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1911 Hot Rods

Triton has just changed owners and reportedly is still committed to the .450 SMC concept. It is an interesting variation on the .45 Super, and we will just have to wait and see if the cartridge makes it in the marketplace.

.40 Super

Factory Ballistics
135 grain at 1,800 fps
165 grain at 1,600 fps
200 grain at 1,300 fps


The .40 Super
This Triton cartridge did make it into production. STI produces complete handguns for the .40 Super, and aftermarket barrels are available from sources such as EMF Firedragon. I recently tested an EMF barrel in this caliber and was impressed with the velocity and consistency turned out by the Triton factory loads. A 135-grain bullet at 1,800 fps is quite an accomplishment in a conventional-size autoloader.

This cartridge is not simply a .45 Super necked down to .40 caliber. It uses a longer case, which makes for a longer neck to hold the bullet firmly, and, as mentioned, it uses a small primer pocket. Small rifle primers are recommended.

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460 Rowland

Factory Ballistics
185 grain at 1,550 fps
200 grain at 1,450 fps
230 grain at 1,340 fps


The .460 Rowland
The .460 Rowland, developed by Johnny Rowland and Clark Custom Guns, is a sixteenth inch longer than the .45 ACP to prevent chambering in unmodified guns. This is a very powerful cartridge with recoil to match. Clark Custom offers a conversion kit consisting of a barrel with compensator and a 24-pound recoil spring to reduce battering of your 1911. This cartridge is the most suitable of any mentioned here for hunting medium game, provided you can find a suitable bullet that will feed well yet hold together at high velocity.

The .400 Cor-Bon
The .400 Cor-Bon is one of the more useful of the current crop of .45 ACP offspring. There are faster rounds, but the .400 Cor-Bon is simply easy to get along with. You don't need extra-heavy springs or tricked-out guns for this round--just drop a .400 Cor-Bon barrel in your favorite .45 and you are good to go.

It is nothing more than the .45 ACP necked down to .40 caliber. Cor-Bon recently switched to small primer pockets, but it works fine with the large primer pockets. Cases are easily formed by running a .45 ACP case through a .400 Cor-Bon sizing die.

.400 Cor-Bon

Factory Ballistics
135 grain at 1,450 fps
150 grain at 1,350 fps
165 grain at 1,300 fps


Performance is on a par with the 10mm, yet pressures are much milder. Factory ammo is loaded to +P .45 levels, but the lighter bullet weights make recoil comparable to .45 hardball loads. Felt recoil is a little sharper but still very controllable.

.38 Casull
In the 1963 issue of Guns & Ammo, a new wildcat cartridge, the .38-45 Clerke, was first introduced to the general public. It was simply the .45 Auto case necked down to accept .355-inch bullets. It might seem logical to assume the idea was to get higher velocities from the Colt handgun, but the cartridge was actually developed as a light-recoiling target round. It was so light-recoiling that many 1911s would not function if the loads were kept within .45 ACP pressure limits, which most were. Remember, this was the pre-Detonics era. The .38-45 concept was soon gone but not entirely forgotten.

Dick Casull gave new life and a large boost in power to the .38-45 concept a couple of years ago with the introduction of the .38 Casull and a specially designed 1911 to propel it. The Casull cartridge has the usual beefed-up case and accepts small rifle primers, plus the rim is slightly rebated to aid in reliable feeding. The Casull Model CA 3800 has a ramped barrel to more fully support this stronger case head and a heavy six-inch slide and 30-pound recoil spring to soak up recoil.

.38 Casull

Factory Ballistics
124 grain at 1,800+ fps
147 grain at 1,650+ fps


Now that we have looked at the current cartridges offered to improve on .45 ACP ballistics, the question is raised: Are they really an improvement? This admittedly unreformed improver would have to say no in regard to self-defense. In my opinion--and feel free to disagree--the .45 ACP still offers the best combination of power and controllable recoil for defensive use against two-legged adversaries. The hotter rounds do expand the capabilities of the .45 platform, however. For example, I use the .400 Cor-Bon when I want more expansion and a flatter trajectory (read: more velocity). In other words, the .400 Cor-Bon makes for a dandy short-range varmint load when I am hiking around in the desert.

This is not to say that the .40 caliber is not a formidable man-stopper. If you subscribe to the theory that the fast, little .40 is better than the big, slow .45, then the .400 Cor-Bon or .40 Super would be an improvement for you.

Or, you may feel .45 is the right caliber but it just needs more speed. Then the .45 Super and .450 SMC would be improvements by your standards. Be prepared to sacrifice controllability, though, meaning slower follow-up shots due to increased recoil.

I personally only carry one of the hot .45s when the threat includes four-legged beasts. A .45 Super with 230-grain Hornady XTPs, or perhaps flatnosed nonexpanding bullets, can be a real comfort on a dark night when camped in black bear country. Likewise, if you want to seek out four-legged critters and insist on using a 1911 for hunting, the .460 Rowland delivers even more power. For the record, some who peddle these rounds have advertised them to deliver the power of a .44 Magnum. They don't.

Most of them do deliver substantial power and, as a result, substantial recoil. The .400 Cor-Bon is the most controllable of the bunch, while the recoil of the .40 Super, .45 Super or .450 SMC is quite stout. Even with the built-in compensator, the .460 Rowland is a handful.

This not only makes for slow follow-up shots but can also damage a handgun not properly set up to deal with the extra power. Heavier recoil springs and Shok-Buffs offer protection for the frame from the rearward motion of the slide, but the heavy spring also slams the slide forward with more force, which can increase the odds of bullet setback. When using these heavy recoil springs, do not press the slide release and let the slide slam forward. Grasp the slide with the off hand, pull rearward and release. This will save wear on the slide-release notch.

The trick is to use a recoil spring that matches the load. A good indicator is to see how far your empties are tossed. Shoot some full-power hardball loads in your gun with the factory spring, and see how far the cases are ejected. Since the ejector and extractor are the same, cases should not be tossed much farther with the hotter loads and a proper spring. I say "much farther" because slide velocity increases in proportion to muzzle velocity, which tends to add more snap to the ejection. A .40 Super, for example, will toss cases farther than a .45 Super even with proper recoil-spring tension.

There is one other potential problem with these hot proprietary rounds. Most of the bullets available for them were designed to expand properly at lower velocities. If you take a .40 caliber bullet designed to expand at 1,000 to 1,400 fps in a .40 S&W; and push it to 1,650 to 1,800 fps in a .40 Super, don't be surprised if that bullet disintegrates on impact.

Those who accept the fact that there is no free lunch and who realize that the extra power of these cartridges comes at a price can get along quite well with any of the hot rounds listed here. I am sure that none of them will ever approach the popularity of the venerable old .45 ACP, but they have their uses and bring a new level of power to the 1911 and other midsize autoloaders.

If you are the kind of shooter who must have magnum rifles, 300-horsepower automobiles and 100-proof whiskey, then you may oil up the standard .45 ACP barrel and tuck it into storage. The rest of us, though, will still shoot the .45 most of the time and only trot out the hot ones when we are feeling adventurous or genuinely need the extra power.

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