By Jeff W. Zimba
A number of years ago the phrase “Saturday Night Special” was coined to loosely describe a subcategory of tiny, cheaply made and inexpensive handguns. It would be touted as a favorite buzzword by anti-gun organizations for decades to come. Some say the response from the gun industry came in the form of large, well-made, extremely powerful handguns and the arms race for a “bigger and better” handgun has been alive and well ever since. Residing at the polar opposite of the spectrum from the “Saturday Night Special” is the modern “Hand Cannon” and while there are plenty of nominees for “King of the Hill” we would like to introduce you to one of the top contenders: the .50GI Model 1 from Guncrafter Industries.
Ever since the 1971 film Dirty Harry when Clint Eastwood as Police Officer Harry Callahan proclaimed the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum to be “The Most Powerful Handgun in the World,” those very words (along with the movie and Eastwood’s character) have become almost iconic in the regular vocabulary of many Americans. For those who are firearms enthusiasts the debate has been raging on ever since with several contenders for this unofficial title. Many handguns have surpassed the performance of the .44 Magnum since the movie was released, mostly single-action revolvers and single shot pistols with a few notable semiautomatic examples in the mix.
The pistol we are examining today is chambered in .50GI and currently boasts 4 impressive loadings: a 185-grain Copper Hollow-Point with a muzzle velocity of 1,200+ fps, a 230-grain Copper Hollow Point boasting a velocity of 1,000 fps, a 275-grain Jacketed Hollow Point traveling at 875 fps and a 300-grain Jacketed Flat Point moving at 700 fps. While the ammunition is impressive in itself, the fact that the delivery system is a 1911-style pistol, almost identical in size and weight to its original 100-year-old .45 ACP predecessor, makes it nothing short of amazing.
The quality and attention to detail is immediately obvious. From the custom embroidered Cordura case and embroidered pistol rug to the solid aluminum, checkered grips engraved with the “GI” logo, the presentation was solid. We are not easily swayed by the addition of “gun bling” and it was apparent that this beauty was far more than a little window dressing. Everything about the Guncrafter Industries Model No. 1 exuded quality right down to the contoured hex-head grip screws and mainspring lanyard loop. The most obvious difference from every other 1911-style pistol we have handled was the massive 1/2-inch inside diameter of the barrel and the heavy barrel walls where the typical barrel bushing usually resides.
While the Model 1 may strongly resemble a nicely accessorized 1911 on the surface, one glance at the muzzle quickly sets in apart. With an overall length similar to a standard .45 ACP round, the .50GI is a very thick-walled cartridge and operates at fairly low pressures. The round was designed specifically to deliver a great amount of knockdown power while retaining controllability during rapid fire, even when fired from a lightweight platform like the time-proven 1911.
Since the concept of the .50GI was for defensive purposes, the goals were far more advanced than simply making a big, bulky, fast round and designing a heavy and cumbersome firearm to launch it from. The 1911-style platform allows a reasonable size, with many in use already and several proven and comfortable carry methods. This covers the pistol attaining a small enough mechanism to be carried in a normal fashion. With a compact (or reasonably so as it is still a large-frame automatic) firearm design, the issue of reasonable recoil had to be addressed. Anyone who has fired a Scandium J-Frame with full boat .357 Mag loads can attest that while it is one hell of a defensive firearm it is far from comfortable to shoot (and some say downright painful) after only a single cylinder.
So, how do you make a .50 caliber round comfortable to shoot in such a small package? That is the primary function of the low-pressure loading. With the 300-grain round traveling at a speed of approximately 700 fps, the recoil is similar to a standard .45 ACP round. Even with the increased stopping power of the 275-grain .50GI at 875 fps, it is in the ballpark of a normal 10mm round. This comparison makes it easy for anyone who has spent time with the Colt .45 ACP 1911 or the Colt Delta Elite 10mm to understand the feel of the Guncrafter Industries Model 1.
The low pressure design of the .50GI round also serves other purposes. The ability to engage in follow-up shots due to the reasonable recoil is assisted by the absence of a heavy blast as seen in other calibers. An extreme amount concussion as is normal with many high-pressure rounds can be disorientating to the shooter, especially when shooting inside.
The Model No. 1
It was mentioned earlier in this article that the look and feel of the .50GI Model No. 1 is very similar to a standard 1911. Actually, that was a bit of an understatement. It is so similar that it is completely compatible with almost every existing 1911 holster, pouch and carry system already in existence. The size, weight, ergonomics and lines of the Model No. 1 are almost exactly the same as the Colt 1911. The differences are in the exacting quality of the manufacturing process and the internals of the slide.
The Guncrafter Industries Model No. 1 was built on the 1911 design for several reasons: first and foremost are the size and reliability of this proven system. While it could have been built larger and heavier with a distinct look, the fact remains that a standard size 1911 is about as large a pistol that can be easily and commonly carried on a regular basis. Anyone of “normal” stature who has tried to regularly carry one of the much larger pistol designs knows that the additional bulk and weight can be troublesome to conceal and uncomfortable to carry over a long period of time.
Another reason this design was chosen is the immediate familiarity to the design due to the large number of .45 ACP 1911s in circulation and its wild popularity. If the larger .50GI upgrade is desired there is no new learning curve necessary and no need to procure a whole additional cache of accessories.
While the Guncrafter Model No.1 shares many things in common with a standard 1911 there are also many unique features.
The forged and machined frame and slide are hand-built.
The stainless steel, oversize barrel is a heavy match-grade barrel and utilizes no barrel bushing. It is a thick-walled barrel for additional strength and to aid in recoil reduction.
A full-length guide rod is used to increase spring life and assist in smooth operation.
