The Springfield Armory EMP supersedes the Colt Commander
Photos & Report
by John Markwell
Had someone told me when I was 40 or so years old, that I would replace my beloved .45ACP Colt Commanders with something smaller I would have told them to go pound sand. Well, I did, replace them that is; sort of. First it was a 9mm Commander, built by Kurt Wickman, to reduce the battering on my arthritic wrists. But, that wasn’t the end; it was just the beginning. Looking for something smaller than the Commander, I found the Springfield Armory 9mm EMP (Enhanced Micro Pistol).
I must acknowledge a long held affection for Colt’s Commander, the original aluminum-framed model in .45ACP, of which I have a few. Initially introduced in 1949-50 with an LW prefix in the serial number, this gun has been called many things over the years, but the most telling accolade was that it was “The Professional’s Choice.” Until the advent of the current crop of new age polymer guns, this was certainly true in many circles. Easy to carry at 26 ounces, and powerful, the .45ACP Commander set the standard for serious defensive concealment pistols for a couple of generations.
Advances in ammunition, most specifically bullet construction, have leveled the performance playing field somewhat between the big bores like the 45ACP and the smaller cartridges like the 9mm Parabellum. This is fortuitous for those of us who, as we’ve aged, find the recoil of the .45ACP in the lightweight Commander to be a bit more punishing than it was when we were younger. I know that I, and many of my shooting cronies, fall into this category. Add a touch of arthritis in the wrists and elbows, and you find shooting and carrying guns chambered for smaller cartridges has become the norm for many of us.
I purchased my Springfield Armory EMP second hand at an Ohio Gun Collector’s Association (OGCA) gun show in late 2007 or early 2008. The size of the little gun appealed to me and the weight was nearly the same as a Commander. Unlike most compact 1911s on the market which are just chopped full-size guns, the EMP was designed by Dave Williams (of the Springfield Custom Shop) from the ground up around the 9mm cartridge. The frame, magazines, and many other parts were redesigned and reduced in size to produce a truly micro-sized 1911. With night sights, beavertail grip safety, beveled magazine well, checkered mainspring housing, and an ambidextrous safety, the gun only lacked a checkered front strap to be complete (from my point of view).
Not being a big fan of the ambidextrous safety, this was immediately replaced with a Gunsite Low Mount thumb safety from Brownells (200 South Front St., Dept. GWK, Montezuma, IA 50171, phone; 800-741-0015, online: brownells.com). With this accomplished, I proceeded to do a test run of 500 rounds prior to depending on the little gun for everyday carry. Shooting Federal 124- and 147-grain Hydra-Shok and CCI/Speer 124-grain full metal jacketed ammunition, things went south completely after about 300 or 325 trouble-free rounds. Failures to feed, extract, and eject, in no particular order, became the norm. Light primer strikes, firing pin drag marks on primers, and bits of primer cup metal clogging the firing pin hole, leading to failures to fire, compounded the situation. A call was made to Springfield and the gun was returned in short order.
There was a delay of about three months in getting the pistol back because the folks at Springfield were waiting for EMP slides. My gun needed a new slide, among other fixes. In all fairness, I could have been back in business sooner, as the factory offered me a new gun instead of waiting for the replacement slide. However, the factory trigger pull was so good on my gun, I elected to wait rather than take a chance on another gun. After replacing the slide and firing pin (with a steel one), and re-contouring and polishing the feed ramp, the EMP was returned to me. While the gun was at Springfield Armory, I also had the front strap checkered 25 LPI. Now the gun was complete, or so I thought.
I started regularly carrying the EMP after it digested 500 trouble-free rounds; again a mix of ball and hollowpoint ammunition. All of my Commanders are two-tone finished in the classic (some call it old time) silver frame-blue slide motif. The EMP’s color scheme was the reverse of this; black hard anodized frame and silver slide. It just didn’t look quite right to me. After stripping the sights and guts from the EMP’s slide, it was delivered to Gerald Funkhouser of J’s Custom Coatings (email@example.com) for a black Cerakote treatment. The all black EMP slide was finished off with a new set of Novak Low mount sights; a plain black rear and a gold bead front.
I took the little EMP to the first IDPA match of the year after it was finished and ran another 100 plus rounds of 124-grain ball ammo through it with nary a bobble. After being passed around and shot by a fair number of other shooters at the range, the EMP easily passed the 850 round mark without a malfunction of any sort.
Now, a couple of years later, the final verdict on the EMP is that not only could it replace my Commanders as a daily carry gun, but it has (mostly). As this is written in December of 2010, the little 9mm has digested somewhere around 4,000 rounds of assorted factory ammunition and some handloads. Handloads that seem to have a fat case head (not completely re-sized for whatever reason) occasionally stop the slide just short of going into battery but with factory ammo the EMP is totally reliable. I’ve also found that total reliability depends on having a full power recoil spring assembly in the gun. I now change the spring/guide assembly out every couple of thousand rounds and keep a relatively new one in the gun for carry. The svelte gun is more accurate than it needs to be and is very comfortable to shoot. In either an El Paso Saddlery Yaqui Slide, the new Galco KingTuk (which allows concealment under a dress shirt), or an old cut down Gordon Davis 455 IWB holster, the EMP rides comfortably behind my right hip. The slightly shorter butt doesn’t print as much as the full sized grip of the Commander (especially with the flush fit magazine in place) and the shorter slide makes sitting way more comfortable (no butt pinch).
Being engineered specifically for the 9mm cartridge, the EMP’s magazines are smaller in all dimensions than normal 1911 magazines and require a magazine pouch sized to fit them. These smaller magazines also require a bit of practice in manipulation before efficient reloads are the rule. Also, why the Springfield folks put extended magazine pads on the bottoms of all the magazines of a pistol designed for concealed carry is beyond my understanding. Via the 1911 Forum, I found a fellow (user name Logman) who modifies the EMP magazine to fit flush with the magazine well of the pistol and also drills witness holes in the sides at the 4 and 8 round levels so one can check the number of rounds present. This modification reduces the magazine’s capacity from 9 to 8 rounds but I feel the trade off for a lower profile is worth it. I had two magazines so modified and have kept some with the base pads still attached that are carried for a possible reload.
When I go to the range the EMP almost always goes along and gets shot just a bit now days. I usually just run a few magazines through the EMP for fun and to rotate out my carry ammo by shooting a few drills on a steel silhouette target. Since I shoot a full sized 1911 in IDPA matches, maintaining familiarity with the little gun is not really an issue although manipulation is, somewhat. I often sign up for a re-shoot at matches and do this with the EMP to get a more practical workout with it. This is probably the most beneficial practice I get with the EMP as manipulating the little gun and its smaller magazines at speed still requires practice. In this respect the EMP is different from a full size 1911 and, as we all know, firearms manipulation is a perishable skill that requires repetition to maintain proficiency.
The Springfield folks definitely got it right when they put this mini gun into production. Now also available in .40S&W (with a steel frame) as well as 9mm, the EMP could well set a new standard for micro-sized 1911s. My EMP has been modified over a period of about two years and is now just about perfect for my tastes and needs. The little gun continues to be 100% reliable with any factory ammunition I feed it, and has almost completely superseded my Commanders as my regular carry piece; almost. If you are looking to downsize your carry gun but are wedded to the 1911 design as I am, an EMP in either 9mm or 40S&W could be the solution for you as it was for me. I think even John Browning would like this little gun.
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