Pistol Review: Wiley Clapp 1911 Government Model From Colt
I’ve always had a soft spot for Colt 1911s. Especially the full-sized Government Models in .45 ACP. I grew up in Connecticut, carried a Colt in combat and shot competitively with several 1911A1s, both Army issue and personally owned. Yeah, I’m an unapologetic Colt fan-boy. Not that other manufacturers don’t build very accurate and functional 1911 .45s — there are lots of good ones out there — I even own a couple. But I’ll always have a soft spot for a Colt .45 Auto. I have quite a few and wish I had a few more. So it didn’t take much convincing to add another Colt to the stable.
The Wiley Clapp 1911 Government series has been selling well since it was introduced — finding one seems to be the biggest problem for most Pony lovers. The line has expanded to alloy and stainless frames, Lightweight and Commander size and now, 9mms. Designed by legendary Wiley Clapp for Colt and TALO distributors, it has several features serious 1911 shooters want, without a custom shop wait and price. It’s not a one-off, hand-built pistol, but probably the nicest production .45 you can buy. Not a target gun or a competitive pistol, it instead has the options shooters would want in a customized range or carry gun. This is a serious pistol, made to be shot often with full-duty loads. Finish is black-matte on the frame, with slide flats polished. Not a bright polish, but enough of a contrast to the frame that is noticeable. It’s almost two-tone but utilitarian.
Colt pistols have gotten a reputation the last few years for being left with the edges too sharp before bluing. Not so with the Wiley Clapp 1911 — no sharp edges here. I have no criticism of the finish, prep-work or polish on my Wiley Colt. The flat-black bluing is awesome; sometimes less is more. A great-looking finish is all about the prep work before bluing; Colt put some effort in the polishing and it shows.
About the only thing I could criticize cosmetically on my Wiley Clapp 1911 .45 is the loose fit of the upswept grip safety. I’d prefer a standard 1911A1 GI grip safety, but this one is comfortable, albeit loose. Custom ‘smiths spend hours blending oversized safeties onto a frame, without any gaps, slop or wiggle. Colt traditionally fits their production 1911s with some play. Tightly fitted guns tend to malfunction more often under poor conditions than ones with more generous tolerances. These guns weren’t made to shoot a bullseye match; reliable function has always been the primary concern at Colt on a 1911 production pistol. Newer Colts are now made on CNC machinery and the slides are fitted to the frames quite well. The fit is still slightly loose though when compared to a custom Ed Brown or Wilson 1911. In my opinion, that’s a good thing. My Colt now has somewhere over 1,000 rounds of factory match semi-wadcutters, hollowpoints and ball through it without a hitch. That says something for Colt’s workmanship. After 106 years, Colt knows what they’re doing on a 1911.
Wiley Clapp Upgrades
Colt began with a forged series 70 frame and slide as the basis for the Wiley Clapp series. Not a cast frame, but forged, like Colts have been made since day one. The series 70 inertia firing pin system is Colt-speak for using the original 1911 design that’s been on all Colts before the newer series 80 firing pin safety was introduced. Nothing wrong with a series 80 Colt — sometimes simpler is just better. Series 80 guns have more moving parts (and are a pain to reassemble); some say a good series 80’s trigger pull is more difficult to achieve than on a series 70. Traditionalists and Colt lovers will be pleased.
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Probably the nicest standard feature on the Wiley Clapp 1911 is the checkered front strap (25 LPI) and mainspring housing. Checkering on mine was perfectly executed, with the flat steel mainspring housing blended into the frame. Stippling works just as well, but a good checkering job looks a lot better. There’s a slight relief cut under the trigger guard, which makes for a more comfortable shooting grip. Not a big deal, but it’s appreciated.
Colt puts Novak fixed sights on this pistol, and they’re an excellent choice. The rear sight is plain black and has a wide notch. It works well in acquiring the front sight rapidly but is still usable in precise work. The front sight has a brass bead, which helps in less than perfect lighting conditions. If you don’t care for it, it’s easy to ignore. You can also send the slide to Novak and they’ll put whatever front sight on it you’d like. Because the front sight is dovetailed in, replacement is quick and painless.
