The GI 1911 from Rock Island Armory (Review)

In a day where you can find 1911s with compensators, mounted red dots, go pedals, and any and everything else you can toss on a gun, it’s nice to see a basic 1911 at an affordable price. Rock Island Armory made their name with their affordable (and very simple) GI style 1911s. This 1911 was a gift that I received 13 years ago and was the first real handgun I ever owned. Since then, this classic gun and I have been everywhere. It’s always tagged along and will never leave my collection. The term GI 1911 refers to a very simple gun without the modern accouterments of most production 1911s. It’s not a perfect historical representative, but it’s quite close. So here’s my Rock Island 1911 review.

This article is from May 2019.

Rock Island 1911 review
An American Classic by Armscor and Rock Island – it’s a worthy successor to the venerable M1911.

Everything about the gun is quite simple and that makes it quite reliable. The Rock Island GI 1911 packs the smallest and simplest sights imaginable. It’s a small half circle front sight that’s ultra-thin. The rear is a very small notch. There are no contrasting colors or shapes. I don’t think sights get much smaller than this. The grips that come with the gun are wooden, but, as you can see, I’ve replaced them. The stock grips worked but they became scratched and ugly over time.

There is no ambidextrous safety, or extended beavertail, or skeletonized hammer or trigger. It’s ruggedly simple. Mine has an old finish that’s somewhat grey. Newer RIA GI 1911s are black and resemble an older blued design. The controls are small and dainty, much different than what you find on most guns these days.

Functional Ergonomics

The gun is so simple and plain it would get a lower score if it was trying to be a modern handgun. However, as what’s practically a functional WW2 era 1911 clone, it does a good job replicating the classic design. These guns are made in the Philippines and the Philippines has a long and storied history with the 1911 platform. They been producing them on old machines after WWII and have, for decades, used them in their police and military forces.

Rock Island Armory 1911 review
All stock on this GI 1911 except the grips.

This Rock Island Armory GI 1911 sports rear serrations and a slightly checkered hammer. The serrations are shallow and thin and you need to make sure you have a nice and tight grip. The safety has a slight shelf and makes it easy to engage and disengage as well as giving your thumb a place to rest. The magazine release is a small round button that engages tightly and releases the magazine without issue.

It all works as it should. As you can imagine, it is nothing fancy.

The GI 1911 – An Age-Old Design

This is as close as you can get to an original 1911 for $400 or so. My particular model was purchased for $389.99 in 2006 and prices have risen slightly since then. As the guns became more well known they grew in popularity and thus became more expensive. However, as far as 1911s go, this is one of the cheapest and more reliable models.

I will say it wasn’t always reliable. I won’t lie. 13 years ago I tried my hand at a bowling pin competition and I sucked at it. My gun had several issues where the slide failed to go fully into battery. This required a manual press with my thumb to get it into action. This issue plagued me for a short period of time and then all of a sudden it stopped halfway through the first summer I shot bowling pins. After that, it sucked a lot less.

Rock Island Review GI 1911
The gun used for this Rock Island 1911 review has seen 13 years of hard service.

I have 13 years with my GI 1911, nearly problem-free. The gun admittedly likes to run wet. Without lubrication, it tends to have problems here and there — mostly related to the gun cycling properly. These issues are still few and far between, maybe once a year at most, and are typically after the gun sits unused for a long period of time.

Rock Island Review of GI 1911 chambered in 45 ACP.
45 ACP aka 45 America.

Would I use it as a defensive firearm? No. Better options exist. If this is your only option, then I would advise you keep it clean and well lubricated. Ammo-wise, it can be picky too. It doesn’t like 180-grain JHPs. It really prefers the bigger and better 230-grain JHPs and FMJs. The GI 1911 was made to run with these rounds so it seems to be the best choice in this old design.

How it Fires

It’s rough, especially if you are used to a tuned 1911, or just a more refined hammer-fired gun. The trigger is actually nice-ish, for such a cheap gun. That’s a side effect of the 1911 design, and it shows through on even a bare-bones GI 1911. It is heavier than a custom gun, but it has a short pull and just a hair of pre-travel. The reset is very short, but it’s hard to feel and hear. The reset is hardly audible and just barely tactile.

