|Home - Volume 2 (2007) - Issue 1 (Winter '07) - Pistol Review: STI Spartan|
A Gun Test by Steve Clark (Rio Vista Slim, )
STI International Inc., located in Georgetown, Texas, is a manufacturer of some of the most innovatively distinct 1911 style handguns in the world. The names associated with the founding and continued success of the company are impressive. Chip McCormick, Fred and Virgil Tripp, Sandy Strayer, Steve Nastoff, and Dave Skinner have all had a positive hand in the creation, development, and marketing of these fine pistols. While best known for prized IPSC/USPSA/ competition guns and a superlative line of defensive-type 1911 pistols, STI most recently broke new ground by introducing an "entry-level" 1911 called the "Spartan".
As defined by the Encarta dictionary, Spartan refers not only to strong, determined people but also, when used as an adjective, descriptively defines austere, simplistic frugality. The Spartan may be STI's entry-level 1911, but it has features found on many mid to upper tier offerings from other manufacturers.
The STI Spartan was shipped in a black, hard plastic, clam-shell container from MTM Case-Guard. The egg-crate foam lining held the pistol (wrapped in a plastic bag), one Novak 8 round magazine, a bottle of gun oil, a Wilson bushing wrench, an STI catalog, the owners' manual, and a small packet of desiccant.
Removing the pistol from the protective bag introduces one to a full-size (5 inch barrel), Parkerized 1911. That is the austere description!
Further examination reveals features that include an STI adjustable rear sight and an orange fiber optic front sight. Both of these are dovetailed into the top of the slide, with the rear sight having a Bomar cut. In addition, the rear of the sight face is serrated horizontally, to minimize glare.
The single thumb safety is serrated, with an extended shelf that allows for positive on/off engagement. The checkered slide stop also sports a slightly extended surface for easier operation.
The high rise beavertail grip safety (with palm swell) allows for a comfortable grip without the danger of hammer bite. The square STI combat hammer is wire EDM cut, and precision ground and polished using A-6 tool steel. This hammer comes standard with a half-cock notch.
The flat main spring housing on the STI Spartan is checkered at 20 lines-per-inch, and is constructed of a nylon polymer material. The magazine well is slightly beveled for easier insertion of the magazine.
The stocks on the STI Spartan appear to be some type of rosewood, with double diamond checkering and standard grip screws. Although the stocks do not fill the area toward the front strap as much as I prefer on my personal pistols, they do provide a comfortable, hand-filling grip.
The black, glass filled nylon polymer trigger is equipped with a set screw for over-travel adjustment. Repeated tests of the trigger with my RCBS trigger pull gauge showed an average release at 5.25 pounds, fresh from the box. A firing pin safety is not present on the STI Spartan.
The STI Spartan utilizes a steel cast frame, constructed of 4140 grade steel. The slide is constructed of extruded steel, with the same grade of metal. The slide has angled front and rear cocking serrations. These serrations are not sharp, but do provide a very good gripping surface for racking the slide or for press checking. The empty pistol weighs in at 35.3 ounces. Herein lies a major factor in the economical price of the Spartan. Both the frame and the slide are manufactured by Armscor in the Philippines. In addition, the barrel is also provided by Armscor. The barrel starts out as a piece of round bar stock, which is then dimensionally cut by a CNC machine, with the final rifling process taking place in a conventional manner. Inspection of the bore (after field stripping) revealed accurately cut, sharply distinctive rifling. The barrel bushing is match-fitted to the barrel for improved accuracy.
The use of Armscor as a contractor for these major parts allows STI to save a considerable amount of capital expenditure. In addition, finishing the pistol in a manganese phosphate (Parkerizing) outer surface saves a great deal of money over the use of other available methods and types of steel (such as stainless steel). These factors allow STI to pass the savings on to the consumer.
Unlike the pistols provided by some of its competitors, STI uses its own internal parts, and these are fitted at the company's state-of-the-art facility in Georgetown, Texas. During initial function and safety tests of the mechanisms of the gun, every action was smooth and positive. The trigger squeeze was non-gritty in its operation, and the thumb safety clicked into the on and off positions quickly, without any hesitation, drag, or grittiness.
