The Coonan Classic .357 is a handful of a firearm and not for the light of heart, but overall I think it is a practical self defense pistol and that it shouldn’t be considered just a novelty. The .357 Magnum cartridge is a very effective round, and Coonan has eliminated all of the variables that have prevented it from being widely adopted in the semi-auto pistol.
I shot the Coonan primarily with Hornady Critical Defense. It clocked just over 1500 feet per second and my average group with the gun rested on a bag at 10 yards were about an inch. With the stock sights it shot to nearly exactly point of aim. What else do you need?
The $1,249 list on this gun is for the black grips (or possibly the wooden ones) and standard finish, but you can also get it in black or digital camo for additional cost.
This is our test gun. It came with an extra mag in this custom made and embroidered Coonan Arms case.
The keychain looking thing you see in the case is a pin to load the magazines. This makes the very steep angle of the mags easy to manage. You can just drop the rounds in.
There may be a lot of mystique around the sheer power of the .357 Magnum, but I found this gun very manageable, and with the Hornady Critical Defense loads that are tailored to avoid excessive muzzle flash in handguns, there was no overwhelming ball of fire. Followup shots were no more difficult than a standard 1911, and easier than a .357 revolver.
The grip circumference overall is no larger than many common double stack pistols on the market, even this 9mm S&W. It is long and thin, and I think will adapt to all but the smallest hands.
The dovetail fixed sights on the base model can be upgraded from Coonan, or you can put other sights on yourself. It shot to point of aim, so as a carry weapon the rounded sight is just fine out of the box.
The barrel does not have the hinged link like on a standard 1911, but it does come out of the front of the slide the same way with the front barrel bushing.
My test gun didn’t cycle .38 Special reliably even with the replacement thinner spring, but I am sure this is something that Coonan will be working on. Make sure to put the heavy spring back when you return to shooting .357 Magnum or you will put undue wear and tear on your gun.
What do you call a giant stainless steel .357 Magnum 1911 pistol? Well, if you listen to Coonan Arms, maker of this righteous beast called the Coonan Classic .357, the answer is that it may be many things, but it is for sure…
Not Your First Pistol!
The .357 Magnum is considered by many to be the most effective handgun round for human sized targets. But unfortunately the cartridge was created for revolvers, not pistols. So for fans of 1911 and other auto pistols, the .357 Magnum isn’t practical. It has a rim around the back of the case, unlike a .45ACP or 9mm that are flat and don’t. The extra lip that sticks out of the .357 Magnum and other rimmed cases creates trouble in semi-auto pistol magazines, and the .357 Magnum case itself is very long to fit lengthwise in the grip of a pistol as well.
This leaves 1911 fans who are also devotees of the .357 Magnum in a lurch, because though you can carry several guns at one time, you can only shoot one gun effectively at a time. Until now you had to choose between a 1911 and a .357 Magnum revolver. The Coonan Classic .357 seeks to combine these two choices, and they have done a really great job of it. If you are fan of both the 1911 and the .357 Magnum, you will be pleasantly surprised with this gun. It definitely isn’t for the uninitiated, but with a proper understanding of how the gun works and why, it isn’t a gun to be afraid of as a novice shooter . It works really well and is also a lot of gun for the money.
The Coonan Classic .357 features a linkless barrel in a 1911 frame. That means it field strips more like a modern auto-pistol than like a 1911. The barrel still comes out the front like a standard 1911, with the front barrel bushing that turns so you can slide the barrel out, but the link you have to line up when you reassemble the gun is not there. This is a pure recoil operated gun, like a standard 1911, and I think that Coonan stresses this because the only other .357 Mag. pistol on the market is the Desert Eagle, and that is gas operated in part, as we explained recently in our review of the .44 Mag. version of the gun. A recoil operated gun is cleaner than a gas gun, and it is subject to less maintenance.
If you look in the pictures, you will notice the steep incline of the rounds in the specialized magazine for this gun. This is so that the rims of the .357 Mag. cases will absolutely not bind up by overlapping each other. For other gunmakers out there, I’m sure this was a case of “why didn’t I think of that,” because it does 100% solve the rim problem with the .357 Mag. case. The Coonan Classic .357 feeds flawlessly, as long as you use real .357 Mag. ammo, which I’ll get into in a bit.
