Para 1911 Elite Commander—Gun Review

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01.The stainless steel Para Elite Commander comes equipped with two 8-round magazines, Cocobolo hardwood grips, and a durable Ionbond finish.

The stainless steel PARA Elite Commander comes equipped with two 8-round magazines, Cocobolo hardwood grips, and a durable Ionbond finish.

By Wayne Lincourt
PARA USA
http://www.para-usa.com/

The model 1911 pistol has been in demand for more than 100 years. That should tell you something about its design and capabilities. It was the official sidearm of the US Army from 1911 until 1985, when the Beretta 92F was adopted. The 1911 is still in use by elite units, however, like the Army Delta Force, Marine Special Operations Command and the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment. These are the best of the best, who use their firearms in the most demanding situations. Buying a 1911 puts you in some very good company. If you happen to be interested in acquiring a quality 1911 at a value price, the Para Elite Commander deserves a look. When I say “value” price, I don’t mean the cheapest 1911 available. There are plenty around for less money. In fact, PARA even has a line with a lower price-point. What I mean by “value” is a 1911 with all the enhancements you’d want for top accuracy and consistently dependable operation, at a reasonable price. The PARA fits that bill. There’s even a way for you to save an extra hundred bucks off of the best price you can negotiate with your dealer. Read on to learn how.

Fit and finish is excellent. A match-grade barrel, skeletonized hammer and skeletonized trigger are standard..

Fit and finish is excellent. A match-grade barrel, skeletonized hammer and skeletonized trigger are standard..

The PARA Elite Commander has the classic good looks that the 1911 is known for. The Commander size is also the most popular model of 1911 by far. Like the original 1911, the Commander came about from an Army set of specs for a somewhat more compact and lighter gun than the full-sized 1911 A1. Colt developed the gun accordingly with a steel barrel and slide shortened by ¾”, and an aluminum alloy frame to meet the lower weight requirement. The Army didn’t buy it right away, which didn’t stop Colt from selling it to the commercial market beginning in 1950. By 1970, Colt had bowed to demand for a heavier model to better deal with the recoil of the .45 acp cartridge. It went to an all-steel version that they named the Combat Commander. The original Commander then became known as the Lightweight Commander.

The PARA Elite Commander is a version of the Combat Commander with a number of popular upgrades. To get this level of function in earlier times, you had to buy a stock 1911 and then turn it over to a gunsmith to rework the trigger, custom fit the slide to the frame, install a match grade barrel, etc. There are still custom gunshops that turn out some exceptional 1911s, provided you have the cash. But starting in the ‘90s, manufacturers began offering some of the most popular upgrades as standard in their higher-priced production models. This trend accelerated with the advent of new 1911s making their debut on the 100th anniversary of the Browning design (the Colt 1911, of course, was designed by John M. Browning). Cost shouldn’t be your number one concern when selecting a sidearm. You first want dependability and accuracy. Of course, we don’t all have liquid-cooled wallets, so cost is, unfortunately, an important consideration. This is where PARA shines.

06.The Para Elite Commander has a one-piece full length guide rod. As you can see, the recoil plug is open since the guide rod protrudes from the slide when the slide moves to the rear.

The PARA Elite Commander has a one-piece full length guide rod. As you can see, the recoil plug is open since the guide rod protrudes from the slide when the slide moves to the rear.

Let’s start with the materials used in the Elite Commander. The frame, barrel and slide are all stainless steel. The dark gray color you see in the photos is the result of a coating process called Ionbond PVD. The PVD stands for Physical Vapor Deposit. It’s applied in a vacuum chamber under high heat, where tungsten carbide binds to the original metal surface. It’s only a few microns thick (about .005”), which means you can maintain tight tolerances. It’s also much harder than the underlying stainless steel, has a lower coefficient of friction for smoother operation of sliding parts, and exhibits excellent corrosion resistance. Because it becomes part of the metal surface, it won’t peel or chip. Some gun owners swear by hard chrome plating, claiming it’s the ultimate gun finish. Hard chrome is an industrial type of chrome that is hard, improves corrosion resistance slightly although it will rust, and has a lower coefficient of friction than the underlying metal. It’s a time-tested finish. Ionbond is newer, but has been around long enough to have proven itself. It’s as hard as hard chrome and has a slightly lower coefficient of friction and far better corrosion resistance. It absorbs oil quickly and releases it slowly, providing excellent lubrication over extended shooting periods, like at a competition event. To get an Ionbond coating on an existing gun, you’d pay in the neighborhood of $200-300 extra.

