ParaUSA GI Expert
ParaUSA introduces an entry-level, almost retro 1911
Reviewed by Harwood Loomis (e-mail Harwood@m1911.org)
It’s awfully hard to dislike a pistol that makes you shoot well. However … I am getting ahead of myself. First, the subject of this review is a new model introduced by ParaUSA at the 2009 S.H.O.T. Show in Orlando. ParaUSA calls it the GI Expert (model designation GI45).
What It Is
The new GI Expert is a significant departure from the norm for ParaUSA. It is a basic, no frills, full-size 1911 pistol aimed squarely at the entry-level market. As such, we expect to see it compared to the Springfield Armory GI, the Auto-Ordnance GI, and the Rock Island Armory GI. With a suggested list price of $599 and street prices well below that, the GI Expert is price competitive with the other brands’ “GI” pistols. Our task in this review was to wring out the pistol to find out if it is competitive in performance. As the evaluation unfolded, we were favorably impressed and, frankly, even a bit surprised by this new model’s performance.
The GI Expert is nothing more nor less than a back-to-basics 1911 pistol in the standard format of a 5” barrel on a single stack frame. A few years ago, the mere fact of Para offering a single stack 1911 was front page news of itself. Today, the company offers a wide range of 1911 pistols in both single stack and double stack configurations. What’s the big deal about one more 1911 from a company that offers over thirty models? For starters, the price. ParaUSA (formerly Para-Ordnance) is not known for selling “cheap” pistols. Most Para models sell for around $1,000 and up. With a suggested retail price of only $599, the new GI Expert offers shooters on restricted budgets a way to own a Para pistol without breaking the bank or taking out a second mortgage.
Secondly, although (as will be discussed below) the GI Expert is not an especially faithful rendition of the original M1911 or of an M1911A1 in a visual sense, mechanically and functionally it comes far closer to the original than any previous ParaUSA offering. In the process, it incorporates several steps back in time for ParaUSA.
The GI Expert ships in Para’s standard plastic box, with two 8-round magazines, an instruction book, a cable lock, a polymer bushing wrench, a small starter package of “Mil-Comm TW-25B” lubricant, and a warranty card. It does not appear significantly different from other ParaUSA pistols.
What makes the GI Expert a radical departure for ParaUSA? Immediately obvious is the lack of external “bells and whistles.” There is no ambidextrous thumb safety, no beavertail grip safety, no tapered “combat” sights, no front cocking serrations on the slide, no front strap checkering on the frame, no full-length guide rod. What there is, is a basic 1911 pistol.
The slide, in fact, is the same slide that Para-Ordnance was using in the early and mid-1990s, with M1911 style vertical cocking serrations on the flats and simple, stand-up 3-dot sights that are similar to original M1911 sights but far more visible. Like all ParaUSA pistols, the GI Expert incorporates a Series 80 style firing pin safety mechanism, but otherwise the slide is straight 1911. This extends even to the extractor; the GI Expert skips Para’s proprietary and patented Power Extractor in favor of a standard, one-piece 1911 style extractor.
The barrel looks from the outside like all ParaUSA barrels. It is stainless steel, and appears identical to all ParaUSA match grade barrels. But … field strip the pistol, and something new (or old) appears. The barrel is a standard profile 1911 barrel. Historically, all Para-Ordnance and ParaUSA pistols prior to the GI Expert have used barrels with an integral feed ramp. The use of a standard 1911 barrel is a first for ParaUSA. It represents at once a departure for the company and also a move to a no-frills pistol that can be easily serviced by any competent gunsmith or armorer, without having to wait for special, proprietary parts to arrive from the factory.
The muzzle utilizes a 1911-standard barrel bushing and recoil spring plug, backed up by a standard recoil spring and short recoil spring guide. No one-piece, full-length guide rods, reverse recoil spring plugs, or cone-shaped barrels here (thankfully).
