October 10, 2022
By Brad Fitzpatrick
Bill Wilson is well-known in firearms circles as one of the premier builders of custom 1911 handguns, but have you ever wondered what pistol Wilson selects as his everyday carry pistol? The answer is the new SFX9, and it’s easy to understand why this feature-loaded firearm is the top choice for one of America’s top handgun designers.
As the name suggests, the SFX9 is chambered in 9mm Luger. It features Wilson’s Solid Frame full-size aluminum grip/frame design, which is machined from solid T6-7075 aluminum. The design is more durable than competing two-piece grip/frame designs, and it’s also considerably lighter than steel-frame pistols. For example, the SFX9 four-inch pistol I tested (3.25-inch and five-inch versions are also available) has an unloaded weight of 29.3 ounces, much lighter than alloy-steel Commander 9mm 1911s that weigh roughly 38 ounces unloaded.
The SFX9’s flat, solid-steel frame comes with Wilson Combat’s X-Tac tread pattern on the grips, frontstrap and backstrap. Noticeably lacking from the rear of the frame is the traditional 1911 grip safety. It prevents the shooter from accidentally releasing pressure on the grip safety while placing their thumb on the manual safety, which can result in a failure to fire—especially among those who aren’t familiar with traditional 1911 design. Some shooters may miss this feature, but I doubt most will.
The extended beavertail and grip design allow for a comfortable, high hold on the gun that helps mitigate recoil, and the backstrap and bobtail design fills the hand comfortably while remaining easy to conceal. Relieved areas on the left grip and under the trigger guard comfortably accommodate the shooter’s fingers and provide tactile memory indicators to ensure a consistent hold on the pistol. A two-slot rail on the gun’s dust cover allows easy mounting of light and lasers. The SFX9’s stainless steel slide blends classic 1911 styling cues with modern treatments. It features an angular tri-top design with 30 lines-per-inch serrations on the top of the slide and 40-lpi serrations on the rear of the slide.
Ball endmill and carry cuts add style, and there’s a heavy machine chamfer on the bottom of the slide. X-Tac front and rear slide serrations offer a secure hold when manipulating the pistol. They also offer an aesthetic upgrade that matches the grip texturing and gives these guns a custom look and feel. The slide comes with a black diamond-like carbon (DLC) physical vapor deposition finish with tungsten and chromium underlayers for premium corrosion and damage protection. The DLC also gives the slide a rich, even black color that enhances the SFX9’s appeal.
A good carry gun must have excellent sights, and—no surprise—Wilson didn’t scrimp in that department. At the rear of the slide, you’ll find Wilson’s hardened carbon steel Concealment Battlesight with a 0.145-inch-wide U-notch and sleek external profile for comfortable carry. The rear sight comes with a pyramid shape to occlude less of the target, and the sight is held in position with a large setscrew and can be replaced easily if you desire. There’s also a front shelf machined into the sight that allows for reliable one-handed cycling should the need arise.
The red fiber-optic front sight is held in place by a 4.40 hex head cap screw. Of course, Wilson can also add a slide cut to the pistol for mounting optics if you choose to upgrade. Many of these features fall under what Wilson Combat refers to as its Enhanced Reliability System, or ERS. In addition to the reduced- mass tri-top slide, these guns also come with the frame rails removed around the magazine opening to reduce friction and improve reliability. Another key factor in the ERS design is the spring-powered external extractor that can be serviced by the shooter.
Adding to the reliability of this pistol is the hand-fitted four-inch stainless steel cone barrel that is fluted and features Wilson’s flush-cut reverse crown. The match barrel features a single lug that reduces cycling friction. It’s part of the ERS design and makes these pistols operate so efficiently with a broad range of 9mm ammunition. Not surprisingly, the pistol features a long list of premium Wilson Combat components, including Wilson Combat’s Bullet Proof thumb safety, which, like all Bullet Proof components, is machined from hardened billet steel. The shaft on these safeties is cut to maximum dimensions and perfectly fitted into the pistol for crisp operation. The safety is easy to access but doesn’t extend so far beyond the face of the pistol that it will snag or pinch. A machined billet Bullet Proof radiused magazine release has 40-lpi checkering.
The Bullet Proof Hammer is skeletonized to improve lock time. The skeletonized trigger breaks between 3.5 and 4.5 pounds and was four pounds even on the test gun. These components are popular among custom 1911 builders and those who simply want to upgrade their factory guns, so it’s no surprise that the hand-fitted SFX9 is a smooth-operating premium gun that looks and feels like it came from a custom shop. All SFX9 pistols come with two 15-round metal Mec-Gar double-stack metal magazines. With such a long list of premium features, there’s no doubt the SFX9 four-inch is an excellent gun. As I mentioned earlier, SFX9 four-inch is Bill Wilson’s go-to carry pistol, which speaks to the performance you can expect from it.