This is an example of a 1911 with a short guide rod. Because the guide rod does not protrude from the slide when operated, the recoil plug is topped with a cap.

This is an example of a 1911 with a short guide rod. Because the guide rod does not protrude from the slide when operated, the recoil plug is topped with a cap.

The original GI model 1911 had a stub guide rod with a serrated cap over the end of the recoil spring plug, a cup-shaped piece that holds the recoil spring in the slide. The absence of a full-length guide rod allowed the spring to move slightly from side-to-side while it was being compressed. This could affect felt recoil as well as the consistency of slide cycling, especially with a loose slide-to-frame fit. Installation of a full-length guide rod (flgr) keeps the spring centered so that the spring coils compress evenly and consistently, providing a smoother absorption of energy generated by the recoiling slide. Other benefits include more consistent cycling of the action and, in some cases, improvement in a shooter’s ability to place shots accurately. As often occurs with the 1911, there’s some controversy here. Roughly half of 1911 owners see no need for a flgr. Their argument is that if your slide-to-frame fit is good, you don’t really need it. In addition, you lose the ability to cycle the action one-handed by pressing the lower part of the slide (where the recoil spring plug cap is located) against a hard surface. They’re right in both cases, depending on your individual gun. If you have a gun that you’ve spent enough money on to make it utterly dependable, you probably don’t need a flgr. Regarding the one-handed cycling of the slide, you can’t do that with a Commander-length barrel, even with the short guide rod, because the slide is not long enough to completely cycle the action before you hit the frame. Therefore, in the case of a Commander length barrel, the argument is moot.

The gun is easily field stripped for cleaning either with the supplied bushing wrench or without. The parts in order are the slide, barrel, slide stop, guide rod, barrel bushing, bushing wrench, recoil spring, recoil spring plug, and receiver assembly.

The gun is easily field stripped for cleaning either with the supplied bushing wrench or without. The parts in order are the slide, barrel, slide stop, guide rod, barrel bushing, bushing wrench, recoil spring, recoil spring plug, and receiver assembly.

Another argument against a full-length guide rod is that a 1911 so equipped takes longer to field strip. This is based on the fact that a gun with a short guide rod has a cap over the end of the recoil spring plug. You simply depress this cap with your thumb in order to compress the recoil spring enough to turn the barrel bushing, which is a necessary step in the field stripping process. A full length guide rod has an open end instead of a cap because, as the gun cycles, the rod protrudes from the front of the slide. So instead of pushing on a flat cap to turn the barrel bushing, you have to push on the narrow edge of the open recoil spring plug. (It’s easier to see in the photos.) Para includes a barrel bushing wrench for this purpose although the wrench isn’t really needed. You can depress the guide rod plug cap with your thumb or the end of your thumbnail to turn the barrel bushing. It doesn’t take any more time to do that than it does to perform the same action on a short guide rod equipped gun. A few manufacturers use a two-piece full-length guide rod that does complicate tear down, but the Para guide rod is a one-piece, full-length stainless steel part. A flgr would cost about $30 extra if you were doing an upgrade yourself.

Sights include a low profile rear sight adjustable for windage, and a fiber optic front.

Sights include a low profile rear sight adjustable for windage, and a fiber optic front.

