April 28, 2022
It seems as if every firearm manufacturer builds its own version of the Colt 1911 handgun. Unlike some designs, the nuances of the 1911 can make it tricky to get right. Experience matters. Some have been at it longer than others, and one of the most seasoned companies in this space is Springfield Armory based in Geneseo, Illinois. Not only has the company been producing quality 1911-pattern handguns for decades, but also it continues to push the envelope with new designs. The most recent example is the Emissary, a full-size, fully featured and attractive handgun that blends classic and modern design and style elements.
The features that set the Emissary apart from the competition are both aesthetic and functional. For decades, custom shaping a 1911’s lines had to be performed either by hand or with manual machinery. We are talking about checkering, high-cut frames, flat-topped slides and the like. These operations are time-consuming and expensive, lending them mostly to bespoke handguns.
Springfield Armory was one of the first mainstream manufacturers to incorporate many otherwise custom features into its 1911s with its “Loaded” series of pistols. Today’s multi-axis CNC milling machines allow the company to take things even further and do things it has never done before. The Emissary is a great example of the results of this technology. As of now, the Emissary is offered only in a two-tone, full-size configuration chambered in .45 ACP.
There is a lot to cover, so we will start with the forged stainless steel frame. One thing that jumps right out at you when you lay your eyes on the Emissary is the square trigger guard. I’ve always been a fan of this look, as it reminds me of the custom 1911s I saw in magazines while growing up in the 1980s.
In those days, a square trigger guard had to be fabricated and welded on or the frame heated and stretched to achieve the look. No longer. Looks aside, the square trigger guard has a practical advantage as well. Squaring the guard makes it longer which provides more surface area for the support-side hand underneath and allows for what some consider a more secure grip. It also provides a bit of additional room for gloved fingers inside the guard.
The Emissary’s frame also has an integral light/accessory, rail which is milled into the dust cover. The frame actually flares outward a bit in this area, presumably to provide additional strength and weight upfront. An angled cut at the leading edge of the frame connects with the lines of the slide, which is unique and attractive.
The most visually striking element is the “Frag” pattern on the pistol’s frontstrap, steel mainspring housing and grips. The frame is milled with horizontal and vertical cuts that create small squares that look like they belong on the pineapple fragmentation grenades of old. This technique was pioneered by custom gunmaker Ned Christiansen but, before now, has never been available on a production firearm.
The grips are from VZ Grips in Tallahassee, Florida, and feature the same Frag pattern as the frame. The G10 grips are thinner than standard 1911 grips and the left-side panel is relieved so the magazine catch can be more easily accessed.
The grips are secured with Torx screws. Since the grip panels are thinner than usual, special low-profile bushings are used to secure the grip screws to the frame. The grips eliminate the usual notch on the bottom rear corner that allows access to the mainspring housing retaining pin, so the panels must be removed in order for that component to be removed.
Overall, the Frag pattern of the collective grip surfaces provides plenty of traction without being abrasive. Thanks to an upswept beavertail grip safety, the Emissary allows for a relatively high grip, though the trigger guard is not as radically undercut as some guns on the market. The magazine well is beveled along its sides and rear.
The blued carbon slide is another departure from traditional 1911 lines—but in an attractive way. The slide is tri-topped, meaning it has angled cuts on the top edge rather than being rounded. The flat top of the slide is serrated 40 lines per inch along its length, which is always a nice touch.
The slide serrations are angled but wider than normal, creating four grasping grooves. Additionally, three grooves are milled into the angled top of the slide where forward serrations might otherwise be located. The ejection port is lowered and flared for reliability, and ball endmill cuts visually connect the front of the frame to the face of the slide.
The Emissary is fitted with a stainless steel bull barrel that makes a traditional barrel bushing unnecessary. Lockup was tight, with no sign of barrel squat caused by ill-fitting bottom lugs.
This style of barrel and the full-length guide rod are examples of the modern touches the Emissary weds with the classic design. One modern touch that Springfield Armory didn’t include on the Emissary was an external extractor. Though they’ve become the standard for semiauto handguns since the Browning P-35, they’ve never really been widely accepted by the 1911 community. The internal extractor has been getting it done for 110 years, so it’s hard to disagree with its use.
