Bill Laughridge's chopped down .45 is the worlds smallest 1911.

Originally published in
American Handgunner Magazine ©1998
Click on images to see larger size.

American firearms buyers seen to consumed with small and light. In response to this consumer demand, we’re seeing in arms race, especially in .45 caliber pistols, to see who can make the smallest, lightest possible gun – and still make it function. But sometimes it takes some pretty heavy duty engineering to shrink things beyond certain limits.

The Government Model, John Browning’s enduring contribution to American pistolcraft, is a pretty big gun. The original weighed 38ozs. And was really just fine up until 1949 when Colt introduced the Commander, which shaved 9.5ozs. off the weight and ¾" off the barrel length while keeping the frame dimensions the same.

The Lightweight Commander is, in my view, an ideal carry gun. But Colt took things a step further with the Officer’s ACP. On this one, both the barrel and frame were shrunk even further. Many said that the Officer’s was as small as you could go with a .45. Not quite.

Bill Laughridge at Cylinder and Slide Shop set out to shrink the envelope even more. "Our goal was to make the smallest .45 we could without sacrificing reliability," said Laughridge. Obviously he wanted a product to complete with the Para-Ordance P-10 and the mini-Glocks.

This latest custom offering is the Adventurer, and it is, to the best of my knowledge, the smallest .45 ACP automatic pistol out there. The closest comparison is the P-10, but the Adventurer isn’t fat or uncomfortable to hold.

The Adventurer uses Larry Seecamp's patented recoil spring system with a full length guide rod.

Laughridge begins with a Colt Commander in either stainless steel, or lightweight aluminum alloy, and then goes to work from there. The reductions are dramatic. A full inch is removed from the grip portion of the frame and a like amount from the side. The finished product is just a little smaller that the previous winner: the Officer’s ACP.

The final dimensions are:

  • Weight: 25.7 oz. (lightweight), 32.7 oz. (steel)
  • Barrel length: 3.2"
  • Overall length: 6.8" (cocked)
  • Height: 4.4"
  • Width: 1.25"

The model that we’re shooting is an early prototype and Laughridge has now decided to have some special parts made for the job. Both grip safety and mainspring housing have to shrink by roughly half an inch each. The grip safety of this gun is taken from a Para-Ordance P-10 and Laughridge reports that he will have a real beavertail made for the little gun.

You can’t believe what a difference a beavertail makes in the way the gun feels and handles. During these tests, I used a buddy’s Lightweight Officer’s SCP that was fitted with a custom beavertail safety for subjective recoil comparisons. The beavertail, while it doesn’t have any effect on actual recoil, distributes the force over your hand so much better that it feels as if recoil is reduced.


Big Obsticle

Novak sights and extended tang grip safety are Adventurer features. The mainspring housing is from a Para P10.

The big obsticle to shrinking a semiautomatic pistol is the recoil spring. While everybody thinks that springs moderate recoil, their primary function is actually different. Springs are energy storage devices and provide the force needed to close the slide, pick up a fresh round and hold the slide in battery. Recoil buffering is just a minor side effect.

Laughridge uses the patented Seecamp "Captive Recoil Spring System" which makes it possible to have a spring that is both effective and strong in a lot less space than would normally be needed.

While the Seecamp system does use two springs it is not the customary dual spring arrangement with a small diameter spring fitted inside a larger one. Instead it uses a "coupler" that works with two small springs to give an effective length much longer than it really is. I’ve studied all the technical stuff until my head is spinning and am still not able to completely explain how it works, but it does.

"The Seecamp system is one of the main reasons the Adventurer is so reliable." said Laughridge. Seecamp has licensed the system to Kahr and addition to Laughridge. Is the fact that Colt bought a license from Seecamp a hint of a new gun to come in 1998? I wouldn’t be surprised.


Real Thinking

Even the grips are a bit different. If you look closely you’ll see that there is no clearance cut for the mainspring housing pin. In other words, you’d have to take the grip off to remove the mainspring housing.

That’s not really a big deal, but it shows that some real thought went into this. Here’s why: when you remove an inch from the length of the grip, that clearance cut for the mainspring housing pin is now going to be right in the middle of the palm of your hand. It has sharp corners. It will hurt you. By making the grips smooth, a source of aggravation is eliminated.


Recoil Suspicions

Recoil was not at all bad with the stubby Adventurer, due to the diminished mass of the slide.

When I saw the size of the pistol and felt the weight, my expectation was that recoil would be fierce. It is not. "I get a charge out of watching someone shoot for the first time." Said Laughridge. "They’re expecting it to just rip their hand, but it doesn’t. It’s controllable. It’s really fun to see the look on their faces."

Anytime you reduce the size and weight of a gun, you pay a price in heavier recoil, but it’s far from unmanageable. As part of the test, I lined up five different guns and shot them all with the same ammo. Included were a full-size Government Model, lightweight Commander, Springfield Compact, Lightweight Officer’s ACP and finally the Adventurer.

On a subjective level the felt recoil of the two steel frame guns was considerably less, but I could not tell the difference in feel between the other three. The Adventurer did not seem to have any more recoil than the Lightweight Commander, although it does require a very firm grip since you’re only holding it with two fingers.

When I did some calculations of free recoil, the numbers confirmed my subjective judgment. Actually, it was a bit surprising to see that the free recoil of the Adventurer was exactly the same as that of the Lightweight Commander.

The reason is that even though the Adventurer weighs less, the velocity lost due to the shorter barrel kept the recoil about the same.


Shrunken Problem

Even though the Seecamp spring system is very effective, these shrunken pistols have a problem that can’t be entirely solved with springs. This isn’t limited to the Adventurer and will be found in any pistol that reduces the total amount of slide travel that is available.

The shorter, lighter slide reciprocates much more quickly that a full-size slide. On the Officer’s and Adventurer, it is necessary for the total slide travel to be reduced by about .25" to achieve the desire compactness. You wouldn’t think a quarter of an inch would make any difference, but it can dramatically affect reliability. Let me explain.

With the faster slide recoil velocity and the reduced slide travel, the magazine spring has to really hustle to get a round up there in time for the slide to strip and feed it. Sometimes it doesn’t. This is something that can happen to any compact pistol and it did happen a couple of times with the Adventurer.

It was a very specific, ammunition related problem and only happened with 185 gr. Hollowpoints and only on the last round in the magazine. The 185s are generally the highest velocity loads you’ll find and are simply not a good idea in this gun.

Laughridge advises against the use of +P ammunition in alloy frame pistols so none of those loads were included to point out that the only malfunctions experiences during this entire test were failures to feed the last round when shooting the 185s.

The test also included a large quantity of 230 gr. Loads, both ball and hollowpoint, which fed and functioned flawlessly. Laughridge reports that he is working on some additional modifications which may recover as much as .1" of the lost slide travel. Even thought the Adventurer was completely reliable with every other type of ammunition used in the test except the 185s, the change might correct the problem there.

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