Best 1911 Pistols for the Money: 2017

The most recognizable handgun in the world is the M1911.

John Moses Browning’s tried and true design hasn’t changed much over the years, but now there are some new features and more calibers…opening this pistol up to even more shooters.

Old Colt 1911
Old Colt 1911

But, where do you start?

There are so many different types of 1911s on the market that almost no one knows where to start.  The good news is that there’s a perfect 1911 for you at your preferred budget.

Whether you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel to put enough cash together so you can join the club, or you’re looking to spend your tax refund on a high end 1911, the following list of best 1911s in any price range is designed to get you off on the right foot.

Cabot Meteorite 1911s, $4.5M
Cabot Meteorite 1911s, $4.5M

Here’s our list of the best 1911’s across any budget:

  • Colt 1911
  • Rock Island Armory 1911
  • Zenith 1911
  • Springfield Mil-Spec 1911
  • Remington R1
  • Springfield EMP
  • Colt Delta Elite
  • Springfield Loaded Operator
  • STI Trojan
  • Wilson Combat CQB Tactical LE
  • Kimber Amethyst Ultra II

Don’t worry…we’ll dive into each one soon.

History of M1911

But first…a little history of the 100+ year old design.  I promise this will shine some light on how to choose the best 1911 for yourself.

Genius firearms inventor John Moses Browning (so famous on forums that he is just JMB) sought out to give the military a more potent handgun round.

JMB
JMB

He was in direct competition with other gun makers like Smith & Wesson and Savage…and in March 1911 his auto-loading pistol was officially adopted by the US Military as their sidearm of choice.

The 1911 stood up to a 6,000 round torture test, being submerged in mud, acid, shooting deformed cartridges, and other tests.

Not only did Browning’s design (to be produced by Colt) pass with flying colors, it was the only gun to pass all stages of this grueling test.

.45 Auto

The military needed a deadlier handgun round than the .38 Long Colt being used at the turn of the century and wanted it to utilize a .45 caliber bullet.  The Army had a long history with forty-five caliber cartridges, with the Single Action Army revolver (SAA) being used for many years.

Colt Single Action Army
Colt Single Action Army

The ultimate replacement would be John Browning’s 1911 chambered in .45 Automatic (AKA .45 ACP, .45 Auto, .45 Automatic Colt Pistol).  This .45 Auto contained a 230 grain projectile capable of reaching speeds of about 850 feet per second and was much more capable as a self-defense round than the .38 Long Colt was.

(L to R), .45 ACP, .45 Long Colt, .45-70, Lurking Rythmically
(L to R), .45 ACP, .45 Long Colt, .45-70, Lurking Rythmically

Learn more about calibers in our Basic Bullet Guide.

Other 1911 Manufacturers

Many purists decry other brands of 1911s (or calibers) as fakes…unworthy to bear the name.

One thing that many people don’t realize, however, is that the demand for them was so high during war, that Colt contracted out to other companies to help keep production numbers up.

Some very well-known companies helped, to include Remington Rand, Ithaca, Springfield Armory, many foreign companies, and even the Singer sewing machine company.

Singer 1911
Singer 1911

In fact, the pistols from these other companies can command a very high price when sold.  Some of the Singer pistols can be worth up to $30,000 to the right buyer, because so few were made.

Modern Uses

The 1911 style is still in service in a few select military units, some police, and is a widely accepted pistol for self-defense, regardless of the maker or size of the cartridge.

Marines with 1911's
Marines with 1911’s

If you glance in the gun cabinet of many gun enthusiasts, you’ll likely see at least one 1911 pistol.  Many people own more than one because as far as pistols go, they are accurate, reliable, and pleasant on the eyes.

Many of the major shooting sports also allow a class for shooting 1911 style pistols, because, even though the original design is well over 100 years old, it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.

1911 Diagram
1911 Diagram

In fact, if you were to look at a one of Colt’s current offerings, the Model 70 ($900), it’s as close to the original M1911A1 as you can possibly get.  It’s as if it came out of the factory in 1924 when the 1911 was first reworked into the A1.

Colt 1911 Series 70
Colt 1911 Series 70

Best 1911’s On The Market Right Now

First let me start by saying that this is not an easy list to narrow down because there are so many excellent pistols being made by many different companies.  

Next, this list of firearms are chosen by me (Editor Eric: And a little by me).  You obviously have your own opinion, which I want to hear too.

Finally, this list is meant to feature a wide variety of guns currently on the market, and not just those made by Colt, or just chambered in .45 ACP.

