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Delightful diversion: testing Kimber's new rimfine was a tough job, but someone had to do it

I have been called a dinosaur, curmudgeon and hard to impress. All of those are sometimes--but surely not always--true. And today was one of those fun filled days at the range when I allowed pleasure to take priority over work but I could still, with a perfectly clear conscience, say I was on the job.

The cause is Kimber's new Rimfire Target model pistol. A full-size 1911 in .22 caliber. Almost since it's invention, people have wanted to make the .45 into a .22. The most common reason given was for economical training. In 1931 Colt introduced the Ace which was a faithful 1911 in all but caliber and blowback operation. Unfortunately the steel slide was pretty heavy for the modest recoil of the .22 long rifle cartridge and it wasn't hugely successful. Today a Colt Ace (colloquially called a "straight ace" is a very desirable collector's piece.

In the early 1930s famed inventor David Marsh Williams developed a floating chamber device. It was adapted to the Ace and the Service Model Ace (SM) was born in 1935. The floating chamber gave a sharp recoil impulse to the slide very much like the gas piston that made the M-1 carbine work and provided Williams' nickname.

It is often erroneously stated that the floating chamber provided the same "kick" as the .45. While it is true that recoil is increased with the floating chamber (that's why it works) it is far less than the real thing. The floating chamber made the gun reliable so it could fulfill the promise of economical practice. Sadly though, it didn't turn out to he particularly accurate.

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Birth Of The Conversion

Since all the differences in the Service Model Ace were in the top half, it didn't take king for Colt to figure out that they could sell that paint to people who already owned a Government Model frame. And so the 22 45 Conversion Kit was born in 1938. Originally the Conversion Kits were serial numbered--beginning at U1--but that practice was discontinued after World War II. The Ace models disappeared from the line after the war, except for a small run of SM pistols in the early '70s, but the Conversion Kit has been an off and on product ever since.

The concept of being able to switch back and forth has a real appeal and there is also much to be said for using the same basic grip for a .22 pistol in Bullseye competition. High Standard copied the grip angle in their "Military" models beginning in the 1960s, or you could buy wood grips that effectively changed S&W;'s Model 41 into the shape of a Government Model.

There were also several independent efforts to make conversion units. Perhaps the best known of these are those made by gunsmiths Bob Day and Fred Kart who manufactured units that were capable of accuracy on a par with the best bullseye guns. There were also plinker units characterized by those of Ceiner. In fact Kimber briefly marketed some of his units under their own name (a not uncommon practice).

Kimber's flirtation with selling a conversion unit demonstrated that there is a good market for this type of product so they began to work on something they could call their own. The end product has a barrel bushing just like the real guns, field strips the same way and is a real hoot to shoot.

Most of the aftermarket conversion units use an abbreviated slide (most are aluminum but Kart's is steel) with a barrel liner permanently installed within a housing. There is nothing wrong with this approach but it really doesn't look like a .45. I defy you to say that about the Kimber for if you don't look at the muzzle (or pick it up) it looks exactly like their other "target" model pistols.

The obvious changes are dictated by the .22 cartridge and result in a blowback operated pistol with an aluminum slide. One of the shortcomings of the original Ace was a steel slide and even when Colt switched to the floating chamber this amounted to solving one problem and creating another for function was easier to achieve but accuracy wasn't.

The original Ace pistols and subsequent conversion units had an ejector that was a separate part. The standard ejector was too far to the side to hit the smaller .22 rim so the new ejector lay in a groove and complicated the assembly a bit. To the point that more than a few got bent if they weren't put in just right. Kimber's solution is elegant. There is a slit on the side of the barrel and the sturdy ejector is permanently staked in place. I'm sure you could bend it if you tried, but it does not complicate field stripping in any way.

Why Not Light?

Since Kimber already had alloy frames in production it was an easy decision to offer a complete pistol in addition to a conversion. The response was surprising to them, for orders for complete guns far outnumbered those for conversion units. The finished product weighs a mere 23 ounces but is a full size government model in every way. The frame is not modified at all. The slide looks just like current Kimber production with the external extractor and the only giveaway, other than the weight, is an obviously different firing pin.


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