The next major upgrade is a match-grade barrel. Match barrels are made to tighter tolerances, including the rifling and chamber. Standard barrels made today are pretty accurate thanks to the advances in modern machining, but match barrels go even further to ensure that you have the most accurate, best-fitting barrel you can get. Personally, I’ll take all the help I can in the accuracy department. To upgrade from a standard barrel, you’d pay around $250 for a ramped match barrel and fitted barrel bushing. More if any gunsmithing was needed to fit it to your gun.

 

The trigger has a set screw to adjust trigger overtravel.

The trigger has a set screw to adjust trigger overtravel.

Other upgrades incorporated into the PARA Elite Commander include a skeletonized Commander-style hammer, skeletonized match trigger, lowered and flared ejection port for more reliable case extraction, the addition of a heavy-duty extractor to further assist in extraction and reliability, a low-profile two-dot rear site, fiber optic front sight, and tactical extended combat safety. The trigger also has an adjustment screw for overtravel, meaning you can adjust it to minimize the amount of movement the trigger makes after the shot breaks. This provides a shorter distance to reset the trigger for quicker follow-up shots. Two 8-round magazines are included.

The fit and finish on this gun is excellent, including the slide to frame fit. The Cocobolo hardwood grips are in the traditional double diamond format with checkering that provides a good grip without being too sharp. The flat mainspring housing (backstrap) has good checkering as well. The front strap is smooth. I prefer checkering on the front strap,

The backstrap or main spring housing, and grips, have nice checkering.

The backstrap or main spring housing, and grips, have nice checkering.

but it would cost PARA more to make it that way. A strip of sand paper glued to the front strap works perfectly well should it be needed, but there seems to be an adequate amount of grip to shoot well with it as is.

There’s a world of holsters available for the 1911. Here are two reasonably priced quality leather holsters. The one on the left with the gun in it is a right handed Extreme cross-draw made by Mernickle Holsters in Fernley, Nevada. The holster on the right is a left handed strong side Predator model made by Wright Leather Works in Green Springs, Ohio.

There’s a world of holsters available for the 1911. Here are two reasonably priced quality leather holsters. The one on the left with the gun in it is a right handed Extreme cross-draw made by Mernickle Holsters in Fernley, Nevada. The holster on the right is a left handed strong side Predator model made by Wright Leather Works in Green Springs, Ohio.

The trigger broke cleanly at an average weight of 6 lbs. 2 oz. That’s fine for self-defense or combat use, but a lighter trigger weight is preferable for precision work. There was also an almost imperceptible amount of creep before the sear release. Para recommends a 500-round break-in period, so I’ll wait until then before making any adjustments to the trigger. The weight of the gun with an empty magazine was 36.5 oz. Shooting the PARA with 230 grain bullets, the recoil was comfortable and controllable. The weight of the gun was definitely a plus. It was also easy to get back on target quickly for fast double taps. The sights were right on for the 10-yard range used for evaluating the gun’s accuracy.

I used ammunition from three different manufacturers: Federal Premium 230 grain Hydra-Shock, TulAmmo steel cased 230 grain full metal jacket, and Winchester Personal Protection 230 grain jacketed hollow points. They all performed well with no malfunctions of the gun or the ammo. It was easy to consistently put five rounds offhand into 1 ½” from 10 yards. You could probably do better with more familiarity with the gun.

A slot in the top of the barrel facilitates checking for the presence of a chambered round.

A slot in the top of the barrel facilitates checking for the presence of a chambered round.

Bottom line, the PARA Elite Commander is a quality 1911 that looks good and is accurate, and, so far, reliable. It is well made, with the best upgrades for reliability and accuracy included and a premium finish to keep it looking good, and it’s made in the US. After I put more rounds downrange, I’ll update this article to let you know about the long-term functioning. This gun should serve you well in duty, home defense, competition, or concealed carry.

