The author reviews the Finks GSP 1911, a hand-tuned 1911 known as the Gunsite Service Pistol.
How is it possible that a handgun design that’s more than a century old is still one of the most popular? The answer is simple: The 1911 is still with us because it still works. Of course, modern 1911s are a bit different from the original, and over the years a collection of custom modifications are now mostly standard. Some might wonder which of these modifications are important. Well, the oldest and largest civilian firearms training academy in the world has answered that question with the return of the Gunsite Service Pistol (GSP).
Origin And History
In 1976, Jeff Cooper, Marine, international firearms trainer and founding president of the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC), took a ranch in Arizona and turned it into a shooting school. The American Pistol Institute (API) is where Cooper taught upstanding Americans to defend themselves with a handgun. Now known as Gunsite Academy, which also trains military and law enforcement, it’s the world’s oldest and largest civilian firearms training school.
As participation there grew, students would often get their handguns tweaked to Cooper standards by the Gunsite Smithy, and it wasn’t long until Gunsite began offering custom pistols. Up until about 2002, you could order a custom 1911 from Gunsite, but over the years the particulars of these pistols varied. However, Gunsite smithy Robbie Barrkman of ROBAR fame did offer a hand-tuned 1911, which was referred to as the Gunsite Service Pistol (GSP).
When Buz Mills purchased Gunsite in 1999, he decided it shouldn’t be in the gun-building business but did offer Gunsite “approved” 1911s through their Pro Shop, which were manufactured exclusively—to Gunsite standards—by Colt. The idea was that these pistols—now known as the Colt Gunsite Service Pistol (GSP)—would be an embodiment of what Cooper felt 1911 perfection to be. Unfortunately, through the years, the Colt GSP has been only sporadically available.
When Mike Moore retired as the Gunsite Smithy a few years back, Finks Gunsmithing of Chino Valley, Arizona, and Tyler Gunworks of Friona, Texas, began filling in. They completely renovated the shop to best service Gunsite clientele, and since then the talented smiths at Finks have repaired the guns that break during training classes while also offering full custom work. With a master class smithy once again on-site, retired Sheriff Ken Campbell, Gunsite’s CEO, decided it was time for the GSP to ride again. The result is the latest version of the GSP, and it’s 100-percent hand-built by Fink’s Gunsmithing at Gunsite.
The allure of this pistol should be clear: It continues a legacy that’s integral to Gunsite’s history. More importantly, it should be looked at as what’s arguably the best example of a fighting 1911. Its origins date back to when the Gunsite Ranch and API were founded, when Cooper codified the Modern Technique of the Pistol, laid the foundation for defensive handgun training as we know it, and once wrote, “The great 1911 .45 was a very nearly perfect artifact from the day of its birth.” The new GSP from Finks is an expertly crafted amalgamation of nearly 50 years of lessons learned at Gunsite Academy. No other pistol on Earth can claim that.
Finks starts with a 70 series, forged steel frame and slide sourced through Tyler Gun Works. It’s fitted with a hammer-forged match barrel with a recessed target crown, duty weight springs, extended grip safety, Wilson Combat thumb safety, long skeletonized match trigger, scalloped EGW main spring housing, and the trigger guard is undercut. The entire pistol then receives a carry bevel/de-horning treatment to do away with its sharp edges, front strap serrations, wide-cut cocking serrations on the front and rear of the slide, reliability and trigger job, lowered and flared ejection port, and the magwell is beveled too. A U-notch Wilson Combat battlesight is installed to mate with a Novak yellow outlined tritium front sight that stands out like a ready-to-bust pimple on a fashion model’s nose. The pistol then receives a satin blue finish, and G10 Super Scoop grips are installed with chromed hex head screws.
Other features include a most unique Commander-style hammer with a cutout in the shape of the Gunsite raven. Also, on the right slide of the slide just behind the rear cocking serrations is an engraved Gunsite raven. Just under the ejection port, “GSP Government” is engraved and “Gunsite Service Pistol” is engraved on the left side of the slide. Additional customization is optional, but limited if you want the pistol to retain its GSP identity.
