SIG’s 1911 Compact RCS Nitron
.45 ACP Carry Power.
SIG SAUER’s 30-year reputation for dependability has been built on their service pistols. Starting with the P220 .45 and including the P226 9mm and P229 .40 S&W, SIGs have traditionally been double-action autos with no controls but a de-cocker and a slidestop, and they virtually never fail. Thus, when they introduced their GSR 1911 .45 a few years ago, it was an event worth noticing.
In fairness, though, between the 1911, the AR-15, and the SAA, there are virtually no major manufacturers left that don’t make a copy of some Colt product. Nevertheless, SIG’s 1911 line quickly earned the same reputation held by the rest of its pistols and grew rapidly. Now, the line includes a variety of rail- and non-rail-equipped .45s and several models from the custom shop, including the 1911 Compact RCS Nitron.
Perhaps best described as a “midsize” 1911, the Compact RCS combines a Commander-length slide and barrel with a short Officer’s ACP-sized receiver, making it 3/4″ shorter in length than a Government Model .45, and some 1/2″ shorter in height. While 1911s can get a lot smaller, the Officer’s/Commander hybrid gives you the concealment of the smaller gun with the handling and performance of the larger pistol, and is probably the best size for an 1911 that’s meant to be carried.
In keeping with its role as a defensive pistol, the Compact RCS came dressed for business in matte black (Nitron finish), with just a touch of silver from the barrel, trigger, and hammer. As usual, we’ll start at the top of the slide and work our way down.
Comparing the Compact RCS to the P245: While SIG’s DA service pistols are
excellent, the high slide — and how high they sit in the hand — increases felt recoil.
The RCS consumed everything it was fed. In over 500 rounds it had a grand total of three
malfunctions — all at the end, with the same magazines provided from a different manufacturer.
Slide And Barrel
When they first designed theirs, SIG took great pains to combine the classic shape of the 1911 with the distinctive lines of their DA pistols, resulting in a slide that narrows forward of the ejection port and has a top radius shallower than the usual 1911. All of the corners and edges are rounded off, with the muzzle and the rear of the slide receiving a serious melt job.
On my early production model, sights consist of a Novak LoMount rear, coupled with a Novak front sight. Currently, SIG has begun using different low-profile night sights (tritium inserts). The traditional internal extractor of the 1911 is replaced with a beefy, pivoting external extractor, which is nicely blended with the lines of the pistol.
Long a weak spot of the 1911 design, the classic internal extractor is a steel part that is (or should be) tempered, and whose function depends on how well its long, bent finger can maintain pressure against the casehead of a cartridge. The more modern external or “side” extractor, instead of riding in a tunnel inside the slide, fits into a channel machined into the slide, pivots on a crosspin, and is powered by a much more predictable coil spring. Although I like the clean look of an internal extractor, there’s no arguing the side-mounted extractor is better. Let’s not forget the Hi-Power 9mm — probably John Browning’s most reliable design — ditched its internal extractor for a side-mounted one decades ago.
The rest of the Compact RCS’ top end is as traditional as they come; although the bushing shape is a little more oval than the customary one, it retains the usual barrel bushing arrangement, instead of replacing it with the ever-popular bull barrel. Interestingly, the Compact RCS also omits the full-length guide rod that’s so popular these days, but which also tends to decrease reliability more than it helps it. Having seen a guide rod, and it alone, shut down an otherwise functioning gun, I agree with Gary Paul Johnston: a .45 coming with a full-length guide rod should probably also come with a hacksaw.
Note the oval-shaped barrel bushing and the lack of a full-length
guide rod, a custom best honored in the breach.
Since our photos the Compact RCS comes with low-profile night sights.
The frontstrap has 25 LPI machined checkering. Pioneered by
metalsmith Pete Single, 25 LPI is easier on the hands than
20 LPI, but give more grip than the finer 30.
The RCS (left) shown with a standard-profile Colt Commander slide.
SIG combines the timeless lines of the old design with the signature
contours of their DA pistols.