The PARA Elite Commander has an MSRP of $949, but street prices are much less. For what you get, it’s an excellent value. If you were to buy a cheap import gun for $400 and add the upgrades that the PARA comes with as standard, it would likely add up close to the MSRP and you’d still have a cheap, low-quality gun from a company that may or may not be around to support it. PARA is owned by the Freedom Group, the company that owns Remington, Bushmaster, Marlin, et al., so PARA is going to be around for a long time, which is a good thing since they back their guns with a lifetime warranty. Better yet, PARA has a 2014 spring rebate program for the next few months. For every new PARA 1911 bought between 01/01/14 and 05/31/14, you can get $100 cash back through a mail-in rebate, regardless of what price you paid for it.

You can find more information on the rebate at http://para-usa.com/2013/support/promotion-and-rebates.php.
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Winchester 230 grain jacketed hollow points fired from 10 yards.

Winchester 230 grain jacketed hollow points fired from 10 yards.

TulAmmo 230 grain full metal jacket fired from 10 yards.

TulAmmo 230 grain full metal jacket fired from 10 yards.

{ 30 comments }

{ 30 comments… add one }

  • cato March 10, 2014, 8:28 am

    Para ordnance makes some very good pistols, I have two (P-14 signature series and P-13). I have had both for over 18 years and used them extensively in training and competition. Well made, accurate and reliable.

    Para’s customer service doesn’t meet the quality of their pistols…. not by a long shot.

    Recently I ordered parts (barrel and nights sites) for my P-14. They were in stock.
    It took 3 e-mails, 2 phone calls and 20 days after my order before I received them.

    Very frustrating for such a simple order.
    At no time did anyone within Para or Remington gave the slightest concern to find, process my order or even act apologetic for the VERY poor customer service.

    If I ever need to replace my barrel again, I’ll buy a Bar-sto, top quality, concern for their customers, fast shipping.
    and great customer service. Something ParaOrdnance has yet to get close to, let alone master.

    • Jim Sofchek March 10, 2014, 8:16 pm

      I suggest you register on 1911 Forum and go to the Para section and find Para’s top shooter Travis Tomasie. That man will get you anything you need when it comes to customer service. If you are still having a problem, contact him.
      I own three Canadian Para’s and all are trouble free. I recently slugged my barrels and they are all .4505″~.451″ bore, tighter than my new Sig TME 1911. Para has come a long way since they moved from Canada to Charlotte, and not just distance, but customer service now that Travis is on board and they are recommitted to quality and service. Their guns now are beautiful and my next new 1911 will be a Para USA, I love the Executive Elite.

      • cato March 11, 2014, 2:29 pm

        I should NOT have to register @ 1911 Forum and go to the Para section and find Para’s top shooter Travis Tomasie to get quality service on parts or anything else.

        I went through Para’s Pro-shop in NC.

        Order placed Feb. 6th, recieved my parts Feb. 26th.
        Service was NOT anywhere near quality.

        IF Para has “recommitted” to quality and service….. it must have been in the last week.

        VERY POOR SERVICE from Para. Will not be back !

  • Alfredo March 10, 2014, 8:38 am

    Exelente,sino fuera que aquí en Argentina no se consiguen pistolas Colt Commander,yo compraría un par.Saludos

  • Alfredo March 10, 2014, 8:39 am

    Exelente,sino fuera que aquí en Argentina no se consiguen pistolas Colt Commander,yo compraría un par.Saludos

  • 1911fan March 10, 2014, 9:20 am

    Friends don’t let friends buy Para. Do yourself a favor and do some looking around and reading horror stories before you waste your money.

    Yes, they occasionally accidentally make pistols that work and last a long time, but you’re rolling the dice.

    • Greg March 10, 2014, 10:47 am

      I’m a lucky guy then, at 2 for 2 on outstanding Para 1911’s (both quality and accuracy).

      • Dan R. Wolfe March 10, 2014, 2:48 pm

        I guess I have been lucky too. I have three Para’s , P-16 (40 S&W) P-14 and P-12 . All three are approaching 20 years old and have proven to reliable and accurate. I have nothing but good things to say about the performance of the Para’s I own.

