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Review: Smith & Wesson Performance Center SW1911 Pro Series

This article originally appeared in CONCEALMENT Issue 10


If you were to ask for a show of hands among RECOIL’s editorial staff regarding who would actually like some form of 1911, mine would not be among them. Iain? Absolutely. Candice? Indeedy. Me? No. Hard pass. Through what can only be described as a comedy of errors and logistics, somehow I ended up being the one to review a 1911 carry pistol from Smith & Wesson.

We were first introduced to this compact option in late 2017 at Smith & Wesson’s Massachusetts facility, and they officially launched it just before SHOT Show 2018. On the surface, nearly everything about the Performance Center SW1911 Pro Series 9mm is either totally wrong or totally right, depending on your perspective:

> Modernized 1911 pattern
> Compact
> Bushingless
> 9mm

We’re talking about an old pistol — well, sort of. While the 1911 was developed by John Browning back in the late 19th century, modern examples are a far cry from what your great-great-great grandfather may have carried under General Pershing. If you had a time machine and brought an S&W Pro Series 9mm back to 1918, it’d still be recognized as something based off of a 1911. But it would get the side eye.

Field stripping is easy once you get used to the unconventional disassembly.

Field stripping is easy once you get used to the unconventional disassembly.

The proponents who grumble and drool about the design being, “over 100 years old!” and “won two World Wars!” have a convenient blindness to the numerous major and minor changes that have taken place over the last century. With that in mind, let’s dive into the Pro Series.

s&w 1911 sights

Sights are personal. We’ve heard that the reason Glock opts for $3 plastic hot garbage sights with their OEM pistols is that they’re meant to be immediately replaced. While the three-dot white sights of the Smith & Wesson Pro Series 9mm aren’t quite as awful as the curtain-rod plastic pieces Gaston brings to the table, they still aren’t fantastic when it comes to the world outside of an indoor range. A nice fiber-optic front sight or even a rudimentary set of tritium night sights would go a long way as a standard option.

For a slightly better sight picture, many will find that blacking out the rear sight with a marker or a paint pen while leaving the front white dot makes for a better sight picture. As it stands, unless you’re going to perform some DIY modding, you’ll have to swap ’em.

A major change from Browning’s original design that the Pro Series has is a bushingless barrel configuration. While we’ve heard it said before that the bushingless system is absolutely necessary for 1911-pattern pistols with barrels below 4 inches, we have absolutely seen that it isn’t the case. However, a bushingless barrel allows for a longer stroke and a very thick barrel profile. Combine that with the smaller caliber and you end up with a very stiff package indeed. If the barrel is only going to be 3 inches long, you should probably make the most of it. That’s what she said.

Easy to fill, sometimes a bear to unload.

Easy to fill, sometimes a bear to unload.

The bushingless bull barrel on the S&W Pro Series 9mm also means that compensators, silencers, and other muzzle devices are largely out of the question. As to why someone would want a comp on a carry gun? See CONCEALMENT Issue 5. And as always, if it can have a silencer mounted, we like to at least try it out with a silencer mounted. Because reasons.

Unlike some other bushingless 1911 designs, the S&W Pro Series 9mm can be field stripped without the need for any specialized tool (squinting at you, Kimber). Even if you’re unfamiliar with 1911s, field stripping for cleaning is very easy to accomplish after a mere handful of repetitions. Admittedly, the first time we pulled the barrel out from the front of the slide a strong and strange sense of weirdness struck us.

We can’t talk about any 1911 without talking about the trigger. For those accustomed to even a basically tuned 1911 trigger, everything else will feel sh*tf*ckawful to the point that if you’re really good with one, it might show on the target if you pick up a mushy factory Glock.

Smith and Wesson 1911.05

The trigger on the Pro Series 9mm cleanly breaks at just over 4 pounds — not your competition trigger, but suitable for carry. It also features adjustable overtravel, so you can customize the amount of reset distance you do or don’t want.

