I have always been intrigued by Rock Island Armory 1911's. While they may not be as refined as a Wilson Combat or Springfield, they have proven to be both reliable and damn fine shooters. When the Rock Island Tactical VZ Grip was introduced, I knew it was finally time to give the Rock Island a whirl. After 8 long months scouring the web and calling our regular FFL dealers, finally a glimmer of hope. Our friend Keith from OC Guns N Gear came through for us. Meet the Rock Island Armory - 2011 Tactical VZ Grip.
I was a bit confused when I received my firearm and it was labeled a 2011. If I am correct, and I think I am, a 2011 is a double stack 1911. Oddly this firearm is in fact a single stack. I used my confusion to contact Armscor and find out a little bit more about the firearm. Gene (from Armscor) was friendly and insightful and gladly answered all of my questions. He also reminded me to send in my warranty card. Rock Island firearms are backed by a Lifetime Warranty. Armscor's reply
"Our double stacks use a different trigger, the plunger tube is machined on, and the grip screw bushings are machined on the frame. Also, the magazine catch is wider. Everything else is Series 70. As for the single stack 2011 vs standard single stack 1911...Nothing has changed. Just has a full length dustcover with a rail".
A good thorough response, but it did not answer my question. Why it is labeled a 2011? I don't feel minor modifications to the frame negate what it is. One might assume it is a double stack only to be dissapointed when it is not. I suppose from a marketing stand point, 2011 sounds new and exciting but lets face it, it is a 1911 so I will refer to it as such. Agreed?
For an affordable 1911, the Rock Island Tactical VZ is certainly packed with features. Lets start from the top. It features rear windage and elevation adjustable sight, tru-glo high visibility front sight, dual serrated slide, skeletonized combat hammer, extended beaver tail, ambidextrous safety, full length dust cover, 1913 pica-tinny rail, skeletonized trigger, VZ grips, serrated and lengthened safety, 8 round act mags, front and back strap checkering and a flared mag well. Whew...that was a mouthful. Last but certainly not least, it is drop dead sexy. Click the picture above for full-size gun porn.
The Rock Island Armory Tactical VZ Grip (RIA from here on out) is based off the Colt series 70. This means that any part that will fit the series 70 will also fit the RIA. This is good to know should you need to change parts or purchase a .22lr conversion kit. The ergonomics are as good as any 1911 pistol, but the VZ Grips are rather sharp. So sharp in fact, I had to use some sandpaper to take the edge off. They feel much better after a once over with some 400 grit.
Fit and finish appear to be acceptable. The ambidextrous safety and slide are smooth as butter. The rail is a true Mil-spec so accessories fit with ease. The front Orange fiber optic sight is plenty bright outdoors and contrasts nicely against the White dots on the rear. I am a bit bothered by the roll mark on the barrel that reads "45ACP". It leaves much to be desired. It is sort of "under-striked" and a bit sloppy. This does not effect the function, but I would have paid an extra 5 or 10 bucks for a nicer stamp on the barrel. The additional cost for a nicer roll mark could not be relative to any degree and would certainly improve the visual appeal. Just my 2 cents.
The parkerized finished is Matte Black and looks great, especially when polished with gun oil. I field stripped the weapon to further inspect and clean out the packing goo from the internals. Machine marks are present but again, do not effect the performance. There were a few burs on the trigger which were easily removed with a metal file. While not pristine like the Colt, these minor flaws can be easily remedied. I feel it is plenty acceptable for a firearm that is half the price.
I love to be complete a-hole and run a smorgasborg of ammo through firearms prior to breaking them in. Is it fair? No. Do I care? No. My logic is simple, if a firearm can digest multiple magazines of randomly loaded ammo right out of the box, I know reliability will not be an issue. So what's on the menu? Winchester White box, Federal Hydro Shock, Lehigh Defense Hollow Points, Tula FMJ, Remington FMJ and Underwood Hollow points.