    • Greg March 10, 2014, 10:50 am

      Tula ammo….copper plated steel jackets. Not what I will shoot thru my .45’s. Easily verified with a magnet.

    • petru Sova March 10, 2014, 9:32 pm

      Amen brother, a colleague of mine got stuck with one of their crudely made pieces of crap.

  • Michael J. March 10, 2014, 9:48 am

    What if I don’t like or want all the “enhancements”?
    Can’t anyone make an old rickety-clickety mil-spec 1911 A1 pre-1965 gun without all the added crap?
    How about mil-spec parts that are interchangeable with the old ones? Naaaa, that would make sense.

    • 2WarAbnVet March 10, 2014, 11:04 am

      Oh, they can be had, but at an exorbitant price. However, I just purchased a 1927 Argentine from Sarco for $500. No finish remaining, good very good overall, and tight. These pistols are identical to the 1911A1, and all parts are interchangable, but were made with better steel.

      • Bill March 10, 2014, 11:56 am

        I found a pair of Norwegian 1911’s last year at a rifle match. WWII vintage and marked in metric. $1000 for the pair. And they shoot pretty darn good.

        • petru Sova March 10, 2014, 9:25 pm

          Boy did you get a steal as the Norwegian guns are worth double that amount of money and too boot they were made with high quality steel no modern junk castings and they had superior workmanship also. You are a very lucky man. The guns beat todays modern made trash by a good country mile.

    • petru Sova March 10, 2014, 9:31 pm

      I saw a show on cable with Michael Bane hosting and he showed a 1911 that will fill your desires. Its a basic military model made by Rock Island. Unfortunately although it has a very good forged slide the frame is made of a modern junk casting. If you got a lot of money Dough Turnbull makes original mil spec. 1911’s just like they used to make them but boy they are big bucks.

      Better news. Try Ithaca Gun Company in Cleveland, Ohio as they too are making original 1911 guns out of high quality parts, no junk modern castings. They run around $1200 plus depending on the model you want. Don’t expect an old fashioned Colt High Gloss blue but the gun Ithaca makes is a quality piece, so refreshing compared to most of the cast iron junk being made today.

  • Bill March 10, 2014, 11:52 am

    Just bought the Elite Commander last month and am quite pleased with it. Out of the box it shot a quick 100 rounds without a hitch and was accurate and fun to shoot. Going to the range today to shoot it some more. Para recommends 500 rounds for break in, so what better excuse than that to go shoot?

  • RegasAZ March 10, 2014, 12:49 pm

    My Para 14-45SS has been excellent. Thought I had a FTE issue originally, but with excellent help from Travis Tomasie I found that being left handed, my trigger finger would, on occasion, bounce into the slide stop and partially engage it. A minor modification to the slide stop and problem corrected. No issues in the next 400 rounds.

  • petru Sova March 10, 2014, 1:15 pm

    No mention if the gun has junk unreliable MIM cast parts. Also when Colt could not make an aluminum framed gun that would not crack do you think a sub-standard outfit like Para can. Not hardly. Is the mainspring housing metal or junk plastic? The trigger really makes this gun look cheap. Also coating a stainless gun shows they must have had problems with the grade of stainless they were using, it must have been very low grade stainless. Lets face facts high grade stainless does not need a coating to prevent corrosion from setting in.

    I would rather have it in 9mm as the U.S. Army found out in tests conducted in 1945 (see the book the Inglis Diamond) that the .45 acp was such an anemic cartridge that it actually bounced off of a WWII helmet at a scant 35 yds while the 9×19 penetrated it at an astonishing 125 yards. Small wonder all but one of the European nations which are experts at killing each other chose the superior combat cartridge the 9×19.

    • kees March 10, 2014, 7:14 pm

      ignoring the unsubstantiated accusations against Para and their choice of components, my understanding about Stainless steel in fire arms, is the problem of “galling” when two pieces of stainless run against each other, not corrosion prevention. Not sure either about your claim regarding the 9mm versus the .45.
      Own two Para’s, 40 and 45. No complaints in 12 years. Sounds like you have a personal issue going on here.