Functionally, the Emissary is old-school 1911. There are none of the often-maligned fire-control elements that were included in the Colt Series 80 guns. The frame-mounted feed ramp and barrel throat are of the standard configuration. There is a flat-faced polymer trigger that, on our example, broke at a very clean 4.25 pounds.
The slide stop and magazine release are of the traditional design that any 1911 lover will be familiar. The manual safety is extended and provides a perfect thumb rest for a high-handed grip. Like all Springfield Armory 1911s, there is a slot at the rear of the barrel hood that serves as a loaded-chamber indicator.
The Trijicon sights found on the Emissary are of excellent quality. The steel front blade is dovetailed and roll-pinned into the slide and combines a highly visible green circle with an illuminated tritium center, making it visible in any lighting condition.
The rear sight is also steel and is dovetailed into the frame and secured with a hex screw. It’s drift adjustable for windage. A U-shaped notch is outlined by a white line. The front edge of the rear sight features a “tactical rack” shelf that, in a pinch, allows the shooter to cycle the slide one-handed.
When I look at this firearm in its totality, Springfield Armory’s history of producing quality 1911s is evident. The overall fit and finish on my Emissary sample was good. The slide-to-frame fit was tight with no rattle.
In terms of finishes, the stainless steel frame is a matte bead-blasted style, which contrasts with the black slide and controls. Though most of the blued parts match the matte frame, the flats of the slides are nicely polished. The two-tone finish and square trigger guard give the Emissary a bit of a retro look. Aesthetics are a very individual thing, and I found this handgun to be interesting and attractive without being radical.
The Emissary ships in a zippered nylon case with two eight-round magazines. Both are high-quality steel-bodied mags made by Mec-Gar of Italy. The follower and base pads are black polymer. The gun is, of course, compatible with other 1911 magazines on the market. I function-tested the Emissary with magazines from both Colt and Wilson Combat, and both magazines worked just fine.
The process of field-stripping the Emissary is identical to that of any bull-barreled 1911 with a full-length guide rod. After removing the magazine and confirming the pistol is unloaded, the slide is retracted until the half-moon notch aligns with the slide stop.
The slide stop is removed, allowing the top end of the Emissary to slide off the frame. The guide rod assembly comes downward away from the barrel, and with the barrel link flipped forward, the barrel can be slid forward out of the slide.
At the bench, I tested the Emissary with the three loads listed in the accompanying chart. With the exception of one failure to go into battery—caused by an out-of-spec Colt Defense round that was too long for the chamber—the Emissary functioned 100 percent of the time. Accuracy was about what one would expect from a factory 1911, with groups ranging from good to great depending on the ammunition used.
Next, I moved closer to the berm and got down to more practical (and fun) drills. The combination of the good trigger, excellent sights and my long familiarity with full-size 1911s made hitting steel targets with the Emissary a somewhat mindless task.
Subjectively, this handgun seemed to shoot “softer” in terms of both recoil and muzzle rise than the average five-inch .45. I assumed that was due to a heavy recoil spring, but that was not the case, this one being only 16 pounds. Overall, I was impressed with the Emissary both on and off the range.
There are individuals who believe that John Browning’s original design should be left alone because you can’t improve upon perfection. If you are part of that brand of die-hard 1911 traditionalists, the Emissary might not be your cup of tea. On the other hand, if you are looking for a pistol that combines the virtues of the original Government model with some functional and aesthetic modern enhancements, the Emissary might be for you. This is a functional, reliable and accurate handgun suitable for a variety of tasks.
Springfield Armory Emissary Specifications
- Type: 1911
- Caliber: .45 ACP
- Capacity: 8+1
- Barrel: 5 in.
- Weight: 40 oz.
- Construction: stainless steel frame, carbon steel slide
- Grips: textured VZ Grips G10 panels
- Sights: tritium front, Tactical Rack U-Dot rear
- Trigger: 4.25 lb. (measured)
- Safeties: strong-side thumb, grip
- Price: $1,279
- Manufacturer: Springfield Armory, springfield-armory.com