I slammed in the mags and pulled the trigger as fast as possible while still hitting the target. The flared mag well makes short work of mag changes. Without a hiccup I emptied these mixed magazines in seconds flat. Not a single jam or misfire. Perfect function would remain the ballad for the entire weekend. The RIA has an enormous appetite regardless of what's for dinner.
The firearm shoots and cycles very smooth. The trigger is crisp and function is flawless. We couldn't help but notice that it really launches brass. The over zealous extractor works great, which is why it can scarf down the steel case Tula ammo. Like most 1911's, this 3 pound pig eats up the recoil. The sights are very effective with the Orange fiber optic up front. The color variation helps considerably with quick target acquisition. Accurate double taps are child's play. Without a doubt, this gun is more accurate than I am.
From the factory, our 1911 shot a little bit high. Not a big deal, a few clicks to the rear adjustable sight, and we were back in business. Set 'em up, knock 'em down, nothing to it. For our South-Paw shooter Timmy, the ambidextrous safety was huge. Atop the safety is the perfect place to keep your thumb when shooting a 1911.
There is no shortage of holsters for the original 1911, however this model has a full length dust cover and rail. You must remember this detail when shopping for the appropriate holster. It will not fit in a standard 1911 holster. I purchased the Fobus Roto Evolution. This paddle holster works well and rides a bit lower than a duty holster. I prefer my holster to ride low so I am happy with it. The forward cant is adjustable as is the retention. Some may prefer a more permanent belt loop holster which this is not. Because we often test multiple firearms together, the paddle type are easiest to get on and off.
I do not normally bore my readers with talk about the cleaning process but for valid reason, this time I will. The disassembly is the same as any 1911 with a full length guide rod. If you are familiar, you are good to go. Once stripped I combine the barrel, bushing, spring, and slide catch into a shallow bowl to make a Hoppes stew. While those pieces simmer to perfection, I begin work on the slide and frame.
Brushing the frame, something caught my attention. Holster wear on the sides of the trigger guard. (as seen in picture to the left) This is a bit odd, I had only used and holstered the weapon for one weekend. I compared it to our GI Colt 70 series . This Colt has been around the block a few times since the second world war. It has been carried, neglected, used and abused for years. The Colt still wears a pretty decent finish considering its' age. I am not sure if it is just the firearm I received or all of the RIA Tactical 1911's but I would expect the finish to be a bit more durable. Visually this is not a huge issue for me, I think wear adds character. That said, it may be an issue for you which is why I point it out. Like the roll mark on the barrel, I would have spent an extra 20 bucks for a more resilient finish. I can't help but wonder how long the rest of the parkerized finish will last. It sort of defeats the whole purpose of coating the frame doesn't it?
I had another issue. I sprayed some Break Free Powder Blast inside the slide and around the rear sights to rid the grime. The brilliant white dots on the rear sight vanished into thin air. I am not faulting Rock Island for this. It is widely known that Powder Blast will eat the paint inside the sights, so will many other cleaning solvents. If you make this careless mistake, it can be easily fixed. Once I had finished the cleaning process, I simply delivered the slide to my daughter. Like most girls her age, she can wield a nail polish brush with surgical precision. She presented me with an assortment of polishes and educated me on the theory of each color. Did you know if you are feeling gloomy, Pink nails can modify your mood? As enlightening as that was, I would pass on the Enchanted Pink this time. I kept it original and opted for the Winter White instead.
CONCLUSIONS In short, I like the firearm. It is an excellent value for what you receive. It proved reliable and accurate. Functionally the firearm is superb and the additional features are a bonus. I am disappointed in with the finish.
When you compare the RIA to our Springfield Loaded, Colt or Wilson Combat, the difference in workmanship becomes more apparent, but so does the price tag. Even though half the cost, the Rock Island does everything just as well as it's more refined brothers. As far as function, I can not find a single fault. It does exactly what it is supposed to do and very well. If you are looking for a trophy weapon to display in a case, the RIA is probably not for you. If you are looking for a wallet friendly, feature-filled 1911 that can hold its' own, look no further. You have just found it.