“I shoot the SFX9 four-inch better than any self-defense carry gun I’ve ever shot,” Wilson says. “For me, it’s the perfect combination of size, weight, capacity and shootability.” With its four-inch barrel the SFX9 measures 7.4 inches overall with a sight radius of 5.6 inches. Height is 5.25 inches, and it has a maximum width of 1.4 inches. Most 1911 carry guns don’t stack up favorably against polymer-frame pistols in overall capacity, but the Wilson Combat SFX9 matches a Glock G19’s capacity. What’s more, the Wilson Combat is only slightly longer than the Glock and 0.2 inch taller and wider. The Wilson Combat is six ounces heavier, but that added heft helps make the Wilson more compliant when shooting quickly.
If it seems odd to compare a custom 1911 carry pistol to an off-the-shelf striker-fired gun, the point is 1911s don’t have to be oversized or bulky to match capacity of popular polymer carry guns. With the SFX9 four-inch, Bill Wilson has taken the classic John Browning design and modernized it, smoothing the rough edges, adding premium components throughout, and increasing capacity—all without deviating from the core design that has made the 1911 one of history’s best-loved firearms.
There are few guns in the world that match the smooth operation and build quality of a Wilson Combat 1911. Certainly, no production pistol matches the ball-bearing-smooth action operation, flawless fit and finish and high-end components or design elements. The proper first step when handling a gun like the SFX9 is to operate the slide and the controls, feeling for the faintest hint of roughness or slop. You’ll find none. But how does this gun shoot? I tested it with five loads, three of which were Wilson Combat’s Pinnacle 9mm ammunition. Mec-Gar magazines feature tubes and followers built specifically for the 9mm, and they were easy to load and fed without issue. The feed ramp, as you might expect, is polished smooth, and the external extractor takes a healthy bite on the rim of the cartridge and ensures reliable operation.
There wasn’t a single malfunction over the course of more than 100 rounds. Wilson Combat went to great lengths to ensure the SFX9 runs with 9mm ammunition of various qualities, bullet weights, velocities and pressures, and I had no issues. Though not part of the range test, I also fed the gun inexpensive 115-grain full-metal-jacket ammunition when running drills, and there were no issues with feeding. Off the bench group sizes hovered around 1.5 inches at 25 yards with several groups in the 1.25-inch range and a few closer to one inch. That exceeds Wilson Combat’s accuracy promise, but as this is an exceptional gun, I thought it required some exceptional testing. To that end, I walked back the target frame until it was as close to the berm as possible and then hoisted the shooting bench to the rear of the shooting bay. That offered me a shot of 40 yards, and from that distance I managed a 1.65-inch group using Wilson Combat’s 124-grain High Performance Tactical ammunition.
The primary reason this gun shoots as well as it does—aside from the premium parts and hand construction—is the superb trigger. The wide serrated trigger face is easy to manage, and it breaks more like a fine hunting rifle than a defense pistol, which makes it easy to produce good groups. The trigger also makes this an ideal gun for running drills since the combination of a crisp, smooth trigger break; great in-hand balance; and functional sights allows the shooter to place accurate shots while rapidly switching targets. Those same attributes make the SFX9 an ideal self-defense pistol.
A smooth-running custom pistol like the SFX9 will naturally appeal to the experienced shooter with a soft spot for 1911s. But I think there’s a legitimate argument that, price aside, this pistol makes perfect sense for shooters of all skill levels. I’ve seen enough new shooters struggling with small micro compacts on the range to understand that a pistol with a bit more size and heft is much easier to manage. The smoothed edges and light ERS slide/rails make the slide easy to operate, and the lack of the grip safety is one less factor to complicate operation.
Takedown is also quite simple and straightforward, especially for a 1911, and the SFX9 goes back together without a lot of complex wrangling. Would I recommend a $3,000 custom pistol for new shooters? Probably not. But the point is that this gun is extremely well-built and user-friendly, which shooters of all skill levels can appreciate.
The wide grip design of the SFX9 is among the best of any 1911 available today, and although some purists might miss the grip safety, I don’t. The SFX9 conceals as easily as popular four-inch, double-stack polymer guns but offers a more robust parts list and improved accuracy. It can be hard to conceal under a single layer of clothing, but with a light cover garment, it disappears and does so without pain or discomfort to the wearer. I carried this pistol for the better part of a week and found it suitable for daily carry. Also, this pistol’s durability and refinement offers peace of mind.
If there was anything I didn’t like it’s that I’m not completely sold on the X-Tac pattern. It’s functional and well executed, but it’s a bit too avant-garde for my taste. Perhaps I do have a bit of 1911 purist DNA after all. That said, it’s tough to find much of anything I don’t love about this gun—except it’s priced out of the reach of some shooters. However, for those able to save up for the purchase of a premium carry 1911, you’ll be well served by the SFX9. Bill Wilson has spent decades redefining the carry gun, and after all those distillations, this is what remains. It’s perhaps the most perfect everyday carry 1911 ever created.
Wilson Combact SFX9 1911 Specs
- Type: Hammer-fired, semiautomatic
- Caliber: 9mm
- Capacity: 15+1 rds.
- Barrel: 3.25, 4 (tested), 5 in.
- Overall Length: 7.4/5.25/1.4 in.
- Weight: 29.3 oz.
- Grips: Wilson X-TAC
- Finish: DLC Black
- Trigger: 4 lbs. (tested)
- SIghts: Wilson Concealment Battlesight rear, fiber-optic front
- MSRP: $2,995
- Manufacturer: Wilson Combat