Review text and images by Mark "Blondie" Ormerod.

Western Arms have a reputation as the manufacturers of premiere GBB's in the airsoft world - and aside from a couple of blips that reputation is largely justified. WA also have (some would say an equally justifiable) reputation for a lack of imagination and innovation - content to churn out endless variations on a theme. Perhaps this a little unfair given the success of their patent ''Magna'' blowback system which has been both copied with varying degrees of success by and licensed to, other manufacturers. WA has endeared themselves to European skirmishers as their models are in the main capable of running both on high grade gas and in our cold winters. Whilst Tokyo Marui have made a move on the WA target market with the release of their double stacker - the Hi-Capa 5.1 - to great success in Japan, its had little impact here. This is probably due to 2 reasons - the first being that it’s a ''fictional'' model rather than based on a real steel equivalent and the second being its widely reported failure when used with propane or equivalent.

At first glance the latest release in the long succession of their popular single stack 1911 models - the Smith & Wesson 1911 (Shibuya Custom Works) may seem to be just ''yet another single stacker'' is important for a number of reasons - providing a neat parallel with its real-steel counterpart.

Already a legend in the gun world due to the lasting impact and legacy of its revolvers, Smith & Wesson in their 150th year finally released their take on John Browning's classic.

S&W joined a long list of venerable manufactures including the Springfield Armoury, Kimber, Wilson Combat, Les Baer and of course Colt themselves. For a number of years S&W have been manufacturing parts used in other manufacturer's firearms so it was not a huge step to bring their own version of the gun to market. The SW1911 operates on a standard recoil principle, in this case chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge. What this means is that the barrel locks to the slide when the trigger is pulled and remains locked until the bullet leaves. The recoil drives both the barrel and slide backwards causing the recoil spring to compress - ejecting the cartridge and upon expansion - drives the slide forward pulling in a new cartridge from the magazine. This is essentially replicated in the airsoft replica - although obviously there is no ejection mechanism.

This basic 1911 design remains largely unaltered - aside from the additional of Novak low style sights. S&W made 2 small changes to their 1911 - improving the grip safety to prevent accidental discharge - such as that caused if the gun is exposed to a sharp knock from being dropped - and simplifying the extractor to a shortened metal bar and spring. Whilst this is replicated by WA, it obviously serves no function in the airsoft replica.

The WA ''Version 2'' model designation addresses a couple of key concerns prevalent in their previous single stackers. First off the capacity has been raised from ''15 + 1'' to a more CQB friendly ''23 + 1''. The power output has been raised and the internals strengthened to cope with Propane gas, although how the piece fairs long term we'll have to see. The extra capacity is a nice touch and the piece is certainly pokey enough on Propane - kicking out a respectable 293fps on a chilly spring day. The ''Version 2'' models are designed to work with Propane or similar rated gas out of the box and according to a number of sources this is a direct attempt on the part of WA to produce standard models suited to western temperatures and skirmish conditions. Its worth mentioning that metal slides have been released by third party manufacturers - which we'll take a look at later.

This particular model comes with Novak low style sights, a 6.03 ''accuracy'' barrel, Version 2 ''Type R'' valve and an adjustable hop up. I absolutely adore the Novak lo profile sights. Target acquisition is easy even in low light - and they're a big improvement over the traditional ones found on older models - I can't see myself replacing them anytime soon. The hop, whilst tricky enough to line up with is simple enough to use - a right turn of the hex screw will increase it and a left turn decreases it. On the flip side and in attempt to be positive about this fiddly annoyance, unlike the hop found in the pre-Version 2 SV Series, adjustment does not require removal of the slide.

The new 23 round capacity round mags feature a modernised version of the Magna valve system - allegedly less problematic than the older Version 1 - but again, time will tell. This is almost 3 times the real steel's ''7+1''. The gas capacity with the single stacker mags is obviously smaller than their SV equivalents - but you get a full mag with Propane - with power running out after about 27 or 28 shots - so only just. One thing worth mentioning is that the mag bumpers on the new 1911 mags mean you'll need some way of lengthening your propane adapter (I gaffa'd a Tanaka one to mine which does the job perfectly) in order to gas the mags. The particular model we're looking at here is the silver one - and the finish on the slide and frame is excellent. They appeared not to have repeated their earlier attempts at an easily scratched plated slide (seen for example on the Inox model) but instead are using a silver metal / ABS polymer compound which gives a cold, heavy and metallic finish to the piece. When compared to the traditional pure ABS WA slides this one feels about twice the weight and is pretty indistinguishable from a metal slide. I suspect there's a fair bit of metal in the mix.

