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The Officer's Parabellum
Creating an ideal custom 1911 for concealed carry
By Duane Thomas

I've concluded the perfect 1911 carry gun would be and Officer's ACP chambered for 9mm. I love my full-size Wilson Defensive Combat pistol, a "street custom" .45, and, the way I dress, I've no trouble concealing it on a daily basis. However, I can foresee instances when I might not be able to hide the big Government Model; logic points toward a smaller gun for those occasions. With all the muscle memory I've worked up on a 1911 it makes sense that smaller gun should also be of the same pattern. When we think "small 1911," of course, we immediately word associate with "Officer's ACP."


Unfortunately once you chop a 1911 to Officer's size, in .45 ACP recoil gets to heavy for best work, at least in my opinion. What I needed was an Officer's sized 1911 chambered for a more lightly recoiling caliber than .45 ACP without sacrificing decent power. And when we think "light recoil but decently powerful" that ol' word association thing kicks in again with "9mm Parabellum."

            Uno teeny-tiny problemo: As I began this project, no company made such a gun. Therefore I needed one built for me. I chose Cylinder & Slide Shop of Fremont, Nebraska, as my pistolsmiths for the project.

            Frankly I thought I'd have trouble finding parts for such a non-factory equivalent gun. Imagine my joy at discovering Caspian Arms offers their Officer's ACP slides with a 98mm breech face, as well as a 9mm-appropriate receiver. Caspian slides and frames may be had in a choice of high carbon or stainless steel. I'd been wanting for a while to play around with a combination of stainless slide/frame and particular gun finish (more about which later); I ordered my slide and frame from Caspian of stainless steel.

A9mm Officer's slide and frame is a custom proposition from Caspian; they do most stuff in .45, naturally. When you custom order a frame from Caspian, you have the option of choosing its serial number, the only proviso being it has to have at least one number in there somewhere. When Gary Smith told me that, I instantly knew what the serial of number should be for what I was, by then, already thinking of as my "Officer's Parabellum." I told him, "OK,  copy this: T-H-O-M-A-S-9-M-M." Gary laughed and said, "That’s pretty cool." And so it was done.  

            It's not well known, but if you check old Colt catalogs you find 9mm was a factory option when the Officer's ACP was introduced.  Such guns were in fact produced by Colt.  Unfortunately this according to Iry Stone Ill, Head man at 

BarSto Precision Machine-Colt fudged the project by mating a 9mm Officer's slide and barrel to a .45 ACP frame with the frame's feed ramp in entirely the wrong place to give a 9mm cartridge the proper "bounce" into the chamber, the guns didn’t work worth a damn and soon were dropped from the Colt lineup. A pity, that. Fortunately my Caspian frame was built from the ground up to be a 9rnrn; no such problems there!

I needed a barrel; as you might imag­ine, Officer's ACP barrels in 9mm do not exactly litter the streets. Thus I was delighted to find BarSto would have no problem making me one. I'd thought the request might strike them as a bit weird, but in talking to Irv Stone III, I learned something fascinating. Though BarSto is justifiably famous for primo quality barrels in such 1911 stalwart calibers as .45 ACP and .38 Super, they will on request make you a custom barrel in just about any caliber your little heart desires. When I said to Stone, "Hey, this may sound strange but I want an Officer's barrel in 9mm. Is that possible?" he told me, "We've done them in lOmm Auto and .45 Wm Mag. A 9mm is nothing."

From Ed Brown Products came a Series '70 match grade extractor, extended ejec­tor, hammer strut, one of his Heavy Duty firing pins, a high-rise memory-grove beavertail (that would have its memory grooves and raised lug machined into oblivion by the time I was through), and a slide stop This last part is finely checkered. I've recently switched to the tech­nique of dropping the slide using the support-hand thumb (versus grasping the slide and pulling to the rear, then releasing to go forward as I did for years) so the checkering and its added traction on the part is a very useful feature...and it looks great!

One of King's wonderful Ambidextrous Combat Speed Safeties was fitted to the Officer's Parabellum. I like the method by which the King's off-side lever is held to the gun: A track, cut into the inner porton of the off-side safety lever hooks over an extended, slotted hammer pin. This makes for a low-key, secure installation, really pulls the off-side lever in tight to the side of the gun, and doesn't require spe­cially modified grip panels as do many other ambi-safety designs. For a long time I was not a fan of ambidextrous safeties on 1911's, as I'd found them far less reliable and durable than single-sided levers, The King's system is the first ambi-safety I've seen that I'd actually put on one of my own guns. King's also sup­plied the magazine release button.

