Dan Coonan designed the M1911-based, .357 Mag.-chambered Coonan pistol while still in college and started manufacturing it in the late 1970s. Coonan sold Coonan Arms to Bill Davis in 1985, and five years later he left the company. In 1994, Coonan Arms filed Chapter 11 and eventually was incorporated by JS Worldwide Distribution. Both Coonan Arms and JS Worldwide were dissolved in 1998.
Dan Coonan met Dave Neville when their daughters were going to school together, and in 2009 they joined forces with Gordy Davis to form Coonan, Inc. It reintroduced the Coonan .357 Magnum Automatic Pistol, calling it the Classic.
The stainless-steel Coonan Classic .357 Magnum Automatic has 18 parts that are interchangeable, six parts that require some modification from the original M1911 design and the remainder unique to Coonan’s design. For example, the barrel does not have a link, but does use a muzzle bushing. The barrel flares larger at the end for a smoother and tighter lockup. The sample pistol’s fit and finish were excellent with all parts well machined and devoid of tooling marks.
The gun features a large, full-length dust cover and while not actually much larger than a standard M1911, the gun gives the overall perception of being a large handgun. For example the grip, just below the grip safety, measures 2.2 inches wide compared to an S&W M1911 .45 ACP, which measures 1.95 inches. The distance from the grip safety in the collapsed position to the trigger is 2.83 inches, compared to the S&W’s 2.73 inches. The front of the trigger guard is about 1/4 inch farther from the back of the grip on the Coonan. Of course, the magazines are larger to accommodate the longer cartridge so the grip size reflects that. The magazine holds seven cartridges, giving the pistol an eight-round capacity overall.
The .357 Mag. cartridge was developed for a revolver where it could headspace off the rim. Traditionally, feeding of rimmed center-fire cartridges is problematic in box-magazine-fed firearms. That problem, however, has been addressed well with the Coonan. The cartridges are staggered, with the rim of each cartridge in front of the one below it in the magazine.
Although the Coonan’s gripframe is larger than that of a standard M1911, after having several shooters try the gun, there was a consensus that it was not an issue and that even those with average-size hands had no trouble reaching the trigger. Some shooters, however, may find it difficult to reach the magazine release button with the right thumb.
Both of the sights are dovetailed into the slide. The front sight on the sample gun was a serrated black ramp with a steep contour, while the black rear sight was adjustable for elevation with a single screw. Windage is controlled by drifting the sight in the dovetail. Trijicon night sights are also available as an option.
The safety is right-hand-only, but Neville says that most any aftermarket ambidextrous M1911 safety will fit. The extractor is the external style. The slide release is oversize for easy use.
The two-stage trigger is a pivoting design inspired, as was the linkless barrel, by the Browning Hi Power pistol. The break was clean and crisp at 3 pounds, 3 ounces, on our sample. The stocks are smooth black walnut with the Coonan logo laser engraved in the center.
We function tested the pistol with several different .357 Mag. loads, with bullet weights from 125 grains to 180 grains. It ran well with most, but did not function properly with reduced-power “personal defense” ammunition. When the gun was fed full-power .357 Mag. ammunition designed for handguns, it ran fine.
The Coonan could serve well as a dual-purpose pistol pressed into hunting and defensive roles. Company advertisements read, “Looking for your first pistol? Well this isn’t it!” They are right—the Coonan is a powerful, high-performance handgun, and like anything that’s high-performance it runs best within a narrow band and requires careful attention to detail. But with that attention comes the reward of ultra-high ballistic performance from the M1911 platform.