The official creation of IPSC (May 1976) and the rise of new pistolsmiths

Charlie Kelsey Devel

American Handgunner – May/June 1979 (Page 24)

American Handgunner – Sept/Oct 1980 (Page 42)

American Handgunner – Jan/Feb 1982 (Page 33)

8-rd magazine
American Handgunner – March/April 1983 (Page 33)

Gammon II
American Handgunner – Sept/Oct 1984 (Page 42)

Bill Wilson

“The Combat Auto” by Bill Wilson (Free to read)
“Gun Guy” by Bill Wilson

American Handgunner – Nov/Dec 1980 (Page 38)

Wilson Combat 1982 catalog

American Handgunner – July/August 1985 (Page 35)

American Handgunner – July/August 1989 (Page 56)

Ed Brown

Front Sight magazine Sept. 1985 (Page 13)

American Handgunner -Sept/Oct 1985 (Page 26)

American Handgunner – Nov/Dec 1988 (Page 58)

Bill Laughridge – Cylinder & Slide

American Handgunner – May/June 1979 (Page 35)

Steve Nastoff

American Handgunner – Sept/Oct 1985 (Page 56)

American Handgunner -July/August 1988 (Page 58)

Richard Heinie

Front Sight magazine – April 1985 (Page 13)

American Handgunner – March/April 1986 (Page 42)

Jim Boland

Guns & Ammo – July 1980

“Jim Boland – The Master Gunsmith

“Super 9” American Handgunner Annual 1987
Part 2 – Jim Boland Redesigns the Colt 1911

Front Sight magazine – Jan/Feb 1986 (Page 19)

American Handgunner – May/June 1990 (Page 54)

Bruce Gray

Front Sight magazine – Jan/Feb 2005 (Page 36)
Front Sight magazine – March/April 2005 (Page 36)

Les Baer

American Handgunner – July/August 1985 (Page 39)

Front Sight magazine – Sept/Oct 1985 (Page 11)

Wayne Novak

Rear Sight patents

1986 Novak ad

Paul Liebenberg

American Handgunner – Jan/Feb 1986 (Page 34)

American Handgunner – July/August 1987 (Page 41)

The IPSC Arms Race Begins

“To Comp or Not to Comp” American Handgunner – Sept/Oct 1984 (Page 46)

Extended ported barrels
Williams Quick-Comp (~1978)
Clark Pin Gun (1979)
Plaxco Comp (1980)
Wilson Accu-Comp C (1981)
Wilson Accu-Comp LE (1984)
Wilson Accu-Comp DP (1988)

Growth of the Aftermarket Parts Industry

Caspian Arms (1983)

“The Caspian Dream” – American Handgunner

Rise of the .38 Super/Major 9

The birth of the Major PF .38 Super owes a certain amount of credit to Jeff Cooper’s wildcat “Super 9″ covered in the December 1973 issue of Guns & Ammo. Cooper gave quite a bit of credit to others who had been hot-rodding the .38 Super: gunwriters George Nonte and Mason Williams, gunsmith Terry Tussey, and John Adams of SAECO Bullet Moulds. At the time, Cooper noted that the downside to hot-rodding .38 Super was the unsupported barrel, and potential for case web failure. The base pistol was a .38 Super Colt Commander customized by Jim Hoag with a ~6.5” Bar-Sto barrel. Cooper originally started with hot .38 Super rounds loaded by John Adams. In the long barrel, Adams could get to roughly 1,600 fps with a 125gr projectile before the .38 Super cases began to blow. To improve the strength of the case web, Whit Collins suggested that Cooper try .223 Remington brass cut to .38 Super length. The change in cases allowed the Super 9 wildcat to achieve ~1,750 fps with the same 125gr projectiles. However, Cooper never saw this as a competition pistol, but as a lightweight/long range trail pistol.

