By Paul Helinski, Editor
The finer things in life are sometimes just those things that technology can’t capture. If a gun is a classic, like the 1911, modern updates are great to carry an effective design forward. But there is a magic to the old guns that Cerakote and Picatinny rails can’t match for some. Doug Turnbull has been restoring classic 1911s, cowboy guns and classic shotguns for decades, with the correct bluing, case coloring and even the original roll engravings. If you missed our first article on Turnbull restorations, you really should read it. The problem with the old guns, though, is that there are only so many of them that are good candidates for restoration. And for 1911s, the further we get from the year 1911, the more any 100% original gun will be worth, regardless of condition. That is why Doug decided to bring the 1911 into his family of newly manufactured firearms, a list that includes the Winchester 1886, Colt Peacemaker style revolvers, and we recently reviewed the Turnbull steel version of the AR-15. If you have always wanted a 1911 that looked, felt and worked like a gun new in the box circa pre-1920, the Turnbull 1911 is the most accurate gun you could possibly own. We got to shoot Doug’s version of this modern classic, and sure enough, the safety is even stiff. These guns are available directly from Turnbull Restorations for $1,950.
At the heart of the new Turnbull 1911 is the finish of the gun. It is called Carbona bluing, and it is the original blackish type of bluing found on all of the guns of the early 20th Century. All of the metal parts of the gun are blued in this way, except the magazine which is half blue, like the originals from the teens, which were the first 1911s on the market. The hammer, trigger, grip safety and thumb safety on the Turnbull 1911 are also period-correct, as are the internals of the gun. The grips are hand-cut double diamond checkering, and holding this gun, you would swear that you just opened a box from Colt in 1918. Even the screws are super polished to a look and feel that you just can’t capture with a modern firearm.
It always amazes me when someone says that they don’t shoot their old and collectible firearms that have been used and shot before landing in this owner’s hands. As long as you stick to Hoppes and Rem-Oil, there isn’t much harm that you will do to a gun that has seen hundreds or even thousands of rounds. It isn’t like if you ever sell it the buyer is going to ask you the “round count,” so for heaven’s sake, shoot your guns! This gun, however, is new, and if you buy them relatively soon, you will receive a “new classic” with a low serial number. Our test gun is #27. That feels like a huge ouch to shoot it, because with this much attention to detail and the now famous name of Doug Turnbull on the gun, these “new in the box” 1911s are sure to become collectible 20 years from now. But shoot it we did, and you definitely get that Al Capone feeling at the range. The sights were/are dreadful on these guns. The safety always starts out really stiff, and the trigger pull has some creep, but 1918 is 1918, and a slicked up Colt was not what people bought back then. Al Capone’s Colt 45 felt just like this one to shoot, and that’s pretty cool.
The only thing you will not experience that an original purchaser may have back in 1918 is a gun that doesn’t work right. Our test gun ran flawlessly with both roundball and flat faced Federal Guard Dog carry ammo. Turnbull Restorations has never been a “gunsmith” type of shop. You don’t send them guns to slick up or fix. Mostly they just restore the finishes, grips/stocks and the correct markings on the guns. That is why I was concerned that these newly made 1911s would not work so well, but my concerns were unfounded. We didn’t have any failures at all, and the accuracy of the gun was actually pretty good. That should tell you that these are not “slapped together” guns with wide-open tolerances made only for the sake of a pretty finish. Both reliability and accuracy only combine when a gun is made to exacting specifications of a fairly tight tolerance. I picked the Federal Guard Dog ammo because it is an extra light bullet, due to a plastic insert inside the slug. If the gun cycles well and shoots well with a light and flat bullet, you aren’t going to see a problem with it regardless of ammo choice.
The only caveat to this gun is that you have to wipe it down. Otherwise your fingerprints will be immortalized in rust. Early bluing is really just rust itself, or oxidation technically. You don’t have to bathe them in oil to keep them nice, but a gun cloth with some gun oil is an absolute requirement. I use Rem-Oil on all of my old-type bluing guns and, combined with a Goldenrod in my safe, have never had an issue with everlasting fingerprints. You can see from the pictures here how quickly the prints build up on the gun from range handling, if you choose to shoot yours, of course. They are also making a version of this gun for Cowboy Action Shooting in the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) class called “Wild Bunch,” and you can have your SASS number put on the gun as the serial number.
You will not find the Turnbull guns at your local dealer. Contact them directly, and fair warning, there is usually a waiting list, so if you want one of these guns for Christmas you might want to get right on it this morning.