The trigger incorporates a polymer shoe, which is drilled with three holes in emulation of lightened aluminum competition triggers. We have to wonder if the amount of plastic represented by the three small holes actually accomplishes any saving in weight. Makers of serious tactical 1911s have noted that holes in the trigger can allow foreign objects to interfere with the trigger. Since it appears that the GI Expert is intended to appeal to those looking for a serious, “working” pistol, and since Para-Ordnance in the past used triggers with solid polymer trigger shoes, we conclude that the three holes are nothing but a marketing ploy, and one which we believe is a mistake. Fortunately, triggers are not expensive or difficult to replace. To its credit, the trigger does not have an over-travel adjustment screw, so that’s one less thing to go wrong or to be “adjusted” out of adjustment by well-intended but unqualified amateur gunsmiths.
The sights on the GI Expert are, as noted above, 3-dot high profile sights. The rear sight appears identical to the rear sight on a pre-ban P12.45 I owned a number of years ago. However, where the front sight on my old P12.45 was a tenon base, the front sight on the GI Expert is dovetailed. The white dots are clean and a bright white, providing excellent visibility under almost all conditions other than pitch darkness. (More about that later.)
Retro All the Way (Almost)
The thumb safety has no extended paddle or anything fancy. It is not a correct “GI” pattern, with the tiny projection only at the front of the safety, but it is a utilitarian “tear drop” style thumb safety such as those used by Para-Ordnance a decade and more ago, and as has been (and is) used by several other 1911 manufacturers on various models. There is nothing here to snag on clothing or to break off if caught on something. It’s clean, it’s neat, and it gets the job done. It has worked well for many years, a fact which apparently did not escape Para’s attention.
The slide stop, likewise, is a throwback to a standard style. Serrated rather than checkered, it is otherwise like the standard military M1911A1 slide stop. Again, there is no extended paddle to catch on clothing or a holster, or to snap off at an inconvenient moment. The standard slide stop has been doing the job on countless 1911s for 98 years; ParaUSA simply chose to use a proven design here rather than look for ways to “fix” something that wasn’t broken.
The grip safety is a bit of an anomaly. It is not a GI, M1911A1 profile grip safety, but it also isn’t a beavertail. In fact, it is the same profile as the grip safeties used by Para-Ordnance in the 1990s and early 2000s. Overall, it is essentially a GI grip safety but with a “bite” machined out of the top surface to allow space for a shorter, “rowel” style Commander hammer spur to reach full cock. Colt never (to this writer’s knowledge) mated a Commander hammer to a Government size pistol, but a decade ago all of Para’s pistols used traditional, round ring Commander style hammers. This profile grip safety allowed the use of the Commander style hammer without needing a beavertail. It worked then, and it works now.
Sadly, in my estimation, ParaUSA elected to fit the GI Expert with their standard, lightened, elongated loop “combat” hammer rather than a standard GI spur hammer or even a traditional Commander hammer. The juxtaposition of this modern, ultra-light hammer on a pistol with otherwise traditional lines and accoutrements simply looks “wrong.” The modern hammer looks entirely out of place on this near classic appearing pistol. Fortunately, like triggers, hammers can be easily replaced.
How Does It Shoot?
Very well, thank you.
In conducting this test, we were faced with an unexpected and unprecedented situation regarding ammunition. Not only are prices at an all-time peak … often you simply can’t find ammunition. And the ammunition that seems hardest to find is precisely the kind of low-end practice range fodder that typically makes up the bulk of what gets run through a test pistol. To address this, we had to find a way to run a lot of rounds through the pistol, without having a lot of rounds available. The solution: we went into the dim recesses beneath the work bench and found enough variety of “name” ammunition to make for a representative sampling through the chronometer and for accuracy testing. To ensure that sufficient rounds were run through the pistol to give us some idea of reliability, we left the pistol at Chris’ Indoor Shooting Range and gave Chris permission to allow any of the serious range regulars who wanted to try the pistol, to do so. The only condition we imposed was that the shooters should keep track of how many rounds they put through it, and note any malfunctions.
