GUN REVIEW: Colt/Talo Lightweight Commander .38 Super 1911

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A light, compact option for off-duty carry in an unusual caliber that packs a punch.
By Steve Tracy

Model 1911 pistols started out being made by Colt, but today S&W, Ruger, and Remington produce the .45 as well. In addition to these American companies offering John M. Browning’s classic semi-automatic design, today there are over 80 companies from which you can choose to buy old slab sides.
Generic terms have come to describe the various available sizes, such as Officers (compact short grip and short slide/barrel), Commander (standard grip with a shorter slide/barrel), Full Size (with the standard grip and 5-inch barrel), and Long Slide (standard grip with an extended slide/barrel of 6 inches or more). Colt was first to call their versions Officers, Commander, and Government with these terms becoming like Kleenex and Xerox.
The 1911 is the Chevy 350 V8 of the pistol world. With so many companies making parts, picking and choosing your options provides an untold myriad of combinations. Current 1911s have Picatinny rails, extended safeties, night sights, and ambidextrous controls.

Talo Limited Editions and Special Runs
Talo is a firearms distributor, purchasing guns and distributing them to stores. Talo also works with firearms manufacturers to produce special models with distinct features. Sometimes these special models are very limited, often with runs of only several hundred produced, including certificates of authenticity to maintain their pedigree. Others may run into the thousands if enough demand is foreseen. Oftentimes, these custom runs are not listed in a manufacturer’s standard catalog or on their website. You have to seek them out and keep up to date on Talo’s website.
I like the 1911 pistol. I understand its advantages and its limitations. Its exceptional combat trigger pull is a plus in the advantages column. Magazine capacity is a minor concern when it comes to the negative side of things.

Custom Built to Your Own Specs?
If I were to have a custom 1911 built to my own specifications for off-duty carry, I would want it to begin as a Commander sized gun. I need the full-size grip to accommodate my big hands. Reliability with the 4 ¼-inch Commander length barrel and corresponding slide is a known factor, so for concealability I’d go with that model over the shorter Officers style 3-inch length. I also like the longer sight radius of the Commander.
Since my 1911 would be a concealed carry pistol, I would request the frame to be lightweight. The aluminum frame 1911 was first introduced by Colt in 1950 and has proven it can take a beating from years of shooting. The flat mainspring housing fits my hand and causes the gun to point better than the arched housing of the 1911A1, so mine would be flat.

My large hand size also necessitates a long trigger instead of a short one. The manual safety on my dream 1911 would have to be extended so my long thumb could swipe it off in a positive manner. It doesn’t have to be ambidextrous because I’m adept at actuating the lever left-handed if need be. The extra width of an ambi thumb safety just seems to get in my way anyhow.
A true beavertail grip safety mated to the Commander ring hammer helps spread recoil out over the web of the shooting hand so I’d like the wide version with the memory bump on the back. Plus, it gives the 100-plus-year-old handgun a sporty look, sort of like a Porsche’s spoiler. Maybe I’m just confusing a 1911 with a 911.

Up top, a lowered and flared ejection port is a must to be sure empty cases are thrown clear, but big ports are pretty much commonplace on 1911s these days. I do like forward slide serrations. They’re not totally necessary, but I prefer the option of using them to rack the slide or perform a press check. They look good too, sort of like the side vent gills on a sports car.

When it comes to sights, I need a big dot of some kind up front. It would be nice if it glowed in the dark all by itself, too. As for the rear sight, it would need to be snag-free and the Novak wedge design has pretty much become the standard. I don’t really feel the need for two more dots on the rear sight, though. Jim Cirillo used to say the entire slide of a pistol could be used rather easily for point shooting. Seeing too much of either slab side of the slide or too much of the top of the pistol told your brain you weren’t lined up properly. Seeing a single front sight dot is quick and easy for establishing a flash sight picture. Using the black rear sight for a precision shot in the dark works as long as you have the extra second or two to make sure you’re lined up correctly.

