June 28, 2018
Where were you on August 21, 2017? If the significance of that date escapes you, then you've already forgotten about the first total solar eclipse visible throughout the contiguous United States in our lifetime. Odds are you've already pitched the certified eclipse glasses for which you paid the princely sum of $10. Life in Casper, Wyoming; Lincoln, Nebraska; Hopkinsville, Kentucky; and other towns along the path of totality has returned to normal. Interviews with astronomers have declined markedly.
But the Great American Eclipse was not the only significant eclipse of 2017. In Yonkers, New York, the product development team at Kimber America- the leading producer of 1911s- ”was seeking to update the Eclipse, its nearly 20-year-old flagship model. That task fell to director of product marketing Winslow Potter, the same man responsible for the first iteration of the popular Kimber pistol.
"In 2001, not long after I started working for Kimber, I came up with the first Eclipse model," says Potter. "Back then, the Eclipse started as a blackened frame and slide which were then brush polished on the flats. Night sights, 30-lpi frontstrap checkering and wood laminate grip completed the look. It was an instant hit."
Indeed it was. 2001 was early in the Kimber America days, and the company's Eclipse quickly became a premier product. It proved the brand could build a production 1911 with high-quality parts that not only shot well but also looked good. The 1911 crowd was impressed. The new-for-2017 Kimber Eclipse Custom, then, isn't a radical redesign but rather an update.
"Going into 2017, I wanted to freshen it up a bit but not completely take away the overall look of the pistol from years past," says Potter. "I added our very durable Kimpro Gray finish on the frame and slide, then brush polished just the slide. This pays homage to the original Eclipse, but the frame is less conspicuous when holstered. I kept the 30-lpi frontstrap checkering and blackened stainless steel checkered mainspring housing for a firm grip."
Potter included the company's tritium nights for fast target acquisition even in low light. For the grips he partnered with VZ Grips.
"I gave them some general design ideas and cut them loose," he says. "VZ came up with a uniquely functional grip, which not only grips extremely well but accents the layers of G10 in a manner that really sets the pistol apart from others out there. We call them Cyclone [pattern] grips."
First impressions are that the detail work on the new Eclipse Custom is extremely good. The front and rear fixed tritium sights are dovetailed into the slide and feature a three-dot design that is easy to see in any light condition, from full sun to total darkness. The polishing on the slide gives the Eclipse a striking mirrored surface that contrasts nicely with the new matte gray frame.
Small parts like the grip safety are finished in black, and the pattern on the Cyclone grips is stylish yet functional. The finish and grips seem to wear well, capable of standing up to the rigors of daily carry. The low-profile sights don't hang up when drawing this pistol, but if you prefer adjustable target sights, there's also an optional Target version with adjustable bar/dot tritium sights.
The Custom version comes with a five-inch stainless steel barrel with stainless match grade bushing and a 16-pound spring. Other features include front and rear slide serrations, a premium skeletonized aluminum trigger set between four and five pounds from the factory, a skeletonized hammer and a full-length guide rod.
The Custom comes in either .45 ACP or 10mm Auto, and both weigh in at 38 ounces with an empty magazine. The 10mm has an 18.5-pound spring, and both calibers have barrels with a left-handed twist rate of 1:16.
The Kimber features both a match-grade stainless bushing and a stainless steel five-inch barrel. The gray dust cover is a nice complement to the polished slide flat
Aside from the grip design and the finish, there is one other significant difference between the new Eclipse and earlier versions. The new guns are Series I (70 Series) pistols; previous models used the Schwartz-style safety firing-pin block. Many shooters won't notice or care about the transition, but for hard-core 1911 fans it's significant.
"Everything we design at Kimber is about form and function," Potter says of the new Eclipse Custom. "This pistol looks great and feels fantastic to shoot."
Out of the box, the Eclipse Custom operates smoothly. Everything about the gun has a polished look, and fit and finish are excellent, hallmarks of the Kimber 1911 guns. All the internals were smooth and free from the machine marks that are sometimes overlooked in production 1911s.