The beavertail on the gun is short and thin and recoil makes it bite hard. It’s just long enough to avoid hammer bite though. It digs in and that’s really the worst part of handling this gun. I remember the first time I shot an M9 and how soft it was compared to this gun.

Rock Island 1911review
That Big Iron.

It fires true though. It’s plenty accurate. The sights make it a challenge, but their small size makes it easy to see your target at longer distances. If you can see the sights, it’s very easy to align them and shoot accurately at longer ranges.

Seeing the sights is the challenge. In the middle of the day is easy. But earlier in the morning, or inside a dimly lit indoor range? Good luck. It’s still a fun gun to shoot from a historical perspective but not a very comfortable one.

After 13 years of use, you’d think I’d start to see issues. For a time I shot this gun way more than any other. Back when I simply couldn’t afford anything but ammo, I took this gun to the range all the time. Its round count is well into the thousands.

Rock Island 1911 Review
Rock Island 1911 review: It’s small but functional!

Mine came with one Mec Gar 8 round magazine, but additionally, you can use any standard 1911 magazine with the gun. I like ten rounders because ten rounds are better than 8.

GI 1911
It’s like a snake in the wild.

Hell, a summer of bowling pin shooting took me a thousand rounds and I shot three summers worth. I still shoot the gun on occasion and still enjoy it for what it is.

Who needs a GI 1911?

No one needs one, so to say, but it is fun to have. The Rock Island Armory GI 1911 provides a historical perspective of handguns from way back when. Comparing this gun to others shows you just how far the combat handgun has come in a century. Rock Island  has done a good job bringing a simple, well made, bare-bones 1911 to market and I applaud them for it. After 13 years of faithful service, for this Rock Island 1911 review, I think I can say I’m a fan.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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17 thoughts on “The GI 1911 from Rock Island Armory (Review)

  1. I have fired 1911 .45ACPs for over 40 years, I own a RIA GI “clone” at present and have for about five yrs now. I rank it with the two Colt 1911s I have owned. I have fired a foot locker full of 1911 pistols and shot competition in my younger and better fit days and never once have I experienced the so-called “hammer bite” I have heard others speak of. I don’t know anyone that has felt this phenomenon.

    It’s a fact not all pistols (rifles too for that matter) react the same to certain ammo, mine goes through the Federal 185 grain HPs very well. Other brands not nearly as reliably and my pistol has been throated and polished. I never concern myself with sights too much, I feel we depend too much on them. As a 17+ year veteran Cop I was taught instinctive shooting and not to rely on sights within 20-25 feet. lining up on a target is as simple and reliable as pointing ones finger if they will simply work at it a few weeks.

    I’m not being critical of what, overall, I consider a very good article, there were simply a few things I took issue with and though I would balance things out. In the time I have had my RIA it has served me well and as you point out they are accurate. I have been satisfied with the fit and finish.

    I remember the old GI .45s and how they rattled like a bucket of bolts when I shook them! As for accuracy, well one might as well throw a handful of rocks but, the pistols are for close work right?!

    1. I can sort of concur with most of your discussion. However, it appears that if you have been shooting 1911s since about 1979, you have missed out completely on the “old GI .45s”. I was issued my 1st 1911A1 in 1949. The pistol was a Remington Rand product and was produced some time during 1943. I carried this pistol as a USAF aircrew member until 1960 when it was replaced by the light weight, 5 shot .38 Special Colt Cobra. That “old GI .45” was tight as a drum head and there was never anything that rattled on that gun, ever. Later I was lucky enough to be able to purchase through the Civilian Marksmanship Program a “re-manufactured” Colt 1911A1 and then even later, an Ithaca 1911A1. Neither of these “old GI .45s” were noted to rattle at all, let alone “like a bucket of bolts”. After reading your comment, I took my old Ithaca over to the range this morning just to see that she would do what I remember in my 87 year old hands. On the 15 yard range, I shot two 5 shot groups from a modified Weaver. The 1st group measured 7 1/2″ and the second at 9″. Before trying my two groups for record, I did put a box of 50 through her just to sort of blow the soot out. I did shake the gun well when empty and even with my hearing aids in I never heard a thing, same with a loaded mag. Now, I do believe this old, unmodified relic of the 1940s does very well to place her shots so close together at 30 feet. I had the little Range Mistress to throw several hands full of rocks and guess what? the old Ithaca beat ’em all for accuracy.