Beyond our own testing, two other members at the range combined to run slightly more than 300 rounds through the pistol .. with no malfunctions noted. We didn’t clean the pistol at all during this time. In fact, after one of these gentlemen had just run 200 rounds through the pistol in one session, Chris called me to ask if I wanted the pistol cleaned. After a moment’s hesitation, I decided to let it go and see what might happen. What happened was … nothing. The pistol just kept on truckin’.
The tabulation of our range results are shown in the table below:
Ammo for this review was donated by Sellier & Bellot, Advanced Tactical and Federal.
The range results were shot at a distance of 25 yards, indoors, from a rest. While the results are, in my opinion, perfectly acceptable (especially for an “entry level” pistol), in fairness to the pistol I should point out that the range is an older facility and the lighting, especially at the benches where you need decent lighting to see the sights, is less than optimal. Combine that with the age of the shooter’s eyes and I believe the GI Expert acquitted itself very creditably.
The ParaUSA GI Expert, in this writer’s opinion, represents a whale of a bargain. Para-Ordnance has always had a reputation for excellent barrels and excellent accuracy. To bring essentially the same barrels and the same accuracy to an entry level pistol that should sell on the street for under $500 is almost unprecedented. And the fact that the GI Expert has been more or less “reverse engineered” back to standard 1911 configuration, with a conventional barrel and conventional extractor, makes it even better. Owners of Para-Ordnance pistols can attest that obtaining proprietary Para parts can be problematic. Here, then, is the solution: A standard configuration 1911 pistol from ParaUSA, at a truly affordable price, and with none of the proprietary and difficult to find Para-specific parts found in their other pistols.
Overall, we put approximately 550 rounds through the pistol. The only malfunction occurred early in the testing, when the slide failed to lock back on empty after firing some of my powder-puff reloads. The pistol proved itself to be reliable, not only with ball ammunition but also with different types of hollow point. I regret that we didn’t test it with some lead semi-wadcutter ammunition, but those are generally used for target shooting and since that does not appear to be the primary focus for this pistol, perhaps the omission can be overlooked.
The GI Expert is assembled as tightly as I would want a pistol to be. The slide-to-frame fit shows zero play at the back of the slide, and only a barely perceptible amount of movement at the front. As best we could measure the play with a dial caliper, the “slop” was .003” vertically and .010” horizontally. The barrel-to-bushing clearance was .001” and the bushing-to-slide clearance was .0015”. Those are generally considered to be “match grade” tolerances. To allow for the tightly fitted barrel bushing, the barrel has an outside diameter at the muzzle of .580” but 3/8” back from the muzzle the barrel is tapered down to .575 to allow a bit of additional clearance when the barrel tilts and links down. Despite the close fit, the barrel bushing can be removed without the bushing wrench. I consider this an important feature for a serious “working” pistol.
In summary, the ParaUSA GI Expert is an excellent 1911 that appears to offer far more than its entry level price suggests. The pistol is tightly fitted, the barrel exhibits exceptional accuracy, and the pistol kept running through the duration of our testing with no cleaning or maintenance required.
What I Would Change?
Being fundamentally a no-frills, back-to-basics person, I appreciate a no-frills- back-to-basics tool of any kind. One of the things about many contemporary 1911s that sets my teeth on edge is the combination of front cocking serrations and cocking serrations designed primarily to look different, and only secondarily for function. I like the original, vertical serrations as designed by John Browning and as used on the military M1911 and M1911A1. So it was a real joy to see this new ParaUSA pistol come through with the classic serrations on the back of the slide. But …
… The hammer and the trigger have to go. I’m sorry, ParaUSA, but they simply aren’t appropriate for this pistol. Just to satisfy my curiosity, I spent a few minutes at the bench with some hammers out of my spare parts cabinet, to see if a simple replacement would improve the appearance of the pistol. I think it would. I first fitted a genuine, old style Para-Ordnance Commander hammer. Here’s what it looked like:
Next, I fitted a reproduction wide-spur GI hammer. To my great pleasure, I discovered that the spur would clear the end of the grip safety tang—which confirmed my theory that the Para grip safety is essentially a GI safety with a bite machined out of the top. Although I am generally partial to the round-ring, Commander style hammer, I have to admit that on a full-size, near classic 1911 such as this the GI wide-spur hammer is the better choice.