Grips (Colt freaks call them “stocks”) are thin and taper towards the front. The checkering pads look weird, but match the checkering on the frame and work well in helping to control the pistol in recoil. I’m somewhat of a traditionalist, so I changed mine out for a set of thin VZ double-diamond stocks in G10. Mucho-nice and the G10 is extremely rugged grip material.
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One recurring criticism I’ve noted on the Clapp pistols is the use of a small GI-style thumb safety. Some consider a larger safety a must on a pistol like this. Actually, I like the smaller safety. It doesn’t get in the way and it’s more difficult to get knocked off safe, due to the small size. If you want something else, an after-market safety is a minor replacement job. Making a 1911 into your personal idea of the ultimate pistol is half the fun of owning and tweaking a new Colt, until its right for you.
The trigger is a long aluminum one with the pad surface serrated. No adjustable overtravel stop is installed. Overtravel stops have been known to work loose and cause a catastrophic malfunction. Simpler is better on a duty-type pistol —it’s not needed on a combat handgun anyway.
Some Tuning and Shooting
My pistol came with a good trigger that broke at 4.2 lbs. without hammer follow. It did have some creep just after initial take-up that was noticeable, though. It also shot slightly to the right at 25 yards with several brands of factory ammo. Easy fixes. Just down the road my old Army buddy, Justin McMillan, works on 1911s exclusively as his daytime job. Years ago Justin was a gunsmith at the AMU (Army Marksmanship Unit) when I was a trigger-puller on the Army team. He’s probably tuned, accurized and rebuilt more 1911s (and M9s) during his tour at FT Benning than most other pistolsmiths build in a lifetime. Less than an hour on Justin’s workbench and my pistol had an excellent 4 lbs. pull with a slight roll and no creep. Sights were tapped over to shoot a couple of inches to the left, bringing the point of aim and impact together. Justin also fitted an oversized slide stop after a several hundred round break-in period. This tightened rear lock-up and ended the pistol’s inclination to throw flyers. Playing with the front (fitting a tight barrel bushing) and rear lock-up can pay dividends accuracy-wise if you know what you’re doing. Trying different brands and type of ammo helps in pinpointing your pistol’s grouping ability. Sending a few hundred rounds downrange before swapping out parts is highly recommended. It’s actually all part of the fun in getting the most from your new pistola.
This is not meant to criticize the Wiley Clapp 1911’s accuracy or the factory fitting and lock-up of the pistol. Mine shot well out of the box and functioned perfectly. Justin and I just took our tinkering to the next level to see if an improvement could be achieved. Another minor bit of work I’ll eventually have done is a muzzle re-crown, probably after several hundred more rounds. Customizing a favorite .45 is an on-going process that’s never really completed if you’re a hard-core 1911 guy.
I’m now getting nice, centered groups of about 2″ at 25 yards with Federal commercial and TZZ GI match ball without any fliers. For an untuned .45 production pistol, that’s fine for anything except the Nationals at Camp Perry. My gun functions flawlessly with any load I’ve tried and will easily last a lifetime or two if it’s lubed and the recoil spring is replaced regularly. Considering all the standard features, the price and Colt’s quality control, it’s the best bargain in the crowded 1911 market today.
Colt Wiley Clapp Government Model Specifications:
- Caliber: .45 ACP
- Barrel: 5”
- Weight: 38 oz.
- Sights: Plain black fixed Novak wide-notch rear, brass bead front. Both front & rear are drift-adjustable for windage
- Stocks: “Fingerprint” pattern checkered hardwood, slim tapered style
- Finish: Matte blue frame, polished slide flats
- Additional Features: Pete Single 25 line per inch checkered front strap and flat mainspring housing, series 70 firing system, long aluminum trigger, beavertail grip safety, GI style small thumb safety, beveled magazine well, relieved and undercut ejection port, angled slide serrations, Commander-style rowel hammer
- MSRP: $1,200.00
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