June 26, 2020
In the 1911 world, the definition of the term “custom” can vary significantly. Everything from mass-production guns to pistols hand-built by sole proprietors can carry the title. Reasonable minds can disagree as to what constitutes a custom handgun, but by anyone’s definition, Nighthawk Custom’s products fit the bill. The company that boasts “one gun, one gunsmith” has grown significantly over the past 16 years, but the one-gunsmith policy has not wavered. Among the company’s newest creations is the Vice President, a Commander-length 1911 destined to turn heads.
When Nighthawk Custom opened its doors in 2004, the entire employee roster had just four names on it. Today, the company employs more than 65 workers who design, build, test, package and ship the company’s line of custom handguns and shotguns one by one.
With more than 40 handgun choices alone, the company’s product line is extremely diverse. Part of that lineup includes the Executive series, which includes both long-slide and full-size pistols and now, with the introduction of the Vice President, a Commander-length option.
Nighthawk introduced the Executive series in late 2017 with the announcement of the six-inch-barreled Chairman, offered in .45 ACP and 9mm. The company followed up with the President model based on the same fundamental lines and, at the 2020 SHOT Show, released the Vice President.
The Vice President is in some ways a traditional 1911 design, but it has many modern upgrades that add both style and substance. This model is built on a full-size 1911 frame, forged from a carbon steel alloy. The forgings are finish-machined using CNC equipment before landing on the bench of one of Nighthawk’s 20 in-house master gunsmiths, along with the other assorted parts required for a full build.
Rather than following an assembly line model that would add efficiency and cut costs, Nighthawk operates as a collection of individual craftsmen, each producing a high-quality product to a strict standard. This skilled labor and commitment to excellence make their products expensive but, in my eyes, worth it.
My test gun was built by David Atchley, who is one of fewer than 50 active members of the esteemed American Pistolsmiths Guild. Once the parts make their way to the bench, no other hands will touch the handgun until it’s time to apply the finish.
The overall fit and finish on the Vice President are as nice as I’ve seen on any comparable model. I’m a tough critic, and I could not find a single aesthetic or functional flaw. Like the Chairman and President, the Vice President is a striking handgun with angular lines and a two-tone finish. The smooth black Diamond-Like Coating treatment on the bulk of the handgun is accented by the gold titanium nitride barrel, the uniquely patterned grips and numerous CNC cuts on the slide. This gun will not be mistaken for anything else on the range.
The frontstrap on the Vice President is checkered at 25 lines per inch and cut high to allow the gun to sit as low as possible in the hand. The mainspring housing is checkered identically and is machined integrally to an extended magazine well.
This mag well flares to allow for fast reloads but adds little in terms of external dimensions. Every sharp edge, burr and flaw has been removed by hand—from the mouth of the mag well to the inside of the frame. The transition from one part to another is silky smooth.
The grip safety is a beavertail design with ample material to ensure it is reliably disengaged when the shooter grips the handgun. The black RailScales grips are one of the distinguishing features of the Vice President, with a deep relief honeycomb pattern formed into much of the G10 material and a series of lateral serrations at the rear edges. The combination of the frame cut, checkering and aggressive grip texture makes this handgun extremely manageable in terms of recoil and muzzle rise.
As well executed as the frame assembly is, it’s the top end of the Vice President that really sets it apart visually. The slide is machined with 45-degree top angles to create a five-sided design rather than a traditional rounded shape. Serrations run the length of the sight radius.
A series of cuts are milled into the sides and the top of the slide to reduce weight and make the gold-coated barrel visible, even with the slide in battery. If you like a little bling, it’s a good look. Angled cocking serrations are found front and rear.
Though slide-to-frame fit isn’t the be-all and end-all in terms of accuracy, it is evidence of great craftsmanship and can reduce wear in the long run. The combination of an excellent slide-to-frame fit and hand-stoned surfaces on the Vice President make the slide move with a smoothness I’m not sure I’ve experienced on any other handgun. It’s a bit like sliding two ice cubes across one another.
From a controls standpoint, the Vice President is pure 1911. As one would expect, the single-stage skeletonized trigger breaks consistently at 2.9 pounds without a hint of creep. Reset is also short and positive, making for the kind of trigger that draws shooters to custom 1911s.
The manual safety is slightly oversize yet slim and is easy yet positive to actuate. Likewise, the slide stop is extended yet still appropriate for concealed carry, and the pin is both countersunk and flush cut. The mag release is checkered to match the frontstrap and mainspring housing and can be engaged without shifting one’s hand on the grip.
I may sound like a broken record, but for me, the two most important elements of a handgun are the trigger and sights. We’ve already established that the Vice President has a great trigger, and the sights are excellent. The serrated blade Heinie Ledge Tactical rear sight fits into a dovetail milled into the slide and is drift adjustable for windage once the twin hex screws have been loosened.
