Ed Brown Special Forces .45 ACP Custom Quality Handgun Review

Boasting custom quality details galore, the Ed Brown Special Forces .45 ACP is a gun worthy of the elite!

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Two years ago I reviewed an Ed Brown Special Forces (SF) 1911, which had ambidextrous thumb safeties without a light rail. This new sample has a rail without the dual safeties while the Special Forces 1911’s excellent core features remain.

edbrown2.gifThis is an improved version since I might need a light or laser attached to my handgun for a bedside home defense situation. While I appreciate being able to disengage the thumb safety with the gun with either hand, I’ve had the usual 1911-style enlarged offside safety wipe off while the gun was holstered enough that I’ve removed them from any of my carry 1911s. (A downsized right-side lever would be acceptable though.) The rail provides one benefit that’s not much discussed, which is reducing muzzle lift due to the increased weight toward the muzzle, allowing quicker follow-up shots.

As I said, the core Special Forces features remain and do so with the same quality I found two years ago. To better understand and appreciate what you pay for with an Ed Brown custom 1911, it helps to know something about the man who builds them.

About Ed Brown
I’ve known Brown and his work since I met and shot with him and saw his custom work beginning in 1980 at the annual national International Practical Shooting Association (IPSC) Championship match. At that time, Brown was already well regarded for his custom 1911 work (having gotten his federal firearms license in 1968) in what was then a very young sport and custom 1911 market, since IPSC had only been formally established in 1976. 

I recall he had his 1911 work on display in the vendor display area. (It was not uncommon for those who are now long-established “Masters” of the 1911 to have announced their presence by showing their talents in such humble beginnings with guns laid out on whatever empty table was near to where competitors might pass by or congregate.) At one point, I asked him about what I saw as his noticeably lower profile compared to some of his fellow custom ‘smiths on the practical shooting circuit. 

He explained that since he had a very good job as a tool and die maker, CNC (computer numerically controlled) programmer and CAD (computer aided design)/CAM (computer aided manufacturing) designer, he also had a family and their well-being and future took precedence over what he might want to do in the custom gunsmithing business. He also added that he did not want to take in more work than he could return in what he and his customers saw as a timely manner. (Some of the ‘smiths were, even back then, quoting a year or two or more turnaround times!)

At another such meeting, I commented on his then-new line of 1911 parts (now sold under the label of Hardcore). He explained that he went this route only after long being dissatisfied with the general quality of parts on the market and thought he could (and did) do better. Well, his actions were quickly validated. By 1992, he stopped gunsmithing to keep up with parts orders!

Fortunately for those of us who appreciate his talent, after getting a handle on the parts business and having two sons who could now help him, in 1998 he returned to custom work, but made it even better by offering custom “production” 1911s. These were built using not only his parts but also his own slides and frames. (Later, he expanded this concept with his own design of custom-production bolt-action rifles.)

Gun Details
All the above brings us to this sample of the Special Forces, which is a full-sized 1911 chambered for .45ACP. The familiar phrase, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” was never more apt. With an Ed Brown custom 1911 (and, to be sure, a few select other ‘smith’s) I see the picture not the brush strokes. No one feature jumps out, but the final package simply looks and feels right. 

Since details are important, here are some facts about the Ed Brown package. To begin, the simple act of clearing the gun denotes craftsmanship. A smooth inward push of the 40 LPI (lines per inch)-checkered and rounded magazine catch ejects the Ed Brown “8-Pack magazine.” Then grabbing onto the slide’s eight diagonal rear grasping grooves has the slide move smoothly rearward against an 18-pound recoil spring. 

The only hesitation is when the firing pin stop levers the grooved, rounded hammer back to full cock. After noting the lack of any marks on the exposed barrel, thanks to exacting dimensional controls used when crafting the barrel and barrel bushing, easing the slide closed reveals only one point of hesitation when the barrel lugs lock, bank-vault style, into the slide.

The ChainLink metal work on the frontstrap and flat mainspring housing provides a firm grip and is further aided by the frame being machined to allow a higher and thus better grip beneath the triggerguard. A very nice touch.

