Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911: Awesome Homage or Bad Recreation?

by Travis Pike

August 7, 2020

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If there is one gun that I can give a long term review on, it’s the Rock Island G.I. 1911 in 45 ACP. Just how long is long term? Well, I’ve owned this gun for 14 years now and have fired thousands and thousands of rounds out of it.

I’ve competed with it (and mostly lost), and for a long time, it was the only real handgun I had for self and home defense. I think this gives me a well-informed opinion of it. 

Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911 Background

RIA G.I. 1911 Specs

  • Capacity 8
  • Caliber 45 ACP
  • Length 8.56″
  • Barrel Length 5″
  • Weight 2.47 pounds
  • Height 5.5″

The firearms are affordable and seemingly well made. The Rock Island Armory G.I. is as bare-bones as a 1911 can get, and they are produced in the Philippines.

The Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911 is the most bare-bones 1911 you can get. It’s a gun designed to be simple and to mimic the 1911s of the first couple of world wars.

I’m not a big 1911 guy, but I still think they are cool and historical weapons that deserve a place in any gun collection—the G.I. Editions forego any fancy parts and pieces and give you an authentic military 1911 experience at a very affordable price point.

Knowing that these guns are simple is critical when choosing one. If you are spoiled by modern pistols, then you may find the Rock Island Armory G.I. style 1911 a little lacking.

If you’re the type who likes old school cool, then the Rock Island Armory would be perfect for you. It keeps things simple without sacrificing safety as you do get all the modern safety measures a modern firearm should have.

There is also a good argument these are great for dudes and dudettes that wanna customize a 1911 to their exact needs. You can grab one of these rather affordably and then do the work to make it the gun you wish it to be. It’s a blank slate that does allow you to customize the weapon to a crazy degree.

Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911 Features

Rock-Island-Armory-1911-Features
1 # Smooth Wood Grips and Parkerized Finish

This gun’s got a nice quality feel to it.

2 # Fixed Front and Rear Sight

Sights are nice, but a little small for tired eyes.

3 # 8 Round Mec Gar Magazine

Standard magazine and easy to find.

4 # Crisp 4.5 Pound Trigger

A clean trigger always helps out with an accurate showing of a 1911.

Rock Island 1911 – Our Take

Breaking in periods is something I really hate the idea of. We live in a world where nearly every polymer frame pistol can come off the assembly line will go pew without issue, so I’m not sure why some guns gotta bang around a bit to work. This gun had a very long break-in period before it would run reliably. I got tons of failures to feed property, and the most common issue was the slide failing to go into battery.

As a broke kid, I had to see this gun through, and when it finally started working, I was a very relieved young man. After many embarrassing range trips and competitions, I got really good at tap rack bang. One day something clicked, and everything started running just right. The gun could and would eat all the 230-grain hardball I could put through it. The Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911 is still ammo picky and only likes the 230-grain variety ammunition. If you stick with the right ammo, it runs like a clock.

What About Accuracy?

The gun has abysmally small sights, and they consist of a tiny rear sight with a tiny curved front sight. The sights are not easy to pick up rapidly and are nigh impossible to track. This can make accuracy challenging. Trying to focus on the tiny front sight is difficult, and while you can be accurate, you can’t necessarily be fast and precise.

It’s easy to hit an IPSC target, but it can be hard to hit the A zone of a target when moving and grooving. If you stand still, exercise sound fundamentals, get the sights right, and take your time, you can easily hit the A zone.

Rock Island Armory GI Profile

The trigger is actually rather nice for such an affordable firearm. The Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911 does keep the tradition of excellent 1911 triggers alive. It’s a crisp trigger that’s nice and light with a bit of pre-travel and a short wall before you get the bang. A nice trigger does help a bit in the accuracy department, and you can’t hate a crisp 1911 trigger.

Old School Ergos

The old school ergonomics are very clearly present here. There is no extended beavertail or large ambidextrous safety, or even aggressive checkering on the grip panels. This thing is very plain and very simple 1911. With that being said, I don’t think there is really anything wrong here.

If I was a lefty, then an ambi safety would be great, but the traditional 1911 ergonomics are still up to par. I never experienced hammer or slide bite from the gun in all many thousands of rounds downrange. The magazine catch, slide lock, and hammer are all textured and slip-proof for easy engagement. The rear serrations are short and shallow, but the slide glides rearward smoothly.

Don’t expect front serrations or even front grip checkering. You’ll be left disappointed if you look for something fancy in such a plain jane 1911. The gun originally came with wood grips, but over the years, they got beat up and ugly, and I replaced them with some custom made Alumagrips. These do provide a bit better of a grip than the original smooth wood grips.

All The Enjoyment

This gun doesn’t get the same love and attention it used to, but I still like breaking it out every now and then. The gun is still quite a fun gun to shoot with a lot of memories packed into it. Even with the gun’s imperfections, I still have a significant bias towards it. Even without that fond bias, it is an interesting gun that allows you to step back in time to the days where the 1911 was the most modern service pistol on the market.

