S&W Performance Center 1911: Initial Impressions


I enjoy shooting handguns.  They are some of my favorite recreational firearms, and I like the challenge of punching holes in paper and improving my skills.  After many years of shooting and trying different firearms, I’ve developed a better sense of what works well in a pistol.  A good trigger, well-regulated sights, and the right “balance” go a long way in creating a handgun that performs in my hands.  The 1911 platform has become one of my favorites, and I just purchased what looks like a very nice example of this design:  a full size model from the S&W Performance  Center.

Without going into too much detail, the Performance Center is a separate entity within S&W.  In the Performance Center, a small group of skilled craftsmen create firearms to more exact specifications than standard production.  A great deal of hand fitting and individual attention goes into the 1911s (and other firearms) that come from this area.  While some companies may use “custom” as more of a marketing tool than an actual function, I’ve watched a number of videos online about the Performance Center and it truly is a seperate, specialized shop within S&W.

This specific 1911, model #170343, was released sometime in early 2013.  My exact specification was test fired in September 2013… just two months ago.  It is a full size 5″ barrel stainless steel 1911 that incorporates several modifications from a standard GI model, including: a relieved and checkered front strap, oversize ambidexterous safety, skeletonized hammer, magwell funnel, beavertail grip safety, adjustable target sights, external extractor (standard on all S&W 1911s), Briley barrel bushing, match grade custom fitted barrel, hand lapped frame and slide, lightweight aluminum trigger, G10 grips, and lightening cuts in the front slide. While many of these features are becoming “standard” on 1911s, they are different than what would be found on a GI issue grade pistol.  Of note, this pistol does NOT appear to include a manually activated firing pin safety, as there is no lever coming up from the frame to engage such a feature (firing pin safetys are often derided by experienced shooters as unnecessary).

I have not yet had a chance to take this pistol to the range, but here are some quick initial reactions:

  • The S&W is very well finished.  The fit between slide and frame is tight but not restrictive. My Kimber Classic Target (made prior to 1998… a nice 1911 on its own) feels almost sloppy in comparison.  The area where slide and frame meet on the rear of the pistol is smooth; there’s no overhang from the slide as is common on many 1911s, and the fit between both is precise.  Everything, even the interior surfaces, is well finsihed. The magwell is nicely fitted as well, as there is no “shoulder” between it and the frame for a magazine to catch.  The barrel and slide have numbers inscribed to match the serial number on the frame.
  • The trigger breaks crisply at 3.5 lbs. I tried to feel creep or grit, but there is none.  There’s a light take up followed by resistance and then a break… very nice.  Lock time seems quick as well.  While it’s hard to explain, I have an STI Spartan that has a crisp break but it seems like it happens slower.  Also, there is no wiggle or side to side movement on the S&W trigger; it’s smooth and well fitted.
  • The “fish scale” slide scallops provide a very functional and easy to grasp way to rack the slide.  They, in my opinion, are some of the more attractive slide grasping designs on the market.
  • The grips are a little on the thick side.  Compared with my Kimber, the grip area is approximately .13″ wider.  While it may not sound like much, you can definitely feel the difference.  Also, the trigger pull is about .1″ longer on this than on my Kimber.  But in all fairness, I fitted a Cylinder & Slide short trigger to my Kimber so it’s not a “stock vs. stock” comparison.  These two factors together make the S&W feel more substantial in my hands… more like a “target” pistol.
  • The thumb safety flicks on and off with a nice positive “click.”  It is a little stiffer thanon my Kimber and STI, but it is not “mushy” as I’ve heard others describe some of their S&W 1911 safeties.
  • It may be in my mind, but the lightening cuts do seem to change the balance of the pistol somewhat.  Not excessively so, but this 1911 seems “livlier” out front than my others.  Not light, but just almost a little “quicker” in feel.
  • I have read comments online where people have questioned by S&W didn’t put magwell style grips on this pistol.  When you look at the magwell, it’s easy to see why.  The magwell on this is large enough to facilitate inserting a magazine, but it not wide enough to be flush with grips that aren’t tapered on the bottom.  In short, putting magwell style grips on this pistol would have created a ledge between the grip and the extended magwell.  I’m happy with S&W’s decision to use standard grips.

This pistol came with a nice hard case, two magazines, bushing wrench, manual, and fired test case. All in all, it’s a very nice package to compliment what appears to be a very well made handgun.

I had a chance to look at some other 1911 pistols over the weekend as well, namely a Sig STX, Kimber Grand Raptor II, and Wilson Combat X-Tac. In fit, finish, and overall feel, the S&W is (in my opinion) much higher than the Kimber, somewhat more so than the Sig, and not quite as smooth (but pretty darn close) as the Wilson. Again, these are subjective observations… yours may vary.

I have a few different loads that I’m going to run through this S&W and my Kimber at the same time to see if the extra price and features generate a quantifiable down range impact (pun intended).  The loads include 200 gr LCSWC (coated) with 5.0 grains of W231, as well as 185 gr JSWC with 5.0 grains of W231.  I also have some older surplus hardball ammo I’m going to run through both, and may pick up some commercial FMJ loads as well.

While it’s hard to judge a book by it’s cover, I will say that I am initially well pleased with this purchase and am anxious to get some range time to see what happens!  More to come.



About martowski

Garden-variety professional with one too many hobbies.
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