Wow, looks like the 1911 Sucks post stirred up some strong emotions.
I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I had a great time debating the issues and I learned a lot. But there were also some other issues that were raised and not addressed to my satisfaction (being the sort of guy who likes facts and evidence). For instance: just how reliable are 1911s? How reliable are Glocks? And, from the comments, some people took exception to my characterization of Taurus as a brand with hit-or-miss quality, so what is the real deal with Taurus quality?
(click the title for more blasphemy)
How can those questions be answered? I thought of a way to get some baseline metrics on those issues. And since I was burning up vacation time from work, why not use it to be productive?
Some background: When products are manufactured and offered for sale to the public, the vast majority of them are not individually tested for function & quality. A shipment of (for example) DVD players will arrive in containers at a U.S. port, and 2% of those units will be tested. If those 2% pass the testing, the entire batch will be presumed to be “good” and they will be sent to the warehouses of the retailers who will be selling them.
If more than a certain percentage of those 2% have defects of some sort, the importer will go back and test another 3% of the shipment (for a total of 5%) for defects. If the 5% sample passes the testing standards, the whole batch is sent on to the retailers. Any units that fail the testing will be sent to a service center to be repaired to testing standards and then sold as “Factory Serviced” products. (Since they are marked down, and have been tested individually to ensure function, do not hesitate to take advantage of those deals!)
But if the total 5% sample flunks the test standards, the entire batch is sent back. Modern quality control methods make that very rare nowadays.
Bottom line: lemons happen, and there is no economical way to prevent that. But they are rare.
For those of you who haven’t heard of it, there is a magazine called Gun Tests that does exactly what their name says. They test guns (and the occasional scope, holster or reloading setup), usually in groups of 2-4 guns, and with 3-5 comparisons per month it adds up to a huge database of hands-on gun reviews. They don’t accept any outside advertising and thus cannot be influenced by the threat of lost ad revenue if they spill the beans on a crappy gun (and yes, that happens at the glossy gun magazines). I don’t work for them, I am simply a long-time subscriber.
Now, when you look at a gun review, there are some things that are Objective Observations (“gun X holds 10 bullets, functioned without misfeeds, and shot 3″ average groups at 50 feet for 3 shooters”) and other things that are Subjective Observations (“gun X felt good in my hand, it was easy to conceal with my carry method”). Subjective observations need to be taken with a grain of salt since every person has a different outlook, but Gun Tests has been pretty scrupulous about telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I trust their objective observations. I am sending them a link to this post, in case they want to put their two cents in (they can get the pennies off John Browning’s eyelids).
Who better to use as a reference to gauge the quality of these 3 gun types? I couldn’t think of another unbiased resource as detailed as Gun Tests, but I welcome any suggestions for additional sources of information. I want facts, no matter what they reveal.
So I went through my archive of back issues (complete, as far as I know), from the present day back to 1996, and took notes on the reviews they did of every Taurus, every Glock, and every full-size 1911 pistol in that period.
What did I find, you ask? Well, to set some guidelines, a gun would be judged as “broken” if it stopped working, shed parts, or physically disintegrated in some way. A gun would be “unreliable” if it had failures to fire, feed, extract or eject that were not attributable to a documented problem with the ammunition. I decided that an obviously defective part like a single bad magazine would not render a gun “unreliable” if the manufacturer’s regular magazines worked when the bad magazine was replaced like-for-like. Note, many of the reviews of 1911s had to use Wilson mags for the review guns, regardless of brand of gun. The reliability numbers for 1911s are probably overly-optimistic, in other words.
Well…after going through every issue I have between 1996 and today (again, I am pretty sure I have every one), I compiled the following numbers:
Illuminating, isn’t it?
From the top…I own a Taurus .22 pump-action rifle, and it’s a lot of fun (despite merely fair accuracy). But I handled a lot of .22 revolvers from Taurus when I was in the market for one, and they all had problems. Caveat Emptor! If you find a good Taurus that is reliable and accurate, I am happy for you. I like the fact that Taurus has a great warranty policy, and that they are willing to take some pretty big risks in developing new interesting guns. But I don’t know that I would trust my life to a Taurus without a lot of personal testing of the specific gun in question. And, while it is pretty nifty, the ballistics I have seen on the Judge make me view it as a less-lethal force option.
Glock. 47 reviews, and just one bona fide lemon with a single failure-to-extract hiccup on another gun. And, a compact 10mm would have been my first guess as the gun that had the major issue, since it is a long case and a fast bullet. Tricky action timing there. To be extra fair, I included every problem I found in every Glock review (3 of the 4 occurred in 1998, BTW), just to be sure that we have the whole story. And the story is pretty clear: Glocks work.
1911. Well, well. 15 problem guns out of 72 guns reviewed. (Hey, what’s the difference between a 1911 and Linda Lovelace? Linda Lovelace never choked!) And there are some pretty high-falutin names in the unreliable column. Sure, a low-end off-brand 1911 might be a loser, but a “Wilson CQB” isn’t a low-end gun is it? What about a “Kimber LTP II”? Or a “Kimber Custom”? I honestly don’t know how the 1911 fans can claim that their gun of choice doesn’t have a reliability issue.
