This year marks the 30th anniversary of Wilson Combat, not just a company but Bill Wilson's stunning redefinition of all things 1911.
I have to think really hard to remember a time when Wilson Combat wasn't around. I was lucky enough to know Bill when he was in the process of creating Wilson Combat, and I was always awed by Bill's sweep of vision. There were custom gunsmiths before Bill Wilson, but Bill saw something more, the opportunity to essentially create a whole new niche, first with absolutely perfect 1911 parts, then with absolutely perfect 1911 guns.
I shot Wilson Combat guns when I seriously competed in USPSA back in the 1980s. I class my Wilson Master Class 1911 .45, built from the much-battered remnants of my old competition Wilson Accu-Comp, as the jewel of my "super-premium" 1911 collection. Now that I'm looking forward to getting back to USPSA Single Stack competition, I find myself flipping through the Wilson Combat catalog again, looking at new Wilsons, and counting the pennies.
I'm honored to have co-written Bill's first book, THE COMBAT .45 AUTO, which was I believe the very first book on customizing the 1911. And yes, over the years Bill and I have had our differences — hell, we've shouted at each like two 11 year-olds fighting over the red fire truck — but friends occasionally do that.
I've talked a lot about the contribution of Col. Jeff Cooper to the modern world of handguns, but I will have to say that when the scores are totaled up, Bill Wilson's contributions will rank right up there with the Colonel's. Those contributions include:
• The creation of the premium 1911 parts industry, which for a large part made possible the huge rebirth of the 1911.I know some of you new to the sport are thinking, "A magazine...big deal." You have no idea what the world was like before the Wilson #47 magazine, ,which Bill developed with Bill Rogers. We knew what we needed to do with the 1911 to get it to run, but magazines were the HUGE weak link...the mil-surps, though widely available, were a crap shoot. We'd buy them by the dozen and end up tossing half of them behind the berms when they seized up. The Colts were expensive and only marginally better than the mil-surps. The specialty mags were even more expensive, and none of them would hold up to the pounding we were putting them through — bouncing them off the ground, inadvertently filling them up with sand, etc.
• Setting the baseline for custom 1911s. From 1977 forward, Bill's guns have set the standard for custom 1911s. True in 1977; true in 2007.
• The creation of the "semi-custom" 1911, essentially an off-the-shelf custom gun.
• Pioneering the 1911-style polymer frame .45 with his KZ series.
• And, of course, the #47 1911 magazine.
I remember carpet taping, gluing, screwing and heaven knows what other forms of attachment trying to get "slam pads" to stay on the magazines. Once I got the pads to stay on, then I managed to drop the mags on the the feed lips. I have wasted far to much of my life trying to adjust 1911 magazine feed lips. So one day Bill Rogers shows up at a match and says, "Here, Michael, try these magazines." The #47s worked and worked and worked. They were easy to disassemble and clean, had built-in base pads (I miss the "colorful" ones Bill used to offer!), the springs lasted longer than a couple of weeks and they were, praise the God of 1911s, stainless steel, so they didn't finish a match day covered with a fine patina of rust!
I am still using some of my orginal #47 magazines, including one marked "RO F.I.P.T. '86" from my range officer'ing the Florida Invitational Pistol Tournament in the Back When.
So, as Wilson Combat's "birthday present" to us, my cherubs and seraphim tell me that the first major revision of the #47 magazine is about to be announced. The new Wilson 1911 magazine is built from the ground up for 8-rounds. "So what," you say. "Most 1911 .45 magazines are 8-rounders."
Wrong wrong wrong, little grasshopper! Most 1911 magazines are 7-rounders — just what the sainted John Moses Browning intended! — with the followers "dinked" to allow 8 rounds in the mag. I'll happily stuff 8 rounds in a magazine for competition...if I'm carrying the gun, it's ALWAYS only loaded with 7 rounds in the mag! That's true for most of the "serious" people I know. I have no doubt the new Wilson mag will change that thinking.
We'll be doing a special episode of SHOOTING GALLERY on Wilson Combat 1st quarter 2008, and you'll see even more on DOWN RANGE Television!
Anyhow, happy birthday, Wilson Combat! And Bill, thanks for everything...