I wanted to play around with an arched housing on this gun although I have flat housings on all my other 1911's. I also like checkered mainspring housings for greater traction and better recoil control Smith & Alexander produces an arched, checkered (20lip) mainspring housing for the Officer’s. This matches the 20lpi checkering Cylinder & Slide applied to the front strap. After trying the arched housing, I must admit I switched to the flat housing I normally prefer on a 1911, also from S&A. A worthwhile experiment, though.

My favorite sights for a carry 1911 are the MMC LightSights that feature tritium 3-dot inserts for low light shooting. These are fully adjustable night sights on which the rear sight blade is protected from life's hard knocks through being contained within a U-shaped cradle of steel somewhat reminiscent of the protective "ears" of older Smith & Wesson adjustable auto sights. The front blade is a serviceable ramp of the.125-inch width common to high versatility 1911 sights. MMC offers their LightSights’ rear notches in a choice of three widths: the classic .125-inch, a wider .137 or an absolutely .150-inch. I’d wanted to play around with a set of LightSights with that ultra-generous .150 notch fro a while, so…

            The three most critical components in achieving a safe, reliable trigger pull all came from Chip McCormick Corporation, consisting of their Hi-Tech disconnector, semi-prepped sear and “Locke Model” stainless steel hammer. I’d asked Cylinder & Slide fro a 5-pound carry trigger, and that’s what they gave me. I actually took the Officer’s Parabola to a plate match running the 5-pound carry trigger and came in third. Still I found this a bit heavy for best work, and had it taken down to 4 pounds eve by a local pistolsmith. Since I’d recently been doing a lot of shooting with a sub-3-pound trigger, this actually represented an increase in pull weight over what I was used to.

A key point to this project was finding a supply of Officer’s-length magazines. Again, no company made such a product. Fortunately, the Italian company Mec-Gar, famous for turning out such high quality products they supply the “factory” mags for many gun companies, makes a standard length (Government/Commander) 1911 magazine in 9mm. Chris Hageman, shop forman at Cylinder & Slide, took a supply of these magazines, cut them down to Officer’s ACP length then welded the floorplates back in place. In doing so, he created something you don’t often see-an Officer’s length magazine with a full-size floorplate.

            Examine a standard-length 1911 mag when snapped into the gun; you’ll note the front of the floorplate extends out significantly beyond the gun’s front strap. That’s because the magazine’s designers didn’t want its floorplate sticking out beyond the front of the shorter grip; they were worried it would irritate the shooing hand little finger of large-handed users. Unfortunately, the extended floorpate on most magazines is there for a reason. If the magazine becomes pinned in the gun (example: the mag follower poops over the slide stop inside the gun), it provides a purchase point so you and rip the magazine out of the gun, a necessity to clear that particular malfunction. You can’t do that with standard Officer’s mags. You can do it with the ones Chris Hageman made for my Officer’s Parabellum. I’ll be the first to admit that the extended floorplate could be a problem for someone with hands larger than mine, but I like it.

            Pre-surgery mag capacity on the Mec-Gar 9mms was nine rounds. Cut to officer’s length they still hold eight. That makes the Officer’s Parabellum a nine-shot gun with one in the chamber.

Though the mags in the gun have been cut down to the Officer’s length, for spare magazines to be carried in a mag pouch I wanted full-length jobbies. With one more round in the mag, the extra length of the magazine tube acts as an integral slam pad to ensure full insertion during a speed reload, and the longer tube gives you more to latch onto during a fast “draw” of the spare ammo. The problem with using standard-length 1911 mags in an Officer ' s-length gun is that it’s not at all uncommon fro users under stress, during a speed reload, to seat the magazine so forcefully that it over travels the mag release catch, jamming so far up into the gun it blocks the slide from coming forward to chamber a fresh cartridge. This of course necessitates holding the mag button down and physically ripping the magazine out of the gun. Chris Hageman welded overtravel stops to the spines of several full-length Mec-Gar 9mm 1911 mags so that wouldn’t happen. This is an unusual approach- you see most such overtravel stops applied to the front of the mag tube, on top of the floor plate flange, not to the back. However, according to Chris the problem with this approach is that eventually force applied to the overtravel stop in the front will rip the floorplate off the mag! He much prefers to have the stop in back where that can’t happen. Me too.

            Frankly I had a hell of a time finding a recoil spring light enough for this hun to cycle reliably. Factory standard recoil spring weight for a Colt Officer’s ACP .45 is 22 pounds, like wise 22pounds for the mainspring. The lightest aftermarket Officer’s recoil spring I could find as I began this project was 18 ½ pounds. Spring companies seem to figure and “Officer’s Model” will always be a .45, so making recoil springs lighter than appropriate for .45 ACP-level slide velocity isn’t necessary. With the 9mm Parabellum’s much lighter recoil impulse, the gun simply wouldn’t work anywhere close to 100 percent of the time with such a heavy spring installed.

