You gotta love Commanders!

; .

Carrying a Lightweight Commander is no drag at all.
It’s a well-balanced sidearm that works consistently.

After prevailing in two world wars, the Government Model 1911 was due for an upgrade of sorts. This resulted in the aluminum-framed “Commander” model, developed in 1949 for consideration as a replacement for “Old Slabsides” in 9mm, .38 Super and .45 ACP.

In 1950, Colt’s Manufacturing Company put the pistol into regular production and I had been recently born at the time, thus began two paths that would eventually come together decades later.

The Commander is, in my humble opinion, the perfectly-sized, perfectly-balanced rendition of the Model 1911 platform. Like its parent, the pistol accepts a 7- or 8-round single-stack magazine. The difference is barrel and slide length. Instead of a 5” tube as on the original, the Commander platform has a 4.25” barrel with a shortened slide to match.

Sure, I’ve heard all the complaints about the aluminum frame, about the cracks appearing on some guns above the slide stop notch through the frame. I know about concerns that the feed ramp gets pounded by 230-grain FMJs, lead semi-wadcutters and just about any type of jacketed hollowpoint.

I also know from experience this now-71-year-old pistol is an accurate little stinker, reliable and well designed for concealment as well as stopping power.


Grouse camp one year saw Dave packing his Combat Commander in bear country.

The late Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson carried a Commander, and he collected them. Once he brought several to an NRA convention and we retired to his hotel room where he allowed me to snap some photos. We served together for a time on the NRA Board of Directors some 20 years ago. If a pistol is good enough for a Ranger, who was I to ask questions?

One of my pals in a gun club near my home carried a Commander, with a wraparound Pachmayr grip. It was a well-cared-for piece he had not altered a bit, and he was proficient with it. Another of my friends also carried a Commander with different grips and a beavertail grip safety fitting my hand like the proverbial glove. The only thing I didn’t care for was the curved mainspring housing.

While I’d been packing a full-size Springfield at the time, I began shopping. It took a few years, but I came across a decent specimen at a gun show at a reasonable price. This was the steel-framed Combat Commander, which I took to the late maestro pistolsmith Richard Niemer for a work-over. I obtained a set of Trijicon three-dot tritium night sights to replace what I considered woefully small factory sights. I bought a flat mainspring housing and a set of handsome stag grips. I wanted to retain the original short trigger. When the gun came back, it shot straight at 25 yards and digested everything I fed it. The trigger breaks at 4.5 pounds, exactly how I like it.

I built a few holsters for the pistol and carried it for several years, not just in the public arena but also a few times on camping treks.


Dave’s Commanders include the steel-framed Combat Commander (left) and the Lightweight Commander, both in .45 ACP.

I finally acquired a Lightweight Commander worked on by another pal and it’s also a great shooter. I had him mount the same Trijicon sights, a beavertail grip safety and ambidextrous thumb safety. He installed a stainless Commander hammer, match-grade bushing and magazine release, and I subsequently slapped on a set of stag grips I’d purchased online to sort of match the ones on my steel-frame model.

Since the onset of the pandemic panic, I haven’t been able to shoot either pistol like I used to but maybe that will change this summer. I’ve got plenty of .45 ACP reloads and have a yearn to make some noise. I also have a supply of plated bullets for practice, and one of these days when I enter some semblance of retirement I’ll have lots more time to sit at the loading bench.

Colt introduced a stainless model a few years back and I got one for a test. Like my own guns, it shot superbly out of the box and I can’t recall a single malfunction with that pistol.

A few years back, when Ruger introduced its own version of a single-action .45 auto, it was designed on the Commander platform with a polished titanium feed ramp. I got one for a test and it was a gem. This pistol had a stainless slide, anodized aluminum frame, stainless steel magazines and titanium firing pin.

Smith & Wesson also produced a Commander-style pistol, though I don’t see one in their current lineup. Theirs has/had an external extractor, but the one I fired performed nicely and never gave me grief.


Compared to a Colt Diamondback in .38 Special, the Commander holds three
more rounds when using an 8-round magazine with one up the spout.

Kimber has produced several near-Commander facsimiles, with the primary difference being their 4” barrel length. The ones I’ve fired have all been good performers, and I own a Custom Compact with an Officer’s model shortened frame. I got that one on a test and liked it so much I bought it.

I don’t believe the .45 ACP loses much muscle when fired from the shorter Commander barrel. At defensive distances, even if it does exit the muzzle traveling at 50-75 fps slower than from a full-size Government Model, nothing on the receiving end is going to notice any difference.

Everybody has their preference in handguns. I like revolvers, both single- and double-action. When it comes to semi-autos, the 1911 platform is my preference. Sure, it holds fewer rounds than some of the modern polymer-framed whiz-bangs, but I’ve known a lot of very decent gun hands who faithfully carry the 1911, and the one thing they have in common is they don’t seem to miss a lot.

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