Building a ‘Street-Racer’ Part 1

There are Street Guns and Race Guns, and while there are areas where they cross over they are very different things.

Street Guns are for duty, concealed-carry and self-defense. These might be stock or customized to suit the user. Generally if modified the changes are things that will enhance rather than reduce it’s core function. Improved sights, weapon lights or lasers, improved trigger, modifications to enhance reliability. Changes where they make sense in light of the gun’s mission, but that don’t make the gun large, bulky or heavy enough to impede it’s ability to be carried and/or concealed. What gets changed and how is highly individual and depends a lot on personal preference, personal circumstances and platform. Increasingly production guns are incorporating many of these improvements out of the box.

Custom S&W M&P with the barrel shortened to 3″, a custom front sight, bobbed hammer and custom grips. It might not be your idea of what such a gun should be, but it doesn’t have to be; it just needs to suit it’s user’s needs.

Then there are ‘Race-Guns,’ purpose-built guns for competition. These are modified to maximize their assets in a specific use, typically speed-shooting or combat pistol competition. Many of the goals are the same as the Street Gun; the ability to deliver hits rapidly and accurately for one thing. Things like enhanced sights and improved triggers are important. Things like weapon lights, lasers etc. are not; they don’t fit the mission. Expanded magazine wells, special grip configurations like thumb-rests for the off-hand, muzzle compensators. Things increase the size, shape and weight of the weapon enough to compromise it’s ability to be carried for self-defense or duty. Reliability is important, but for some might not carry the overriding importance that it does in a self-defense pistol. Lightening cuts in a slide are great for a race gun, but are a no-no on a duty pistol because they can admit environmental gunk into the action. Race guns are optimized to excel in the specific conditions that pertain to their form of competition.

STI 9mm Open Division 2011. Exaggerated mag-well extension, compensator, fixed optics mount and rifle-style optic, off-hand thumb rest. A delight in competition, a nightmare for carry.

I haven’t been regularly competing in years, but pre-COVID I was getting interested in Action Shooting International matches. These are a casual, low-intensity version of combat pistol competition where the primary challenge is to yourself and your skills, not the other participants. Fun without a lot of pressure and competitive drive.

I was modifying a 1911 as a carry-gun, and thought about those matches. Now, I don’t often carry a full-sized 1911, and when I do it’s not duty-style carry where the gun is exposed to the environment for hours and hours every single day. Maybe what would best suit my needs was a hybrid; compact and reliable enough for EDC, but with some specialized enhancements aimed at competition performance. IOW a sort of ‘Street Racer.’

The Starting Point

Sometime around the dawn if history a friend of mine named Lee set out to built his ‘ultimate’ 1911a1. He got a Systema Colt frame (made under license in Argentina and very good quality) and a government surplus ‘match’ slide. He filled it with good quality parts, a beavertail, commander hammer, long trigger with an overtravel screw, Pachmayr grips… all the then-fashionable mods for a serious ‘fighting’ 1911a1.

My friend Lee’s vision of the ultimate fighting 1911a1. It’s a good shooter alright. This was rapid-fire at seven yards.

To my mind he made only two genuinely questionable decisions about this pistol; he kept the GI sights, and he sent it out for a (then) high-tech Teflon coating in what I can only describe as ‘Baby-Shit Green.’ The picture above doesn’t do it justice; the color is truly hideous.

The coating is a pretty good finish, and was all the rage at the time but it took a while to get back to him. Lee needed a carry gun in the meantime, so he got a Glock 23 (Gen 2 I think) and he was off and running. By the time he got the 1911a1 back he was all about Glocks. The green monster sat in a box, completely disassembled for years. Then one night he brought it with him when he came to dinner and sheepishly asked if I could re-assemble it for him. In short order it was a gun again, and he gave it to me as a gift, along with extra magazines manuals and some accessories.

Lee has since passed away, all too soon, and the gun has been a memorial to his life and our friendship. Despite the crappy GI sights it’s a good shooter, but it never really did it for me; this was Lee’s idea of a fighting .45, not mine. I’d shoot it now and again, but mostly it languished in the safe. Linda asked me about this and I explained. She pointed out that I was constantly modifying guns; why not this one? Well, because it was Lee’s thing and I didn’t want to change it. “Honey,” she said. “Lee has met you. He’d have been fascinated to see what you would do to make it your own.”

