Springfield Armory 911: A New Mustang in the Corral
Several of the most popular micro-sized pistols now made all owe their design to the Colt Mustang first made from 1983-96. The Mustang was offered in several versions over its original production run, but its popularity was hampered by functioning problems and its .380 auto caliber, which was then an unpopular and relatively expensive cartridge with few loads available.
Times changed, and 13 years later in 2009 SIG Sauer introduced the P238, which was an improved version of the Mustang. The P238 sold very well in a now-growing market for small, .380 caliber semiautos that was jumpstarted by Kel-Tec’s P-3AT. Colt countered in 2011 by reintroducing the Mustang Pocketlite and a polymer-framed version called the Mustang XSP. Kimber entered the fray in 2015 with its own iteration of the Mustang called the Micro, and now, in 2018, Springfield Armory offers its variant with a moniker that more than just hints at its intended use: the 911.
The unbridled success of these Mustang-pattern pistols belies conventional wisdom that striker-fired, polymer-frame pieces with low price tags are the necessary ingredients for success. Quite the contrary; all of these pistols are single action with a thumb safety, metal-framed (except one of the Colts), and have an MSRP starting at $599, with most models priced well above that mark. In short, the impressive demand for the Mustang pattern, even when less pricey alternatives exist, demonstrates what market segmentation is all about.
“The 911 is the latest take on a very popular design thanks to its compact size, crisp trigger and good ergonomics.”
Among the four makers of Mustang-pattern pistols, Colt makes two variants, while the three other makers each offer several variants that differ mainly with respect to grips, sights and finish. A few variants also have laser grips, while SIG Sauer’s P238 series offers the most variations and can be had with a threaded barrel, forward slide serrations or a stainless steel frame. Ambidextrous safeties are included on some of the higher-priced Kimbers and SIGs. Product life cycles explained in B-school textbooks tell us that new products come with first-mover advantage, which captures market share and consumer loyalty. Laggards benefit from refined designs gained from market insight on why a product sells and who buys it, but face a more competitive market. The 911 is a textbook example of the latter; it has additional features and a significantly lower price tag on equivalently equipped pistols than those that came before it.
The 911 uses a tilting-barrel, locked-breech design that distinguishes it from the most popular pistols chambered in .380 S&W in earlier days, such as the Walther PPK and the SIG 320, which were blowback operated. Blowback .380 cal pistols have largely been eclipsed by locked-breech designs, but they have an advantage in accuracy because of their fixed barrels, and they are easier to make. They also can be fitted with a more effective sound suppressor within a given length because they don’t require the booster mechanism needed for most locked-breech pistols, thus leaving more space for soundreducing baffles. The downside to blowback .380 pistols is a heavier slide, which equates to a longer pistol, often with heavier recoil springs needed to keep the action closed until chamber pressure drops to a safe level.
The 911 shares the essential design aspects and construction of the P238 and Micro. All three use a 7075-T6 aluminum frame and a 416 stainless slide, barrel and guide rod. Ammo count is equivalent with 6+1 using the flush-fitting mag and 7+1 with an extended mag that has barely enough additional length to provide a full hand hold for those with small- to medium-sized fingers. Dimensions between the 911 and its peers are identical, or close to it, with an OAL of 5.5 inches, a height of 3.9 inches, and barrel length of 2.7 inches. The 911’s feather-light weight of only 12.6 ounces is also comparable. Differences are in slide and frame sculpting, extractor, grips and a few other features.
Not a 1911
Looks can be deceiving and though the 911 and its peers resemble the ubiquitous 1911, these pistols differ significantly in more than just caliber and size. The 911 lacks a grip safety and uses a bushing-less barrel with a slightly wider circumference near its muzzle to mate with the slide, and uses a full-length recoil spring guide rod. More significantly, its thumb safety operates differently. When the safety is applied, the slide is not locked closed as with the 1911 and allows the chamber to be cleared. The 911 also uses a pivoting trigger while the 1911 has a sliding trigger.
Most experts agree that the 1911 is best carried cocked and locked in a proper holster when used for defensive purposes. With the 911, however, the manual warns users not to load the chamber until ready to shoot, despite the pistol’s fi ring pin capture that functions as a drop safety. Presumably, “ready to shoot” includes defensive carry. However, for those who carry it but want a two-step process to enable it to fire, the hammer can be rested at half cock and the safety applied. In this condition, the slide is locked and the hammer cannot be cocked until the safety is placed into the Fire mode.
Lots of Mustangs in the Corral
With four breeds of Mustang now made, how does Springfield’s 911 compare? Quite competitively, it seems, and at lower cost. The 911 has bilateral safety levers while only the more expensive P238s and Micros also offer this upgrade. An ambi safety on the Colts is a custom shop endeavor. The 911 also is the only pistol with a loaded chamber flag, which offers visual and tactile indication of its condition. It also comes with more accessories: an extra 7-round magazine usually only offered on upgraded P238s and Micros, and a pocket holster with Velcro sewn to one side. The Velcro secures the 911’s holster into the nylon clutch-style case, but also has the advantage of allowing the user to sew the opposing side’s Velcro into one’s coat or pants pocket to completely secure the pistol and keep it accessible at the same spot and at the same angle. Finally, the 911 uses G10 for its trigger shoe and mainspring housing while most others use inexpensive and less durable plastic.
