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The Colt Model 1911, designed between 1905 and 1910 by John Moses Browning, is one of the most famous American firearms in history, revered not only as the primary sidearm of the U.S. military from 1911 to 1985 (and modern variations are still holstered by U.S. Special Ops), but also as a platform for a multitude of other calibers over the past century, including 10mm, 7.65mm, .38 Super, .38 AMU, .38 Special Wadcutter, .380 ACP, .22 Long Rifle and 9mm. Colt first offered the latter in the 1950s as a variation of the Colt Commander. Available as an optional caliber for the pre-Series 70, Series 70 and Series 80 models, the 9mm is no stranger to the 1911 platform—nor to one of the most famous American manufacturers of 1911 pistols, New York armsmaker Kimber.

Ultra-Unique

Kimber means handcrafted quality, and its semi-autos offer a level of fit, finish and performance that goes beyond traditional production versions of the 1911. The new Special Edition Sapphire Ultra II 9mm is one of Kimber’s most attractive renditions of the venerable John M. Browning design.

Kimber has offered 1911s in 9mm since the mid-1990s. With a 3-inch barrel, the Sapphire Ultra II is essentially an extended version of the Ultra Aegis II. Like the compact Aegis II, the Sapphire uses Kimber’s satin silver KimPro II-finished aluminum frame. The Sapphire takes things up a notch, however, with an eye-catching, border-engraved slide done in an iridescent blue. The Ultra II’s PVD-coated finish is exceptionally durable (scratch resistant) and easy to keep clean. The same brilliant sapphire blue hue is used on the slide release, the generously sized ambidextrous thumb safeties, the skeletonized hammer, the extended beavertail and grip safety, the magazine release and even the hex-head screws securing the matching blue G10 grips. The aluminum, match-grade trigger has a contrasting satin silver finish.

The Sapphire Ultra II looks too pretty to shoot, but that’s exactly what the gun is designed to do, and it does so quite well. During a recent range test, the compact 9mm was loaded with Hornady Critical Defense 115-grain FTX, Hornady Critical Duty 135-grain FlexLock and super-hot CorBon +P 115-grain DPX rounds, achieving muzzle velocities of 985 feet per second (fps), 950 fps and a smoking 1,170 fps respectively to a target set out at 21 feet (7 yards). All three types of ammunition were engineered for high penetration and quick expansion—i.e., stopping power—which is exactly what you want from a defensive round in your subcompact pistol.

Recoil from all three was very manageable, despite the Kimber’s 3-inch barrel and short frame dimensions. As for accuracy, with the Hornady Critical Defense load, all shots went inside the 10 and X, with the best of the groups measuring 1.25 inches with two overlapping pairs. The tight four measured only 0.87 inches! With more kick, the Critical Duty was spread in an almost straight line 1.75 inches up the center of the 9 and 10 rings. The hot CorBon load, meanwhile, delivered a 2.1-inch grouping in the 9 ring at 2 o’clock with two overlapping. All were five-point, center-body-mass hits on a standard B-27 silhouette target.

The Sapphire Ultra II’s small, slender grip—just large enough to accommodate the average hand—short trigger and slightly rounded heel make the gun ideally suited for anyone with smaller hands. The use of matte black, wedge-shaped tritium night sights provide a clear sight picture day or night, and the low-profile sight design is also less likely to snag when being drawn from concealment. The Sapphire is ideally suited for concealed carry, being 0.87 inches shorter in length and 0.5 inches shorter in height than a Commander, and measuring only 6.8 inches in length, 4.75 inches in height and slightly over 1 inch in width. With its aluminum frame, the gun weighs 25 ounces empty.

This Special Edition Kimber Sapphire Ultra II, built to meet short-term demand, will only be available for about a year. And you won’t find it in the 2013 catalog! If you’re reading this and you like the gun, make haste and give Kimber a call.

More Powerhouses

The Ultra CDP II (Custom Defense Package) is another 9mm variation similar in design to the Sapphire Ultra II, but with a matte black (KimPro II) aluminum frame, satin-silver stainless-steel slide, rosewood grips and Meprolight Tritium three-dot sights. Priced at $1,331, the gun is also available chambered in .45 ACP. Like the Ultra II, the CDP is an ideal concealed-carry pistol.

Smaller yet is the 9mm Kimber Solo Carry micro-compact, the ultimate in scaled-down 9mm semi-autos. Available in three variations, including one with Crimson Trace Lasergrips (Solo Carry CDP LG), the Kimber micro-compact 9mm utilizes a striker-fired design and lightweight alloy frame. It measures only 5.5 inches in length, 3.9 inches in height and 0.995 inches in width, and has a carry weight of 17 ounces empty. In a variety of ways, the Solo Carry sets the bar for micro-compact semi-auto design. Specifically designed to fire high-pressure defensive ammunition in the 124- to 147-grain range—which is pretty much what you want in a self-defense carry gun—the Solo faces stiff competition from Ruger, Sig Sauer, Kahr and others. None, however, are as svelte or lightweight as the Solo.

Not much larger in dimensions than most .380s, the compactness of the 9mm Solo is striking. The gun’s 1911-style frame contours are smooth and nicely rounded; the ejection port is scalloped, which assists in smoother case ejection as well as adding to exterior aesthetics. The lower edges of the slide are curved inward ahead of the frame, creating soft contours that allow for easy reholstering. Another welcome feature is an ambidextrous magazine release, operable with either the off-hand thumb or trigger finger. The Solo also features ambidextrous thumb safeties sized to reduce the amount of effort required for setting and releasing, yet is kept small enough to accommodate carry and not catch on clothing.

Rather than using a 1911-style trigger and hammer design, the Solo utilizes a two-stage striker-fired system. When the slide is cycled, the striker is between 88 percent and 90 percent pre-tensioned. The trigger pull necessary to discharge the Solo is only 10 to 12 percent of the total effort needed to complete the cycle and release the striker. Even though Kimber describes the Solo as a “single action,” it is double-action in operation—almost. Since there is no way to decock a Solo after a round is chambered, it becomes a single action and is intended to be carried in a cocked-and-locked condition with the safety on, just like a 1911. However, when firing the Solo, the first portion of the trigger pull is used to advance the striker the remaining 8 percent to 10 percent before discharge, just like a double-action semi-auto, but with far less trigger pull effort. In sum, it is more than a single action but less than a double action. We’re going to need a new terminology for the Solo.

One step down in caliber is the forthcoming Kimber Micro CDP, which is chambered in .380 ACP. The Micro CDP looks at first glance like a Kimber-version of the Colt Mustang Pocketlite. We’ll withhold judgment until the production guns arrive and are available for testing and evaluation, but the Micro CDP could be as big a breakthrough for pocket .380 semi-autos as the Kimber Solo is for the 9mm cartridge. Stay tuned for more on that. For more information, call 888-243-4522 or visit kimberamerica.com.

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