Prior to Swenson, gunsmiths like Bob Chow and Al Dinan were focused on Bullseye pistol competition. The Government Model had never been customized specifically for combat purposes. A handful of pistolsmiths in Southern California changed all that. Armand Swenson remains the foremost of these pioneering smiths and the man largely credited with defining the custom combat 1911 forever. The former middleweight boxer loved guns and he was a gifted craftsman.
In 1965, things were happening fast in Southern California. In a sleepy mountain resort called Big Bear, Jeff Cooper was holding combat shooting matches in the South West Combat Pistol League. Ray Chapman and others needed a rather specific list of custom work to be performed on the 1911. Arnold Capone of King’s Gun Works in Los Angeles became a favorite of the local combat shooters. It could be argued that the first custom combat 1911s were built by Al and one of his hired hands, a dude named Jimmy Hoag. As Capone and Hoag got back logged, the word spread about a barrel-chested Swede named Armand Swenson. His modifications were not only eminently functional but also aesthetically pleasing. Swenson 1911s featured ambidextrous thumb safeties, adjustable K sights, French borders, stippled slide tops, 30 LPI checkering, beveled magwells, lowered ejection ports, extended ejectors, tuned extractors, and hard chrome.
If you like custom combat 1911s, understand this: Swenson is the giant’s shoulders they are all firmly standing on. I particularly like this example. Not only is it a flawless example of Swenson’s work, with the top stippling, square trigger guard, K frame sights, etc…but it’s built on a “Slant Groove” Colt. There’s a great debate over how many of these exist, with the conventional wisdom being approximately 300 in the world. Given that Yost and Burton have probably carved up 20-30 of those, these guns are getting harder and harder to find in any form. This is the only slant groove Swenson that I have ever seen.