I’ve had a lot of dealings with the venerable 1911A1 and it’s variants. These were still the standard issue handgun when I was in the service. When I got out I worked for a time at Detonics. This company made some damn expensive guns in the 1980s; you’d pay $1100 for a new, in the box Scoremaster. But what you got for your money was an out-of-the-box accurate, dead-reliable high quality hand-fitted pistol.
They knew the gun was reliable when it left the factory because they fired three magazines of mixed ammunition through each and every gun before it went our the door. By mixed I mean several types of ball, hollow points, target wadcutters and semi-wadcutters. If the gun didn’t function flawlessly it went back and got reworked until it did. That was what you were paying a premium for after all- a well-made gun that you can count on.
Fast forward to 2010 SHOT Show. I was at the booth of a ‘premium’ 1911 manufacturer and listened as he explained that the $2200 dollar gun he was showing should be fired 500-1000 times to break it in before you should count on it. This struck me as a bit odd since I had just left a maker of inexpensive 1911s where the owner of the company said, “We recommend a 500 round break-in period, but honestly the gun should work out of the box. Just give it a good cleaning, lube it up and you ought to be ready to go.” This company’s products ran 20-25% of the cost of the ‘Premium’ gun.
He was very candid and went on to explain that while they did their best sometimes minor things slipped through- a rough surface, a small burs etc. that would work themselves out over the course of a few hundred rounds, so they liked people to ‘shoot them in’ before returning the product under warranty. Of everyone that I know that has purchased one of these guns it has, in fact, been reliable right out of the box.
So when the representative of the ‘Premium’ gun talked about a 500-1000 round ‘break-in’ period before the gun would be reliable I was dubious. This ‘break-in’ period means that if you don’t reload you are going to pay as much as $400 in addition to that $2200 price tag before you should ‘count on’ your gun being reliable. I know a number of people that have bought these guns and had numerous malfunctions in the first 500 rounds. To the companies credit most of these guns eventually settled down and became reliable.
The rational for this ‘break-in’ period was that these guns were manufactured to tighter tolerances and needed to ‘wear in.’ I’m well-known for speaking my mind- in other words without thinking- so I said, “So basically you charge a premium price, then draft your customers to finish the pistol for you. That sounds like a pretty good deal for you guys.”
The rep was speechless- in fact he gaped at me like a fish out of water. A couple of people chuckled and several looked uneasy. After thirty seconds of the fish-gape I moved on. So did several other people, mostly with thoughtful looks on their faces. I do not think I would have been welcome at that booth thereafter…
On another occasion a buddy of mine was proudly displaying his new premium 1911 and said, “It’s not really reliable yet; I’ve only put about 400 rounds through it.”
I said, “You know, if you bought a Glock for $450 dollars and it didn’t work right out of the box you’d throw a fit.”
He looked gobsmacked, then a thoughtful.
Here’s the thing about break-in periods for premium 1911s- it’s a scam. The manufacturers of these guns have convinced us that this is normal. It’s not. The guns aren’t premium- they are just tight, and the manufacturers have convinced us that we should feel privileged to do their work for them. On a $400 1911 I can live with that. On a gun that is supposed be the top-of-the-line, the best of the best? It’s bullshit, and we need to call them on it. Because they will keep right on conning us as long as we let them get away with it.