In the mid 1980s, the Canadian-based gunmaker Para-Ordnance pioneered the double-stack M1911-style pistol. It was a design that was quickly adopted by law enforcement and competitive shooters alike because it solved the age-old problem of the 1911s ammunition capacity, while preserving the primary features that have kept the 1911 a popular choice amongst American shooters for over a century. In 2009, the company changed its name to Para USA and moved to Pineville, N.C., where the pistols are still being manufactured today.
This year, the company continues to expand its line of full-size, wide-body .45 ACP pistols with the addition of the Pro Custom 14.45. This double-stack pistol was designed in conjunction with IPSC World Champion Travis Tomasie for those who are looking to acquire a competition-style pistol without having to shell out the cash for a built-from-scratch gun. As a result, this pistol arrives ready for target work or self-defense, right out of the box.
The hand-fitted Pro Custom 14.45 is constructed with a stainless-steel slide and frame, both of which have been treated with the tough Ionbond PVD matte-black finish. The slide features front and rear slide serrations for improved cycling, Para's EGW HD extractor and a beveled ejection port. The dovetailed metallic sights consist of a green fiber optic in front and a fully adjustable target sight at the rear. The 5-inch, stainless-steel linked, match-grade barrel is ramped and cut with traditional land-and-groove rifling and supported by a competition-grade barrel bushing. The recoil assembly consists of a full-length guide rod and a single, round-wire recoil spring. A polymer bushing wrench is provided for pistol disassembly.
The front of this pistol's frame has traditional M1911 lines, meaning a rounded trigger guard and a short dust cover that is unencumbered by an accessory rail. This limits the number of gadgets that can be attached to the frame but keeps the pistol fully compatible with a broad assortment of 1911 competition and carry holster systems. The skeletonized hammer is paired with a generous memory-bump, beavertail grip safety. The match-grade polycarbonate trigger is also skeletonized and is fitted with an adjustable over-travel stop.
The round magazine release is located and operated from the left side of the frame, while the thumb safety is ambidextrous. The grip frame's frontstrap and main spring housing are finely checkered for improved traction. The black machine-textured G10 grip panels are provided by VZ Grips and held in place using black Torx-head screws. The base of the grip frame is fitted with a generous aluminum mag well for speedy reloads, and the steel 14-round magazines are fitted with aluminum bases beveled to match the opening of the mag well.
The Para USA Pro Custom 14.45 was taken to an outdoor range to check its reliability and accuracy. Working with top-notch full-size 1911s is usually an enjoyable event because of how comfortable they are to run and the satisfying results they produce on paper. This Para pistol did not disappoint on either count.
The craftsmanship and fitting of the pistol was top-notch, with the Ionbond PVD finish applied evenly for a dark, handsome, uniform finish throughout. Although the wide grip frame may be too large for some folks to use, the frame's checkering and the G10 grips made this pistol comfortable, even in my smaller-size paws. The texture of the grip panels is just right for most applications. They provide solid purchase, with or without gloves, but they are not so deeply textured as to be abrasive to bare hands.
The slide was exceptionally smooth, tight and free of side-to-side shake. The external controls operated cleanly with the magazine release locking and dropping magazines smoothly and the thumb safety snapping securely into position. The trigger broke crisply with 4 pounds, 5 ounces of pull, according to the digital trigger gauge.
Although I like fiber-optic sights in general, and use them on some of the guns I own, they are not always a good fit for target pistols. Often the light pipe employed is too large. As a result, the round face of the optic muddies the outline of the front sight when aligned with the square notch of the rear sight. However, the fiber-optic front installed on this pistol was just right for its intended applications. The thin green optic provided a bright reference point but it was small enough not to interrupt the square outline of the sight.
The Para USA Pro Custom 14.45 operated without any ammunition malfunctions throughout the testing process. It reliably cycled a mixed diet of full-metal-jacket, standard-pressure hollow points and +P loads. The weight of the pistol and the wide grip made for a moderate, controllable level of felt recoil with most of the loads fired.
The pistol was checked for accuracy by firing five-shot groups from a benchrest into paper targets set at 25 yards. The accuracy was impressive, with the best five-shot group of 2.24 inches produced using Winchester's Supreme Elite PDX1 230-grain bonded jacketed hollow point, which also produced the best average of 2.62 inches. The new Barnes Bullets TAC XPD 185-grain +P hollow points yielded an average of 2.66 inches, followed by the Federal Personal Defense 230-grain jacketed hollow point at 2.78 inches. While I was perfectly happy with these shot groups, I learned that others have squeezed even better accuracy out of this pistol. One reviewer posted groups ranging from 1 to 2.25 inches using factory loads, which is markedly better than mine. I'll chalk it up to his having larger hands to wrap around the wide grip.
Over the past couple of years, I've had the opportunity to work with a few of the Para USA pistols and I have found plenty of reasons to be satisfied with their quality, craftsmanship and reliability. The Pro Custom 14.45 was no exception. In fact, this pistol has been very nicely tricked out with a variety of features that would cost much more in a built-from-scratch competition or a custom-shop defensive 1911. It's an impressive package that should appeal to 1911 fans looking to get a whole bunch of bang for their buck.