Around 1970 a fellow named Pat Yates yearned for a compact, accurate .45 Auto as a concealed carry piece. There were no commercial offerings that fit the bill, so he obtained several 1911s from a pawn shop and set to work, cutting, welding and probably making blood sacrifices to dark gods. In a short time he had achieved his goal. The grip was shortened 3/4″, the slide by 1-1/2″. The magazine held six rounds. As his preference was to carry hammer-down on a loaded chamber he dispensed with the grip safety and manual safety, instead moving the sight and inch or so forwards and milling away the back of the slide to facilitate thumb-cocking, creating the distinctive profile of the gun. He dispensed with the barrel-bushing, using a semi-conical bull-barrel. The recoil plug was inserted from the rear of the slide stirrup, and three springs circled the full-length guide-rod. Extra flat grips completed the package.
The gun functioned well with a variety of ammunition and had remarkably little felt recoil for such a small gun in such a large caliber. Sid Woodcock was so impressed with the one-off gun that in 1974 he purchased the rights to produce it. Pat loaned them his prototype and did a series of design drawings to help patent the gun’s unique features. Pat later admitted he thought they were crazy- what kind of lunatic would want so much power in such a small package? Other than him, of course.
The original production guns were cut and welded just like the prototype, but before too long they were having bespoke slides and frames made by Essex. The production guns also differed from the prototype in several respects, not the least being the addition of a conventional 1911-style manual safety. The also added a screw to the end of the guide-rod, making it a captured recoil spring assembly.
The bull-barrel is important; it doesn’t just allow the gun to dispense with the barrel-bushing. Whenever the gun is in battery the muzzle bears on the same two points, which makes for improved consistency and accuracy.
In addition to the Combat Master they produced several other models, all but one based on the 1911 pattern and using their bull-barrel system. I’m not going to give you the full history of Detonics; suffice to say that by 1986 they were out of business. A combination of a poor sales strategy and bad management decisions did them in. They have been resurrected more than once since, but never with any great success.
I worked for Detonics in 1984, mainly assembling their Pocket 9 pistols- but that’s a whole different story. I had a few Detonics guns in the 1980’s and loved them, but always wound up parting with them, very much to my regret. Linda was well aware of this history, and for my birthday last month she bought me this gun- a Mk.1 Combat Master made in the 1980s. It’s fitted with custom grips and a Wolfe spring, but other than that it is quite stock.
Peter Dunn, who worked for Detonics for many years and is now the ‘go-to’ guy for all things Combat Master, now works at Ben’s Loans in Renton, WA. and gave it a good once -over. A tweak here and there and he pronounced it a good gun, and so it has proven to be. We’ve put several hundred rounds through it at this point, and I am quite happy with its reliability and accuracy.
Linda loves shooting it too. You’d think that a .45 this compact would have some serious recoil, but a lot of people find the Combat Master more pleasant to shoot than a full-size 1911! The slide is quite a lot lighter than a stock gun, so the slide velocity is quite high. While the muzzle jumps but it comes right back on target very quickly. The short duration of the stroke and the speed of recovery fools the mind, makes the recoil feel lighter than it is.
I remembered loving these guns, but over the years I had forgotten just how good they are; shooting this gun has been like coming home after being too long away. A friend recently provided me with several magazines, so after I make some appropriate leather this gun will become my main EDC.
In these days of super-compact polymer wonder-guns the Detonics may seem like a bit of a dinosaur with its single-action mechanism and steel frame, but it was the first of its kind and even now, almost fifty years later, it has a lot to offer.
Michael Tinker Pearce 25July2018