The full length, one piece guide rod extends the entire length of the barrel on the STI Spartan. This fact makes it necessary to field strip the pistol in a less than conventional procedure. Making sure that the pistol is unloaded and pointing in a safe direction, lock the slide back and remove the empty magazine. While securing the slide with the right hand, slowly release the slide toward the take down notch in the slide, lining it up with the slide stop.
Using your left hand, push the slide stop shaft from the right side, and remove the slide stop. During this process, be sure to keep a firm grip on the pistol, as the recoil spring is under considerable pressure. Slowly remove the slide toward the front of the frame, altering your grip to secure the FLGR and recoil spring in their relative positions. After the frame is set aside, allow the rear of the FLGR to move slightly backwards toward the breech end of the barrel. Its progress will be stopped by the barrel link. Using a bushing wrench, depress the open ended reverse guide rod plug, and turn the barrel bushing in a clockwise direction, being sure to secure the guide rod plug. When the bushing clears the plug, it may be carefully removed toward the muzzle. The recoil spring will easily slide off the full length guide rod; the barrel bushing can be turned counter-clockwise and removed. The FLGR is then pulled up and back, toward the breech end of the barrel, and the barrel removed by pushing it out of the muzzle end of the slide. Naturally, this takes much longer to explain than to actually accomplish. The procedure, once learned, is easy to do. Reassembly is in reverse order, being mindful of the recoil spring tension when reapplying the spring plug, and taking care to secure the recoil spring assembly when attaching the frame to the slide.
(Note: Recently, I have encountered two 1911-style pistols that must be field stripped in this manner. While I have become accustomed to this procedure, I spent too many years field stripping these types of weapons using the conventional solid spring plug. As I grow older, I realize that my hand strength might not be what it once was. I am unfamiliar with the reasons why certain companies insist on using a full length guide rod that cannot be depressed with the gun in full (or even partial) battery. Personally, I would like to see these companies return to a more standard configuration, if that is possible within the constraints of their design of these pistols.
The final photograph in this section of the review will show the inside of the slide. There are few signs of tool marks, and the recesses for the barrel lugs are sharp and true.
The Firing Line
I approached the test firing segment of this test with a slightly different protocol than used on previous reviews. The presence of a fully adjustable rear sight meant that I would be able to suit the pistol to a particular load, rather than the other way around. I decided to do my usual "break-in" shooting with an eye toward finding which of the various 230 gr. factory rounds would be my "benchmark." If I determined that sight adjustment was needed, then that benchmark load would be used for that purpose. I used 230 gr. FMJ cartridges from Winchester, Federal American Eagle, Independence, and Wolf(*) to conduct this first series of tests.
*(Note: In spite of the collective "groan" that I heard when I mentioned this brand of ammo, two things convinced me to include Wolf ammunition in my test. First, the sheer volume of Wolf ammo sold in the U.S.A.(and most probably, the rest of the world) would indicate that a good number of folks are shooting that brand and not owning up to the fact. Secondly, I have gotten surprisingly good accuracy results with Wolf ammo in the past. No abnormal wear has been detected on the extractors in the pistols I've fired when using Wolf. Finally, I don't shoot enough of that brand for it to be a concern.
The STI Spartan was freshly cleaned and lubricated prior to the beginning of this first test. Upon completion of the cleaning, but prior to firing the pistol, the trigger was once again repeatedly tested. At this point, the sear released at 4.75 pounds of pressure.
This series of targets represents the results of shooting from 12 yards, two-handed, from a standing position. The target on the left was shot with 9 rounds of Winchester 230 gr. FMJ. The right hand target was engaged with 9 rounds of Independence 230 gr. FMJ. The target on the bottom was shot using 9 rounds of Wolf 230 gr. FMJ. (Remember what I wrote about Wolf accuracy?) The Shoot-N-See target in the middle was the result of firing 8 different rounds of various JHP and EFMJ cartridges. With the exception of the one flyer in the Winchester group, these shots were fairly consistent in their impact on the target. I was aiming for dead center bull's eye, so the next series of shots was fired using a 6 o'clock point of aim.
