Among older 1911 guys you’ll sometimes hear discussions about Series 70 versus Series 80 firing pin systems. Just this week I’ve encountered two different YouTube videos in which the talking head on the video declared with absolute authority and no reservations the Series 70 system is “superior” to the Series 80. They both used that word – superior. So what the big deal about them and what’s the difference. I’ll simplify it because that’s not really the meat of this article, just a starting point. Modern semi-automatic handguns almost universally have a firing pin block that won’t allow the firing pin to strike the primer of a cartridge unless the trigger is pulled. That’s a good thing. Colt calls their 1911’s with that kind of system a Series 80. Their earlier 1911’s used a different method to prevent the firing pin from striking the primer in the case of a dropped gun or something other than having the trigger pulled. Basically they utilize a firing pin that is made out of titanium or something that is really, really light such that inertia won’t make it go forward with enough force to activate a primer.
Why is that supposed to be better? Simply said, fewer moving parts. But some swear they can feel the difference in the trigger. I can’t. At least I don’t think I can. But the other day when a bunch of Texas Gun Pros were trying out the new 9 mm Ruger SR1911 Commander, one of them made a comment about it being the best feeling Ruger he’d ever fired. That comment gave me an idea. Is there a difference? Can people tell if they don’t know what gun they’re shooting? The Ruger, you see, has a series 70 firing pin system.
The next time we went to the range, I arranged a little informal test. I asked Richard Balestrieri, one of our License to Carry and NRA Instructors to shoot four guns that I was going to hand him in random order. Don’t pay attention to what brand of gun it is, just rack it and shoot until the magazine is empty. I then handed him four lightweight commander 1911s in this order:
- Colt LW Commander .45 ACP
- Ruger LW Commander .45 ACP
- Ruger LW Commander 9mm
- S&W LW Commander .45 ACP
He shot 8 rounds with each pistol. The target was out approximately 10 feet, so it wasn’t a big challenge, but still I was impressed that there was very little difference in the accuracy of the guns. That’s the target over to the right. Thirty-two rounds from four different guns, all shot free-hand. I’m pretty sure the flyers weren’t all from the same gun, but were pretty random across the board.
The guns had different grips and I think that may have had some influence on how they felt. Four guns, not much difference in size or how they operate.
I asked Richard for his impressions. The first thing he said was the third gun I handed him was a 9mm. Even though they were all loaded with ARX ammo, he said the recoil from the 9mm felt about 30% less to him than the other three guns. And he said he liked the way that gun shot the best.
“Okay,” I asked, “What was your second choice?”
“The second gun you gave me,” he said. Very interesting. That was the Ruger .45. The next favorite was the first gun, the Colt and least of all was the Smith & Wesson.
The Smith & Wesson is the most expensive of the four guns. In fact it cost almost twice what each of the Rugers cost. It’s got the scandium frame and pretty much lives up to it’s enhanced designation.. It’s a beautiful gun and very easy to carry because it’s so lightweight. I think I know why it wasn’t Richard’s second favorite. The grips. I have some very thin Rasco grips on that gun that don’t give you a lot to hold on to. I may put the original fish scale grips back on it.
The two guns that Richard favored, without any brand prejudice, because he didn’t know, were the two with a Series 70 firing pin system. Maybe I’ll should start paying attention to that to see if it makes any difference. I have closed my eyes and had a series 70 in one hand and a series 80 in the other and cocked them and pulled the trigger, dry-firing, over and over and I cannot tell the difference. I’d be surprised if anyone really could if they don’t know what they’re shooting.
One thing I do know, however. If I had included my Sig Emperor Scorpion 1911, he’d have picked that one as his favorite. I just know he would have.