January 03, 2011
The 1911 is a robust and relatively simple design, which tends to make it quite reliable.
According to my extensive research, there have been 1,299 variations of John Browning's famous 1911 autoloading pistol introduced during the past 99 years. That's not counting the subject of this review, which makes it an even 1,300! And, if you believe that blarney, there's a beachfront development in western Oklahoma you'd probably be interested in.
Actually, I doubt anyone knows just how many different 1911 pistols have been made since the original Colt model debuted nearly a century ago. We probably can't even nail down just how many different companies have made one or more models of this perennially popular pistol.
However, we do know that one of the best manufacturers to date is Para USA, Inc., and one of the company's latest pistols is the GI Expert.
The GI Expert's loaded chamber indicator shows a cartridge rim in the slot at the rear of the barrel.
The pistol's feedramp is polished to facilitate reliable feeding of cartridges from the magazine.
|PARA USA GI Expert|
|Manufacturer:||Para USA, Inc. 954-202-4440|
|Barrel Length:||5 inches|
|Overall Length:||8.5 inches|
|Weight, empty||39 ounces|
|Safety:||Internal firing pin block; grip safety; thumb safety|
|Stock:||Checkered black polymer|
|Magazine Capacity:||8 rounds|
When I first got my hands on a review sample, I noted the pistol's excellent trigger and familiar feel. But then I noticed an odd situation. With an empty magazine in place and the slide retracted, I couldn't depress the slide stop enough to release the slide. I retrieved my 1991 Colt and swapped magazines to see if a Colt magazine would work in the new pistol. It did, and the Para magazines worked just fine in the Colt pistol.
There are 43 pages of information with 31 color photos and an exploded drawing illustrating every functional, safety, and maintenance issue you could possibly need to know. There's also a detailed specification table for the pistol. I was quite impressed with how well the manual fulfills its purpose.
The 1911 is a robust and relatively simple design, which tends to make it quite reliable. It's a single action, semiautomatic handgun. The hammer must be cocked manually to fire the first shot. The frame-mounted slide lock safety can only be engaged when the hammer is cocked, and it blocks the sear. When on duty, the pistol can be safely carried in the cocked and locked configuration (a.k.a. Condition 1). It should never be carried with the safety "Off" and the hammer in the half-cock position.
I measured the gun's excellent trigger pull before disassembling it to make sure it was properly cleaned and lubricated. I noted the polished feedramp and the snug fit of the slide and frame. The barrel bushing was not loose, but I didn't need the special wrench that's included with the kit to remove or install it.
Compared to a near-mint, 1917-vintage military Colt pistol that I borrowed from a collector friend, the GI Expert's hammer, grip safety, and sights are much more shooter friendly than the military ones.
Para USA suggests that you fire 500 rounds in 50-round cycles to break-in the pistol. Halfway through the process you should disassemble and clean it and make sure it's still properly lubricated. The company also cautions that reliable functioning can be adversely affected by firing it limp-wristed.
For the uninitiated, that simply means you must firmly grip the gun so the slide can recoil fully to extract the empty case and compress the recoil spring. The loaded spring will then propel the slide forward, stripping and chambering another round as it returns to battery ready to fire again. After the last round is fired, the magazine follower engages the slide stop and rotates it up so it catches a notch in the recoiling slide. The slide's forward motion is arrested and it is locked open.
The GI Expert's hammer and grip safety design (left) ensure the spur cannot bite the shooter's hand unlike the extended spur and shorter safety on the vintage military 1911 pistol (right).
To reload, you simply depress the release button to eject the e
mpty magazine and insert a full one. Then grasp the serrations on the rear of the slide, pull back smartly, and quickly release it. The compressed recoil spring will perform the same function as described earlier to chamber the first round. If the gun will not be fired immediately, you should engage the safety. If leaving the pistol exposed in Condition 1 is visually disconcerting to someone, you can grip the pistol so the grip safety is disengaged, securely grasp the hammer so it can be lowered slowly when you squeeze the trigger.
I intended to shoot about half as many rounds as Para suggested. Everything proceeded without mishap for the first 70 or 80 rounds. Then, halfway through shooting a five-shot string, the slide stop caught the slide as it was about to strip the next round from the magazine. I first thought my thumb must have bumped it when the gun recoiled.
I pulled the slide back, released it, and continued. The same thing happened three more times while I shot the next 30 to 40 rounds. "Hmm," I thought, "there is something wrong with the slide stop." Because I intended to buy the gun, I figured I'd just ask Para to send me a new part and I'd replace it.
Then, at about 130 rounds, a significant problem occurred. While firing another five-shot group, the trigger wouldn't release like before. However, the slide wasn't locked back and had fully returned to its forward position. I released the trigger, ejected the magazine, and racked the slide to check the chamber for a live round. After inserting the loose round back into the magazine, I reinserted the magazine, racked the slide, and shot the rest of the rounds.
The GI Expert's three-dot sights (left) are much more shooter friendly than the vintage military 1911's (right).
When that happened again (twice), I called it quits. Both times, I didn't unload the pistol as I'd done the first time. Instead I just manipulated the manual safeties, which apparently readjusted the internal trigger/sear/disconnector mechanism. Then the gun would fire a few rounds before it locked up again.
I called the technicians at Para, described the events that had occurred, and they promptly sent a call tag so I could return the pistol. They soon reported they had repeated the failure, repaired the gun, and promptly returned it to me.
Before the mishap, I had almost completed firing all of the test loads. So I gathered the factory ammo remnants from the previous session and several boxes of assorted handloads and returned to the range for an informal session. All I planned to do was test-fire another couple hundred rounds of different bullet types and power levels to verify the pistol's reliability. I fired roundnose and flatpoint ball ammo, light and heavy hollowpoints, cast and swaged lead bullets at velocities ranging from 750 to nearly 1,250 fps.
It didn't miss a beat. The instruction manual's recommendation for breaking-in my new pistol was right on target!
|SHOOTING PARA USA's GI EXPERT|
|Factory Load||Muzzle Velocity (fps)||Extreme Spread (fps)||Standard Deviation (fps)||25-yard Accuracy (inches)|
|Black Hills 230-gr. FMJ|| 844 || 33 ||9|| 2.60 |
|CorBon 165-gr. JHP|| 1233 || 84 || 17 || 1.85 |
|Federal 185-gr. FMJ-SWC|| 794 || 34 || 9 || 2.20 |
|Remington 185-gr. Brass|| 1160 || 64 || 17 || 2.45 |
|Remington 185-gr. MCFN|| 1014 || 63 || 19 || 2.95 |
|Speer 185-gr. Gold Dot|| 1084 || 52 || 16 || 1.85 |
|Hornady 200-gr. JHP-XTP|| 1033 || 64 || 16 || 2.80 |
|Federal 230-gr. JHP|| 861 || 46 || 14 || 3.10 |
|Hornady 230-gr. JFP|| 855 || 61 || 19 || 2.00 |
|Winchester 230-gr. FMC|| 854 || 50 || 13 || 3.30 |
|Wolf 230-gr. FMJ|| 816 || 52 || 13 || 3.20 |
|NOTES: Accuracy is the average of four, five-shot groups fired from a sandbag benchrest. Velocity is the average of 20 rounds measured eight feet from the gun's muzzle.|