While my tastes run to polished bright blue finishes and walnut handles, a work gun for carry needs a finish capable of withstanding constant abrasion. Ceracote is all the rage today and flat black on the slide would serve me well. The two-tone look is appealing to my eye as well and the aluminum frame is rather handsome when anodized in matte silver.

Grips on a combat gun are usually utilitarian, but custom versions to suit individual tastes are available in all kinds of materials (wood, aluminum, polymer, etc.). From hand finished, rare woods to sharp-checkered laminated wood, there truly is something for everyone.

The .38 Super – A Caliber a Bit Out of the Ordinary
Most would assume that a 1911 should be chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge. It is the original. But 1911 pistols are offered in 9mm, 10mm, and .40 S&W as well. But my custom 1911 would be chambered for the .38 Super cartridge. First introduced in 1929 by Colt, the .38 Super Automatic (with +P being added to the name in 1974) was a more powerful version of Colt’s .38 Automatic cartridge. The Super added another 200 fps resulting from a higher level of pressure. The story goes that law enforcement was under gunned and the criminal element discovered their getaway cars worked well at stopping bullets. More power meant the .38 Super would penetrate car doors and put an end to a few more of the gangsters.
The .38 Super +P is a semi-rimmed case and it provides more velocity than the 9mm Parabellum in equal weight bullets. Modern hollowpoint ammunition by Corbon and Buffalo Bore take the .38 Super +P to its highest performance limit, exceeding 9mm +P+ ammo.

Corbon’s website states their .38 Super +P cartridge launches a 125-grain jacketed hollowpoint (JHP) at 1325 fps out of a 5-inch barrel for a muzzle energy of 487 ft lbs.
For as close of an “apples to apples” comparison as we can get (because bullet weights differ and test barrel lengths differ), Corbon lists their 9mm at 466 ft lbs for a 115-grain bullet and 434 ft lbs for their 125-grain bullet. Continuing to use the Corbon website’s numbers, their 165-grain .40 S&W round has a muzzle energy rating of 485 ft lbs and their 230-grain .45 ACP gives muzzle energy of 461 ft lbs.
This is not to say that the .38 Super is the “end all, be all” cartridge for defense, but when it comes to muzzle energy, it bests the 9mm, .40 S&W, and the venerable .45 ACP cartridges. It is just as good, or even a tiny bit better than those common rounds and the .38 Super also provides the advantage of manageable recoil and fast follow-up shots.

Colt/Talo/Lipsey’s
There are a few custom 1911 makers who would build my personal version for me. They would probably only charge me one arm and one leg instead of all four body parts.
Talo has worked with Colt to create many semi-custom variations of 1911 pistols over the years. They’re not usually just cosmetic changes, either. A couple of years ago, they teamed up to create my dream 1911, they just did it without my knowledge. Lipsey’s distributed the special edition to stores and the guns were snapped up pretty fast. By the time I happened to stumble across the fact that these Colts existed, they were sold out.

Persistence led me to the secondary market where I searched Gunbroker.com for several months. Brand-new LWT Commander .38 Supers were occasionally found for sale, but at a premium over the original $1,239 price. Then I found one used.

Buying Used
To buy a firearm off Gunbroker, you either bid to win the auction or sometimes there is a “buy it now” price. That was the case with this Colt’s $999 price. I clicked the “buy it now.” I have a local Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) that charges $25 to complete a transfer and handle the federal forms for purchasing a gun. I simply paid the Gunbroker seller and sent a copy of my FFL’s license with my payment. The seller shipped the Colt to my FFL and then he and I completed the proper paperwork required.
Once I had the Colt .38 Super and I was turning it over in my hands, it was everything I knew it would be. Buying a used gun sight unseen requires some knowledge of what can go wrong with a firearm due to extreme or abusive use. It’s not easy to damage a gun that is only a couple years old, but we all know someone who is capable of such carnage. Telltale signs like excessive external wear should cause you to stay away. When considering an Internet purchase, fuzzy photos and one-line descriptions should be cause to delete the page from your browser. Poor or nonexistent feedback for a seller should send warning signals to your brain like a siren in a prison break movie.

