December 2, 2021

First Look: Springfield Armory Emissary 1911 Review


The 1911 has always felt good in my hands. There is something about holding a quality metal frame that simply feels comforting. Sure, I like a polymer-framed pistols, but the 1911 simply feels “at home” in my hands. This really should not surprise me as I spent my early years of shooting depending on 1911 pistols to help me win in competition.

So, when I unzipped the case that held Springfield Armory’s new Emissary 1911 two-tone 5″ pistol in the powerfully classic .45 ACP, I felt that familiar feeling. At the same time, there was a twinge of anticipation. This gun looked different. Elegant. Refined. Yet it still appeared to have the qualities you would expect from an effective defensive pistol. This is not simply a showcase pistol, but one that can deliver when it’s needed.

Springfield Armory Emissary 1911 pistol
The Springfield Armory Emissary pistol is a 1911 that combines defensive-grade design with custom-style enhancements.

As part of my research for this article, I looked up the definition of the word “emissary.” An emissary is a special agent selected to complete a mission, usually of diplomatic importance. The name fits this pistol. When I held the Emissary, it felt the way a 1911 should — but even better. After spending some time with the Emissary, I started to piece together the reasons why this gun seemed both so familiar yet so different.

The Foundation

Springfield Armory is known for the solid foundation upon which they build their quality 1911 pistols. With the Emissary 1911, that foundation starts with a forged stainless steel frame and forged carbon steel slide.

Springfield Emissary Emissary 1911 pistol in case
The pistol comes with two stainless-steel, eight-round magazines with bumper pads on their bases.

The frame has a subdued matte finish, while the carbon steel slide has polished flats and an attractive blued finish. The fit and finish of both the frame and slide is really quite impressive. I fieldstripped the gun and then reassembled the slide and frame and the fit was tight and smooth. It’s no wonder that Springfield Armory frames and slides are a common choice for custom 1911 builders.

Topping It Off

The Emissary is a feature-rich 1911. When I first picked it up I was reminded of the guns with which I used to compete in USPSA Single Stack Division. But an important point here is that I didn’t compete with factory guns. These were custom guns. While the Emissary is a “stock” gun, it simply screams “custom” as soon as you look at it.

Springfield Armory Emissary slide
The topstrap of the Tri-Top slide features a grooved flat-topped sighting plane to help diffuse sunlight.

The first thing you are likely to notice about the two-tone Emissary is the slide. In addition to the rich bluing that contrasts nicely with the stainless steel frame, the slide features a unique “Tri-Top” with unique accent cuts on the forward half of the slide. Further adding to the custom-style look of the pistol is the full-length grooved flat-top of the slide, that not only looks amazing but also helps diffuse sunlight for an enhanced sight picture. Topping off the slide is a set of Springfield’s U-Dot sights, made up a Tactical Rack U-notch rear and a high-visibility tritium/luminescent front dot.

Primary Interface

The frame also has its share of custom-style appointments. When it comes to the fit and feel of a handgun, the frame plays a big role. The frame is your connection to the gun. Fit and feel matter. Although the dimensions of the Emissary’s frame mirror that of a typical 1911, it has a very distinct look and feel.

Side view of the Springfield Armory Emissary pistol
The grips of the Emissary are thin G10 panels, and have a checkering pattern that matches that of the frame’s front and backstraps.

The bead blasted finish of the stainless steel frame has a very functional and attractive set of cuts on the frontstrap that are reminiscent of “grenade”-pattern checkering. This same pattern is repeated on the flat mainspring housing. The stocks on the pistol feature a complementary checkering pattern that works in concert with those on the front- and backstraps to ensure a solid grip. The grip panels are constructed from tough G10 and are thin and low-profile. The trigger itself matches the styling of the Emissary pistol. It is blackened, like the controls — including the single-sided manual safety — and has a flat face.

Springfield Emissary 1911 pistol with U-Dot sights
From this angle, you can see the amazingly fast U-Dot sights that are included standard on this handgun.

Rounding out the distinct style and look of the Emissary is a squared triggerguard, and in my opinion is another standout feature of the pistol’s frame. It complements the angular styling of the pistol, but serves a practical purpose as well. Just forward of the triggerguard is an integral strip of Picatinny rail on the dustcover for mounting accessories. This combined with the flat forward face of the triggerguard should make the pistol quite adept at mounting accessories like my SureFire X300 weaponlight.

G10 grip panels on Springfield Emissary pistol
The grips of the Emissary are thin G10 panels and have a checkering pattern that matches that of the frame’s front and backstraps.