            Fortunately, ISMI (Integrated Systems Management, Inc.) makes an aftermarket recoil system for the Officer’s. One such was provided to me, along with and assortment of recoil springs in 17-, 15-, and even 13-pound weights. Now you’re talkin’! ISMI’s 1911 springs aren’t standard coil, music wire-type springs like you usually see in a 1911. Instead they’re flat wire as on the Glock. These springs carry a lifetime warranty from ISMI. If they ever wear out, ISMI will replace them free of charge. I decided to begin in the middle with the 15-pounder. The gun worked perfectly. The ejection pattern was vigorous and consistent, the slide locked to the rear on every magazine when empty, and the piece fed, fired and extracted everything you could stuff into it. No further experimentation necessary. A 21- pound, reduced-power mainspring from Wolff Gunsprings also allowed the gun to cycle a bit more easily.

            On a stock Colt Officer’s ACP the recoil spring qulg, and therefore the entire recoil system, is not retained inside the gun by the barrel bushing (as on the basic 1911 design). Rather a small, fragile lug on the recoil spring plug hooks into a slot cut into the rear of the slide’s dust comer. It’s not at all uncommon, on guns that are shot heavily, for that part to give away, allowing you recoil system (i.e. plug and spring) to exit the front of the gun at high speed, whizzing downrange and rendering the piece hors de combat.

            No way on God’s green earth that was happening with my gun! In the ISMI recoil system, the recoil spring plug features, in lieu of the tab, a ring of metal around the rear of the plug, a system called a “reverse plug.” (Most companies’ aftermarket recoil systems for the Officer’s likewise use a reverse plug.) In use that metal ring butts up against the rear of the slide’s dust cover. There’s simply no way for your recoil system to depart the front of the gun- the plug would have to rip completely through the slide (fat chance) of the entire metal ring would have to give way (likewise fat chance).

            The reverse plug is not a drop-in part; installation requires removing metal from the back of the slide’s dust cover to accommodate the plug. The ISMI system uses a full- length, one-piece guide rod that, in order to accommodate the wider, flat wire spring, must be narrower than guide rods set up to work with music wire springs. This means you can actually lift the entire assembly out of the gun from the rear, as in the standard 1911 stripping sequence, with a bit of jiggling of parts. Though the guide rod has a hole drilled fro the classic” paperclip” disassembly sequence of yon-piece 1911 guide rods, I never use it.

            Wilson’s supplied a complete 1911 pin set for the gun. The only small parts I found my self-lacking was I was pulled this project together were a couple of pesky little suckers, the mainspring cap and retainer. Fortunately Gun Parts Corporation is the source for just about every hard-to-find gun part on earth, and they had those little widgets in my hand with in days

            For the gun’s finish I wanted hard chrome. There are two approaches to an aftermarket gun finish: black or white, i.e. bluing, Parkerizing or any of the black Teflon-based finishes on the one hand versus hard chrome or electroless nickel on the other. 

            None of these finishes is perfect. Electroless nickel will flake off if applied to stainless steel. All the black stuff lacks extreme long-term wear resistance, thought on the plus side some of the new breed of black Teflon-based finishes (Birdsong’s Black-T being the standout example) are pretty much totally rustproof even if not nearly as wear resistant as hard chrome. Hard chrome by contrast is the king of long-tem wear resistance but not totally rust proof. The finish has micro-cracks in it that can let corrosion-causing material penetrate to the steel. When that happens, it’s not the hard chrome itself that rusts, but you get this brown crud bubbling up from underneath the chrome. When that happens, it looks like holy hell. A modicum of attention to gun maintenance can prevent that from ever occurring, but there’s no doubt hard chrome isn’t in the same class of rust resistance as some other finishes.

            What some of the savvier pistolsmiths have taken to doing is aping hard chrome over stainless steel. Thus you get the surface wear resistance of hard chrome but under that is rust-resistant stainless steel. It’s the best of both worlds. After seeing photo of Ace Custom .45s’ Ace-Guard hard chrome (in a Jan Libourel article in GUN WORLD, no less!) I knew this was the finish I wanted on the officer’s Parabellum. It looked great in the photos. And when I got the slide, frame and associated small parts back from Ace Custom, I found it looks just as good in the real world. This is some nice, hard chrome, gang! I’ve always thought a totally hard-chromed Officer’s ACP would look really sharp. I was certainly right.

            The finishing touch to my custom 9mm Officer’s “ACP” came from Craig Spegel, A set of his splendid hardwood grips, these of African blackwood cut in the traditional double diamond pattern. African blackwood is a beautiful wood, an extremely dark brown; so dark it looks black in most lights. Only when you examine the wood closely does the subtle pattern of black stripes in dark brown become apparent. Gorgeous stuff.

