A common question that I am asked is "What should I buy for my first 1911?" After they wade through a long dissertation that starts with "Get an M&P 45..." or the other one that starts with "Get a Glock 17...", we end up back at the original question. The statements I typically hear that preface the conversation include:
"I just want an entry level gun..."
"I don't want to spend too much..."
"It is just for the range..."
"I saw a great bargain from xxx brand, it has lots of cool looking features and looks like it is just as good as the guns from xxx big name brand which cost 3x as much."
If you really want a 1911, prepare to jump into the deep end of the pool. There is no dipping of the toe in the 1911 swimming pool, either dive all the way in or do not waste your time and money. There simply are no true bargains to be had, and the $3-400 gun that "looks just like" the big name brand gun is just that - a lookalike only. If you only fire a few hundred rounds a year out of the gun at 7 yards, then you may be very happy with whatever you buy. However, should you ever decide to use the gun for a training class or any other serious applications, be prepared for that gun to let you down at some point.
There is a reason the big name 1911s cost what they do, and it is not just some voodoo to line the pockets of their manufacturers. It is a very expensive proposition to make the 1911, and savings are only had when you cut corners somewhere. These corners are typically cut by using less expensive small parts and skipping fitting operations. When Kimber came on the market in the 90's, they boasted match accuracy and custom features at production prices. Stop for a moment and look again at the cost saving steps outlined above. Kimber introduced the wide use of MIM small parts, which allow complex shapes to be made to close tolerances at a lower per part cost. Done properly, these parts can work well and last a long time. They brought CNC technology to the mix and were able to manufacture the slide, frame, and barrel to closer tolerances, reducing or eliminating the fitting required to improve accuracy. They did it right, and a new 1911 powerhouse was born. However, when they started looking to revisit the cost cutting steps is where they ended up stepping on it with their small parts quality and QC.
Why not buy a cheap import just to start out and learn the 1911? I would instead ask why you would want to just throw your money away. Instead of buying a gussied up cheapo that has no real hopes of growth, why not buy a low end no frills gun from a reputable manufacturer? My top picks for such a starter gun is the Springfield GI and Milspec 5" Government format guns, which can be had for around $5-600 if you shop around. For about $100 with smart shopping, you can also get one of the new manufacture Colt 1991A1 Government Models. Don't get one of the older ones from the 90's, it may or may not be a good deal if you don't know what to look for. If it turns out that you don't like the 1911 platform, a quality brand name gun will have enduring resale value, while the import knockoff will certainly not retain much value. If you end up falling in love with the 1911, then you can hang on to your quality brand gun and build on it. Spend the money once, and spend it well.