The mainspring housing and frontstrap are heavily checkered for additional gripping surface.
The mainspring housing includes a lanyard loop for use of a retention device.
The grips are solid aluminum, fully checkered and anodized to increase grip surface and longevity.
Newly designed magazines. All magazines are made of a heavy gage heat-treated stainless steel with a self-lubricating polymer follower. The magazines also sit a little higher to greatly assist in round presentation.
Fully machined hammer and sear are heat treated and matched for consistency and reliability.
Machined and fitted extractor.
Tactical thumb safety from Brown Products to assist in engagement while retaining a thin profile for concealed carry.
High sweep grip safety to allow for a reliable higher shooting grip.
Heinie Slant Pro Tritium Sights for low-light shooting.
Beveled magazine well for fast and smooth magazine changes.
Several finishes are available including a Corrosion resistant, non-reflective parkerized finish, a Hard Chrome finish and a very durable Black Melonite finish.
One thing we found very interesting and quite beneficial was the availability of a .45 ACP kit for the Model No. 1. For a price we thought was extremely modest ($395 retail) the owner of a Guncrafter Industries Model No. 1 can purchase a fitted .45 ACP kit consisting of a match grade barrel, a magazine and a recoil spring. This serves the owner in several ways, to promote more and less expensive shooting, not to mention allowing the use of ammo the owner of a new .50GI may already have or be set up to reload.
All live-fire testing was conducted at the Small Arms Research test facility in Maine. The day of the data collection was a calm 29 degrees F at an altitude of 287 feet above sea level. All live-fire test data was close to the advertised average performance with the 300gr. ammo running a little slower than the normal 700 fps., possibly due to the cold weather. For comparison, we conducted the same testing with a Colt MKIV, Series 80 Government Model .45 ACP at the same time. .50GI ammo used during testing included Guncrafter Industries 300gr. JFP, and 275gr. JHP. .45ACP ammo used was Wolf Performance Ammunition 230gr. FMJ. As a baseline for felt recoil, the Colt MKIV was fired first. The .45 ACP averaged 763 fps while the .50GI averaged 926 fps in the 275gr. and at 664 fps in the 300gr.
The first round fired in .50GI was the heavy 300gr. load and, exactly as advertised, the felt recoil was almost identical to the Colt .45 ACP. Due to the heavy checkering on the front-strap and the mainspring housing of the Model No. 1, the shooting grip was positive and comfortable during firing with absolutely no slippage on recoil at all, with either load. The thin grips and frame width had an almost identical feel to the previously fired Colt MKIV. After firing several rounds of the 300gr. ammo several, rounds of the 275gr. load followed. While the recoil and muzzle noise was a little sharper with the lighter and much faster load, it was still very comfortable and pleasant to shoot. Even as light and small as the gun is for such a large round, it still felt very similar to the Colt MKIV in all aspects.
Due to the cool temperatures and time constraints during live-fire exercises, accuracy testing was limited to practical, off-hand shooting at a distance of 20 yards. Several groups were fired, and were it not for the noticeably larger holes from the .50GI, the groups would not have been distinguishable from one gun to another. All rounds were comfortably placed in the intended areas of the silhouette targets being used, with a few more larger holes in the centers.
The Future of the .50GI
At the time of this writing there is another option for fans of the .50GI caliber but may not be a 1911 aficionado or find themselves out-priced by the MSRP. Guncrafter Industries is now manufacturing a drop-on conversion for the Glock Model 20/21. If you would like to convert your .45 ACP or 10mm Glock to .50GI the conversion kit consists of a new slide, barrel, recoil spring and one 9-round magazine. The magazines are different than factory G21 magazines. The MSRP for the Glock Model .50GI conversion kit is $595 and they are currently available. As an added item of interest as we were going to press we learned of a few more interesting projects in the Guncrafter Industries near future. The first is the new introduction of a “Commander” size version (4.25-inch barrel) of the 1911 chambered in .50GI. The second is something we cannot yet fully divulge because it is in the early stages of development, but we can peak your curiosity a little by telling you it will be of particular interest to the class III community. When they are out of testing and in production, and we are allowed to pass along the details you can expect to see a full feature on an exciting new .50GI product here in Small Arms Review magazine.
Every second spent with the Guncrafter Industries Model No. 1 pistol was a pleasure. The familiar 1911 design was an immediate fit, with feel and function coming naturally with the fit and finish exceeding any expectations. The meticulous hand building and fitting during the manufacturing process was obvious in every detail. Especially enjoyed was the solid aluminum, checkered grips. The slim feel of the .50GI was unexpected for a pistol of such a large caliber and shooting was natural and comfortable during every range visit. As we were led to believe, the recoil was manageable and the enormous muzzle blast usually associated with such a large caliber was almost nonexistent. All shooters who handled and fired the Model No. 1 were extremely impressed and immediately curious about the details. While the price is a little higher than most 1911 variants, when placed against other hand-built and fitted “race guns” it quickly drops into perspective. From the 1911 enthusiast looking for an upgrade or rarity, to those who just like to win the “mine’s bigger than yours” gun argument, the Guncrafter Industries .50GI Model No. 1 will not disappoint.
Guncrafter Model No. 1 Technical Specifications
Weight (unloaded): 2 pounds, 8 ounces
Weight (loaded 7-rds 300gr): 2 pounds, 15 ounces
Overall Length: 8.68 inches
Barrel Length: 5-inches
Rifling: 8-groove r/h twist
Sights: Fixed, Trijicon-Heinie night sights
Sight Radius: 6.72 inches
MSRP as tested: $2,985
171 Madison 1510
Huntsville, AR 72740
Ph: (479) 665-2466