             This was to a certain extent an experimental weapon. Such pieces invariably require some debugging before they reach their full potential. Thus it took a trip back to Cylinder & Slide, 15 minuets of attention by a local pistolsmith, and, as previously discussed, finally and entirely different recoil system before I got the gun fully sorted out. At which point it began working like a champ and was tested for functional reliability and accuracy with a reasonably diverse assortment of ten 9mm loads, five factory hollowpoint, two factory hardball, and three handloads.  Representative hollowpoints were Federal’s 115-grain JHP product code 9BP, Hornady’s 124-grain JHP-XTP, Remington’s 115-grain JHP +P, Speer’s 124-grain Gold Dot-HP and Winchester’s 115-grain Silvertip-HP. Factory ball was the Russian Wolf 115-grain FMJ and PMC 124 grainers. Handloads saw Speer’s 115-grains TMJ over 5.4 grains of Winchester Super Field and Laser Cast’s 124-grain RNL with both 4.0 and 4.2 grains of W231.  

At 50 feet, the maximum distance possible at the indoor range on  which I was shooting, from the bench the gun provided impressively, consistently accurate. When you’re accuracy testing some guns, the challenge is to find the load that groups well. With the Officer’s Parabellum it was almost like, “ What doesn’t?” Most accurate load was my Laser Cast handloads with 14.0-grains W231, a perfectly centered group measuring 15/16 of an inch. PMC ball threw a tight 1 3/16 group. The Hornady XTPs gave a 1 3/8 inch group measuring a half-inch center-to-center with a single lateral flier opening things up to a still more than acceptable 1 ½ inches; this was before I’d quite gotten the adjustable sights zeroed in so the group hit about and inch low. Remington’s 115-grain +Ps also gave a tight, nicely regulated group of 1 11/16  inches. With only a few exceptional performances for a compact 9mm.


  Reliability was perfect with all loads fired, with one exception. One round of the Speer Gold Dots failed to light off. This cannot be blamed on the gun since the primer was dented to hell and back. Even repeated firing pin strikes to the point the primer looked like a meteor impact area failed to cause ignition. Every round that wasn’t a dud, on the other hand, fed, fired, extracted and the slide always locked to the rear when the gun was empty on every magazine tested. There was 100 percent functionality. Excellent!

            I know you’re wondering what if feels like to fire a 9mm chambered Officer’s Recoil? Puh-lease! The gun barely moves when you pull the trigger. While I was putting this project together, I thought a steel framed Officer’s sized 1911 would be and extremely pleasant gun to fire. So much so I had to have one created just so I could find out. And boy was I right!

A great carry gun is only as good as its carry system. The gun’s raison d’etre was as a concealment arm when I can’t tote the full-sized GM. To me, that spells “shoulder holster.” My choice of shoulder holster is Galco’s “Original Jackass Rig.” This is a modern update of the very first horizontal shoulder holster design, first introduced in 19369. This holster style points the gun butt along the axis of the torso for better concealment, and is ideal for use with a short auto like the Officer’s Parabellum; the truncated slide, since it doesn’t protrude very far to the rear when holstered, is far less likely to “print” through a concealing garment than would a longer gun. The Original Jackass Rig is made from nearly indestructible horsehide, and it’s the only shoulder holster I can wear comfortably. Swivel connectors and four-leaf clover-shaped backplate allow the harness to adjust itself perfectly to the body. With the gun on one side and two spare magazines on the other inside a double mag pouch, the rig balances well.

            Still, every carry gun needs a good belt holster. For instance, I can easily picture myself using the Officer’s Parabellum to compete in IDPA’s Enhanced Service Pistol division. Such matches mandate a strong-side belt holster. I was fascinated to learn that, after building their reputation with top quality Kydex belt rigs, Blade-Tech had recently introduced a line of injection-molded belt holsters and mag pouches made, not of Keyed, but a super-tough proprietary blend of glass-filled nylon. My daily carry setup for years has been one of Blade-Tech’s Standard Belt Holsters and Matching double mag pouch in Kydex . I decided to make my on-the-belt system the same holster / mag pouch setup from Blade-Tech…. And it only costs $24.95 for the belt holster, $27.95 for a paddle rig. (Paddles and belt loops are interchangeable, so you can buy them separately if need be. (Prices have changed since the publication of this article.  Buy this product by visiting our online store.)

            I note with some amusement that, since I started this project, Springfield has introduced their own Officer’s sized 9mm, an aluminum-framed lightweight.

            So apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought this gun/cartridge combination was a good idea! Ah, vindication!