March 11, 2021
You’d be hard-pressed to find a gun shooters like to dress up more than the 1911. From hammer spurs to beavertails, grip panels to trigger profiles, there’s not another handgun in the world that has been as thoroughly tricked-out as John Browning’s 1911.
Customizing 1911s has become big business, and there’s no bigger name in the 1911 game than Bill Wilson. Bill’s custom pistols are striking examples of mechanical artwork, and Wilson Combat guns look as good as they shoot. What’s more, Wilson’s custom shop has the capacity to build just about any 1911 your heart desires. Want a .38 Super with a Commander slide and orange grips? I have no idea why you would, but Bill would probably make one for you.
The newest gun in Wilson’s catalog is decidedly more subdued than some of the high-grade guns the company normally offers. Known as the American Combat Pistol, or ACP, these new 1911s don’t offer a lot of frills or adornments for a custom gun. The color scheme is pure black. The slide cuts and grip pattern comprise simple, straight, parallel lines, and the mainspring housing and frontstrap bear the same minimalist machining.
At first glance this looks like the most basic 1911 that ever rolled out of Berryville, Arkansas. And that’s the point. This is the distillation of the modern 1911 combat pistol, a gun with clean lines and a clear purpose: to provide superb mechanical reliability and outstanding accuracy at a price point that’s well below what guns of this caliber normally cost.
“The ACP is designed to offer shooters everything that’s necessity on a 1911 without the frills,” says Bill Wilson. “Functionally, these guns have everything you need without a lot of cosmetic upgrades.”
Make no mistake, the ACP is still very much a Wilson Combat gun through and through, and as such it’s got a long list of premium components. Available in Full-Size (five-inch), Commander (4.25-inch) and Compact (four-inch) versions in .45 Auto or 9mm, the ACP comes with Wilson’s newest forged carbon steel slide and matching carbon steel frame.
The carbon steel is phosphate Parkerized and then receives a black Armor-Tuff finish. Armor-Tuff offers a durable, non-reflective exterior finish that is incredibly durable. Wilson says the finish has been subjected to more than 3,000 hours of salt spray testing without corrosion, which means ACP pistols will hold up well against sweat and moisture exposure while carrying. The Armor-Tuff exterior also offers increased lubricity to the metal and gives it a smooth, stylish look.
Not surprisingly, the ACP is built with high-end components throughout, including Wilson’s High-Grip Bullet Proof beavertail grip safety, Tactical Bullet Proof thumb safety and Bullet Proof magazine release. All ACP pistols come equipped with Wilson’s own Battlesight rear sight and a red fiber-optic front sight. The Full-Size and Commander ACP pistols come with match-grade barrels and bushings while the Compact version I tested comes with a match-grade cone barrel that is flush cut.
Magazine capacity for the Full-Size ACP is eight rounds in .45 ACP and 10 rounds in 9mm. The Compact version holds seven rounds in .45 ACP and eight rounds in 9mm, and a beveled mag well helps speed up your tactical reloads.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature on this otherwise subdued 1911 is the grip design. Wilson calls the design Eagle Claw, which I assume pays homage to the deep, parallel cuts in the mainspring housing and frontstrap and black G10 grips that look as though they might have been carved out by the talons of a bird of prey. That same Eagle Claw design also appears on the rear cocking serrations.
The Eagle Claw texturing on the grip panels keeps the gun firmly planted in the hand. What’s more, it isn’t as aggressive as some other texturing patterns, so you won’t need to wear gloves while shooting. The Eagle Claw design isn’t as ornate as some of Wilson’s other patterns, but it’s a functional addition that adds to the ACP’s less-is-more persona. The ACP’s grips also feature a black Wilson Combat medallion.
The ACP Compact pistol I tested was chambered in 9mm. With its four-inch barrel the ACP Compact has an overall length of just 7.6 inches, and it has a height of 4.75 inches. At 1.3 inches wide and weighing 42 ounces fully loaded, the ACP Compact 9mm makes a suitable carry gun for anyone who doesn’t mind the added weight of an all-steel pistol.
The ACP pistols were designed to offer custom gun features without the traditional custom gun price, but you can still select different finishes, sights and grips. The overall design of the gun will remain largely unchanged, though. It’s also a gun that should be available in many of the larger gun stores, if you want a brand-new Wilson pistol without the wait. Suggested retail for all three sizes in .45 is $2,495, with the 9mm models commanding an additional $100.