There are plenty of people out there who would love to own a 1911, but cannot handle either the price tag associated with shooting .45 or the recoil produced by one.

$500-$600 Range:

The guns at this level are NOT exceptional guns, but ones that will do the job and get better with a minimal amount of work.  These are for people who want a 1911 but cannot afford to go out and buy an expensive, ready to roll out of the box, uber expensive 1911.

Rock Island Armory 1911 – Eric Pick

I shot my first Rock Island Armory pistol during SHOT 2017.  I’ve always known them but never had a chance to try any out.

And try out a lot I did.  My favorite was their longslide 1911 but their standard 1911 ($479) was great too.

Rock Island Armory Standard 1911
Rock Island Armory Standard 1911

Sure, it needs some loving if you’re a little spoiled by other makers…but it went bang every time and when I did my part…hit all the plates.  They are designed by Armscor and manufactured in the Philippines.

Zenith Firearms PCS 1911

Zenith is located in Virginia, but actually import their guns from one of several gun makers in Turkey, which may be a turnoff for some.  

I have one of these guns in for a T&E gun review right now, so stay tuned.

Zenith PCS 1911
Zenith PCS 1911

This gun is on this list for a few reasons.

While I found that the trigger needs work right out of the box, it is a 1911 style gun with an accessory rail that does its job well for the MSRP it commands (starting at $549.99 going to $599.99).

For that price you get the gun, a carrying case, a few magazines, a cleaning kit, and a 5 year warranty.

Overall, it is a good value for what you pay.  The great thing is that the gun works, and has an accessory rail.  Why do I keep mentioning that?

Because it’s an expensive option for many other 1911 makers.

You can expect to work on the trigger at some point.  It functions, but as far as 1911s go, it leaves a lot to be desired.

$700-$900 Range

This is the most popular section of guns.  These are the ones that people can save up for over the course of time to get a gun that doesn’t need any work, but can still be customized into a beauty.

Springfield Armory Mil-Spec

Springfield Armory makes great guns, even though many people believe they could do less stamping on them (think “Grip Zone” on the XD Mod 2).

Springfield Armory Mil-Spec 1911
Springfield Armory Mil-Spec 1911

The Mil-Spec ($729) doesn’t have any extra words on it and is a gorgeous firearm with a 5” barrel that’s available in stainless steel or with a parkerized finish.

The fit is excellent and the finish is well done without any extra slag or burs on the slide or frame causing hangups.

Remington R1

Remington was one of the first companies to make the 1911 when Colt first asked them to help ramp up production during war periods.

The R1 Enhanced ($799) is a great deal considering and can be upgraded into whatever you want it to be.

Remington R1
Remington R1

The capacity is 7+1 and the caliber is .45 auto traveling at 850 fps through a 5” sized barrel.

$1,000-$1,400 Range

At this point, the guns are as close to flawless as you can get before spending a fortune on a handcrafted 1911.  

The guns run fantastic and need nothing to make them perform better.  People still opt to do trigger work at this price, but it isn’t because the stock trigger is bad.

Springfield Armory EMP 4 Lightweight Champion (9mm)

I own one of these 9mm 1911’s and have shot a lot through it for one year.

Springfield EMP 4 Lightweight Champion
Springfield EMP 4 Lightweight Champion

As far as reliability goes, there is almost none better.  Since I’ve had it in my possession, I’ve not had a single malfunction with it…which is more than I can say for many other guns.

And, accuracy out of the 4” commander sized barrel groups well at distances out to 15 yards, even when rapidly fired.

Sadly, my wife took the EMP 4″ Lightweight Champion ($1000) over as her gun, but it suits her just fine because the recoil isn’t tremendous for a newer shooter.  

As an added benefit, the fiber optic sights are great for someone new to shooting, increasing confidence with quick target acquisition.

Colt Delta Elite (10mm)

If you live in an area where 4-legged creatures are a threat, enjoy hunting with a handgun, or just like the 10mm cartridge for self-defense, Colt’s freshly revised Delta Elite ($1100) may be what you’re looking for.

Colt Delta Elite
Colt Delta Elite

The venerable 10mm outperforms most other self-defense cartridges for semi-automatic weapons, and, while it is a bit more expensive to shoot, it is quite versatile if you reload your own ammo.

Handgun Caliber Smallest to Largest
Handgun Caliber Smallest to Largest

Please keep in mind that if the .45 ACP or .40 S&W recoil bothers you, you’ll need to stay away from 10mm, because it’s even snappier.