High-quality, close-up photos, full descriptions, and numerous positive feedback comments for an online auction or sale provide assurance. Descriptions such as LNIB (like new in box) and a photo of the original box with all papers and end labels help you make a wise decision. If firearms are treated properly, cleaned and lubed as they should be, they can last many lifetimes. My daughter shoots trap with my grandfather’s shotgun, despite the fact she’s a fourth-generation clay buster.

Qualifying for Off-Duty Carry
Any newly acquired gun should be field stripped, cleaned, and lubricated whether it’s a brand-new model or a used one. The Colt LWT Commander field stripped like any other 1911 with a standard barrel bushing and recoil spring guide and the bushing did not require a wrench. It was pretty clean, but my patches still came away dark, as I am a bit meticulous at getting in every nook and cranny.
The trigger pull measured just over 4.5 pounds, which is right where a combat 1911 should be. Over travel of the trigger’s rear movement was zilch. At the range, the Trijicon front sight was fast to pick up and place on target at close distances of 21 feet or less. The beavertail grip safety spreads out recoil, although even the hot Corbon loads felt mild when fired. I had never fired an aluminum frame 1911 before, but the recoil impulse was negligible. Rapid fire was accomplished with ease, as control of the pistol was no problem to maintain. The undercut at the bottom rear of the trigger guard allows a slightly higher grip on this Colt.

I already had several holsters that fit the 4 ¼-inch barrel, Commander size 1911 and of course, this .38 Super fits in standard 5-inch full-size 1911 holsters as well. Carrying the gun all day off-duty proved the handgun’s lightweight frame to be a true benefit. This .38 Super weighs approximately 20 percent less (33.5 vs. 27 ounces) than it would with a steel frame.
Ten rounds of powerful .38 Super ammo (nine in the magazine, plus another round chambered with the pistol carried cocked and locked) load in the flush-fitting magazine with little effort. A second magazine with a rounded follower and a pad for positive insertion during a reload was included in the Colt’s blue plastic, lockable box.
The Colt fired five different cartridges flawlessly (PMC, Aguila, Armscor Precision, and Remington full-metal jacket and Corbon hollowpoint). The Colt LWT Commander qualified for off-duty carry without throwing a single round.

Is Your Perfect Firearm Already Out There?
Talo and Lipsey’s have produced some fancy and practical guns over the years. They work with many different gun makers to create variations that fill a niche for buyers with particular tastes. It’s worth a look to check out the guns they’re offering or have offered in the past. With a little bit of research and investigation, your perfect firearm may already be out there waiting for you to discover it.
This Colt LWT Commander in .38 Super is everything I’ve always wanted in a 1911. I’m still not sure how Colt and Talo made it without my input. PM

Steve Tracy has over two and a half decades experience as a police officer and firearms instructor. He is also a tactical rifle, use of force, less-lethal, and scenario-based training police instructor. He can be reached at steventracy@hendonpub.com

Captions:

  1. Chambered in .38 Super, the Colt/Talo 1911 holds 9 + 1 rounds for a total of 10. Forward slide serrations, a long trigger, and black Ceracote finish are features of this limited-edition pistol. The .38 Super cartridge, with Corbon 125-grain hollowpoint rounds, provides more muzzle energy than the 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP cartridges.
  2. The lightweight aluminum frame reduces carry weight by 20 percent. The thin wood grips and grip screws reduce the widest part of the pistol.
  3. Colt and Talo teamed up to produce a lightweight, Commander size 1911 chambered in .38 Super.
  4. A Trijicon front night sight provides a sighting dot in any lighting conditions.
  5. A Novak, low-profile carry, plain-black rear sight helps the shooter focus only on the front sight.
  6. The tritium front sight is easy to pick up in any lighting condition. Focusing solely on the front sight, the Colt .38 Super hit to point of aim without effort.
  7. The .38 Super cartridge packs plenty of power in the lightweight Commander frame for off-duty or backup police use.

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