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Review: Springfield Armory Emissary | RECOIL

Common Man’s Custom

Who would you say was the gun culture figure whose name was most closely associated with the 1911-pattern pistol? Sure, yeah, John Moses Browning. OK, who would you say was the second most closely associated? We don’t think there would be a lot of debate were we to say Jeff Cooper. However, in addition to all the things he had to say about 1911s and the shooting thereof, there’s a quote of his related to the handgun biz in general. In answer to the question, “What’s it for?” regarding some unusual firearm, he’d quip, “To sell, of course.”

And that brings us to the pistol at hand, Springfield Armory’s Emissary model.
Initial reactions to the pistol from our more utilitarian-minded friends — even those who were avid closet fans of the 1911 pattern pistol — were extremely skeptical, if not more than a little disdainful. And it’s not hard to understand why. As it sits, the Emissary has an extremely unusual combination of features that make its intended niche puzzling to the pragmatist.

The sights, grip panels, and safety say “carry gun,” but it has characteristics that make it hard to find a concealment holster to fit. Meanwhile, it also has features that make it incompatible with the most common places for classic .45 ACP 1911s to compete. The 5-inch bushing-less barrel, for instance, makes it a no-go if you wanted to use it for gaming in both USPSA Single Stack and IDPA Custom Defensive Pistol classes.

On the other hand, it’s possible these folks misjudge the market for this pistol in particular and the larger market for 1911 pattern pistols in general. Few 1911s ever see use in organized competition, and even fewer probably see day-to-day use as a carry gun these days, especially full-sized all-steel pistols like the Emissary (which is not to say that there aren’t some practical niches in which this pistol could shine).

Fans of the Browning’s classic Government Model and its offspring, and by “fans” we mean aficionados of the sort who participate on 1911-specific forums, have email addresses that somehow incorporate the number “1911,” and from whom you could steal any and every possession they own if they’re secured by a lock with a four-digit combination, well, those sorts of fans never own just one 1911.

They’ve got the “Loaded” type full-size that they shoot in the aforementioned competitions, the alloy-framed Commander-sized gun for toting, the subcompact approximately 3-inch barreled gun for toting when they need more concealment, maybe a double-stack or a 10mm because they thought it was cool, and the classic GI-pattern gun with no modern touches for nostalgia’s sake. You get the picture.

These devoted fans always have room in the safe (or holster) for another variation on the 1911 theme, and the Emissary is a laser-guided weapon aimed at that target market.

If you’re a 1911 fan, you’re looking at those forums and seeing the more avid posters showing off hand-built blasters from well-known custom houses from both the gunsmiths of yore and the multitude of talented pistolsmiths still working today.

But even if the pistolsmith is still alive, there’s a good chance their order book is filled years in advance, if it’s not just closed because they’re booked up solid from now until the heat death of the universe. If they’re a well-known ’smith from back in the day who’s no longer with us, examples of their pistols might bring used car money if you can find one for sale on Gunbroker or a more traditional auction. If you’re a 1911 fan who thinks some of those cool custom aesthetic touches look awesome, but you aren’t made of time and money, what are you supposed to do?

THE EMISSARY

Straight up top, right at the top of the blued carbon steel slide is a thing called a “tri-top cut.” Basically, instead of having a rounded profile like a standard 1911, there’s a flat top stretching between the sights to provide a distraction-free surface and then a matching bevel to either side (hence “tri-top”). The mechanical purpose of the tri-top treatment is to reduce the reciprocating mass of the slide, resulting in a pistol that shoots flatter than a regular 1911. Plus, it looks cool.

The Emissary has four wide, shallow, angled cocking serrations per side at the rear. Despite being shallow, they’re plenty grippy enough to allow positive control of the slide during manipulations. There are three angled cuts toward the front that sort of thematically match the rear cocking serrations. These aren’t deep enough to remove much weight and aren’t positioned where they can easily be used as forward cocking serrations, so mostly they just sit there and look cool.

Other than that, the slide’s pretty typical “factory custom” fare: lowered and flared ejection port, internal extractor, bushing-less bull barrel …

The frame is bare stainless, giving the whole affair the sort of two-tone look that was common on custom 1911s 40 years ago, when the realities of sweaty hands and the hot desert environs of Gunsite and pistol matches in the Southwest made various hard chrome, matte nickel, and even more exotic frame treatments common.

The dust cover sports a three-slot Picatinny-type accessory rail, which, in addition to being useful for mounting lights, looks cool and adds back some metal out toward the nose of the pistol to replace what the tri-top cut took away, albeit on a non-reciprocating part of the pistol. Clever.

The big change on the frame is the large, squared trigger guard. This was a fad touch on custom 1911s for a hot minute back in the day when dudes wore tube socks, foam-front trucker caps, and bootie shorts at pistol matches.

And the reasons given for it vary. It provides a secure place to park the support hand index finger for those who like to wrap it around the front of the trigger guard. It allows more room for people with jumbo-sized fingers, or maybe people wearing heavy gloves.

Personally, we’re convinced that the two major drivers behind the big, square trigger guard were: A) Some people thought it looked cool and different, and B) It was not an easy modification to execute well and cleanly; it was sort of a calling card for the pistolsmith who did it. Now, with Springfield Armory’s Emissary, you can just buy it that way from the factory.

Inside the trigger guard is a long, flat-faced trigger that breaks consistently at a clean 5 and 3/4 pounds on the test example. It feels lighter than it sounds, thanks to that flat, wide-ish trigger face.
The hammer, grip and thumb safeties, slide stop, and mag release are all from Geneseo’s existing parts bin, found on everything from your basic Loaded model to a TRP.

The front strap and mainspring housing are textured with a pattern of raised squares reminiscent of a classic “pineapple” hand grenade, and this pattern is matched by that on the gray G10 grip panels. Said grip panels are of the flat, low-profile type usually used for CCW-oriented models.

Originally, the standard texturing for 1911 frames was checkering, usually 20 or 30 lines per inch. Over time, various pistolsmiths came up with all kinds of different texturing patterns that served three purposes: they didn’t tear up the shooter’s clothes and hands like sharp hand-cut checkering, they looked distinctive and could serve as the calling card for a particular pistolsmith or custom house, and most importantly, the various machined texturing patterns didn’t wreck a ’smith’s joints the way laborious hours of hand-cutting checkering could.

That last one isn’t a joke, promising pistolsmithing careers have been cut short early by carpal tunnel caused by driving a checking file.
So that’s the description of the Emissary, which leaves only two questions …

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Well, it’s a 5-inch steel-framed 1911-pattern pistol. Springfield Armory cracked that particular code decades ago. Over the course of just less than 600 rounds of assorted factory test ammunition, the pistol never failed to go through the complete cycle of operation. The bushing-less bull barrel was accurate enough that even casual groups using a range bag for an impromptu rest were in the 2- to 3-inch range as often as not. It works just fine.

WHAT IS IT FOR?

Like the good Colonel said: to sell. It’d make as good a carry pistol as any other full-size steel 1911, provided you could find a holster. Alternatively, you could mount a SureFire X300 Ultra on it and carry it in a PHLster Floodlight holster or similar. Having a rail-mounted light would make it a good home-defense pistol as well. The nose-heavy weight makes it a pretty good gun in casual shooting games like bowling pin shooting.

Our only real question is why Springfield Armory didn’t give it an optics cut from the factory, as this rad profile would seem to be ready-made for a Holosun 507k or RMRcc.

Or, you know, you could buy it because it’s a cool-looking gun and it’s a free country and you can. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

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