Mainstream firearms manufacturers have offered “factory custom” handguns for some time now. I’ve learned to appreciate the enhanced products from the Colt Custom Shop, Smith & Wesson’s Performance Center and the Springfield Armory Custom Shop for several years. Recently, two more popular brands have entered that side of the market, taking an approach slightly different from their predecessors.
The Wilson Combat/Beretta 92G Brigadier Tactical and the new Sig Sauer P229 Legion have much in common. Each comes with an attractive but heavy-duty finish. Each has G10 grip panels and fiber-optic front sights. Each comes with a tuned action that delivers a superior trigger pull in both double-action (DA) and single-action (SA) modes. Each will cost you more than the basic model of the same gun, but less than it would cost to have a famous gunsmith modify the barrel, frame, etc., to the factory custom configuration. And—most important to some—you can order them ready-made and probably get them with far less waiting time than standing in a long queue for a highly sought-after gunsmith’s time.
Tier One Upgrades
Both are traditional DA/SA platforms. That is, the first shot requires a long DA pull, after which the pistol cocks itself for shorter, lighter SA pulls for every subsequent round until the gun is decocked. The Sig’s decocker is the standard P-series lever behind the triggerguard on the left side of the frame; right-handers operate it with their thumbs and lefties use their index fingers. The Wilson/Beretta Brigadier Tactical is a G-series pistol, which means the ambidextrous decocking lever mounted on the slide does not function as a manual safety (like on the F-series). You can activate it with the thumb of whichever hand is doing the shooting.
You’re paying for legendary reliability with even the basic stock versions of both models. And you’re getting accuracy to boot. With one of the most street-proven self-defense rounds out there, Federal’s 115-grain 9BPLE +P+ rated for 1,300 fps at the muzzle, both the Wilson/Beretta Brigadier Tactical and the Sig Sauer P229 Legion gave me 1.5-inch, five-shot groups at 25 yards.
RELATED STORY: Massad Ayoob Reviews the Beretta/Wilson Combat 92G Brigadier Tactical
The similarities don’t stop there. The G10 grips on each of these pistols come with embedded signature medallions, with Wilson Combat’s “WC” on the Beretta and the chevron symbol Sig Sauer has adopted for its Legion series on the P229. While carrying both of these guns concealed for testing, both hid adequately even under a large, untucked polo or T-shirt in an inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster, and neither G10 grip abraded against bare skin in that type of carry, though each gave a solid hold in firing.
The sights on both models consist of dovetail-mounted, drift-adjustable rear sights with large notches and fiber-optic front sights. The Beretta’s rear sight has a humongous U-notch that came swiftly to eye level during testing, which I liked a bit better than the more conventional square-bottom notch on the Sig. The Wilson Combat/Beretta 92G Brigadier Tactical features a Trijicon tritium front sight, while the Sig Sauer’s trademarked X-RAY (fiber optic) sights gave a big, bright ball to aim with in daytime while under a shielded top, which should protect the relatively fragile fiber optic from damage. Moreover, the Sig X-RAY sight system also contains tritium night sight elements: one in the center of the big green ball up front and two small ones on either side of the square rear notch.
Regarding the basic pistols, the Sig Sauer P226 (the larger cousin of the P229) and Beretta 92 are widely seen as equivalents in quality and function. They finished neck and neck in the race to be America’s new 9mm service pistol some 30 years ago, with Beretta basically coming in a little cheaper and winning the bid. It’s kind of a Ford versus Chevrolet thing, with a long history of similar performance, quality and value. Come to think of it, Mercedes versus BMW might be a better analogy, since Sig Sauer and Beretta are seen as a prestigious brands and, though both are now built here in the states, each originated as a European product.
RELATED STORY: Exclusive Video – Sig Sauer Unveils Its New Legion Series P229
Each of the pistols under discussion comes with the mechanical DNA of one or more famous pistolsmiths, each of whom was a top-tier pistol shooter in his own right. The Beretta 92 was long a favorite of Bill Wilson, one of America’s most successful pistolsmiths and manufacturers. So, before working on the pistol, Bill called upon Ernest Langdon, a national champion who shot his way to fame with the Beretta 92 he had been using since his Marine Corps days, and who became famous for tuning the Beretta for maximum performance in IDPA, USPSA and Bianchi Cup matches. Langdon taught select members of the Wilson Combat factory staff to hone a Beretta’s action to glassy smoothness. Bill and Ernest’s touches are what make the Brigadier Tactical special, along with the heavy-duty Brigadier slide that helps to slightly reduce recoil and combines with the railed frame to duplicate the 92G SD, a rare and much-loved variation no longer available to Beretta fans until resurrected with this Wilson collaboration.
With the Legion series, Sig also drew on the expertise of a master gunsmith from outside the company. I first met Bruce Gray back in the early 1980s at the Bianchi Cup, when we were both shooting for Team HK. Bruce was the top shot on the squad, and he hasn’t lost any of his skill since. Though he continues to build superb custom pistols based on HKs and other brands, Bruce is best noted for working his magic on Sigs—not only the Classic series but also the hugely popular new striker-fired P320. It’s a Bruce Gray trigger system in the P229 Legion, and Bruce has said for the record that the subtle changes in the Legion’s frame—a low-profile beavertail to guide the hand to a faster draw, and a reshaped frame that lowers the bore axis in the shooter’s hand—would cost far more if he or another custom gunsmith rebuilt a stock Sig to that configuration.
The Legion series encompasses both the medium-sized P229 I tested here and the full-sized P226 in both DA/SA and SAO versions. Legion pistols are available in 9mm, .40 S&W and .357 SIG, and the series will probably include the P220 and/or P227 in .45 ACP in the future. The Wilson/Beretta Brigadier Tactical is currently only available in 9mm, but a Compact variation has just been introduced.
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Individual habituation and personal preference will play into your choices. Sig fans will likely gravitate toward the Legion, and the Beretta fan to the Brigadier Tactical. No gun is perfect for everyone. I personally prefer the manual safety version of the Beretta, the F-series, over the decocker-only “G” format of the Brigadier Tactical. On the P229 Legion, Sig Sauer has reduced the size of both the decocking lever and the slide stop, the latter to keep your thumb from overriding that lever and preventing the slide from locking open when empty. I use the slide stop lever to close the slide on an emergency reload, and I tend to prefer the older-style levers for both slide lock/release and decocking functions. Again, it’s strictly a matter of personal preference.
With the Legion series, Sig Sauer is offering something its competitors aren’t: a registration system for owners that allows them to get custom gun cases, holsters, knives from famous makers and essentially an owners’ club with its own exclusive Internet forum.
My test P229 Legion ran flawlessly with everything but current-production Winchester 115-grain “White Box” FMJs; I’m not the only tester to experience that, and it appears to be an ammo problem, not a gun problem. The Beretta was flawless in that regard with everything. No one who pays the price of one of these guns is likely to be amateurish enough to run it with ammo not well proven in their particular pistol anyway.
Price & Value
The MSRP for the Sig Sauer P229 Legion is $1,428, which includes expensive night sights, unique grips, a high-quality PVD finish and exclusive owners-only perks. The Wilson/Beretta 92G Brigadier Tactical carries a base price of $1,195—the same or less than the old 92G SD the new gun is based on—but with the Langdon-inspired action tuning, improved sights and grips, and more. In the end, the prices are very close, and with either pistol, the value is outstanding.
RELATED STORY: Wilson Combat Unveils The 92G Brigadier Tactical | VIDEO
92G Brigadier Tactical or P229 Legion? In the end, if they’re the platforms and calibers you’re looking for, you won’t go wrong with either of these performance-enhanced pistols.
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