In the November/December 1980 issue of American Handgunner (Page 16), Dick Thomas noted that in 1977 Ken Hackathorn had floated the idea of building a .38 Super competition pistol. This might have been in response to 1977 IPSC World Shoot, which some folks claimed that been set up by the Rhodesian hosts to favor the higher capacity of the Browning Hi-Power. (Note that the winner was Rhodesian Dave Westerhout using a BHP.) Thomas developed a load with Speer’s 125gr JSP that achieved 1,380 fps. This was sufficient to make Major on Hackathorn’s ballistic pendulum. He considered recoil to be low, with the trade off being additional flash and blast. Thomas believed that the high velocity would simplify the lead on moving targets, and reduce the need to hold over on 60yd targets. Not mentioned was the fact that the .38 Super gave two extra shots over the .45 ACP.

Bruce Gray claims that he built his first .38 Super competition pistol for a customer in late 1978, followed by a second pistol for himself. They used 173gr cast bullets to achieve Major PF on the ballistic pendulums of the era. In response, some local clubs banned their pistols outright, while other clubs raised the threshold for Major PF to 185. Gray claims that he was told that the organizers of the 1981 US Nationals would not allow the pistol to be scored as Major no matter how it performed ballistically.

In any case, Gray’s .38 Super pistols brought him to the attention of Charles Kelsey of Devel. Gray worked with Kelsey on the development of the .38 Super Gammon II, which was campaigned by Chip McCormick and Mark Duncan in 1983. Kelsey had plans for a dedicated Major PF wildcat, the 9mm Devel, using a strengthened case, but this never reached mass production.

The Super’s popularity really took off when Rob Leatham and Brian Enos started campaigning Wilson Combat-built .38 Supers in 1984, with Leatham winning the 1984 US Nationals.

From around 1980 to 1993, IPSC and USPSA only allowed flush flt magazines for the M1911. While solid bumper pads were kosher, you could not use an an extended tube or a hollow baseplate to expand the capacity of the pistol. So the only way to increase your magazine capacity in the single-stack M1911 was to either use a Devel (pre-Shooting Star) follower and/or swap to a smaller caliber.

In response to the rise of the .38 Super, match directors began to increase the round counts of stages to force reloads upon the .38 Super shooters, who then held a 1-3 round advantage over their .45 ACP brethren. To counter this, gamers then scrambled to find a 9x19mm high-capacity pistol that would remain together when loaded to Major PF. You had gunsmiths playing with “Major 9” in the HK P7M13 (Bruce Gray), the Browning Hi-Power (Cylinder & Slide), and the CZ75 (Don Fisher.)

Things really came to a head when shooters sponsored by S&W and Springfield started to field hi-cap “Major 9″ pistols. A few months prior to the 1990 Nationals and World Shoot, the USPSA BOD banned the use of 9x19mm at Major PF when loaded shorter than 1.25”. The sponsored shooters quickly rechambered their pistols from 9x19mm to 9x21mm IMI. The joke was that they were using 9mm JLE (Just Long Enough).

1987 ad

Explosion of the Aftermarket Parts Industry

Shooting Star / CMC (Chip McCormick and Virgil Tripp)

Chip McCormick and James Smithwick ended up buying the Devel follower patent in August 1986, forming the basis for McCormick’s long-running accessory business. McCormick then branched out with Virgil Tripp to create other accessories like EDM-cut hammers and sears.

1987 Shooting Star ad
1990 CMC ad

EGW (1991 – George Smith)

Creation of Factory Custom Shops to Support Sponsored Shooters

Springfield Custom Shop (Tim Dillon, Les Baer, Jack Weigand, and Dave Williams)

S&W Performance Center
(Paul Liebenberg and John French)

Rise of the Red Dot and M1911 Widebody Frames (1990)

The 1990 US Nationals were the last hoorah for the single-stack .38 Super, but added a new wrinkle in the form of red dot sights. The real equipment race was sparked a month later when Doug Koenig took the 1990 World Shoot with a red-dot equipped Springfield P9 in 9x21mm.

