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November 30 : 2010  
Editor's Notebook: Colt's 21st Century Commander
by Rich Grassi

The 21st Century Commander has the classic rollmark on the slide, checkering on the front strap.
Designed by authority Wiley Clapp, the Colt 21st Century Commander was built to be "Everything you need, with nothing you don't." It's built like the 1950s original Commander that Colt intended to replace the soon-to-be-Century old Government Model - the barrel is ¾" shorter, at 4 ¼", with the slide shortened to fit. The frame is made of an aluminum alloy making the piece lighter than the all-steel GM. The gun takes the standard 1911 magazine originally meant for seven-rounds of .45 ACP.

I was aware of the gun, a special run for Talo, Inc., last year. In an email exchange with Ken Hackathorn, he mentioned that he had one and carrying it took him back to the "old days." That's due to the use of the lightweight (or standard) Commander with the minimalist approach to customizing.

As an example, the sights are Wayne Novak's low mount. It's specially cut for geezers like me, according to Wiley, with the extra-wide notch aft. This gives plenty of daylight on either side of the front sight for us old-timers who need more light to see. The front has a brass bead.

The aluminum alloy frame didn't cut down on recoil, but good grip and stance help tame the beast.
There are front- and rear slide serrations meant for operating the piece. It should go without saying, but it can't - if you use the front grooves, keep your mitt away from the muzzle. We're seeing more and more divots, nicks, burns and holes in hands than we used to.

The mainspring housing is from Smith & Alexander. Colt's new beavertail grip safety is on this gun and it has the "memory bump" for those of us who still shoot "thumbs high." The safety is the original 1911 style "tab on a plate." The bottom of the thumb tab is serrated as is its top. The stocks are Tactical Ovals, more rounded and hand-filling at the rear than the front. The stylized checkering on the front of the stocks is known as fingerprint checkering.

The front strap is checkered 25 lines to the inch by Pete Single. When I first handled the gun before going to the range, I reflected that the checkering might be a bit rough. During range fire, I failed to notice the checkering at all, except that the gun didn't move in my hand!

I used three different loads in initial range testing. I found that the 21st Century is more than happy to consume Federal "Gold Medal Match" 185 grain jacketed semi-wadcutter "softball." This round with a short length overall is a feeding challenge for most 1911-platform guns. It gave the Wiley Commander no trouble and produced a 2 ½" group on demand at 25 yards from standing unsupported. To say it's quite accurate is just a silly understatement.

The Wiley Commander has no full-length guide rod.
The soft bull's-eye load wasn't hard on the shooter either. The gun did run a little slow with the gentle paper-cutter. The Black Hills 230 grain JHP load and the Winchester 230 grain "Brass-Enclosed Base" range ammo was somewhat more stout. I didn't use +P loads in the gun, not because it would hurt it but because the blast and kick aren't worth the effort. Keep the loads to standard pressure and you can shoot quicker, tighter clusters on target.

I shot the gun on a paper target styled after the IDPA target. It was no real chore to keep hits in the "-0" circle. This target has the "upside down" triangle in the head box to indicate the intraocular target zone. I dropped a single hit out of there on a "failure to stop" drill.

Carried in the Kramer Belt Scabbard, the lightweight pony gun was a comfortable and comforting addition to the wardrobe. Wearing it in public caused no obvious panic as the Kramer holster helped discreetly pack the load.

If you want to buy the Wiley Clapp Commander and keep it pristine and unfired, that's your right. This one got carried and shot because it would have been too bad not to. It's a tool, there to be put into service. The price is reasonable, the gun is a little more accurate than a service gun needs to be and it's stone reliable.

Get a look at the Colt 21st Century Commander at Kramer leather is available from

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