John Browning’s venerable pistol design, adopted by the US Army as the M1911, is available today in three broad configurations: the Government model, the Commander model, and the Officer model. This can lead to confusion when buying aftermarket products, as not all parts are interchangeable between the three models. The longevity of Mr. Browning’s design has also resulted in the adoption of some new safety features, which means some parts are not strictly interchangeable between guns of the same model produced at different times. It can be a bit confusing.
Grip sizes are a somewhat simpler matter to sort out than internal parts, but attention is still required. The important dimensions to consider are overall length and screw hole spacing. First, the Government model, AKA full-size 1911. This is the big one, ‘Old Loudmouth', and the original military blueprints call for an overall grip length of :
- 4.274 inches, with a tolerance of -.01 inches. So very roundly, 4 ¼ inches in overall length.
Next is grip screw spacing. Again the print calls for a screw hole spacing of :
- 3.074 inches, with a tolerance of +-.005 inches. So about 3 5/64 inches, which is very close to 3 1/16 inches.
The nice thing is, almost all manufacturers use these same dimensions on their full-size 1911 frames. In fact, I’m unaware of any US manufacturer using a different length or grip screw spacing on a full-size, Government model 1911. So grip compatibility on “mil-spec” 1911’s is not so much a matter of frame dimensions, but rather manufacturer-specific controls and features, like extended and ambidextrous thumb safeties, magazine wells, etc.
Regarding the Commander model, most of our work is already done, as the 1911 Commander uses a frame with the same handle dimensions as the Government model, the only real difference being a shorter slide to house a shorter (4.25 inch usually) barrel. (Also, the frame’s dust-cover is proportionally shorter on the Commander frame.) So when looking for grips for your Commander model, you are effectively shopping for full-size, Government model 1911 grips. Obviously, again, be aware of any special features on your gun that may require clearance, or relief cuts to the grips.
Now we get to the muddier waters of the compact 1911’s- the Officer model. The first compact 1911 to be manufactured in significant numbers was the “General Officers Model Pistol”, produced by the Rock Island Arsenal beginning in the 1970’s for issue to, appropriately, Army and Air Force General Officers. Seeing the potential commercial appeal of a compact 1911, gunsmiths and manufacturers began producing them, with Colt finally introducing their own “Colt Officers APC” in 1985. The problem here is, unlike the full-size 1911, there is no ubiquitous military blueprint for a compact 1911. Each manufacturer decided on their own dimensions, some even treating those dimensions in a proprietary way. (Go ahead, ask Springfield Armory how far apart the grip screws are on their Compact Range Officer 1911. Good luck!)
Since most gun makers wishing to offer a compact 1911 simply shorten the full-size frame handle and dust cover, the main area of variation is in the grip screw spacing. There are multiple spacing schemes being used currently, and I have only just started wading into these murky waters. For now, when shopping for compact, or Officer model grips, the best thing to do is measure your pistol to determine the spacing you require. Most grip manufacturers will provide this dimension as a center to center value. I am working on a database of manufacturers and the screw spacing they use, and will post it as soon as I can.