The phrase, "What was once old is new again" is commonly used to announce resurgences in the fashion realm for those fabric-oriented frills making a comeback. While I don't pretend to understand the world of wraps and throws—the popularity of bell bottoms still baffles me—I take comfort in the fact the same expression can be used to describe time-tested offerings in firearms. A case in point is the return of Detonics and the diminutive, albeit potent, Combat Master Evolution.
The popularity of sub-compact 1911s is at an all-time high. Despite being available in droves today, the existence of commercially available, sub-compact 1911s is largely due to the development of the classic Detonics Combat Master.
It was originally designed in the early '70s in an attempt to bridge the gap between the anemic .38 Spl. and excessive .357 Mag., while simultaneously providing an alternative to Colt 1911A1 and Commander-sized pistols. Previously, custom gunsmith Armand Swenson accomplished such a feat by cutting and re-welding GI 1911s. The arrival of Detonics brought the concept to the commercial firearms market, paving the way for the magnitude of today's offerings. And although the company has had multiple locations and owners over the decades, the mission of Detonics remains unchanged.The Combat Master Evolution is a revival the '70s-era classic with some innovative, contemporary features.
Much like the original company's goal, the current firm also desired a pistol designed for combat. A conversation with company CEO Bruce Siddle proved invaluable. "Much like other 1911 companies—previous Detonics models included—we too desired a combat-orient pistol. However, our goal isn't a pistol capable of combat accuracy, but rather one capable of combat precision. And what sets the Evolution apart is our use of CNC-based technology, which until now has been used sporadically throughout the industry for different parts."
The Evolution takes the best elements of the classic Combat Master and blends them with contemporary refinements, including a CNC-machined slide, frame and barrel. That enables the company to control the degree of separation between the parts for truly precise tolerances.
Sporting a 3.5-inch barrel and abbreviated grip, a glimpse of this diminutive pistol instills a sense of déjà vu. One feature retained from the classic Combat Master model is a re-contoured grip safety, which lacks an exterior tang. While the absence conjures dreaded images of hammer bite, the likelihood is significantly reduced, thanks to a thorough beveling of the safety's underside and a modified hammer spur. Internally, the grip safety's interior protrusion, which contacts the sear spring during firing, is also removed. Some consider this hazardous, but the gun contains a mechanical thumb safety much like the Browning High Power.
The Evolution's steel mainspring housing is flat and contains fine vertical serrations. When teamed with checkered, rich rosewood stocks and large, widely spaced serrations on its frontstrap, the combination makes an extremely comfortable grip with good purchase.
Subtle simplicity describes the fire controls. A single-sided thumb safety with a narrow, finely serrated paddle provides optimal contact while drawing, and offers enough space for those shooters who prefer a "high-thumb" hold. Surprisingly, its trigger is of nostalgic design, solid with a short shoe.
The most eye-catching components of the Evolution are found on its slide. Stylish relief cuts span the top and are accented by features such as dual slide serrations and Novak's LoMount rear sight. Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the pistol is its octagonal sighting system, or OSS. As a means of enhancing accuracy, the Detonics engineers strove to enhance the locking mechanism by eliminating excess play, which led to an octagonal-shaped barrel. By CNCing an integral front-sight dovetail to the barrel, along with dual pillar-shaped lugs, the OSS actually allows for 12 lockup points as opposed to eight.
Another reason Detonics created the OSS was from a visual acuity standpoint. Siddle explained, "Mounting the sight directly to the barrel works to minimize movement, while simultaneously enhancing overall sight clarity and reacquisition." Whether shooting competitively or for self-defense, seeing the front sight is of vital importance.
As a collector of classic Detonics pistols, I went to the range with high hopes this new offering would cut the ballistic mustard, and I'm happy to report its performance was admirable. Malfunctions were minor: The slide seized during the first two magazines—not uncommon for new pistols. A generous coating of lube was all it needed. Group sizes ranged from 1 to 3 inches. Surprisingly however, the Evolution didn't display a preference for a particular load or bullet type, but instead displayed equal accuracy with two different loads: 68-grain MagSafe and 230-grain Winchester. Given the substantial difference in bullet weight, I can't help but think barrel design contributed to its accuracy. As for the system aiding in faster sight acquisition, my eyes detected no noticeable distinction. I do, however, think a reference point on the front sight, such as a white dot would make a nice addition to the OSS.
Although difficult to classify, one thing is certain. Contemporary or classic, the Detonics Combat Master Evolution is proof that age begets innovation.