A few months back I had a brother police officer approach me to ask if I knew anything about Rock Island pistols. He had heard, through that very carefully controlled information service we all know as the rumor mill, that the guns were decent and cost effective. Read “decent” and “cost effective” to mean “perform acceptably” and “don’t cost as much as premium grade pistols”. I had never heard of Rock Island Armory before, but it bothers me when I get questions that I can’t even begin to research properly (since I didn’t know the answer) and I made it a point to find out something about Rock Island. What I found out is that it’s hard to find out much about them. There are some being sold by dealers you can find on the internet. There is mention of Rock Island .45s on numberous discussion boards online. I had no success in finding a Rock Island Armory website nor in locating a headquarters for Rock Island Armory. Further research revealed why…
From what I’ve been able to ascertain, “Rock Island Armory” is a trade name for a Phillipino gun manufacturer. I haven’t been able to pin down the company. The .45s are relatively simple – not fitted with contemporary upgrades, design changes, etc. The Rock Island Armory .45s are almost completely basic GI .45s the way they were years and years ago. Almost…
I finally managed to get my hands on a Rock Island Armory .45ACP pistol. The one I found is in “Officer’s Model” trim with a three inch barrel and six round magazine capacity. My cost for the pistol was $300, and that’s not far off what I’ve found others for on the internet through various firearms dealers. $300-$350 seems a common range for these pistols.
The pistol, as I received it, came with one 6-round magazine that fits flush into the mag well, and an additional 7-round magazine which protrudes about 1/4″ when locked in. My pistol has a blued finish, but I’ve found information that indicates the Rock Island Armory pistols are also available in a parkerized finish. The blueing on my pistol is smooth with no sign of blemishes. The fit seems good with little play in the slide to frame mating. The grips on it are plain wood. Both the front and rear sight are dovetailed in, and the rear sight has an allen screw that keeps it locked in place.
After I field stripped the weapon I took a closer look at the slide and frame. Some of the corners on the slide looked soft, as if the milling wasn’t as carefully controlled as it should have been, but “soft” corners aren’t usually considered a bad thing. If it had looked dehorned, I’d have been happy. But some of the corners look soft while others are sharp (I got a cut on my thumb cleaning the pistol and I still don’t know where it came from). The feed ramp on the frame was polished, but didn’t look smooth. I was beginning to have my suspicions. Double-checking, I found the feed ramp to indeed be nice and smooth – as if someone had polished it and it had never been fired. From the pictures you can see the Commander style hammer and beavertail memory-groove grip safety. All in all, before taking it to the range, I was happy with the fit and finish – for a $300 pistol.
At the range I started out using the magazines that came with the pistol and regular 230g FMJ ammo. After about three rounds the pistol didn’t return to battery after recoil and when I looked I saw why. The recoil spring guide rod was sticking out the front end of the weapon past the bushing meant to retain it. Clearing the weapon I field stripped it, reassembled it, and headed back down the range. Two rounds later I had the same situation. Once again clearing the weapon, I put it in its box and put it away. Until I had a chance to check into that, I wouldn’t be shooting the weapon any more. Thanks to the insights and efforts of a friend of mine, it was discovered that someone – prior to my having recieved the pistol – had decided to make it smoother and faster by chopping a piece off of the recoil spring. Slick… Once a regular size Officer’s Model recoil spring was in place, and the weapon was cleaned, back to the range I went.
This time I had no issues with the recoil spring. I went through about 200 rounds of hardball ammo (that 230g FMJ) before switching over to Federal HydraShok. Neither cartridge showed any feed, firing or ejection problems. After about one hundred rounds I had one stovepipe, but I can’t say for sure that it was the weapons fault. It was certainly dirty, but I was intentionally limp-wristing the pistol in that string of shots to see how easy it was to induce a malfunction. I got one stovepipe out of the magazine.
After oiling the weapon – because it was pretty dirty and I know how difficult some .45s can be, I loaded up my magazines with frangible ammo so I could shoot some steel. Bad move. No matter what magazines I used, the pistol just didn’t want to feed the frangible ammo. I had misfeed after misfeed, with the nose of the bullets never even getting off the feed ramp. Clearance drills resulted in nothing but live rounds being dropped to the ground as the weapon refused to feed the mildly truncated cone shape of the frangible bullets. No steel pinging for me that day. You can see how dirty the gun ended up below. Just for the record I was shooting Winchester 230g FMJ ammo through most of the range time.
Accuracy of the weapon was acceptable. I certainly wouldn’t want it as my primary duty weapon, but off-duty in plain clothes, it would suffice. I had no trouble keeping my shots inside of a four inch circle at seven yards, and while that’s no great shakes, it’s sufficient for personal defense work. And after all, that’s pretty much what a pistol like this is designed for. It’s not a duty weapon. It’s not meant for precision pistol work at twenty-five yards. It’s meant to be carried concealed and only used in last-ditch up-close and dirty emergency life threatening situations.
While clean and properly lubricated, the pistol ate through magazines of the HydraShok ammo as fast as I could pull the trigger. The slide-stop never failed to function and reloads were smooth. Again, note that I said “clean and properly lubricated”. I wouldn’t want this gun on me in the open field for combat work… but in the urban jungles of our American cities, it is a good defense tool against the skulking vermin. Teamed up with a decent knife, and backed up with at least one magazine (for a total of fourteen rounds on your person: 6+1 in the gun and 7 more in the spare magazine), this Rock Island Armory pistol is an acceptable tool. Given its performance versus its price, it’s exceptional.
So, when some friend or workmate of yours asks about the Rock Island Armory pistols, you can tell them what you know: They are cost effective copies of the original 1911 pistols. They function when kept in proper condition and are worth what they’re sold for. My price was $300 and I think it was worth it… but I’ll still put on my Glock 36 instead of the Rock Island Armory pistol simply for the reliability of the weapon. After all, what’s your life worth to you?