One thing to bear in mind with the Emissary — custom-style features on a pistol can sometimes complicate your holster selection process. The squared triggerguard might make it so you do not have as many “off-the-shelf” holster options as you would with a more traditionally shaped 1911. My “solution” was a relatively simple one — I selected a holster that indexes off of a weapon-mounted light instead of the gun itself.

Under the Hood

Not all of the Emissary’s enhancements are immediately apparent. To ensure performance and long life, the pistol features a forged stainless steel barrel, but there is more to the story than just that. The 5″ barrel has a thick bull barrel profile, and it employs a bushingless system where it interfaces directly with the slide. It also has an attractive “dish”-style crown. Located under the barrel is a full-length guide rod system.

Man working on car while carrying an Emissary 1911 in a Yaqui slide holster
Modern performance with old-world craftsmanship will make the Emissary an instant classic.

Personally, I’ve always preferred the fieldstripping procedure of a  bull-barreled gun compared to a 1911 with a bushing. The Emissary is no different. Capturing the recoil spring and guide rod makes disassembly and reassembly easy. While Springfield supplies a small pin to aid in the takedown of the Emissary 1911, I instead simply bent a small right angle into the end of a paper clip to use to capture the spring. It worked like a charm.

When I had removed the barrel, I discovered that this is truly a “heavy” bull barrel. This thing is really beefy. I suspect that as the overall weight of the pistol is still a reasonably normal 40 oz. for an all-steel 1911, there was some slight weight-saving that came from the “Tri-Top” slide top. I think that extra weight allowance was put into this barrel. This is a stiff, rigid, heavy barrel.

Springfield Armory Emissary 1911 Specifications

Let’s take a look at the specs on the new Emissary pistol:

Barrel 5″
Caliber .45 ACP
Weight 40 oz.
Overall Length 8.41″
Sights U-Dot
Grips G10 ThinLine
Action Single, semi-automatic
Finish Two-tone
Capacity 8+1
Number of Included Magazines 2
MSRP $1,279

On the Range

Typically, a 1911 chambered in .45 ACP is an incredibly shootable platform. I found that the Emissary takes that shootability to the max. First off, the Emissary weighs in at two and half pounds. It is no lightweight. This is substantial mass, and it’s distributed right where it needs to be. With the bull barrel, full-length guide rod and railed dustcover, the Emissary is a front-heavy pistol.

Man shooting the SA Emissary on the range
Carlson put the Emissary through its paces and found it to be reliable, shootable and accurate.

When it comes to recoil, this type of weight distribution makes shooting the .45 ACP a breeze. I found the gun to be balanced well, and it returned to point of aim quickly and naturally. The addition of the frontstrap and mainspring housing checkering further aided in dealing with recoil with heavy loads or extended shooting sessions, and makes sure the pistol feels like an extension of your hand.

I have spent a good bit of time with the U-Dot sights that sit atop the Emissary. However, this is the first time I’ve played with them on a 1911. I found them to be quite easy to use. The high-visibility green front sight was easy to pick up and place in the U-notch rear. From time to time, I did experience a bit of glare from the U-notch sight with its large, rear face. Some serrations on the rear sight could be beneficial.

Man holding pieces of pistol after taking down the Emissary 1911 pistol
The pistol features a full-length guide rod system as well as a heavy bull barrel. Carlson employed a bent paper clip to help takedown the pistol.

The Emissary is a pleasure to shoot, pure and simple. I hit everything I aimed at and enjoyed pressing the trigger over and over. Recoil was manageable, and I found my sights back on target in no time. There were no malfunctions during the test, and the accuracy (with the 230-gr. hardball ammo — all I could locate on the shelves) was quite good.

Final Thoughts

In my mind, the 1911 has always been a dignified pistol. Its reputation, longevity and history tend to distinguish it from the many other pistols available on the market. This tradition has been carried on by many custom builders over the years. The Emissary takes the best of that world and combines it with a factory defense-ready pistol.

Emissary 1911 on a piece of wood
The Emissary, while displaying modern styling cues, is one of the more beautiful 1911 pistols available today.

The result? A pistol that gives you reliability, toughness, elegance and performance, and all at a very good price. Did I forget to mention that? You get all that the Emissary has to offer for an MSRP of just $1,279.

If you are looking for a high-performance 1911 for EDC or show (or both), the Springfield Armory Emissary is a solid candidate for this very special mission.

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