Eight rounds of Wolf 230 gr. FMJ, fired at a distance of 15 yards, using a two-handed hold. From a standing position, the sights were held at 6 o'clock on the center of the bull. Since the sights are correctly regulated on this pistol, and variation between types and weights of bullets was not affecting impact points appreciably, I decided to leave the adjustment screws on the rear sight alone. Setting up my shooting bench at 25 yards, I proceeded with my accuracy testing.
I fired a total of 200 rounds of the Winchester 230 gr. and 20 rounds of that brand's 185 gr. SilverTip HP. One hundred rounds of Wolf 230 gr. FMJ ammo was shot down range. Independence ammo accounted for another 50 rounds of 230 gr. FMJ, while I rounded out this group with 50 rounds of Federal American Eagle. In addition, I fired a total of 120 rounds of various jacketed hollow point ammo from Federal, Speer, Hornady, and Remington. I experienced NO malfunctions whatsoever!
I used the factory supplied Novak 8 round magazine for a majority of the shooting test, but I did substitute Colt and Chip McCormick magazines occasionally to test how the pistol handled those mags. All magazines performed well in the STI Spartan. Extraction and ejection of spent cartridge casings were positive, with the casings consistently thrown to my right, slightly behind my back.
A brief word about the lack of chronographic readings in this report is in order. The Competitive Edge Dynamics Millennium Chronograph that was graciously donated to M1911.ORG for these tests was being used by one of our other gun writers. I personally ordered my own Millennium this past week, but it is still in transit. Future tests will most assuredly contain complete chronographic readings for all loads used during evaluation of any particular pistol. I am grateful to CED for the past use of their fine instrument, and I look forward to many years of service from my own.
My goal in any gun test is to judge a pistol as fairly as possible. I try to objectively examine the gun as to its appearance, features, reliability, shooting qualities, and the materials used in construction. Where subjective comments are made, they are solely my own.
When I first removed the STI Spartan from its container, I was struck with the fact that the pistol felt lighter in my hand than comparable full size 1911 style guns. The weapon has an excellent balance, and comes to bear on the target quickly.
STI's use of components manufactured by ARMSCOR is a wise and prudent decision. Costs are held down, while taking nothing away from quality. I have not fired a 1911 equipped with fully adjustable sights since the late 1970s. The STI adjustable rear sight compliments the orange fiber optic front sight. Targets are quickly acquired, and the resulting accuracy is impressive.
All safety and operating controls on the pistol were tight, with no grittiness or lack of positive response. After over 500 rounds of ammo, the trigger consistently breaks at 4.75 pounds. I must admit than in actual use, it feels much lighter.
The Parkerized finish of the Spartan appears to have suffered no ill effects from my test. After field stripping the weapon for its final cleaning, I detected no appreciable wear on any of the slide rails or frame. I readily admit to not liking the take-down procedure necessary with this gun. Enough said!
The suggested retail price of the STI Spartan is $660.00. Prices, of course, are subject to many variables, and I have seen examples of the Spartan going for less. If anyone were to ask me for an opinion on the purchase of a full size 1911 with adjustable sights, high rise beavertail, and custom style thumb safety and slide stop, for an affordable price, I would not hesitate in recommending the STI Spartan.
I would like to thank everyone at STI International for providing M1911.ORG with the Spartan. Although Dave Skinner and Jay Dunlap were busy when I called, the staff was extremely helpful, and answered my numerous questions. Thanks to all of you for your kindness.
Once again, I am indebted to GREAT GUNS in Burleson, Texas. New store manager Bill Lamb put up with my constant calls and harassment about the Spartan, and conducted himself like the gentleman that he is. Thank you, Bill!
Finally, Charles Hardy of Competitive Edge Dynamics did everything within his power to get the Millennium chronograph to me for this test. We are sometimes left to the mercy of UPS/DHL and the weather. I understand completely, and look forward to receiving the chronograph this coming week. My sincere thanks go out to you, Charles.
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