There is a longstanding debate between 9mm vs. 45 calibers.
However, within each category exists guns that come out on top as the best, and those that sink to the bottom of the ranks and qualify among the worst. These five handguns fall into the latter category.
Springfield Armory M1911-A1 (“90s Edition/Pre-Bankruptcy Model)
This one is a tad painful for me to write from a sentimentality standpoint, as this was my very first gun purchase, back in December 1991. Boasting a nice fit and Parkerized finish, it had a crisp trigger, was wonderfully accurate … and the positive ended there. I could never get more than 50 rounds out of her at a time without either a stovepipe jam, a feed failure, or an extraction failure. It was under warranty, so I sent it back to the factory, whereupon they claimed to make a few fixes such as adjusting the extractor and a few other tweaks before returning it to me … whereupon the jams persisted.
Sadly I sold her off that following summer. Right around that time, Springfield declared bankruptcy; “Serves ‘em right,” I uncharitably thought way back then.
Well, after the bankruptcy, Springfield got its act together and bounced back. Fast-forward to 2003, and Massad F. “Mas” Ayoob wrote that “Springfield Armory is now making the best guns of its existence.” So I took that to heart, rolled the proverbial dice, bought a stainless steel Springfield Armory Mil-Spec M1911, and voila, Glory Hallelujah, I finally had a reliable 1911 .45 auto! The third time’s the charm, right?
Charles Daly M1911-A1
Y’see before I could get to that “third time charm,” I had to endure the “second time suckage” (so to speak). On paper, the “CD” looked great, with a host of “factory custom” features, such as a Gold Cup-style hammer and trigger, and all at a bargain basement price. Well, “You get what you pay for.” I bought one back in 2000 when I was on a lowly E-3 pay grade in the U.S. Air Force. Like that early Springfield, it was accurate and had a nice trigger. Again, the positives ended there. Not only was it woefully unreliable, it was unsafe too: if you left the grip safety activated and then held the trigger down long enough, the hammer would still fall!
Even after taking it to top-notch gunsmith Carlos Castillo, the gun continued to fart and puke. In fact, Carlos told me afterward that he’d never work on another CD again!
EAA Tanfoglio Witness
Hey, gotta include at least one traditional double-action (TDA) autopistol, lest y’all think I’m picking solely on single-action (SA) 1911s! The EAA (European American Armory) Tanfoglio Witness was modeled after the CZ-75 – which ironically is a pistol I’m very fond of. I fired one Witness at Los Angeles Gun Club back circa 1993, and though it functioned reliably, (1) accuracy was mediocre and underwhelming, and (2) though, sure, this was probably just a freak occurrence, it ejected one of the freshly-fired empty shell casings open-end-first right at my face. It actually broke the skin on my right cheek, leaving a semicircle mark! One of my least fun shooting experiences EVER!!
Colt Mk IV Series 80 Government Model
As bad as my experience was with the 90s Edition Springfield back then, many 1911 enthusiasts had even worse experiences with the Series 80 Colts, which explains why Springfield cleaned Colt’s clock sales-wise in the last two decades of the 20th century. Mind you, my own experiences with the Series 80s Colts were actually pretty decent – as were Mas Ayoob’s – but I only fired maybe 250 rounds through ‘em, tops.
Complaints about the Series 80 Colts were that the finger-style collet-type barrel bushings – which theoretically boosted accuracy compared to the old-school solid barrel bushings – were fragile and woefully tied up the guns when they broke, and that the passive firing pin locks – which were intended to make the guns more drop-safe – led to crappy trigger pulls.
OSS FP-45 Liberator
In fairness, this actually wasn’t intended to be a quality pistol in the first place, i.e. it was intentionally built as an “El Cheapo” (so to speak)! The single-shot Liberator pistol – definitely not to be confused with the B-24 Liberator bomber even though they both served in the same war and against the same enemies – is sometimes called a “flare pistol” (although it certainly didn’t actually shoot flares) and “the Woolworth” on account of its ungainly appearance.
As Dean A. Grennell wittily put it in Chapter 3. “The Weirdest .45” of his 1989 book “The Gun Digest Book of the .45,” “Put bluntly, when it comes to innate charm and charisma, the Liberator pistol serves right in there alongside a mud puppy with psoriasis.”
As for how it handled and shot, here’s what Dean had to say: “I recall the trigger pull fairly clearly … It was neither smooth nor crisp … Set off a round of GI hardball in a pistol weighing less than half that [the 39 ounces of a full-sized M1911, that is], out of a barrel an inch shorter … and the subjective effective was plumb, downright traumatic.”
Yet the pistol served its purpose nonetheless, according to Mr. Grennell: “A would-be freedom fighter, armed with one, could stalk an isolated sentry to the requisite close range, dispose of him with a well delivered shot and take possession of the enemy’s gun and ammunition supply, thus gearing up to go on to greater things … As well as could be ascertained after cessation of hostilities, it is believed Liberator pistols accounted for more enemy dead and wounded than did all the .45 ACP service handguns in use by the U.S. armed forces during WWII.”
Nowadays, Liberators are actually collectors’ items.
Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.
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