The Colt Delta Elite’s MSRP is just $1099 for the standard model, or you can spend $200 more and get the rail gun, to mount a light or laser below the 5” barrel.

Springfield Loaded Operator – Eric Pick

My first pistol ever was a Stainless Springfield Loaded ($849).  It probably wasn’t the smartest move for a first handgun…but it was just so pretty (and ran well too).

But if I had to make my choice again with a ~$1000 1911 budget…I would choose the Springfield Loaded Operator ($1150).

Springfield Loaded Operator
Springfield Loaded Operator

And that’s because it has everything I would want now that I’ve shot some more stuff.  The Operator has the stuff that you can’t easily upgrade on a more standard 1911:

  • Accessory Rail
  • Awesome two-tone styling
  • Night Sights

$1,500+

There are many 1911s that fall into this price range, with some costing several thousands of dollars.  This is the price point where custom makers begin to enter the market with absolutely gorgeous firearms with bells and whistles.

STI Trojan (9mm) – Eric Pick

There’s a reason why a lot of competitive pistoleros shoot STI…they are simply awesome 1911’s.

I went with the Trojan ($1500) since I wanted to shoot 9mm in competitions and because I went to USC for grad school.  There’s also a Spartan (now discontinued) that had slightly less features in 9mm.

STI Trojan and Spartan
STI Trojan and Spartan

Nothing else I’ve shot has beaten it yet.

Wilson Combat CQB Tactical LE – Eric Pick

If I had much more coin and wanted the best 1911 in my mind…I’d go with the Wilson CQB Tactical LE ($3100).

Wilson CQB Tactical LE
Wilson CQB Tactical LE

I’ve built a couple 1911’s and always fall back to Wilson parts.  Every time I didn’t…I ended up junking that part and bought Wilson.

To me, the CQB has it all…the Wilson quality, rails, aggressive grips, and fiber optic sights.

Kimber Amethyst Ultra II

Many of Kimber’s firearms are based on the 1911 platform.  They tend to be eye-catching and come in various sizes and calibers.  

It’s hard to just pull one of their guns and focus on it, but one such gun of theirs, is this Amethyst Ultra II ($1500).

Amethyst Ultra II
Amethyst Ultra II

It is a sub-compact pistol with a 3” barrel chambered in 9mm or .45 ACP that is primarily geared to women who want a girly-looking gun…whatever their reason for that may be.

If you’re looking for something more real-world for women, check out our Best Handguns for Women article.

The Wild

Then of course, there are guns that we’d all love to have, but would never take to the range to shoot simply because they cost as much as the things sitting in our driveway to get us from place to place.

One such gun manufacturer, is Cabot.  Cabot’s guns start with an MSRP in the $3,200 range, and travel up to 4.5 million dollars for a pair of meteorite-made 1911s, with every imaginable price in between.

Cabot Meteorite 1911s, $4.5M
Cabot Meteorite 1911s, $4.5M

If you can afford to shoot one of Cabot’s guns, I’m sure they work flawlessly (or maybe not).  I mean, for that price, they better work fantastically.

The Best In Any Price Range:

This list wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk further about modern day Colt 1911s.

While some enthusiasts will tell you that the R1 isn’t that great or that Kimbers are overrated, you rarely ever hear that about the original 1911 maker.

In fact, the only complaint you do hear, is that Colt’s 1911s are expensive.

Colt Competition
Colt Competition

While that may be true, they also tend to hold their value better than any of the other production 1911 builders.  Furthermore, there are plenty of Colt 1911s available in the $800-900 range.  And you don’t have to go too far to look for them.

Colt XSE Government
Colt XSE Government

Colt is one of the few firearms makers in existence who is still capable of selling you a firearm with the ability to resell it down the road and make money off it.  All in all, you get the best bang for your buck when you purchase a Colt 1911.

They’re reliable, accurate, and have an excellent customer service base.  As a bonus the pistols are sexy.

Conclusion

The 1911 pistol is a beautiful handgun with a rich history that expands over 100 years.

There is no sign of sales declining, and it seems that every year at SHOT Show, there is another 1911 maker entering the scene.

If you are late to this game, I’m sure you’ll own one, one day…how could you not?

What is your choice for this list?  Let us know in a comment below.

24 Comments

  1. I am kind of surprised you did not include a Sig Sauer in the $1,000 range…any reason why or just your personal preference? I love my Sig 1911 full size but do not have a lot of experience with other manufacturers. I have had a couple failure to ejects with it though. I probably don’t clean it enough (not my everyday carry).