This configuration is how the gun served for many decades across multiple continents and wars. These days most budget based 1911s will even have a few extras tossed in from sights to safeties. The Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911 has no such accouterments, and it is 9mostly) as John Browning designed it.

You’ll either walk away from the gun fascinated by how far we’ve come in handgun design, or you could run away back to your Wilson Combat and forget your torrid affair with a plain Jane. I still enjoy the weapon for what it is and feel struggling with it over those years made me a better shooter. It certainly made me a good sport when it came to losing.

The Dollary Doos

The Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911s have changed a bit in the last 15 years. The finish is now black and not gray, the RIA logo is very small and not a billboard across the slide, and the wood grips are a bit prettier. The price has also gone up quite a bit.

Mine was purchased for a grand total of $389. The current crops of G.I. 1911s are selling for around $500. For $389, I’m a customer, but at $500, we are talking modernized pistol money. At $500, the value declines to me a bit, and at that price, the real value is in finding a 1911 without fancy features and buying it for the historical nature of the gun.

RIA G.I. 1911 Pros and Cons

  • Historical design without collector’s cost
  • Simple, but solid ergonomics
  • Long term durability is excellent
  • Long break-in period
  • Ammunition picky
  • Small sights

Report Card

Reliability

It took more rounds than I thought to count to start running problem-free. After a hard summer of use in my youth and it clicked and runs well now, but is ammo picky.

D
Accuracy

The small sights suck, but the trigger helps make up for it. Aging eyes will surely have a hard time finding these small sights. The gun is capable of acceptable accuracy, but it doesn’t pair well when you toss in speed.

B
Shootability

The Rock Island Armory G.I. delivers an old school experience that tends to be fun, even if it’s challenging. Recoil is less of snap and more of a push, and nothing bites or hurts even after a long day of trigger time. Shooting this old school 1911 design is a lot like shooting an old single-action revolver. Outdated but enjoyable.

A
Ergonomics

The 1911 design is inherently ergonomic, and that is a simple translation into this gun. The controls are not fancy, and the stock grip panels kinda suck, but the Rock Island Armory 1911 is easy enough to operate. 

C
Value

The prices on these guns have gone up high enough to compete with modern polymer pistols. That’s a tough sell unless you are looking for this G.I. style specifically.

C

Our Grade

C+

Reviewed by Travis Pike

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Rock Island Armory 1911 Starter Pack

If you find yourself picking up the Rock Island Armory GI at a pretty good price, you’re going to want to make sure you have everything you need to substantiate your purchase. We recommend picking up the following to get you started.

Rock Island Armory 1911 Gun Deals

Looking to score the best deal on a RIA GI 1911? Here are three great sources to get you started!

Disclaimer: These are the prices at the time of writing this article. Prices and availability may change.

Upgrades and Accessories for the Rock Island G.I. 1911

Looking to spruce up your 1911? We’ve chosen these three accessories as a gateway into more customization. If you’re looking for the old-fashioned GI look, you may want to consider a WWII styled holster. And if you’re going to want to put any kind of light or laser, an easy to install rail might be just what you need.

Best Accessories for the RIA G.I. 1911

AccessoryDetailsCheck Price
US WWII Styled Shoulder Holster for 1911
  • Genuine leather
  • Fully adjustable
  • Original Lift the Dot hardware
Check Price
DeSantis Gunhide Slim-Tuk IWB Holster
  • 360 C-clip
  • Ambidextrous
  • Hooks to belt well and covers trigger
Check Price
Recover Tactical Grips
  • No gunsmithing needed
  • Universal fit
  • Great way to add accessory rail on a budget
Check Price

Best Ammo for Your Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911

This firearm is a picky eater. And that can get to be rather expensive. That’s why its completely crucial that you have specified range ammo separate from your working rounds.

Range Rounds

MagTech-9mm-Ammo

MagTech 230GR FMJ Ammo

Marketplace
Cost Per Round
Brownells $0.36

Working Ammunition

Black-Hills-ammo-45acp-JHP

Black Hills 230GR JHP Ammo

Marketplace
Cost Per Round
Brownells $0.94

How to Care for Your Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911

If you’ve never taken down a 1911, you’re in for a surprise. They’re not the easiest firearm to disassemble. As a matter of fact, if you don’t know what you’re doing takedown and reassembly can be a pain in the butt. Fortunately, DerbyCity502 has put together a very easy to follow instructional video that’ll help just about anyone figure this firearm out.

Important Links and Manuals for the RIA G.I. 1911

Need more info on this firearm? No worries, we’ve got you covered. Check out the manufacturer’s site, manual, and what others are saying about this gun.

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About Travis Pike

Travis is a former United States Marine Corps Infantryman and currently a firearms writer, instructor, and works in Emergency Management.

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