The plain black version of the 1911 is listed as slightly cheaper and depending on what retailer you choose to believe, lighter .As of the time of writing its unclear how it compares to the Silver model. The piece is very well balanced - as per usual with WA 1911's there are metal plates in the grips but the weight of the slide and frame mean that it doesn't feel grip heavy. The trademarks are all present and correct - from the 1911 to the S&W logo. A nice touch is the ''Caution - gun capable of firing with magazine removed''. As per usual the ASGK logo is present (although thankfully small). The grips are black, rubberised and either Hogue’s or a very good copy with a black S&W logo embossed in the middle of the double diamond pattern. They're comfortable and do the job. Obviously the piece is compatible with other real steel grips, so depending on your preferences of form over function there's a wide variety available.

So onto firing. As already mentioned its well balanced piece and comfortable to hold. I always found the double stack WA series on the uncomfortable side due to the width of the grip. This piece sits well in your hands. The grips absorb the considerable kick well. Range and accuracy are excellent - I was able to consistently put shots into the head of human sized target at 50 yards. Longer range shots are possible but obviously your accuracy suffers. Power and kick are impressive for a ''stock'' WA piece - especially a single stack 1911 which traditionally have always been regarded as slightly underpowered compared to their bulky double stack cousins.

I've managed to skirmish effectively with this piece at range and also in fast paced CQB - the accuracy and consistency allowing me to pull off both tricky aimed and snap shots. With the much improved capacity, excellent power and sights the S&W1911 is definitely a large step in the right direction for the single stack 1911 series. The S&W1911 is an excellent choice of sidearm - and already there are a plethora of aftermarket parts from slides to metal frames. With the power and build quality exhibited by the existing frame its not clear if there is a requirement for upgraded valves or springs (information out of WA seems to suggest there isn't).

Out of the box the unmodified 1911 kicked out an average of 315 fps on propane with an ambient temperature of 15 degrees. As expected, under use the plastic slide showed a slight warping around the catch designed to lock it back which resulted in an occasional failure to lock back when the mag had been emptied. With long term use I strongly suspect this lock back will completely cease to function as has been observed with other models using plastic slides – hence my choice of a metal replacement.

In this instance I went with a two tone Shooters Design metal slide. As anyone who has ever worked with metal slides before can attest to they can be an absolute nightmare to fit – requiring any degree of dremmelling and polishing before they’ll cycle correctly. I chose this particular make as Victor had recently acquired a Shooters Design slide for his version 2 M4013 TSW and his experience with it had been excellent. True to form – the slide was easy to fit (as indeed we found with the third Shooters Design slide we fitted – in this case to a VP-70 – they’re definitely recommended). The S&W trademark’s are excellent and deeply etched. In terms of appearance beauty is in the eye of the beholder but the finish and trademark’s are clearly superior to those found on the ABS slides. Performance is good although as expected the fps has dropped in this case from an average of 315 to 300 but the grouping and range seems more consistent and there is a lovely crisp clack as the slide kicks back.

In terms of a holstering solution I'm employing a Bianchi UM84/92 - while the fit isn't quite as snug as for a double stack piece it’s tight and there's no chance of the 1911 falling out. As regular browsers of our review section will know I'm a huge Bianchi fan - they're worth every penny, superb quality and mean your beloved sidearm won't get lost or damaged. If they're good enough for reel steel hunters and shooters they're easily good enough for me. For magazines there's a wide variety of options - from reel steel to the more budget friendly airsoft equivalents. I've opted for a twin milforce mag holder. Simply put - they're excellent value for money and definitely up for the job. They're fully adjustable and feature a strong Velcro retention loop. There's nothing worse than loosing a mag out in the field and these keeps yours snug and dry and as a result your spare mags are neatly fixed onto your belt.

Mark "Blondie" Ormerod.

  Free joomla templates