While there was some play between the slide and the frame, the barrel showed the sort of support that leads to good accuracy. The bottom half of the Compact RCS is everything you’d expect from a semi-custom .45: it has an extended, strong-side-only thumb safety, along with a beavertail grip safety with a central ridge serving as a “speed bump” to make sure you depress it when you grab the gun.
The trigger is a long, solid aluminum one, and drops the slotted Commander hammer with no discernable creep, and with so little overtravel it’s almost scary. To my trigger finger, it felt a little over three pounds.
Grips are thin rosewood laser-engraved with the SIG SAUER logo, and the mag catch is slightly extended, a feature probably best omitted on a carry pistol. The frontstrap is machine-checkered in the 25 lines per inch (LPI) pattern pioneered by metalsmith Pete Single, and the flat mainspring housing is similarly cut at 20 LPI, with the checkering on the housing being a little sharper than the frontstrap.
The receiver itself is made of lightweight aluminum, which dramatically cuts down on weight: unloaded and with the magazine removed, the Compact RCS weighed in at 26.5 ounces; that’s almost identical to SIG’s P245 compact .45. Comparing apples to apples, though, it’s three ounces lighter than my titanium-framed Commander 1911, and seven ounces less than the all-steel magwell-equipped Commander/Officer’s hybrid I usually carry. Folks, that’s nearly a half-pound less weight than a similarly sized gun.
SIG’s side extractor has a massive claw,and is powered by
a coil spring instead of relying on the spring temper of
the part itself, as a traditional 1911 extractor.
SIG bevels the lower edge of the slide and supplies a single-sided
combat safety rather than an extended “gamesman” safety.
This early iteration of the RCS has a ridge down the contact area
of the beavertail to ensure you depress the grip safety even when
you’re in a hurry and may not have a perfect grip on the pistol.
The RCS comes with a beveled mag well,
an appropriate touch for a semi-custom
gun, since it speeds reloads without
the bulk of an add-on funnel.
On the firing line, the reduced weight did show up at the cost of increased recoil. Although the snappier recoil was noticeable it wasn’t unpleasant and I was able to shoot sub-3″ groups at 25-yards, without using a rest. Winchester supplied most of my test ammo and the gun consumed 350 rounds of their 230-gr. hardball. I also fed it 150 rounds of mixed hollowpoints, ranging from Silvertips to CorBon, with some frangible thrown in for good measure.
In 500+ rounds fired, there were a total of three malfunctions, and all of them were at the end while using Detonics USA magazines. I also used mags from Wilson and Novak, as well as the factory magazines that came with the gun, and none of these ever failed. There was no problem with the gun; it ran flawlessly in spite of the fact I neither cleaned nor oiled it during the test.
Compared to this Colt 1991, the slim grips on the RCS make it feel
dramatically flatter in the hand, which may not be a good thing for all shooters.
The SIG fieldstrips easily and without tools — thanks in part to
the lack of a full-length guide rod.
Since our photos the Compact RCS comes with low-profile night sights
Although I have no complaints about the gun, as a matter of personal preference, I’d probably replace the grips with those of a standard thickness. Thin grips may make a gun easier to carry and conceal, and may even be better suited for those with small hands, but to me they give the gun a certain axe-handle feel and seem to focus the recoil in a line down the palm of my hand. They also let the gun torque in my hand during recoil. With that caveat, the Compact RCS handled beautifully; it came on target quickly, and came back on target quickly.
One of the great advantages of the Compact RCS over SIG’s line of double-action service pistols is in the ergonomics. Although they do a great job with the shape of their grips, the slide on their DA pistols sits so high above the shooter’s hand, it actually increases felt recoil when compared to something like a 1911 or Glock, where the slide rides much closer to the axis of the forearm. It’s simply a matter of leverage. The Compact RCS, however, has all the vaunted SIG reliability combined with the well-proven advantages of the 1911. Because of the compact size and reduced weight, it might not be what you want to shoot IPSC with (you can get one of their full-sized 1911s for that), but when it comes to self-defense, it’s hard to think of a package providing a better compromise between being easy to carry and easy to shoot.
By Jeremy D. Clough
A handsome pair. Here’s Jeremy’s early iteration of what is now known as
the 1911 Compact RCS Nitron, along with a Benchmade 3550SBK auto.
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