Being Linda she was of course correct, so I had a donor-gun.

First Things First

Being a man of many interests and limited time (not to mention finances) it didn’t happen overnight. The gun was equipped with a Pachmayr arched mainspring housing, and I much prefer a flat one. Jim Bensinger was dropping by Caspian, so he snagged a flat stainless one for me. This immediately improved the gun for me, and I stippled it with a punch for texture.

Next was the slide and sights. The green is awful, and having the whole gun uniformly that color? No. I stripped the slide, and because it was an ugly tool-marked mess under the green I flattened the sides and’ for good measure, flat-topped it. I finished it with rust-blue then added a narrow bronze front sight. Then I attacked the GI rear sight with a 30 LPI checkering file to improve its visibility. OK, now we’re cooking!

The bronze front sight isn’t ideal, but it picks up light well in a variety of conditions and had the advantage of costing nothing except a little time and a tiny amount of silver-solder.
The rear sight, de-burred and with 30 LPI grooves. Much better! Because I flat-topped the slide both the front and rear sights stand a bit taller, but not too tall. The slide is relieved behind the sight to facilitate thumb-cocking; it’s not a feature I need, but I like it so I included it.

The gun came to me, as you can see in the first photo, with Pachmayr wrap-around grips. I had, uh, ‘enhanced’ these by gluing a piece of eraser underneath to form a finger-groove which works fine, but I don’t prefer Pachmayrs on a concealed-carry gun. The ‘grabbyness’ of the material can stick to a light cover garment and cause the gun to print.

I made a set of smooth Goncalo Alves wood grips to replace them. They’re smooth because I don’t grip the sides of the gun; I grip front-to back with my thumb riding the safety. Speaking of which…

The gun came to me with a GI safety, which I’m OK with, but for carry and competition it needed an ambidextrous safety. I found a Remington factory one online for $25 and snagged it. It uses a forward projection of the safety under the grip to hold the left-hand safety in place, so the grip needed to be altered to accommodate that. A couple other small alterations and I was in business. Now the gun had Dumbo Ears.

The safeties came with a very aggressive shape and some sharp edges, but hey, I’m me. I narrowed the off-side and reshaped and smoothed the edges a bit. Now the safety is comfortable but hasn’t lost any function.

The new safety, modified for comfort and a bit more concealable.

Of course now, with the plain grip frame at the front it wasn’t as ‘grippy’ as the Pachmayrs, so I stripped the gun and gently clamped it into my engraving vice. I grabbed a 20 line-per-inch checkering file and had at it.

20 LPI checkering. Sub-professional but effective.

The results are not perfect, but they are effective. Hey, it was only the second time I used a checkering file! I’ll get better. I colored the checkering with Oxpho Blue and moved on.

Now I had a gun with a checkered front-strap and a stippled mainspring housing. That wouldn’t do, so I sanded off the stippling on the belt grinder, then matched the contour of the housing to the frame and it was time for the 20 LPI checkering file again.


Practice may not make perfect but it makes better. I suppose I’ll have it coated at some point so it doesn’t stand out, but there’s no urgency there. Now it feels like when I grip the gun it grips me back. Best of all there are no hotspots or places where it pokes me; it’s comfy. I’ll shoot a comfy gun more.

Coming Soon to a Bubba Near You!

There’s more coming, but I’m waiting on some things to arrive. Mike Harris is sending me some high-visibility night sights to try out, so that’s one thing. Since the gun is currently chambered for .400 Cor Bon it needs to revert to being a .45. There’s a lot to recommend the .400 cartridge, but it’s going to be harder on the gun long-term and I already have match and defensive loads worked up for .45ACP. Besides, I just like it. It’s old, fat and slow; I can relate.

That’s it for now. Stay safe and take care.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 13 June 2021

1 thought on “Building a ‘Street-Racer’ Part 1

  1. Pingback: Building a Street Racer, Part 2 | Tinker Talks Guns

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