      • petru Sova March 10, 2014, 9:20 pm

        Reading comprehension my boy. The article states the frame is aluminum so two pieces of stainless are not rubbing against each other. Also read the book “The Inglis Diamond” as it details the 1945 test of the 45acp against the 9mm.

        • Tom March 11, 2014, 10:35 am

          Actually, the article said Colt used an aluminum frame, not Para. On Para’s website it says both the frame and slide are stainless steel.

    • Don March 16, 2014, 11:38 pm

      I will take any .45 ACP. You take a WWII helmet and place it on your head. I will back up 35 yds and shoot you in the head. You will be dead.

  • Hob Goblin March 10, 2014, 2:06 pm

    I own two Paras – 1911A1 and a P10-45. My carry piece is the P-10 and it shoots like a dream as is on par with my Kimber Custom Carry II accuracy-wise and quite a bit smaller with a higher cap mag.

  • C1PNR March 10, 2014, 3:20 pm

    Plus 1 for a pre-Series 70 Combat Commander or Light Weight Commander with NO upgrades. I’ll pick what I want and leave the rest. No key locks, no rebounding hammer, no transfer bars, no magazine disconnect, in other words, NO lawyer crap to mess up a nice handling, reliable, self defense arm that goes bang when the trigger is pulled.

    • kees March 10, 2014, 7:11 pm

      ignoring the unsubstantiated accusations against Para and their choice of components, my understanding about Stainless steel in fire arms is the problem of “galling” when two pieces of stainless run against each other, not corrosion prevention. Not sure either about your claim regarding the 9mm versus the .45.
      Own two Para’s, 40 and 45. No complaints in 12 years. Sounds like you have a personal issue going on here.

  • pwalker March 10, 2014, 9:16 pm

    I love my para p-13 however a small crack has developed on the right side of the slide.calling para I was told their lifetime warranty would probably not cover this as the warranty is only on newer model guns.doesn’t sound like lifetime to me.Now I worry about shooting it.Para said it would be close to three hundred to fix,plus shipping.If they would warranty the gun they would have a supporter for life,instead they make me skeptical about their promises.

  • Pan March 11, 2014, 10:16 am

    Concur. Wish I had never invested the money in my Para Expert. Will not shoot to point of aim, even after a trip back to the Para factory. Non-standard sight dovetails, so there are few aftermarket sights and NO adjustable ones you can install. Only alternative is to have the slide milled for better sight installation. Have dressed it up a bit, match bushing, trigger job, target grips, but it’s like lipstick on a pig.For this money I could have had a Kimber.
    And yes, their customer service sucks big time. They are absolutely NOT interested in making the customer want to cheer for Para or recommend the company.Makes my laugh when I see their website which proclaims how proud they are of their product.

    • cato March 11, 2014, 2:39 pm

      I too found out how “hollow” their words are….quality service?
      Not even close,they have NOTHING to be proud of.
      Sales over service …. is their motto.
      Buyer Beware of the service after the sales. Very POOR to non-existent.

  • LTC (Ret) Bill Stratton March 24, 2014, 10:57 am

    I own both a 1970’s Colt Combat Commander and a Para Elite Carry. The Elite Carry has the same specs as the Para Commaner. This is one of the best pistols I have ever owned! Form, fit, and function is as advertised. I use it as my ccw weapon. There’s no comparison between the two ( Colt vs. Para) I did extensive due diligence prior to purchasing the Para and my patience paid off. The Para is quality through and through. It puts rounds exactly where you point it. I had no ftf’s or jams on range day. I fired 230gr paper punchers and 185gr HD rounds. Para also had a promo that included a range bag, cleaning kit and two 6 round magazines. I would not hesitate to buy another Para pistol. Two thumbs way up!

  • MikC April 16, 2014, 5:30 am

    Friends don not let friends buy Para

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