      From this, I sincerely hope that no one is dumb enough to stand in front of one of those “old GI .45s” at even 100 feet to prove a point.

      Want a sweetheart of a treat? Give RIAs TCM9R M1911 A1-ACS a whirl. That bugger comes with both TCM9R and 9mm Luger barrels. The TCM9R is a .22 based on the 9mm Luger necked down case. The pistol is almost an exact duplicate of the Colt Officers in design.

      1. I’ve handled lots of old 1911s. Some rattle, others not so much. I’m curious to see the state of the 1911s coming out of the CMMP now. Anyone know if they’re rejecting any for release?

      2. I was in US Army for 21 years…19E (M60A1 crewman) then transitioned to 19K (M1A1 Abrams crew) we carried the .45 so I did not “missed out completely on the “old GI .45s”. I have probably put a half a Deuce and a half load of ball ammo through them and the M3. Never assume anything airman…you embarrass and make a fool of yourself sometimes doing that! Before Desert Storm we were issued the Beretta 9mm which I was not crazy about but the military is not a democratic society. You carry what you are issued and just make the most of it.

      3. oh, that 22 TCM is a real beast (I hear) and RIA also makes a rifle that uses the same 22 TC-Magnum rounds. I have ‘too many guns’ (if that is possible) and it is likely on my short list, which is too long LOL

        TCM stands for T. and C. and Magnum as I recall. T and C are the initials of the last names of the engineers who designed the cartridge and the firearms. Gotta love the ingenuity of firearms enthusiasts!

      4. I have a Union Switch and Signal that I have had for many years. It was born in 1943 as I was. A reputable Gun Smith declared it to be unfired. I would like to use it. But, I have a Colt 1991 A1 that is my favorite every day handgun. I also have a 1927 Argentina that I use quite often. I am hooked on the WW II weapons and collect as many as I can. I enjoyed your note.

        1. Sorry. I was intending to reply to BJ G reference the RIA TCM rifle and this comment section won’t turn me loose to go there.

          The TCM and the TCM9r cartridges are different in the length and the rifle takes the longer TCM which won’t feed in the 9r. My local gunshop stopped stocking the rifle because of claims of inaccuracy from customers. I have no personal knowledge this is legitimate, but when I inquired about a purchase I was told they wouldn’t stock it.

          TMK, the cartridge is capable of around 2000fps at the muzzle of the pistol. I think I will go along with that because in low light, the racket and flame is most impressive to bystanders. I find my pistol to be quite accurate at 15 yards using a boresighted laser. A fun round and pistol in spite of the chaos created. The 9mm barrel is tame in comparison. I don’t find recoil to be excessive from either barrel.

  2. I had a 1979 Colt Commander wish I bought because of the riots in Miami in the early 80s it only liked Full Metal Jacket besides that it was a good pistol nothing shoots like a 1911

  3. Have a RIA “Standard” I bought used for 325.00, First time shooting it found out why it was so cheap, it jammed- a lot. New magazines- Wilson and Kimber- and it runs great Carry it a lot loaded with Gold Dots or Critical Defense, it runs them like ball. Also shoot the occasional USPSA match with it

  4. Can I call you Jerome? You sound like the guy from the old Killer Elite film with James Caan in the ‘70’s when he was trying to pawn off a .38 Super 1911..

  5. My Rock CS tactical compact 45 is not picky at all about ammo, I have shot defense JHP’s for a long time and the standard 230gr ball, and she likes them all. They do need to run wet though as they are all steel and that abhors a dry environment. Pretty sure there may be some slight differences in the steel as compared to the original Colts during WW II as they seemed run forever with or with much lube. Do I use it as a defensive weapon, absolutely. I think that if this is the platform you are good with and it works flawlessly the use it. I have other platforms that I trade out depending upon the attire I will be in but my Rock is with the most. I carried a 1911 for a little better than half my 34 year military career and will always love it

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