That is when you started to see major work at perfecting a high-capacity M1911 frame suitable for .38 Super. While Jim Boland and Otto Matyska had individually fabricated one-off high capacity M1911 frames in the 1980s, nothing was commercially available until the Para-Ordnance frame kits came on the market. However, their quality control was not always the best, nor did they have a .38 Super magazine available in the early days. About the only person trying to campaign the Para-Ord in its first few years was John Dixon. I seem to remember that he even had Para-Ord custom cast one out of beryllium copper. However, the first USPSA Nationals win for Para-Ord was in 1991 with Todd Jarrett using a pistol built by Blake Gann. The same year Jerry Barnhart used a Wilson Combat with a custom high-cap M1911 frame fabricated by George Huening. The Wilson/Huening pistol used CZ75 magazines.

The Caspian and CMC (pre-STI & SV Infinity) widebody frames hit the market in 1992. There was a loophole in the IPSC/USPSA magazine rule (7.05) that allowed non-flush magazines if the extended magazine was the standard equipment introduced with the pistol/frame. Caspian and CMC exploited this rule to increase their magazine capacity over the CZ75 and its clones.

The CMC frame kit’s first USPSA Open Nationals win was in 1992. Jerry Barnhart’s racegun was built by Wilson Combat. Matt McLearn used a Caspian widebody frame to win the 1993 USPSA Nationals and IPSC World Shoot.

Late 1992 Caspian widebody frame ad

The Backlash Ensues – IPSC Standard/USPSA Limited (1992)

Limited Division was formally introduced in USPSA around 1992 in response to the backlash against the optics and muzzle brakes. The latter were growing ever longer with multiple expansion chambers to use every bit of high pressure gases. Briefly, the Major PF caliber minimum in Limited was 0.354″ just like in Open. The USPSA Board of Directors thought they were being clever when they imposed a production minimum for eligible pistols and required three manufacturers to produce Major PF loads for a cartridge to be legal. This ended the moment that S&W appeared ready to succeed with their Model 3566 and .356 TSW. Even as S&W was sending fliers out to dealers stating that this combo was Limited Division Major PF legal, the USPSA BOD quickly met and increased the minimum caliber for Limited Major PF to 0.400″. (Personally, I think that the .357 SIG would have never been born if S&W had properly marketed the .356 TSW outside of competition use.)

The minimum production number rules for Limited Division kept the CMC and Caspian frame kits out of play for a few years. This changed once STI started making complete pistols in late August 1993. However, the minimum production rule basically meant that they were only legal just a few weeks ahead of the 1994 Limited Nationals. (The Para-Ordnance P16.40, introduced in early September 1993, suffered the same fate.) The Caspian frames weren’t legal for Limited until 1998 after Fred Craig cranked out a large number of his “Fantom” models. That said, the Caspian frames were never really a big thing in Limited as their magazine width was not optimized for any cartridge larger than 9x23mm/.38 Super.

While it suffered for the first few years due to the lack of approved widebody pistols, the 40 S&W ultimately became the Limited Division cartridge of choice due to its capacity advantage over the .45 ACP. However, STI soon began to exploit further loopholes. The STI Eagle 5.1’s factory bull barrel ultimately led to approval of bull barrels across the board starting 1994. Coned barrels quickly pushed out the conventional bushing set-up. STI went on to add full-length dust covers and then heavy, long dust covers, leading to their approval in June 1996.

Loading tricks became the reverse of Open Division; shooters gravitated to heavy bullets with fast burning powders so pressures would be lower as the bullet left the barrel. Some went even further, with shooters using 250-260gr bullets in .45 ACP and 200-220gr bullets in .40 S&W and 10mm. The extra heavy bullets worked in the .40 M1911-pattern as most shooters were loading them long for more reliable feeding. You might ask why not go to the 10mm? Well, once-fired .40 S&W brass was a lot cheaper due to its popularity in police departments. Of course, trouble began when folks would try to duplicate these heavy bullet .40 S&W loads at shorter lengths so they would fit in a Glock or other stock pistols.