    1. Sig was in the running, in fact they were in the original draft. I did cut them out, however, because of some issues I’m having with one, right now. I didn’t feel right including a gun in the running that isn’t working right for me.

      Overall, Sig makes fine firearms.

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. I believe that you missed out on one budget 1911 that absolutely should be on this list – probably in lieu of the Rock Island Armory. That is the Taurus PT-1911. I have owned one for many years (since they first came out) and it is by far my most accurate pistol – and I own a Kimber 1911 and various Smith & Wesson revolvers and pistols, as well as Rugers and others (some of them accurized, dedicated target handguns). While I did make some modifications to the Taurus – new McCormick slim grip panels, a Wilson Combat flared magwell and Heinie Straight Eight night sights (custom ordered just before Heinie came out with them as an available item for this gun), I have not done anything to the stock trigger or replaced the barrel or bushing with match components. The darned thing just shot sub 2″ groups offhand at 25 yards out of the box. If I use a rest and slow-fire I can punch and nibble 2″ target centers out all day long, with no flyers. I’ve put 3 boxes (150 rounds) through the center ring of a target without ever missing on numerous occasions. This is still the gun I like to use when shooting steel matches or IDPA, even giving up the extra couple of rounds, just because I know it will hit whatever I aim at. I know that some folks don’t like the MIM parts that Taurus uses, but I have never had a malfunction or broken piece in this gun and I’ve run thousands of rounds through it. The slide-to-frame fit is tight and smooth and the trigger is good for a factory piece – clean break with no creep or grittiness. Taurus is a respected name in the industry and I’ve liked their revolvers for a long time. The PT-1911 should be considered by anyone looking to spend less than $500 to get into a 1911. Now, if money is no object then a Wilson Combat or Ed Brown looks very attractive!

    1. I hear ya. It’s hard to include every 1911 on this list. There were likely many that could have taken the place of what you see here, but I only have so much space to make it all fit.

      Thanks for the comment.

  3. It is always entertaining to read anything related to the 1911, fact, fiction, truth, opinion and personal experiences. ( I am being sincere )
    We learn more about the side arm and the people who have made/make and have used/use the categorically best fire arm ever. It would take vast amounts of paper and ink to cover all encounters past, present and those to come so thank you for this share. My brother passed five months ago and I came across his Remington Rand 1911 and ammo, he was MP in WWII. The RR was born in late 43, early 44 and as far as I can tell was not a rebuild, how I would love to hear it’s story. Thanks Again

    1. Ronn,

      Sorry to hear about your brother. Take great care of that RR 1911. I hope it brings a smile to your face with memories of him, each time you send some lead down range.

      Thanks for the comment.

  4. I can see your reasoning for not including the custom 1911 options because those are generally not your run of the mill 1911s. However, you should have mentioned why those companies (eq: Wilson Combat, Ed Brown, Les Baer, etc) are different and what you are paying for. Custom fitted 1911 parts are hand-fitted. They can start as simple as only the slide getting fitted to the frame, up to where every single part of the gun is filed to fit by one gunsmith, thus you cannot just grab a parts from 2 separate but same model to make 1 gun.

    I love the Wilson Combat and the Ed Brown, but I do think that one of the best 1911s money can buy is the Springfield TRP. Unlike some of the $2/$3k+ 1911s, the standard TRP comes out of the custom shop with only the slide hand fitted (of course, you can spend the money and have the entire gun fitted, but I’m not talking about those TRPs). Just holding the TRP and wiggling it vs the Colt, you can instantly feel the difference in the tolerance. I’m not downplaying the Colt by any mean, but the prices of some Colt productions come very close to what you can get a TRP for. The TRP is the official sidearm of the FBI, and you can actually get yourself the actual FBI-spec’d TRP, called the Professional. Of course the cost more than doubles for the Pro, but you don’t have to spend that much to get a very high quality gun. It took me awhile to find the full railed version with bull barrel, but upon christening it, I put 3 bull eyes right out of the box from 7 yards away. it’s a heavy, very heavy gun, but a very well balanced gun, and very little recoil.

    If you want to get your a very high quality semi-custom fitted 1911, you just can’t beat the TRP for the money or for the quality. I think Springfield Armory is one of the very best manufacturer of mass produced 1911s. Every one of their 1911 model is a solid piece, and the TRP is just a notch above their best. One word of advice though, don’t get too deep into the custom 1911 world, it will cost you. From the TRP, it lead me to the Ed Brown, and so on up. Now, when I pick up an off the shelf 1911, I find so many flaws in them. I don’t know where I’m trying to go with the rest of this “comment” so I will end here and go to bed. G’nite.