This particular Smith & Wesson came with two nickel-plated eight-round magazines. While every stitch of ammunition that we’ve put through the pistol thus far has fed and ejected reliably, lord help the one who wants to download a magazine by hand. When trying to manually pull rounds from the magazine, the nose gives a tip (especially if you’re using hollow-point ammunition) and makes it an extremely difficult action to perform even with the integral feed ramp. Let’s just say we have scraped a finger or two trying to accomplish this. There’s a lesson here: If you want to take ammunition out of the magazine, do it the fun way and just shoot all of it.

It’s obvious this not-quite-pocket pistol was designed with carrying in mind, because why the hell else would you want a 3-inch barreled pistol? Further evidenced is the slightly rounded butt to smooth lines and the scandium alloy frame to bring the weight down. Don’t get us wrong, at over 26 ounces unloaded the S&W Pro Series 9mm is above the weight division of nearly every half-polymer plastic fantastic and even exceeds that of the full-size Hudson H9A.

Overlayed on a G19.

Overlayed on a G19.

If you can get a full grip on a plain OEM Glock 19, you’ll be able to get all your flanges around the Pro Series 9mm. Though the Glock barrel is a tad longer and much lighter, the balance of the Pro Series effectively negates the heft of the pistol on the range; carrying may be a different story. Get a good belt and holster.

Why aren’t more 1911s as stubby as this? To answer that burning question we turned to Jason Burton of Heirloom Precision.

“Generally speaking, shorter 1911s are grumpy. The slide has a shorter travel, the mags work harder, and everything works harder compared to an optimum configuration. But here are ways you can make up for that.”

Burton tells us the combination of this Pro Series being in 9mm used with a dual coil spring allows for the spring to become progressively stiffer, potentially aiding reliability. Add in the integrated magazine feed ramps, ramped barrel, and lack of bushing, and we’re starting off in the right way.

Smith and Wesson 1911.02

Burton also gave us four things to watch with a gun this small:
1) Ensure it works first. This may seem like something simple, but an awful lot of people buy a pistol, put half a dozen rounds through it (or less!) and stick it in their pants or an office desk drawer. Don’t do that. If a gun is factory new and not functioning, it’s time to give customer service a call.

2) Be mindful of your round count. Because small 1911s are so dependent on all springs working together as a team so closely, maintenance has to be more proactive. If possible, change out all springs before they cause failures. Also, regularly check the condition of your extractor (see sidebar for this preventive maintenance check).

3) Only use good ammunition from good magazines. Burton specifically recommended Wilson Combat Elite Tactical magazines, but the OEM magazines also come with integral feed ramps.

4) Run down any issues immediately. If your pistol does something it isn’t supposed to, whether it’s a simple failure to feed or something worse, immediately begin tracking down the cause. Try to recreate and isolate the problem before everything goes sideways.

smith and wesson 1911 pro series

Furthermore, Burton notes that this is all good advice for any pistol you may depend on or defend your life with — it’s just that some of the uglygrumpy shows up earlier with a pocket rocket such as this.

If you haven’t figured it out already, I started out a bit biased toward this handgun. But that didn’t make it any less accurate or fun to shoot. Damn it. This is like learning Star Wars Episode 1 was a demonstrably good movie. The cognitive dissonance was very high.

As advertised, the S&W Pro Series is easy to rack on a closed slide and full magazine. It’s no Smith & Wesson .380 EZ, but it isn’t much harder. There were no issues with any of the ammunition we used, so put a checkmark next to No. 1 on Burton’s list.

You don’t buy a 1911 for CCW because it’s the best choice or the most practical. You buy a compact 1911 to carry because you’re either interested in the intricacies and history, or because it’s the gun you grew up on.

Just like how every car doesn’t need to be a Toyota Corolla, every handgun you may want to conceal doesn’t need to be a plain-ass Glock 19. While I have no love lost for a 1911, if you’re going to carry one, it needs to be a good one. With the extra details Smith & Wesson added to their Pro Series to make it more accommodating for carry and the thought-out parts and pieces for reliability, you could do far worse for more money. Just follow Burton’s rules.


Smith and Wesson 1911.07

Smith and Wesson 1911.08

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