The 170mm magazine rule was passed in 1992, and went into effect on January 1, 1993 in both IPSC and USPSA. However, IPSC only allowed it Open Division, but not their Standard Division. In contrast, USPSA decided to allow it in Limited Division for a year. After the first year, the standard-length magazine rule was reapplied to double-stack frames, while still allowing single-stack frames to use 170mm magazines. In 1995, USPSA revisited the issue, setting the maximum length to 140mm for double-stack frames in Limited.

Of course, stage round counts started to go out of sight. I think part of the USPSA BOD’s logic for the 170mm single stack magazine Limited Division was that the M1911 .45 ACP shooters with 11rd magazines would be able to keep up with the wide-body M1911 frames. I suspect the 140mm dimension was based upon the lengths of the OEM 20rd magazines that had long been available for the Browning P35, SIG-Sauer P226, Beretta 92, and S&W Model 59-series. These extended magazines had long been used by Military and Police tactical teams.

Unfortunately, most of the 11rd .45 ACP single-stack magazines were junk, and the makers of the double-stack M1911 frames quickly developed extended magazines. Moreover, the “High Capacity Feeding Device” ban went into effect in September 1994. As a result, all of the extended single-stack magazine development went into 10rd magazines. However, a lot of double-stack M1911 shooters played hard and fast with the replacement parts loophole. We were extremely lucky that the Feds didn’t clamp down. After all, years earlier, some ATF field offices had gone after pistols with optics mounts that were too close to the serial number. Needless to say, most optics mounts quickly standardized on the dust cover.

Backlash Part 2 – USPSA Limited Division Arms Race

Established pistolsmiths begin to drop out of USPSA in favor of carry pistols.

New shooting organizations formed by IPSC/USPSA alumni .

1994 – 1911 Single Stack Classic (Richard Heinie, Russell Cluver, Frank James, Walt Rauch, Bob Houzenga, Jerry Glogoski, Steve Kalaman, Kerby Smith, and Bill Laughridge)

1996 – International Defensive Pistol Association (Bill Wilson, John Sayle, Ken Hackathorn, Dick Thomas, Walt Rauch, and Larry Vickers)

Pistolsmiths become True Manufacturers

The BATF had been badgering custom gunsmiths like Clark Custom since at least the 1980s over the agency’s overly broad definition of “manufacturing.” Basically, if a gunsmith takes a factory pistol or frame directly into inventory and then modifies it before it is ever sold to a new customer, the gunsmith is now considered to be manufacturer of the pistol. Thus, he owes the Federal Excise Tax on the new value of the modified pistol. Add to this to the trouble of dealing with loose factory specifications and the reality that most factory parts short of the slide and frame will be binned during a high grade build. It started making a lot of sense to some ‘smiths to stop messing with a la carte builds, and just build package guns based upon self-branded slides, frames, and other parts made to their own specifications.

1993 – Baer Custom

1996 – Wilson Combat

The Emergence of Factory “Custom” Clones

The major manufacturers were extremely slow to respond to the changing meta. The earlier Colt “Enhanced” models were about 10-15 years behind the curve compared to the aftermarket. Springfield had kind of nibbled around the edges of the competition and practical market with over-the-counter offerings like its psuedo-Gunsite GSP, the “Defender.” However, Kimber’s success made Colt and Springfield take notice.

1995 – Kimber – (Spec’ed by Chip McCormick)

1997 – Springfield Inc. “Super Tuned” series

1999 – Colt XS-series – (Spec’ed by C-More’s Ira Kay)


  1. That’s a great bit of research and presentation. Being in IPSC at that time was both neat and frustrating. On the one hand, we had all these pistolsmiths pushing the boundaries of what a pistol could do, and then we had the various organizations playing idiotic games with limitations based on nothing more than pithy mottos – like “Major calibers begin with 4.”


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