I consider myself somewhat of a 1911 snob: I’ve been carrying 1911s for protection, training and competition, for more than a quarter century. The only thing I would change on this pistol is for the slide stop to receive just a touch more de-horning along its forward edge to keep it from eating into the holster. And I’d also moderately smooth the texturing on the front edge of the left grip scale where your fingers rest. Yeah, as 1911s go, this pistol is that perfect.
Range Time With The Finks GSP 1911
This is a pretty pistol to look at; it checks all the boxes most often associated with a custom 1911, but there are a lot of modernized 1911s that are very similar. For a pistol like this to be worth the money or suitable for carry or training, the thing has to shoot where it’s pointed, and it needs to go bang every time the trigger is pulled. Time on the range is the only way to sort this out, and I put 300 rounds through the new GSP. After some familiarization fire, I ran an 8-inch plate rack at 25 yards, which quickly established that the pistol shot better than I’m capable of. The next thing I did was expose the pistol to the two shooting drills that I use with every pistol I test.
The first is the Forty-Five Drill, and the goal is to draw from concealment and put five rounds into a 5-inch circle, at 5 yards in 5 seconds. Using Black Hills 200-grain SWC load, I ran this drill five times and cleaned it on all but the first run, where I hammered the first shot and hit a bit low. My average time for this drill was 3.88 seconds, which is about a half-second slower than I can run the drill with my Wilson Combat, commander-sized EDC X9 in 9mm.
The second drill is the Step Back Drill, which I think is one of the best drills to establish shooter proficiency with a pistol. For this drill, you draw and engage an 8-inch steel plate with two shots at 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 yards, but each two-shot string is timed separately. To pass, you must get all 10 hits in less than 20 seconds. I ran this drill with standard velocity 230-grain ball five times. On the first run, I missed a shot at 20 yards and both shots at 25. On the second run, I missed one shot at 20 and one at 25. Realizing I needed to hold near the bottom of the plate at 20 and 25 yards, I cleaned the drill on the last three attempts with an average time of 18.68 seconds.
Of course, this isn’t intended as a pistol to just be used on the range; it’s a fighting handgun, and fighting handguns need to be reliable with hollow-point ammunition. Mostly playing with the plate rack and running a quasi-El Prez Drill on life-size steel silhouette targets, I put a good mix of hollow-point ammo through the pistol. Every time I pulled the trigger, with every load tried, the pistol went bang, ejected the empty, and loaded the next round until the magazine was empty and the slide locked back.
Clearly capable of delivering more precision than I can extract from a pistol, four loads were tested at 10 yards from a sandbag rest. The average for 12, five-shot groups—three each, with each load—was an impressive 1.03 inches. The pistol really liked the standard pressure 185-grain Buffalo Bore flat nose FMJ load. It averaged right at a half-inch for three five-shot groups. There are some other good-looking 1911s out there that are reliable and cost less, but they won’t shoot that good.
In 2003, Cooper wrote, “People who write about the ‘comeback of the 1911’ do not seem to be aware that it has never been away.” Two decades later, those words are still true. Countless manufacturers are turning out all manner of 1911s, priced from less than $500 to more than 10 times that much. Kimber and Springfield Armory 1911s are a great example of what the modern 1911 has become, and both offer several versions approaching or near the price point of the Finks GSP. I’ve shot most of those pistols a good bit, and I can confidently tell you, they’re not in the same class as the GSP. Though I cannot speak to its longevity, the GSP does come with a warranty for the lifetime of the original owner, and I think it’s worth the asking price if not more.
This pistol is deserving of the Gunsite and GSP name it carries. As a multi-course Gunsite Academy graduate, where the only diploma on my wall—of the many I’ve earned at many schools—is the one from my first Gunsite 250 Pistol Course, I can proudly say this pistol carries the Gunsite and GSP names. But you don’t have to be a Gunsite alumni to appreciate a 1911 this good, you just need to understand what a trusted and reliable 1911 designed to train and fight with should be. How can you get yours? Call the Gunsite Academy Pro Shop. They have them in stock just waiting for an American patriot like you.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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