“I figured if I could make watches, I could make guns,” said former watchmaker come pistolsmith and competitive shooter Bill Wilson when asked why he started building custom 1911s back in the late 1970s. Based on the many championships he and many other shooters won with Wilson-built 1911s in the 1970s and 1980s, I would have to say he was right. Still, I doubt Bill had a clue of just how successful he would become or how big a role his pistols and parts would play in the 1911 market 30 years after he started building pistols full-time.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when Wilson Combat announced a pair of pistols to commemorate its 30th year in business. In fact, given Bill’s many contributions to the shooting sports as a world-class competitive shooter, pistolsmith and founding member of IPSC and IDPA over the last three decades, I would say a commemorative pistol is well-deserved.
The specs of the two pistols introduced last year are very much in the style of pistol that made Bill famous. One, the Master Grade Presentation Model, is a hand-crafted work of art, with a stainless steel frame, charcoal-blued slide, hand engraving and silver inlays. It is paired with a limited edition knife from Wilson Tactical with a matching serial number and presentation case.
With a suggested retail of $6,995, I can’t imagine many shooters will actually fire the Presentation Model. So for those looking for a more affordable, shootable commemorative, Wilson also offers a Limited version of the Master Grade with a price tag of $2,995.
The gun I tested was, obviously, the Master Grade Limited, a striking, two-tone pistol built to replicate the classic custom pistols that made Bill famous in the 1970s and 1980s. It is built on a stainless steel slide with a high-cut front strap checkered at 30 lines per inch. The mainspring housing has the same 30 lpi checkering. The checkering is nicely executed on the mainspring housing, and the front strap checkering is sharp and clean, with no run-out or visible flaws.
The magazine well is beveled to facilitate faster reloads, and Wilson Combat’s High Ride beavertail grip safety is flawlessly fitted. Combined with the high-cut front strap, the beavertail allows the shooter to get the highest possible grip for better recoil management.
The trigger is Wilson’s extended, aluminum model in the classic, three-hole style. The trigger on my test pistol breaks at an ounce under three pounds, with a minimum of creep and overtravel; factory specs call for a pull weight in the 3½- to 3¾-pound range.
Other controls include Wilson’s extended ejector; stainless, tactical ambidextrous safety; skeletonized, Commander-style hammer; and extended magazine release. All are well-fitted and work perfectly. The feed ramp is also throated and polished to a mirror finish.
Perhaps the most immediately noticeable part of the frame is the unusual grip design. Made from black G10, the grips are striated in a pattern that Wilson Combat calls Starburst. Though they are not the least bit abrasive to the touch, the deep, angled striations combine with the checkering to make for a solid, non-slip grip. They’re also pretty darn cool looking.
The Master Grade Limited’s slide is finished in Wilson’s proprietary matte black Armor-Tuff. Though it doesn’t have the class and sex appeal of old-school charcoal bluing, Armor-Tuff is a rugged, corrosion-resistant finish that is much better-suited to regular, hard use than classic bluing.
The slide is machine-engraved on both sides. Behind the rear grasping grooves, the Wilson Combat eagle and the number “30” are framed in a box with double borders.
The left side of the slide has “30th Anniversary Limited” and “1978-2008″ framed in a double border with a bit of scroll engraving in each corner. The right side has “Classic 130″ and “Master Grade” framed in the same border and scroll work. The slide also has forward grasping grooves and the same border, sans engraving or scroll work, at the muzzle end.
The front sight is a black, serrated blade, and the rear sight is Wilson’s adjustable unit with a plain black blade. I have these sights on another gun, and they’re rugged, easy to use and simple to adjust. They match the pistol’s theme perfectly and are mostly well-fitted On my sample, there was a tiny gap between the slide and the front sight that I am not used to seeing on Wilson guns.
| Wilson Combat
MASTER GRADE LIMITED
|Capacity:||8 + 1|
|Barrel length:||5 in.|
|Overall length:||8.7 in.|
|Sights:||adjustable rear; serrated black front blade|
|Trigger:||Single action; 2 lb. 15 oz. as tested|
|Grips:||black G10 with starburst striations|
The Government Model-size slide is fitted perfectly to the frame. It reciprocates smoothly and is tight enough to make it accurate but not so tight that it hampers reliability. The ejection port is lowered and flared for enhanced reliability; a full-length guide rod and plug are standard.
The five-inch barrel is one of Wilson’s stainless match units. It and the stainless match bushing are hand-fitted with a great deal of expertise, as evidenced by the pistol’s smooth, positive lock-up and the nice, even wear that indicates a properly fitted barrel. The throat is polished to ensure reliable feeding; the extractor is one of Wilson’s Bullet Proof models.