In opening this review, I wrote that it is hard to dislike a pistol that makes you shoot well. I was not referring to the bench accuracy results shown in the table above. Quite apart from the results attained from a rest, the GI Expert simply shoots well.
Chris’ Indoor Shooting Range hosts small, informal IDPA type “mini” competitions on Thursday evenings. I have been a sporadic entrant in these competitions, entering not with any expectation of winning but just because it’s the only opportunity to shoot from any position other than standing at a bench, or sitting at a bench. Being at least a decade (and probably more like a generation – or two) older than the other competitors, I always tell them that my role there is to move everyone else up a notch in the standings. On top of that, as a result of an injury, I hadn’t competed for a period of three months or so. But … I found myself on the way to the range on a recent Thursday evening, with a range bag in the car but no pistol. The plan was to close out my experience with the GI Expert by scrounging a couple of 10-round, single stack magazines and seeing how the GI Expert would perform under the minimal pressure of our informal combat shoots.
The Para GI Expert in action
We went through four rounds on the course of fire, shooting almost exactly 100 rounds total. I was using some Chip McCormick 10-round Power Mags borrowed from multiple sources. The GI Expert performed flawlessly, without a single hiccup. What was far more impressive, to me, was that when the results were tallied up I had placed sixth out of ten entrants. All of the people I beat were considerably younger and were regular competitors. At least one of them is, I believe, a police officer. The GI Expert made it easy to shoot the course, even after not having competed for a period of months. The pistol made me competitive. What more could anyone ask?
M1911.ORG is deeply indebted to Sellier & Bellot, Federal Premium, and Armscor Precision (Advanced Tactical) for providing ammunition for use in this review. Especially at this time of uncertain availability, the contribution of ammunition to our testing was invaluable and is greatly appreciated.
We are also grateful to Chris’ Indoor Shooting Range for the use of the facility, and especially for allowing us to close off half the range in order to conduct the chronograph portions of our testing.
You may discuss this review here: http://forum.m1911.org/showthread.ph...288#post656288
Trigger Pull: 3.88 pounds (1.76 kg)
Overall Length 8.63" (219.2 mm)
Overall Height: 5.25" (133.4 mm)
Overall Width: 1.25" (31.8 mm)
Barrel Length: 5.00" (127.0 mm)
Sight Radius: 6.50" (165.1 mm)
Sights: ParaUSA High Profile
Weight w/ Mag: 34.0oz (0.96 kg)
Magazine Capacity: 8 Rounds
Grips: Molded Polymer
Finish: Black ParaKote
CA Compliant: NO
MA Compliant: NO
Para USA, Incorporated
10620 Southern Loop Boulevard
Charlotte, NC 28134-7381
Tel: (954) 202-4440
Web Site: www.para-usa.com
Sellier & Bellot USA Incorporated
Shawnee Mission, KS 66207-0307
Tel: (800) 960-2422
Fax: (229) 723-8748
Web Site: www.sb-usa.com
Federal Cartridge Company
900 Bob Ehlen Drive
Anoka, MN 55303
Tel: (763) 323-2300
Web Site: www.federalpremium.com
Advanced Tactical Firearms, Incorporated
150 N. Smart Way
Pahrump, NV 89060
Tel: (775) 537-1444
Fax: (7750 537-1446
Web site: http://www.advancedtactical.com/
Competitive Edge Dynamics USA
P.O. Box 486,
Orefield, PA 18069-0486
Orders: (1) 888-628-3233
Phone: (1) 610-366-9752
Fax: (1) 610-366-9680
Web site: http://www.CEDhk.com
Chris’ Indoor Shooting Range
2458 Boston Post Road
Guilford, CT 06437
Tel: (203) 453-1570
Fax: (203) 458-1402