  5. I have owned several Rock Island and Taurus 1911s over the years and for the most part they were reliable enough to be fun for range guns, but not trustworthy enough for carrying as a regular EDC. I purchased a Colt model 1991A a few years ago and was immediately impressed with the obvious difference between it and the less expensive models I had previously owned. My only upgrade thus far was a Wilson Combat extended slide release which dropped right in. I have not experienced any failures to fire or feed that were not related to my reloads being slightly out of spec as to the OAL. I carry this gun on a regular basis (wearing it in a Dale Fricke Archangel Holster even now as I type this) and consider this gun good enough to be a heirloom that I will leave for my children when I pass. Good article on the 1911. Thank you for sharing.

  6. In the bargain to mid-range category, the glaring omission is the Ruger 1911’s. Most all the mod’s you could want, many models to choose, lifetime warranty, Made in America by a historical American marque.
    Hard to resist the rampaging stallion or the crossed cannons though.

  7. Another that should have been included in the $700-$900 1911s on your list is Ruger’s SR1911.
    I have the Ruger Commander and think it’s a great 1911. It’s really tough to beat quality/price it offers.
    And, 100% Made in USA.

  8. 1911s in my opinion are the best guns of all time. Looking to replace my Springfield mil spec that was stolen in Nov 2016 during a Burglary/Robbery. My goodness do I miss that pistol

    1. Wow, that sucks about your pistol being stolen. Good luck on the replacement. And, I agree there are none better. I carry a 1911 from this list, whenever I can.

      Thanks for the comment.

  9. First of All…… Fight On!!! From 1 Trojan Grad Student to the another, I always enjoy the articles.

    Secondly, Wilson Combats are amazing. I’ve only shot them a couple times at a range near me and each time they are far and away the best experience I’ve ever had. I’m actually seriously considering saving up for a nice custom one right now. Also, I would have loved to have heard your opinion on the Smith & Wesson E-Series 1911’s. For a production 1911, I heard they are pretty good as well and not too expensive.

  10. When he passed, my dad left me his Colt LW Commander (technically, as the executor of his estate, I claimed it for myself, because Colt). At the time I knew nothing of guns, and wasn’t that interested.

    A couple years later my wife and I took a handgun training/safety course where I shot Dad’s gun for the first time. Since then I’ve been a 1911 fan.

    While I can’t bring myself to daily-carry my dad’s 1911 (sentimental reasons), I did buy a Colt of my own – a Defender in .45ACP. That 3 inch barrel isn’t quite as accurate as the Commander, but at close range for personal defense, it’s plenty accurate enough.

    Now I’m fighting the urge to buy a full-size version for myself. It’s a battle I’m destined to lose, I think.

  11. I’ll agree on a few but I’m blown away that you’ve included both the RIA, Rem R1 and Zenith but left out the Ruger lightweight Commander. It beats all 3 hands down at $700 . RIA is reliable but heavy as a brick, Rem/Para has rotten CS and Zenith is too unknown for me. Love your other picks and have several mentioned. Well done ! TY

  12. I have a few 1911s all 45 except one and it’s a 38 super which is a really nice round. But the 45 is still my favorite. I would like to see an article on the 38 super vs other calibers.

    1. 1911 in .38 super is on the list for future purchase for me, as is a long slide variant.

      As for comparing the different calibers it would be an interesting article, though given you can get a 1911 in pretty much every pistol caliber there is, it could be a looooooong read!

  13. I’m a huge 1911 fan, will disagree with some comments about RIA not being reliable enough to carry, while not the most refined pistol on the market, they typically work well (and any issues I’ve ever heard of have been taken care of quickly but their cs) and as for the weight of them, Rock, like other makers, does make alloy frame versions as well as various size and feature versions.

    I’m also going to disagree with the choice of Colt being the best in any price range (sacrilege I know), Colt certainly doesn’t make a bad pistol but they are overrated, and other then their history don’t really offer anything more then the other makers do (beyond a pretty dancing pony)

    Overall though, I enjoyed the article and for those planning on bidding on the Cabot Meteor Pistols, don’t bother, I’ll just outbid ya!…..ROFLMAO

  14. All I can say about current production 1911 s, I’ve owned everything on your list. My. 45 is an old 1923 colt, and with aging eyes and wrist surgery, I picked up theabsolutely exquisitely sweet shooting as well as incredibly accurate Dan Wesson Specialist last week. 655 rounds later not a hiccup … rested well, 15 yds, covering with a nickel … 25 yds no rest, covering with a half dollar

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