Rock Island Armory GI Standard FS: Just like Grandpa’s M1911

My two grandfathers, with their starkly contrasting personalities only had two things in common worth mentioning—that they both fought the Japanese occupation in World War 2 and that during which, they both carried the M1911A1 pistol. So, on the occasion of Araw ng Kagitingan (Bataan Day), let us take a look at a Philippine-made reincarnation of the tried and tested M1911 in its classic form—the Rock Island Armory GI Standard FS.

GI .45 right
A modern classic: The flared and relieved ejection port gives this RIA GI Standard FS away as a pistol of recent manufacture despite its early 20th century lines. It is Parkerized to a high standard. (Photo by IGG)

What’s in a name?

Local gun enthusiasts probably know this gun as being part of Arms Corporation of the Philippine’s (Armscor) “GI Series” pistols. Armscor sells the exact same gun overseas under the Rock Island Armory (RIA) brand. However, a recent shift in the Philippine gun manufacturing giant’s branding strategy entails that all of its products, whether for the domestic or export markets, be henceforth stamped RIA.

Is it “stock” or not?

The RIA GI Standard FS lacks all the “upgrades” that contemporary shooters have taken for granted. Forget about beavertail grip safeties, commander hammers, high-visibility sights, extended control levers, competition triggers as well as other improvements intended to enhance shooter-gun interface. Most of these features were introduced in the mid 1980’s as gunsmith-installed enhancements, but have since become standard at the factory level. There was no place for such niceties in a pistol that would have been issued to troops in the early 1940’s!

GI .45 left
Touch of nostalgia: Fit and finish on the GI Standard was more than satisfactory. Test gun came with a set of rather plain wooden grips. (Photo by IGG)

 Instead, the GI Standard comes with the tiny “military style” front and rear sights and the old-fashioned spur hammer coupled with the “duck tail” grip safety (notorious for giving hammer bites). The thumb safety control, curiously, is of a post-WW2 design—which is slightly wider than the original but not exactly “extended” as is common nowadays.

If memory serves, Colt’s relaunched its M1911 “A-1” in 1923 with subtle improvements over earlier M1911’s issued during World War 1. That improved pattern would remain virtually unchanged into the mid 1980’s when the United States military would abandon the M1911A1 in favor of the Beretta 92F (M-9).

Having said that, it is worth noting that some features found on WW1-vintage 1911’s (sometimes called the M1918) have come into popular favor anew. These include the flat mainspring housing (instead of arched) and a slightly extended trigger bow. Both features are found on the GI Standard.

Don Miguel .45
Karancho approves! The author found the GI Standard a pleasure to shoot despite stone-age sights—hammer bite notwithstanding. (Photo by IGG)

Two features that give the GI Standard away as a modern pistol is the flared ejection port (for smooth ejection of spent shells) and a beveled magazine well (for seamless reloads). So, it can be said that this gun is only loosely based on 1911’s of yesteryear.

The specs sheet

M1911 aficionados are surely familiar with them already, but let me run down the specs of the RIA GI Standard FS anyway. The gun we tested was a .45ACP but this model also comes in 9mm Luger (Para) and supposedly in .38 Super. Barrel length of this full sized gun is 5 inches. Overall length is 8.5 inches while height is 5.5 inches. Empty weight is about 39 ounces. It is sold with two 8-round Act-Mag magazines (with protruding base plates) instead of the historically-correct 7-rounders, that are favored by the retro crowd.

At the range

Home Defense Journal’s recent date with the RIA GI Standard FS at the company’s shooting range in Marikina City, was made possible by Armscor’s promotions and advertising manager Jhoanna Ibay, to whom I am ever-grateful. She arranged the exclusive use of a shooting bay despite the fact that a large part of their facilities were under renovation, and provided us with a generous amount of Armscor’s generic 230-grain .45 ACP ball ammunition.

Standing at the 5-meter mark, centering all eight shots in the man-sized silhouette target was effortless even when shooting one-handed in the traditional manner. Even when I began to shoot rapidly, I hit more or less where I was looking. As I stepped back further and further until I reached the 30-meter mark, it became apparent that those miniscule sights really worked after all! I got the impression that the gun was inherently accurate—and such accuracy will manifest itself if you can overcome the primitive sight format.

GI .45 front & rear sights
Old school functionality: The notch on GI Standard’s rear sight appears wider than those found in pre-WW2 M1911s. This is a godsend for those with older eyes. (Photo by IGG)

Even while it may be contrary to contemporary shooting doctrines, I could not help but shoot the gun from the hip! Not surprising was the fact that centered hits can be accomplished on demand with the GI Standard at close quarters… but not so much as the space between you and the target widens! I happen to be of the opinion that close-range point shooting is a worthwhile practice.

Our brand new test gun, with its tight tolerances, did have some cycling issues early in our session. There were zero “jams,” however. The trouble we experienced had to do with a “sticky” trigger which did not seem to reset after successful cycling. After two such stoppages, the gun functioned flawlessly. It must be emphasized that 1911 pistols, of whatever make, generally require a break-in period of around 200 rounds, according to experts.

Did I get hammer bite after my extended shooting session with the GI Standard? Absolutely—the down-swept grip safety ate into the web of my hand with gusto! Shooters will simply have to accept this as part of the experience of shooting a retro pattern pistol. I therefore counsel that you wear a pair of shooting gloves or otherwise just shoot moderately.

Home defense?

There is no doubt that the RIA GI Standard FS would make a formidable home defense tool provided the shooter is comfortable with its recoil characteristics. It is worth mentioning that the .45 ACP’s kick in a brawny, all-steel platform such as our test gun is not at all punishing—and might even be considered relatively mild. Remember that the .45 ACP is a low-pressure cartridge, so its recoil motion, while theoretically significant, happens in relative slow motion. This gives most shooters the sensation of an energetic but slow “push” rather than an abrupt and sharp kick (such as in the 10mm Auto).

My petite wife Iris, found the gun manageable and was able to hit targets at home defense distances consistently. Her tendency to jam pistols with grips that are too fat for her hand did not rear its ugly head with the GI Standard, with its single-column magazines.

I heard that Armscor management did not have the retro gun market in mind when it initially came out with the GI Series. Its marketing efforts were aimed at the private security industry, which is why the gun is also offered in 9mm. It was intended as a low-cost platform that would entice security agencies/companies to transition from the .38 Special revolver to the semi-auto pistol.

If you require a time-proven and hard-hitting yet inexpensive pistol for home defense or for reenacting a battle scene from the Liberation of Manila, the RIA GI Standard FS is worth your consideration! It’s now also on my wife’s personal wish list.

SRP: Rock Island Armory GI Standard FS, Php 19,700 (with two 8-shot magazines)

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