“The 911’s trigger pull has a stated weight of 5 pounds, though ours was heavier.”
There are other functional advantages. Like the P238 and Micro, the night sights are steel and dovetail mounted, allowing for adjustment to windage. They also use Tritium vials surrounded by white circles, but the 911’s front sight is enhanced with a wider surrounding ring colored bright yellow, which gives much-needed contrast from the rear sight in daylight. (The Mustang’s sights have a small front sight that is integral to the slide and a plain open rear sight.) Finally, the 911 uses a pivoting external extractor that some believe is more forgiving over a wider range of spring tensions than the internal design used on the Mustang, P238 and Micro. This may be only be a theoretical advantage, since extracting .380 cases is far easier mechanically than 9mm and .45 ACP.
Besides added features, the 911 is positioned to get your attention with an MSRP of $599 versus a starting price of $579 for the most basic Micro, $679 for the least-equipped P238, and $699 for the Mustang Pocketlite—and $599 for the polymer-framed version. Add the features that are standard on the 911 to competitive models and the price advantage is more apparent. Though comparing parts fit, workmanship and live fire performance give a definitive indication of which gun is best for you, Springfield’s 911 deserves a close look if you want a single-action .380 cal pocket pistol.
During live fire the 911 handles very well despite its size and has good ergonomics. The safety levers have an ideal amount of tension, and the G10 grips and texturing on the mainspring housing and front strap keep the pistol cemented in hand. Fully loaded magazines are inserted with ease even with the slide closed, making tactical reloads easy, and the case head of the top round in the magazine can be seen through the rear of the slide when the hammer is cocked. If you see the magazine’s follower instead of a cartridge when the slide is closed, the chamber probably contains your last round. The mag release button and slide lock lever are large enough to activate ambidextrously without problems.
Because the 911 is only 3.9 inches tall, changing magazines requires you to release the bottom fingers of your grip to allow the empty mag to pop free, aided by the spring tension of the follower. This maneuver is unique to small-frame pistols and illustrates the importance of learning and practicing micro pistol handling techniques, which can differ substantially from those used with compact and full-size hardware.
“During live fire, the 911 handled very well, despite its size.”
The 911’s trigger pull has a stated weight of 5 pounds, though our sample measured 6 pounds, 8 ounces using a Lyman scale, and measured at the center of the trigger shoe. The trigger has minimal creep and no over-travel, which helps you land shots where you want them, especially when compared to pistols with long-stroke double-action triggers of equal or heavier weight.
We tested the 911 for mechanical accuracy and sight regulation using three different loads, adding a fourth to assess functioning. Mechanical accuracy was tested off a rest at 7 yards, and SIG Sauer’s 90-grain V-Crown load showed the best consistency. For practical defensive use the sights were well-regulated, with loads printing at or 1 inch below point of aim, and not requiring material adjustment to windage. Dovetail mounts allow for drifting if needed. The front sight, with its light lime-yellow ring around the tritium vial, was much easier to pick up with the contrasting front sight outdoors in daylight, but the color was indistinguishable from white rings on the rear sight when indoors under artificial light.
“It’s a tilting-barrel, locked-breech design that distinguishes it from the most popular pistols chambered in .380 S&W.”
Our sample had to be sent back to correct out-of-battery stoppages using Black Hills JHP and SIG Sauer JHP loads. Springfield Armory remedied the problem within 24 hours and noted that it was an early model that has since been modified. There were also six misfires caused by light primer strikes in 200 rounds of testing, with the rounds firing on the second try. As with any carry pistol, we would extensively test the 911 with your intended load before carrying, and make sure the spent primers have adequate firing pin indentation even if they consistently fire.
Using the extended magazine was more comfortable and made the 911 easier to aim, but the mild cartridge and partially undercut trigger guard, which places the hand higher on the frame, made second-shot recovery easy even when using the flush-fit mag and a partial hand grip.
The 911 is the latest take on a very popular design thanks to its compact size, crisp trigger and good ergonomics. Its single action with manual safety isn’t for those who don’t practice enough to become proficient and automatic it its operation. However, for those who do put in the time, validate the performance of the intended ammo, and need a caliber lighter than 9mm, the 911 is a solid choice and a comparatively good value among all the other Mustangs in the corral.
Springfield armory 911
CALIBER: .380 S&W
OVERALL LENGTH: 5.5 INCHES
BARREL LENGTH: 2.7 INCHES
HEIGHT: 3.9 INCHES
WIDTH: 1.1 INCHES
WEIGHT: 12.6 OUNCES (W/EMPTY MAGAZINE)
CAPACITY: 6+1 (STANDARD), 7+1
MSRP: $599 URL: SPRINGFIELD-ARMORY.COM
Performance Testing Results
|BLACK HILLS 90 GR. JHP||
|WINCHESTER USA 95 GR. FMJ||
|SIG SAUER V CROWN 90 GR. JHP||
|Group size of 5 shots at 7 yards using a Caldwell rest and measured center to center. Average is of 10 targets. Sm. Grp.- smallest 5-shot group; Group Size-average of 10, 5 shot groups. Mean velocity of 5 shots measured 10’ from the muzzle with an Oehler 35P chronograph.|
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the November print issue of World of Firepower Magazine.