Review: Springfield Armory 911
November 21, 2018
Springfield Armory has broken new ground with its little 911 auto pistol. In addition to being Springfield’s first subcompact single-action pistol, it is also the company’s first pistol offered in .380 ACP. Like the Colt Mustang introduced back in the 1980s, and other “mini-1911s” brought to market by other companies since, the 911 shares some features with John Browning’s venerable Model 1911, but it also differs in several ways.
Looks Like a Palm-Sized Model 1911
Most obvious from a glance is that the 911 looks like a palm-sized Model 1911 pistol. The grip angle feels the same, and its controls mimic those of the larger pistol. Those who own 1911 pistols will find field-stripping to be the same. A latch at the side of the frame locks back the slide on an empty magazine. Remove the magazine, make sure the chamber is empty, ease the slide forward until a tab on the latch is aligned with the disassembly notch in the slide, and push/pull the latch from the frame. The entire upper assembly is then free to be moved forward and off the frame. After the recoil spring and its full-length stainless-steel guide are removed from the slide, the 2.75-inch stainless-steel, no-bushing barrel is free to follow. The broach-rifled barrel has a rifling twist rate of one turn in 16 inches.
When sliding the assembled upper back onto the lower, remember to depress and hold down the combination ejector/firing pin safety lever until it is cleared by the slide.
For many years the .380 ACP cartridge was handicapped by its availability only in blowback-operated pistols that were larger and heavier than it deserved. A strong recoil spring made slide racking difficult for some shooters. Switching to a locked-breech, recoil-operated design allowed dramatic reductions in both size and weight and made the slide much easier to retract. The new 911 pistol is an excellent example of improvements in design.
Vital measurements: It is 4 inches tall (4.63 inches with the included extended magazine), 5.5 inches long, and 1.125 inches wide across the ambidextrous safety tabs. Both sides of the 416 stainless-steel slide are tapered to reduce weight, and the slide measures 0.80 inch at its widest point. The frame is 7075-T6 aluminum, the same as is commonly used in the upper and lower receivers of M16 and AR-15 rifles. At 0.67 inch, the 911’s frame is quite thin; the G10 grip panels increase that to 0.95 inch. Weight with the flush-fitting, six-round magazine is 13.9 ounces on my digital postal scale. Seven rounds of 90-grain ammo increase that to 16.2 ounces. Switching to the extended magazine that holds seven rounds of ammo adds about another ounce. The pistol will fire with the magazine removed.
Lockup in John Browning’s 1911 is accomplished as its swiveling link bears on the crosspin of the slide latch and pushes lugs at the top of its tilting barrel into engagement with recesses in the underside of the slide. When later designing the Hi Power pistol, Browning replaced the link with an underlug that has a kidney-shaped cutout, which travels over the slide latch pin to move the barrel to its locked and unlocked positions. The new 911 shares that design. Full lockup occurs when the front and rear shoulders of the square-shaped breech end of the barrel engage opposing flats at the top of the ejection port of the flat-topped slide.
The magazine catch is located just behind the trigger, and it is an accurate facsimile of the one on the 1911 pistol. But because the 911’s frame is thinner than the 1911’s frame, the body of its catch is a bit shorter. True to 1911 design, it is not reversible for a left-handed shooter. My wife is a lefty, and when shooting a 1911, she has no problem operating the magazine catch with her trigger finger during a reload, and doing so with the new 911 came quite naturally for her.
Whereas the detent plunger of the 1911 is located at the front of its safety lever, it is at the side of the lever on the new 911. I am told that if the safety lever on some of the other micro-1911s is pushed to its upward position with the slide removed, the plunger will fly from the frame and disappear forever as small gun parts are eager to do. This will not happen with Springfield’s 911because its plunger can be removed only after the safety is removed from the frame.
A Series 80-style passive firing pin safety system prevents the 911 from firing should it be accidentally dropped on its muzzle. This is accomplished by a spring-loaded plunger that blocks the inertia firing pin from forward movement until the plunger is depressed by squeezing the trigger. As the trigger is squeezed, an attached lever moves up to disengage the plunger from the firing pin. That same lever also serves as the ejector. A disconnector prevents the cocked hammer from falling unless the barrel is fully locked into battery. The extractor is pinned to the side of the slide, and the firing pin is retained in the slide by a 1911-style stop. A round in the chamber of the 911’s barrel is clearly indicated by both sight and feel by a hinging bar at the top rear of the ejection port.
Made of G10 synthetic, the Hogue trigger pivots on a transverse pin in the frame, and it is the best I have ever pressed on a .380 pistol of any size. After a slight amount of take-up, it breaks crisply at 5 pounds, 8 ounces, with zero detectable creep or overtravel. Reset is extremely short.
Those with hand strength issues will appreciate how easily the flat-wire recoil spring is compressed during full slide retraction. Five deep and wide serrations at the rear of the slide offer a no-slip grasp. In a pinch, the shape of the rear sight offers the option of one-hand slide racking.