The front sight also rides securely in a dovetail and has an 0.08-inch gold bead at its center. I’m a big fan of a gold bead front sight on my handguns, and this one is no exception.
On the inside, the Vice President uses traditional elements along with a few deviations. The trigger, sear, disconnector and Delta-style hammer are pure 1911, as is the internal extractor.
This handgun employs the standard recoil spring guide and plug system that we’ve seen for over a century. The barrel bushing has been shortened a bit—probably so that it’s invisible through the forward slide cuts that show off the barrel beneath. Unless you’re a gorilla, you’ll need the included bushing wrench to disassemble the Vice President, which is further evidence of the careful construction of this handgun.
Additionally, there was no evidence of barrel squat, which is important in a locked-breech pistol. This close fit ensures better accuracy and shorter barrel lock time. Timing is an important but often ignored element of 1911 function that clearly the gunsmiths at Nighthawk pay attention to.
The most visually distinctive element of the Vice President is undoubtedly the barrel. Like the barrels on the other guns in the Executive series, it receives a titanium nitride coating. For those not familiar with this treatment, it is a hard and wear-resistant coating often applied to machine tooling and medical devices.
It is extremely thin, usually only 0.0002 inch thick, which is a good thing on a firearm with such minimal clearances. Not only does the coating provide superior surface properties when compared to many traditional firearm finishes, but also it gives the barrel its gold tone.
Like nearly all 9mm 1911s, the barrel is ramped, which makes for a single feed plane and strengthens the lower lugs where they meet the slide-stop pin. The recessed crown protects the rifling and adds some visual appeal.
Though these features are all standard on the Vice President, Nighthawk allows buyers to choose from a menu of custom options. A double-stack upgrade is available, as is an integral light rail as well as various sight, barrel and checkering options, with varying prices that are listed on the company’s website.
Likewise, if the customer wants a chambering other than .45 or 9mm, .38 Super and 10mm Auto options are available. Notably, many finish options are available at no additional cost, including various Cerakote colors, hard chrome and even stainless steel construction.
Looks are important, but performance is the true test of value. I’ll spare you the suspense: The Vice President was impressive on the range. I tested six different loads, ranging from 90 to 147 grains, and the Vice President ran flawlessly regardless of bullet type or weight.
After seeing it group well in so many guns, Hornady’s 115-grain XTP load has become my gold standard for accuracy testing. It lived up to its reputation with 25-yard groups averaging just 1.4 inches. It’s worth noting that the largest average groups with any load tested still measured less than 2.5 inches, which is a long-established benchmark for handgun accuracy at this distance.
The Vice President was 100 percent reliable and mechanically accurate, and it was a pleasure to shoot. The well-designed grip and checkering surfaces, the crisp trigger and high-quality sights made rapid and repeatable hits come easily. Unlike some custom 1911s I’ve tested, the manual safety was easy to disengage. Recoil was minimal, as was muzzle rise thanks to the 9mm chambering.
I shot the Vice President as well as I’ve shot virtually any other handgun. With little effort in under two seconds, I was able to reliably put five rapid hits into the head zone of an old-model IDPA target placed at seven yards. This isn’t a boast but rather a testament to the design and execution of this handgun that allowed me to shoot my best.
With the rare but real threat of active shooters, I am no longer comfortable carrying a handgun that is incapable of making reliable hits at extended ranges. With that in mind, I’ve shifted away from subcompact pistols in favor of guns I can truly shoot well. Though they can be on the heavy side, Commander-length 1911s, in my opinion, are just about ideal for concealed carry. The Vice President fit well in my Milt Sparks Summer Special II holster and should be compatible with any rig designed for 1911s of this length.
The Nighthawk Vice President is on par with the finest handguns I’ve shot over the years in terms of fit, finish and performance. The company’s commitment to doing things right is evident down to the smallest detail. There are no cut corners, no MIM parts, no expense spared. This level of craftsmanship doesn’t come cheap but if you’re looking for a top-quality handgun and are willing to pay for it, one could hardly go wrong with the Vice President.
Nighthawk Custom Vice President 1911 Specs
- Type: 1911
- Caliber: 9mm Luger (as tested)
- Capacity: 10+1
- Barrel: 4.25 in., titanium nitride finish
- Weight: 38.4 oz.
- Construction: Forged steel frame, machined steel slide
- Grips: RailScales G10
- Sights: Black adjustable rear, gold bead front
- Trigger: 2.9 lb. (measured)
- Safeties: Single-side thumb, grip
- Price: $4,199
- Manufacturer: Nighthawk Custom, NighthawkCustom.com
Nighthawk Custom Vice President 1911 Accuracy Results