Looking down the rounded slide, Novak sights with tritium inserts almost seamlessly installed in dovetail cuts (thus windage adjustable) insure excellent sight acquisition and picture. The ejection port is enlarged, but not so much as to encourage any debris from entering, and its edges are slightly rounded. Dry firing shows a match-grade trigger with little overtravel (and there’s provision to adjust this) breaking cleanly at a measured 4 pounds. 

Of course, all Ed Brown Hardcore parts are used: hammer, sear, disconnector, slide stop, thumb safety, wide beavertail grip safety, mainspring housing and trigger, along with the frame and slide. The nicely checkered, reddish-wood grips are attached with Allen screws. With any of Ed Brown’s 1911s it is almost unnecessary to mention that all the controls are well fitted and move without binding, including the rear of the trigger bow not catching on the grip safety’s internal arm.

The well-designed thumb safety moves like the safeties on the earlier sample, with a satisfying sound and feel of a sharp, short “click, click.” The empty magazine went back in smoothly, hesitating only when the magazine catch notch met the internal portion of the catch. The magazine well has a very slight bevel to assist insertion.

Speaking of the magazine, Brown now has his own eight-round magazine named the 8-Pack. Brown thoughtfully designed this to actually hold eight rounds of .45ACP, not one that attempts to cram eight rounds into a seven-round magazine body. As such, the 8-Pack extends below the frame 0.375 of an inch, which is an easily removable polymer base pad. 

I suspect this eight-round magazine will have the same long and reliable life span as do top-quality seven-round magazines, thanks to the additional length. The metal follower is closed on its front leg and looks to be long enough to insure it will not tip or bind. Being metal, it should hold up quite well to slide stop engagement, too. 

The last part of my first inspection is running my hand over the gun, feeling for sharp edges. Two years ago, I found but two, which were the rear edge of the front sight and the left edge of the grooved and skeletonized trigger face. Well, this time there were none!

Range Time
Coincidentally, my friend John Lysak was available and we replicated our range work of two years ago with the first Special Forces, getting together once again at our local gun club. Our shooting was done the same way as well, with our shooting arms supported while seated at a bench, this time with a Caldwell 8-inch bull’s-eye 25 yards downrange. The ammo we fired included CorBon 230-grain Match, CorBon 185-grain DPX and Black Hills 185-grain JHP, along with Hornady 185-grain JHP, as well as some Magtech 230-grain JRN loads. 

As before, the Special Forces shot all loads well, varying only by our abilities at the time. The gun shot about 3 inches high this time, while the last one shot dead on. Our groups were almost, but not quite as good. In fairness, I didn’t use my reading glasses nor did I black out the rear Tritium inserts, both of which actions greatly improve my ability to shoot tight groups. 

Again, and as expected, we had no malfunctions, stutters, glitches or hesitations. Empty cases ejected high and to the right, landing about 3 yards away in a nice pile. 

I also did the same draw and shoot drills using an Alessi holster that accepts a 1911 with rail. This time, the various bits and pieces of backstop debris were the “threats” and, while I hit them or not, using one or two hands on the gun, as well as my less dominant hand, the gun ran fine. 

Final Notes
Some specific technical details of the Special Forces include the following: The slide and frame are exclusively Ed Brown forged and hand-fitted. The gun is coated with Ed Brown “Gen III” firearm coating. The Hardcore components are hand-fitted where necessary. The feed ramp is polished, with hand-fit extractor and ejector. An Ed Brown premium match-grade barrel and solid steel bushing are used and a standard recoil spring guide, recoil spring and spring lug are present. 

The Hardcore parts, save the trigger, are fully machined “from the highest quality alloy bar stock steel.” The previously noted grips are made of exotic checkered Cocobolo wood grips with traditional double-diamond pattern.

The Special Forces ships in an Ed Brown Products-branded deluxe Cordura pistol rug with internal magazine pockets and external zippered accessory pocket, Ed Brown Products 1911 owner’s manual and cable lock. The single-sided thumb safety model lists for $2295.

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