The 911’s blued-steel AmeriGlo Pro-Glo low-profile sights have tritium dots: a single on the 0.130-inch-wide front blade and a pair of dots flanking a 0.130-inch-wide, U-shaped notch on the rear sight. Both sights are dovetailed into the slide and greatly contribute to a shooter’s ability to get off rounds quickly and accurately. Sight radius is a hair short of 4 inches.
Overall attention to detail is quite apparent. There is nothing to snag on clothing during a draw from deep concealment, and everything touched by the shooter’s hand has a non-slip surface treatment. That includes serrations on the slide latch, thumb safety, trigger, and the magazine catch. Due to Springfield’s Octo-Grip surface texturing of the frontstrap and G10 mainspring housing along with shallow striations in the surface of the G10 grip panels, the pistol refuses to squirm around in the hand when the heaviest loads are rapid-fired with only two fingers hanging onto its grip. Add a third finger to the grip by inserting the extended magazine and the 911 becomes as controllable as a much bigger and heavier handgun. Beveled edges at the mouth of the magazine well make for smooth reloads.
Figuring out a way to incorporate a grip safety would have put Springfield leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, but alas, there is none. The ambidextrous thumb safety with its enlarged tabs is a scaled-down version of a design that first appeared on custom 1911 pistols many years ago. When the safety is engaged with the hammer forward, it prevents slide retraction and hammer cocking. This design detail is shared by other mini-1911 pistols, and it is one I am not high on. Most who buy the 911 will likely carry it cocked and locked, but there are those who will carry it hammer forward, and inadvertently engaging the safety could cause confusion and drastically lengthen reaction time should the need arise to bring the pistol quickly and smoothly into action.
Engage the safety with the hammer cocked, and the slide is free for retraction. While different from John Browning’s plan, it is not a bad design for a new shooter because it allows the chamber to be loaded and unloaded with the safety engaged. Pushing the slide out of battery as the gun is shoved into a holster is easily prevented by pressing on the rear of the slide with the thumb.
No Lengthy Break-In Required
Some .380s are notorious for requiring a lengthy, ammo-consuming break-in period and while all semiautos of any caliber should be thoroughly tested for reliability prior to being put into service, Springfield’s latest came out of the box shooting and missed only two beats, both in the first 20 rounds fired. One was a failure to extract a spent case, and the other (failure of the slide to travel fully into battery) may have been due to shooter error. I shot the 911 with a two-hand grip, strong hand only, and weak hand only, and after those first two bobbles, it never missed a beat. And that was with ammo loaded with bullets of every nose profile I could come up with. If anything will make a .380 autoloader stop autoloading it is an FMJ with a flat nose, but like all the other types of bullets, those ran through the 911 like green grass through a hungry goose. I am sure the ramped barrel contributes greatly to such reliability.
Prior to settling down behind the sandbags for accuracy testing at 10 yards, I ran the little gun through a modified IDPA classifier course of fire consisting of three stages with distances of 5, 7, and 12 yards. Each stage required 30 shots for a total of 90 rounds. I completed the entire course two times without a single malfunction. Total round count at that point was close to 450 rounds.
I practice on similar courses with a Glock G26, and ignoring the fact that the 9mm and the .380 are in different categories of actual competition, my overall scores with the two guns are close to the same. Excellent sights and a match-grade trigger make the 911 as accurate to shoot as a bigger and heavier pistol.
When shooting the IDPA classifier, I started each run with the six-round magazine. A bumper pad on the extended magazine makes it easier to slam home, so I used it when reloading on the go and carefully kept my pinkie out of the way during a reload.
When initially shooting the little 911, it placed hits a bit to the left of my aim point at 12 yards, but the rear sight easily drifted to the right with a small hammer and nylon punch. After that, all bullets ranging in weight from 60 to 102 grains impacted dead on the money.
Recoil was mild with all test loads, and the undercut at the terminus of the trigger guard and frontstrap along with the high-sweep beavertail at the rear allow a high, thumbs-forward hold. I found the 911 to be easiest to control with the thumb of my support hand resting alongside the frame and my other thumb resting atop that hand, but it gets pretty crowded, so keeping both thumbs away from contact with the slide is important for reliable functioning.
In the accompanying accuracy-results chart, I’ve included the average accuracy for four-shot groups as well as the average accuracy for five-shot groups because every five-shot group I fired had a flyer. Interestingly, the flyer always occurred on the first shot. I tried loading the first round by racking the slide over a loaded magazine, and I tried locking back the slide, inserting a loaded magazine, and tripping the slide. Neither eliminated the first-shot flyer. On a more positive note, even with the flyers, accuracy was more than good enough for the distances at which personal-defense shootings among armed citizens usually occur. Far more important than sandbag accuracy from a small handgun is being totally familiar with it along with the ability to react quickly and place those first shots where they should go at fairly close distances.
The 911 is built at the Springfield Armory factory located in Geneseo, Illinois, and it is offered in all-black with a stainless slide coated with black nitride or with a black frame and a stainless slide finished in a matte silver. Both versions are available with Hogue thin-line G10 grip panels or a Viridian laser sight. Regardless of which version is chosen, it will come in a padded storage/carrying case with zippered closure. Also included are a nylon bore-cleaning brush; a keyed, cable-style security lock; and a pocket holster.