The Limited comes as a complete package: test target; bushing wrench; instructional video; two magazines; and an attractive soft case with two large pockets on one side and seven magazine pouches on the other.
I really wanted to shoot the new pistol, but I must admit that I felt like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar when I popped the first cap out of the elegant, limited-edition pistol. But I had a job to do, so shoot it I did.
It was cold and rainy for the better part of the month I had to test the Limited, so I did my testing indoors. Though the lighting is not conducive to great photography, the 50-foot range allowed me to run each pistol through a wide range of accuracy and reliability tests.
I started out at seven yards to get a feel for the pistol. It was no surprise, given my familiarity with the 1911 platform, that I felt right at home with the gun. The sights were dead-on, and the crisp, light trigger pull made breaking accurate shots easy. In fact, it didn’t take long to chew a gaping, fist-sized hole in the middle of an IDPA target from the seven-yard line.
Next, I shot some controlled pairs. Recovery time was standard for a 1911, and accuracy was exceptional thanks to the great trigger. Pairs went well, so I sped things up a bit and shot some double taps. Once again, speed was pretty the same as with my other 1911s, though I did have a bit of trouble picking up the black sights quickly in the reduced light of the indoor range. Nevertheless, my hits were fast and true, and the pistol ran like the proverbial top, ejecting empties well clear of the gun, and not off my forehead, which is a good thing.
With the preliminaries out of the way, I moved the target back to 15 yards and did a bit of accuracy work from a sandbag rest. Once again, the black sights were a bit tough to pick up in the indoor range, but I did eke out a few really nice groups when I took my time and made sure of my sight picture before touching the super-light trigger.
In fact, two loads–Hornady’s 200-grain XTP and Cor Bon’s 230-grain Match–averaged right at an inch and showed flashes of brilliance that I unfortunately ruined by shooting ill-timed fliers.
Federal’s 230-grain Hydra Shok load was right behind those with a 1.48-inch average, and Black Hill’s 185-grain JHP load was no slouch either, with a 2.1-inch average.
| | Accuracy Results|
Wilson Master Grade Limited
|ACP||Bullet Weight (gr.)||Avg. Velocity (fps)||Avg. Group (in.)|
|Black Hills JHP||185||912||2.1|
|Cor Bon Match||230||826||1.0|
|Notes: Accuracy is the average of five, five-shot groups fired at 15 yards from a sandbag rest. Velocity is the average of 20 rounds measured 10 feet from the muzzle. Abbreviation: JHP, jacketed hollowpoint|
A few weeks later, I returned to the range to see how the still-dirty pistol ran with an additional 300 rounds of assorted ammunition from Black Hills, Cor Bon, Federal, Hornady and Winchester. As expected, the Limited ran flawlessly, feeding, extracting and ejecting as reliably as I’ve come to expect from Wilson Combat’s custom offerings.
Wilson Combat’s Master Grade Limited worked as well as I expected, but I did learn a few things about the gun from my rapid-fire testing.
First, I really like the Starburst grip striations. Though they aren’t sharp, the depth and pattern of the grooves work hand in hand with the checkering to lock the gun in your hand during rapid-fire strings. Two of my training partners who tried the gun made the exact same comment, so Wilson may be onto something with the new grips.
I also fell in love with the test pistol’s trigger. It was so clean and light that it was easy to break accurate shots under pressure. In rapid fire, it really shined. Though the sub-three-pound pull was most certainly a fluke, the trigger was so crisp and clean that an extra pound of pull would be inconsequential.
As I mentioned, the test pistol’s all-black sights were tough to pick up in low light, but they are still my first choice for a general purpose pistol. A gold or tritium front bead is nice on a fighting gun, but black just seems to work so much better for me on the target range and in the field, which is where pistols with adjustable sights belong.
To be honest, there isn’t much I would change about the test pistol. I would opt for a standard-length guide rod over the full-length model and a single-side tactical safety over the test pistol’s ambi safety were the pistol mine, but I could certainly live with the Limited just as it is.
Wilson Combat’s Master Grade Limited is a fitting tribute to a man and company that have been so important to the shooting sports for the last 30 years. I use my pistols too hard to justify the expense of such a beautiful pistol. But for the 1911 collector, Wilson Combat’s 30th anniversary pistol is a must-have.
Gun services provided by Fountain Firearms. Range facilities provided by Top Gun Indoor Range.