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1911s Handgun Reviews

Smith & Wesson Performance Center 1911 Review

by Patrick Sweeney   |  February 14th, 2013 0


I figure in my tenure as a gunsmith I worked on about 500 1911s, and as a writer I’ve certainly reviewed at least another 100 more. So it gets harder and harder to get enthused about the latest one to arrive. And yet here I am, eager to tell you about the latest.

When I was a gunsmith, if you would have told me that Smith & Wesson would be not just making 1911s but setting the bar high for 1911 makers, I’d have laughed so hard I would have snorted coffee out of my nose. I mean, come on—next you’d be telling me they can make pistols out of plastic.

But right here on my desk sits a new 1911—the S&W Performance Center 1911—that would have made any custom gunsmith in the golden era of single-stack IPSC 1911s green with envy.

It has all the usual S&W Performance Center details—and then some. The expected ones, starting from the top, are an adjustable rear sight, dovetail-fitted front, lowered ejection port and external extractor.

There was a great desire in the 1911 universe for an external extractor to address the perceived need to junk the old internal extractor and its “need” to be properly tensioned. Many 1911 makers fumbled the engineering on this, and it wasn’t long before they switched back to the internal design.

Well, S&W has been making pistols with external extractors for a long time, and when it decided to put an external extractor on its 1911s, the designers didn’t have to engineer it from scratch. In fact, it’s the same extractor found on the discontinued Model 945 and on the E series of 1911s that Smith & Wesson brought out a couple years ago.

But that’s not the most distinguishing external feature on this pistol. Forward of the S&W Performance Center logo laser-engraved on the slide you’ll find a series of slots on the slide. My first thought was they were cooling vents, which is odd since I’ve gotten a bunch of 1911s very hot but have never felt the need to add cooling slots.

“We call them lightening cuts,” Performance Center head honcho Tony Miele told Handguns. “They will perform some cooling obviously, but they’re there to lighten the slide. It’s a cosmetic thing, too.”

One thing is for sure: Your shooting buddies are going to recognize this one right away.

The rear cocking serrations are the fish-scale pattern that S&W uses. They’re aggressive, effective and distinctive—and, again, no one will mistake your Performance Center gun for another brand.

The frame has a high beavertail grip safety and ambidextrous thumb safety. The frontstrap is checkered, while the grips are an aggressively patterned set of Altamont G10s. The areas where your fingertips will hold is checkered, but the rest of the grip is grooved in such a way as to resist movement in your hand.

In some ways the grips are too effective. In the process of carrying this pistol through a law-enforcement class, I found the grips were shredding my shirt, grinding little lint balls off the fabric. So if you plan on wearing this gun concealed as part of your daily ensemble, be aware that the grips might shorten the service life of your shirts.

The raised and radiused frontstrap has 30 lpi checkering while checkering on the mainspring housing is 20 lpi. The mainspring housing also is a magazine funnel.

The barrel is nicely hand-fitted, being snug in closing but not a crush fit. Out front, the barrel bushing sports a bit of technology I haven’t seen since custom fitting was at its zenith: a Briley Spherical bushing. The bushing is composed of a ring, shaped sort of like a plain wedding band, assembled inside of a specially machined bushing.

A normal 1911 bushing is a bit of steel sculpture that most people don’t appreciate. If the bushing is simply a cylinder inside, it won’t work. When the 1911 unlocks, the barrel has to tilt down. If the bushing isn’t relieved to permit that, the barrel will bind and slow the slide or be lifted at the rear, which will create feeding problems. Gaining enough clearance to provide function, without creating so much slop that accuracy suffers, is a graduate-level exercise in barrel fitting.

The Briley Spherical bushing solves that problem in a simple way. The ring tips inside of the bushing housing, allowing the barrel to tilt and yet hold it snugly for accuracy. It’s possible to make the bushing body fit so tightly to the slide that it won’t ever come out and the barrel is still a snug but free-running fit inside of the “riding band.”

My recommendation is that you leave the bushing alone when you field-strip the Performance Center 1911, but if your curiosity drives you to it, the band does come out of the bushing body. Those two semi-rectangular clearance slots on the sides of the bushing housing allow that. Once free of the barrel, rotate the riding band inside the bushing body until it lines up with the slots. Then pull it forward. Happy now? Then put it back, and leave it alone.

The recoil spring rides over a full-length guide rod, a detail I could skip but is easy to change, and the throated barrel features a precision-crowned muzzle. It mates with a hand-polished feed ramp in the frame.

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