The grip on the Coonan Classic .357 is big, but though most of the circumference is lengthwise, it overall is not really bigger than my Para P-14, and I even compared it to an old Smith & Wesson 659, which is a double stack 9mm from the 80s, and it is about the same size. At a circumference of just over 5 5/8ths inches, it fits my stubby fingered hand just fine. In fact I would argue that the design of the grip is made specifically so that finger length is not an issue. Your hand isn’t going to go all the way around unless you have Eddie Van Halen freakishly long fingers, so wherever the fingers rest is where they rest, regardless of your size hands. I was able to shoot it comfortably.
Physically the gun is flawless. Coonan sells the Classic .357 for $1,249 as you see it in the pictures with black grips and fixed sights, and they offer upgrades on sights, grips, Duracoat, and extra mags above that. But the appearance and function of the gun is that of a much more expensive 1911. The action is butter smooth, the trigger crisp and light, and after hundreds of rounds of .357 Mag. and .38 Special the breech face and internals of the gun were about as dirty as a most guns I shoot after 20 rounds. This is a well made, close tolerance gun that will last you a lifetime. You can buy several brands of 1911 off the shelf for more money than this Coonan and they will not be this clean and tight in their manufacturing and performance.
The ad campaign about the Coonan Classic .357 not being your first pistol is just that, an ad campaign. You do have to read the directions on this gun. It comes with a pin to help you load the magazine effortlessly, and as I was loading the magazine I did envision bumbleheaded posts to the gun forums about how much of a “thumbuster” the Coonan .357 magazines were, when you were never supposed to load them with just your thumb to begin with. There is no accounting for stupid, and I think this is part of why Coonan adopted the “not your first pistol” approach, to steer the gun away from people who wouldn’t use it properly. It is definitely a gun geek gun, but you shouldn’t let that scare you off if you are new to shooting but comfortable with the guns you already shoot.
To me the gun wasn’t punishing whatsoever. It is 42 oz. empty, and this is plenty of weight to offset the recoil of a full snot .357 Mag. I shot it with Hornady Critical defense, and though you will see a huge fireball on the Coonan Arms webpage, I didn’t note this at all in my tests of the gun. Critical Defense utilizes the same powder blending technology that you find in Hornady Superformance. The .357 Mag. Critical Defense is engineered to not produce a big fireball with even a 2″ Ruger LCR, and the Coonan Classic 5″ barrel is more than enough burn time to optimize the most velocity with the least muzzle flash. The 125 grain Critical Defense clocked at just over 1500 feet per second, and it shot easily into about an inch at ten yards.
Some may find the romance of a huge kick and brilliant muzzle flash a great reason to buy a .357 Mag. pistol, but as a certifiable gun geek, I think this pistol stands on its own merits very well as a really functional and high quality pistol for a reasonable price.
The only thing I didn’t find as promised in the Coonan Classic .357 was that it is supposed to be able to shoot .38 Special with a second spring that comes with the gun. I installed the spring and tried it with Hornady Critical Defense in both regular .38 Special and the +P loads, as well as some Fiocchi .38 Special I was out testing a cowboy gun with, and none of it cycled reliably even with the lighter spring. I don’t think that people buy a gun like this in hopes that they will be able to punch paper with the .38s, but each to his own. Though it was disappointing from a nerd perspective, I don’t feel this hurts the viability of the Coonan Arms Classic .357 as probably the nicest .357 semi-auto pistol ever made.
If you try your own pistol with the .38 Special spring, make sure to swap the spring back when you switch back to .357 Mag. The gun will work fine with the lighter spring and the more powerful ammunition, but the heavy spring was installed as the default to protect the frame of the gun from unnecessary battering. This is yet another reason why I’m sure Coonan had the idea to advertise the Classic .357 as “not your first pistol.” If you don’t follow the directions you will only frustrate yourself, and you may damage your gun over time.
It holds 7+1 rounds of .357 Mag. (or .38 if you can get it to shoot), so as a carry gun the firepower is about the same as a standard .45ACP 1911. Our test gun came with two mags, but on the website it appears that for the $1,249 base price you only get one. It also comes with a bottle of FP-10 lubricant, and a nicely made custom soft zipper case, as well as a lock and the pin to help load the magazines.
“Nothing Left to Envy” is the Coonan Arms tag line, and I think it fits this gun a lot better than “not your first pistol.” Side by side with just about any other 1911, there is nothing left to envy, and as long as you understand that you have to slow down and follow the directions with the Coonan Classic .357, there is no reason it couldn’t be your first pistol. Devotees of both the 1911 and the .357 Magnum will find a nice blend in this gun, and I can pretty much assure you that nobody else at the range will have one.