Before anyone gets an attack of the vapors, here are my notes pages, with the model of gun and date of review:
Please, read the reviews for yourself and tell me if I made any errors. Yes, I know I have crappy penmanship. Can’t be helped. Should have been a doctor. Ask if you need me to clarify anything. I can’t post the whole reviews because of copyright issues, but excerpts should be acceptable.
No parent wants to face the fact that they have an ugly child. And I can understand why some 1911 fans would want to downplay the documented shortcomings of their pistol of choice. But facts are facts.
I eagerly await additional information from any interested commenters.
By popular demand, here are some excerpts from the “unreliable” 1911 reviews:
From the review of the Kimber LTP II (April 2004)
“…Several testers found the LTP II’s grip safety would not depress far enough to disengage and allow the gun to fire when held with a straight-thumbs “IPSC grip,” when held loosely, or with one hand only, either right or left handed…”
“…With Federal Hydra-Shoks the slide stop, under recoil, moved sideways into the gun’s disassembly notch, holding the slide partially to the rear. Members of the Gun Tests staff have seen this malfunction before, though only on old, worn-out GI .45s, never a brand-new gun like the LTP II…”
“…When firing Winchester SXTs from the bench, one of the live rounds came out of the magazine so far above the chamber it actually launched itself out of the gun and the next lower round in the magazine fed itself into the chamber instead…”
“…A combination failure to eject combined with a double feed: empty shell casing caught in the ejection port, live round partially into the chamber, another live round trying to come up out of the magazine behind it. Another bad malfunction, this one requiring the complicated and time consuming “extended malfunction clearance drill” to rectify it…”
From the review of the Wilson CQB (April 2004)
“…While test-firing this gun (freestyle during the break-in period, from the bench, and freestyle during post-cleaning/lubrication testing), we experienced repeated malfunctions. The first of these, with Black Hills lead semi-wadcutters, was what pistolsmiths call a 45-degree nose-up jam, which means the round was partially into the chamber, held there at approximately a 45-degree angle, but the rim won’t slide up and under the extractor. A tap on the magazine floorplate caused the action to snap shut. All other malfunctions were of a different type, the slide stopping a fraction of an inch out of battery…”
From the review of the Colt 1991A1 Series 80 (June 1999)
“…The trigger pull of our test gun was creepy and too heavy, and it, along with the other items just mentioned, will need to be fixed before this gun is fully modern…”
“…Another big problem with the Colt was that the trigger pull mysteriously became very hard, every so often. The nominal pull was about 5 pounds, but occasionally it would require an estimated 8 to 10 pounds to get the gun to go off. This happened to several of our shooters…”
“…The Colt really didn’t like the Blazer ammo, not because of mediocre accuracy but because the blunt-nose 200-grain fodder wouldn’t feed reliably. We had three failures to feed within a dozen rounds with that ammo…”
From the review of the Kimber Gold Match (October 1998)
“…In our opinion, the Kimber Gold Match’s functioning was disappointing. It worked reliably with ball ammunition, but failed to feed 50 percent of the time with Federal match semi-wadcutters. We tried using the semi-wadcutter magazine supplied with the Colt, but that didn’t solve the problem. A few days after testing this pistol, we talked to Kimber’s marketing director on the phone. He readily admitted that this model would not feed semi-wadcutters. So, we concluded the shortcoming was not limited to just our test gun…”
From the review of the Clark Custom 1911 Caspian Arms (April 2000)
“…Right out of the box, this gun had several failures of the hammer to drop when we attempted to evaluate the trigger pull…”
“…We had one failure to feed with the Cor-Bon ammo. The case actually fed, but the slide didn’t go fully forward into battery…The Clark’s failure to fire was eventually traced to the hammer sticking all the way back and not returning to rest against the sear. Although it was a condition that ought not to have existed, it appeared to be a simple matter of stickiness from tight fitting, or of the parts needing to be broken in…”
From the review of the Les Baer Premier II, which was “reliable” (April 2000)
“…Our first impression of the Les Baer Premier II was that it didn’t work. It was impossible to open the gun by hand to peer into the chamber and verify its condition. The fit of the barrel at the back was too tight. Okay, we thought, it’s a tight gun. Perhaps it’ll shoot loose. In our testing, it didn’t. We even disassembled the gun part-way through our test and removed metal from the back of the barrel. Though that helped, it didn’t solve the problem…This over-tight condition does not lead to safe gun handling with a novice shooter. Anyone ought to be able to crack the slide by hand so he can verify an empty chamber. It took virtually all the hand strength of a man with powerful hands to crack open the Baer Premier II. Most men would not have been able to open it, we believe. We spoke with a shooter who had handled another new Baer Premier II and neither he nor the store clerk were able to open that gun either. Baer needs to fix this problem, in our view…”