For the better part of a week, I carried the Eclipse Custom in a Galco holster while working, when heading to the range and even carrying it concealed on a few occasions. For my taste, the full-size 1911 is pushing the upper limits in terms of practical size for concealed carry, but for shooters who are comfortable with the dimensions of these guns- and aren't afraid to expose a pistol with a suggested retail nearing $1,300 to the stresses of daily use- the Eclipse will stand up.
The matte gray slide finish didn't concern me as much as that mirrored slide finish, but there were no visible scratches on the surface metal. In fact, the close-up photographs of the pistol for this article were taken after carrying the gun holstered for a week, and it clearly shows the finish is still bright, clean and free of mars. In addition, the Eclipse is a gun that lends itself well to a smooth draw. The glass-smooth slide, compact sights and grip geometry contribute to a shooting experience free from hassles and hang-ups.
Since the gross anatomy of all 1911s is roughly equivalent regardless of manufacturer, details like materials selection, checkering and even magazine quality become key components when selecting from among the hundreds of available models. As I mentioned, the internals of the gun are smooth and of high quality and the exterior looks great, but some key features set the Eclipse apart.
For starters, the VZ-designed Cyclone grips are among the best 1911 grips I've held. The finger grooves help secure the hand in place, and the top curve of the grip blends naturally to the frame, reducing gaps between the hand and grip surface. The 30-lpi checkering is a nice aesthetic touch and functions to help secure the gun, so the Eclipse handles recoil well. The Eclipse I tested was a .45 and was quite comfortable to shoot. Grip geometry would be even more beneficial when firing hot 10mm loads in the version of this pistol chambered for that round.
The Eclipse performed extremely well at the range, and I'd rank it among the most accurate production 1911s I've tested. The factory sights were properly adjusted and easy to see, and the smooth, crisp 4.5-pound trigger is excellent. Groups at or below two inches were not the exception but the rule in many cases, and the Kimber shot well with a wide variety of different loads and bullet weights.
Ultimately, Hornady's Critical Defense won the overall accuracy mantle with groups averaging just 1.73 inches, with Barnes TAC-XPD loads close behind at 1.9 inches. But the Eclipse produced good groups with everything from top-shelf ammo to affordable stuff, so there's no need to feed this pistol premium fuel for top-flight performance.
In most cases, the first order of business is to break down a test pistol, inspect the internals and lubricate, but Kimber saved me some time by shipping this gun out the door with a heavy dose of lubricant. The Eclipse performed without any issues, which is not always the case when firing a new gun over 150 times from both standing and from a rest with various loads. The furnished magazine comes with a smooth, strong spring and drops free of the gun with ease when you hit the mag release.
As enjoyable as it is to shoot tight groups from the bench, it's more enjoyable to run the Eclipse through drills on the range. With a series of steel plates, IDPA silhouettes and balloons strung up at various ranges, I started emptying my ammo coffers and taking notes on how the Kimber performed. Smooth cycling and a good trigger make this gun enjoyable. The sights are solid and functional, and the white outer rings blend well with the tritium lamps to provide good day or night visibility.
By all practical measures, the Kimber Eclipse Custom is a functional, well-built and highly accurate pistol. Whether or not its good looks, function, and long list of high-end features warrant the price remains a matter of personal opinion, but considering the fit and operation of the gun, it could be argued the Eclipse is something of a bargain in its class. The switch to the 70 Series safety will appeal to many 1911 shooters, and Kimber guns tend to hold their value quite well, so there's something to be said about the investment value of these pistols.
Any gun you can purchase, enjoy shooting and expect a return of something close to original price should you ever choose to part with it is a win. In truth, I doubt you'll want to let this gun go- even though you may use the "I'm not buying this gun, I'm investing in it" argument when presenting your case to a significant other. Like those rare moments when the sun and the moon align perfectly, pistols of this ilk aren't something that come around every day.
KIMBER ECLIPSE CUSTOM
CALIBER: .45 ACP (tested), 10mm
BARREL: 5 in.
OAL/HEIGHT: 8.7/5.3 in.
WEIGHT: 38 oz.
GRIPS: VZ G10 Cyclone
FINISH: charcoal grey/brushed polish
TRIGGER: Series 70, 4.5 lb. pull (measured)
SIGHTS: Vortex Venom six m.o.a. red dot, three-dot tall irons
MANUFACTURER: Kimber, KimberAmerica.com