Austere though they may be by Wilson Combat standards, the ACP pistols are built to the company’s exacting specifications. Prior to his career as a gun maker, Bill Wilson was trained to build and repair high-end watches—Rolexes, Vacherons, Hublots and the like—and he brought all the mechanical and machining skills required to repair extremely expensive timepieces to 1911 production.
Wilson Combat pistols are refined, with tight, smooth actions that can only be achieved with superb machining. The fit and finish on the gun are far superior to some other custom 1911s that cost a grand more. The slide movement is ball-bearing smooth, and mechanical operation is flawless. The safety lever clicks between the Safe and Fire positions with a positive snap, and the muzzle-to-slide fit is outstanding. The Armor-Tuff finish is, of course, beautifully done.
The ACP’s trigger features a medium pad and breaks between 3.5 and 4.5 pounds, and it was 3.7 pounds on my test pistol. It’s not skeletonized, and it has the same matte black look as the rest of the gun.
Adding a Battlesight certainly makes this gun more appealing, especially for anyone who actually plans to carry it on a daily basis. The compact rear blade offers 40-lpi checkering and a 0.145-inch-wide, deep U-notch that’s easy to see in most light conditions. The pronounced shelf on the front of the rear sight is sturdy enough for one-handed racking, and the sight is dovetailed into the slide and held in place with two heavy-duty setscrews. The front sight is fiber-optic red and easy to see, making it ideal for flash sighting at close quarters or in low light.
Like any good 1911 pistol, the ACP balances beautifully in the shooter’s hand. Grip angle is ideal for accurate shooting and recoil management, and the Eagle Claw grip design offers plenty of purchase so you can obtain a secure hold on the gun. While I love the look of mirror-smooth grips on a 1911, smooth grips aren’t as easy to securely grasp as those with more aggressive texturing like the G10s on the Wilson ACP Compact.
The beavertail is wide enough to be quite comfortable, and it promotes a high hold on the gun that helps mitigate muzzle rise—which, in turn, allows faster aimed follow-up shots. I carried the ACP for about a week, and it is compact enough that it doesn’t print under light clothing. With a light IWB holster and a sturdy belt, I could wear the gun completely hidden under a light T-shirt. Plus, the gun is tough enough to withstand constant exposure to corrosive perspirations without eroding the finish. The ACP’s smooth lines and contoured sights make it fast and easy to draw.
I fed the ACP a mixed diet of self-defense loads that included two of Wilson’s own 9mm loads (see sidebar). There were no issues with feeding, extraction, ejection or anything else—as you would expect from a semi-custom gun like the ACP.
Wilson promises one-inch groups at 25 yards from the Full-Size and Commander ACP guns and 1.5 inches at that same distance with the Compact version. The latter is probably less a limitation of the gun than the shooter, and in the right hands and with the right load, the Compact version will shoot closer to an inch for five shots with the right ammo.
The trigger on the test gun was superb, which helps further improve accuracy. There’s a bit of take-up before the shot. With a bit of practice, you quickly learn to draw out the take-up and once the trigger comes tight just about a pound of additional pressure drops the hammer. Recoil from the ACP is quite manageable thanks to the steel slide and frame and far less jarring than the pushback generated by light polymer-frame 9mms.
Once the accuracy testing was complete, I set out two paper torso targets and a pair of steel plates to do more dynamic testing. The sight setup worked well, and I liked how well the fiber-optic front sight picks up available light and how the concave design of the Battlesight offered a clear picture in bright sunlight.
Fans of the 1911 will notice the Battlesight also seems a bit taller than other sights, and that’s true. Wilson adds about 0.03 inch to the height of the rear sight, and that small change in sight height makes the Battlesight more user-friendly and provides a clearer sight picture with better contrast. The ledge on the rear sight is deep and aggressive, so you can rack the gun single-handedly without fuss.
Wilson Combat ACP Compact
Caliber: 9mm (tested), .45 ACP
Barrel: 4 in.
OAL/height/width: 7.6/4.8/1.3 in.
Weight: 37 oz.
Trigger: 3.7 lb. pull (measured)
Grips: Wilson Combat G10 Eagle Claw
Sights: Wilson Battlesight rear, red fiber-optic front
Manufacturer: Wilson Combat, wilsoncombat.com