differences. Polished on RIA (right), not on Colt (left)
Both have very positive safety clicks
Colt has rounder grip safety in appearance but they both feel awful when gripping and shooting
Lowered and flared ejection port on RIA, standard on Colt
RIA has more take up on trigger but break and reset feel the same
Slide to frame fit a little better on Colt
Very slight bevel in magwell on RIA
Barrel bushing and front of slide where the bushing plug goes are thinner on RIA
Slide stop holes inside frame are machined different
Fully supported extractor on Colt, not on RIA
Machine marks maybe a bit more visible on inside of Colt slide, but I attribute that to the fact that it has been shot way more than the RIA
Fit / Finish
Like I said, my Colt isn’t perfectly stock, it has much better sights than the diminutive GI style sights on the RIA as well as a fit bushing and a trigger that fits me better than the short style trigger found on most GI style guns, the RIA included. The Colt also has 5 years of casual shooting wear and moderate to heavy finger fucking wear on it from my dicking around exacerbated by my compulsive drive to clean my guns after every time I shoot them. My Rock is also used but if the guy I bought this from is to be believed (and based on my handling of it I do) it has less than 100 rounds through it.
Features comparison (front to back):
Bushing: Standard GI (RIA), NM fitted (Colt)
Front Sight: staked low profile GI (RIA), staked high profile black (Colt)
Slide: forged 4140 (RIA), forged, not sure metal type but likely 4140 (Colt)
Barrel: Both 5 inch. Marked CAL 45 ACP (RIA) Colt 45 Auto (Colt) basic chamber, not match.
Both are black finished with the top part of the chamber still in white. Feed ramps much different (pic)
Recoil spring: 16lbs (RIA) 17 lbs (Colt)
Frame: Cast 4140 smaller trigger guard (RIA), forged, not sure metal type but probably 4130 or 4140 (Colt). The RIA also has a very beefy front strap compared to the Colt.
Slide stop: standard length checkered (RIA), standard length serrated (Colt)
Trigger: short (RIA), medium (Colt)
Safety: Practically identical
Mag button: standard on both, feel identical
Rear sight: dovetailed GI (RIA), dovetailed NM (Colt)
Hammer: basic 1911A1 style checkered spur (RIA), 1911 style wide spur (Colt)
Grip safety: A1 style but sharper and slightly longer (RIA), normal A1 style (Colt)
MSH: flat serrated on both
Finish: blued (Colt), parkerized (RIA) Rock finish is also grayer on frame than slide (park reacting differently to cast metal than forged?)
Ergonomically these two guns are unsurprisingly basically identical. The Colt has a bit more wear so racking was slightly easier on it. That said, despite the number of rounds put through the Colt over the years and even with the different pad lengths, I noticed no appreciable difference in the two triggers aside from slightly more take up with RIA. The beefier front strap on the RIA was also noticeable when switching back and forth between the two guns. I probably shot 150 rounds between both guns and both functioned fine with no failures using 1x Chip McCormack and 1x factory Colt mag. Guns shot practically identical at 7 yards outside on a steel torso target so I decided to move the test to a more controlled environment and went to an indoor range. Same distance- 7 yards but this time with a back to back rimfire NRA target.
The most objective thing I pulled from this change in environment was that while the sights on the Colt were quicker and easier to pick up, I found the small thumbnail GI sight more precise. Your mileage definitely may vary as I’m in my 20s and my eyes were cybernetically enhanced by lasers a few years ago. That being said, I cannot conceal my shame because I have to post picture evidence of the accuracy- in the close to a year time frame since I changed out my Colt’s rear sight to the 10-8 it apparently has been shooting low this whole time. Hopefully the height of my new gold bead sight should rectify this. But elevation aside, the targets here I think speak for themselves. I shot noticeably better with the RIA than with the Colt.
So with the webbing of my shooting hand now a bitchin shade of red, how to conclude? I don’t really want to make any definitive statements about one brand or models superiority over the other since this a case study of two guns, but for someone who is looking for a 1911 and isn’t beholden to brand loyalty, Gucci factor, or star spangled jingoism, a RIA GI 1911 seems to me a fantastic choice. I went in with low expectations as far as fit and finish were concerned and I was very impressed, the results on paper were just the icing on the cake. In its stock condition and barely broken in, for the majority of my testing it was indistinguishable and at times even superior in my opinion to the Colt. I still love my Series 70 and I am confident that after installing the modest functional/ergonomic improvements I mentioned earlier, the enjoyment factor I have for this particular gun will increase exponentially. And as a handgun that holds a particularly special place in my heart, it deserves as much. But, a lingering question is now and will likely continue to nag me- after doing all of that, at the end of the day, will it be appreciably more accurate on paper than a bog standard $400 GI 1911 made in the Philippines?
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