The two pistols selected for this shootout might seem like an odd matchup. As we all know there is little point in comparing apples to oranges. In this case the two pistols in question are only different on the outside. Disassembling either of them reveals the same familiar John Browning design that has been America’s sweetheart for more than a hundred years. That being said, the differences between them are the key reason for them being selected. The Rand is the classic GI model that most people picture when discussing the 1911 in its war-era form. The Sig represents the other end of the 1911 spectrum with many of the modern bells and whistles that have become common with the new breed of 1911. In fact, it’s even from a company not generally associated with the 1911 design. What we’re trying to determine here is which end of the spectrum offers the most desirable package for the prospective buyer.
First, let’s take a look at the Rand. The particular pistol I tested was made in 1943 at the height of the war production effort. This Rand was one of two pistols that I carried everyday for about seven years during my career with a bail-bonding agency. Over the years, I replaced a few parts like the barrel and front bushing, as they wore out. However, I never invested in any replacement parts that might increase accuracy at the expense of reliability. I carried this particular gun not because it was a tack driver, but because it always functioned with factory ball ammo just like a service pistol is supposed to. Everything about the Rand, except for the bore, is minimal. The sights, safeties, trigger, hammer, checkering and knurling are all small and smooth. It’s old, it’s very cool and it makes you want to buy a fedora.
The Sig Sauer C3 has all the features of a modern 1911. The thumb safety and all controls are enlarged for easier access with deep, well-defined knurling to reduce slipping. The model I tested is equipped with tritium night sights that are considerably larger than the low-slung sights you’d find on a GI model. The magazine well is bigger and beveled inward to help with quick reloads. The barrel and slide are an inch shorter than a standard full-sized 1911 to make the weapon easier to conceal. The entire pistol is constructed using stainless steel, which increases durability and long-term reliability. The whole package ends up looking like the kind of thing a real serious hombre would carry in a Tom Clancy novel.
For accuracy testing, I used 230gr full metal jacket (FMJ) ammunition, commonly referred to as ball ammo. Groups were fired from twenty five yards offhand and represent what can be expected from the two pistols when they are drawn and three rounds are fired quickly. Seeing as these are both defensive pistols it seemed best to give a representation of expected accuracy under field conditions instead of shooting them from a rest. Looking at the provided targets it is obvious that the Sig was considerably more accurate. The Rand comes from a time in the very early development of the 1911. At that time, the accepted method for making a gun more reliable for combat was to loosen everything to avoid gun jamming. This loosening of tolerances causes a resultant drop in accuracy and also makes the gun prone to jamming when anything but ball ammunition is used. Over the decades, manufacturers have done an excellent job of solving the 1911’s accuracy vs. reliability issues and the Sig is an excellent example of that evolution; the Sig is now both accurate and reliable. Nowadays you can have your cake and eat it too.
Back when I was shooting my Rand about four times a week I often experimented with hollow point ammunition. Over the years, I found a few brands that seemed to function fairly well in the gun. However, I could never bring myself to use them off the range because I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that ball ammo would always work. The Sig Sauer, on the other hand, seems willing to eat just about anything I feed it without jamming. I tried ball ammo, hollow points and even ran some lead cast handloads through the gun and it digested them all without a hiccup.
The biggest difference I noticed between these two pistols was that the Sig was considered far more user friendly. When people who are not that familiar with the 1911’s design are handed a GI model like the Rand they inevitably have trouble engaging the small, slippery controls. I let a few neophytes handle my Sig while I had it and they were all able to get the hang of it with little trouble due to the increased size of all the controls.
The final big difference between these guns lies with their composition. The Rand is standard steel with bluing. Over time bluing wears off (as can be seen in the photo) and it wears very quickly on internal parts where there is metal-to-metal contact. Carrying a gun like the Rand in a holster worn close to the body often results in rust from perspiration. When I carried the Rand I tried to wipe it down every day and broke it down often for cleaning to keep rust from pitting any internal components. If you find yourself in a situation where such maintenance isn’t possible, a gun like the Rand can get real ugly real fast and eventually stops functioning as it should.
By contrast, the Sig is much lower maintenance. The Sig is an amalgam of stainless steel covered with space age coatings that the guys who built my Rand couldn’t dream of. I’m not saying that you don’t have to clean a gun like the Sig. If any gun goes long enough without being cleaned, accuracy and reliability will suffer. The improvement lies in the fact that with the Sig you don’t have to be as paranoid about daily maintenance. Cleaned and lubricated, the Sig can be left in a glove box, the bottom of a gear bag or carried through the Mississippi humidity for a month without worrying about oxidation.
So which one is better? Unequivocally the Sig has an edge over the Rand as a day-to-day carry gun, especially for a new or casual shooter. The Rand is a fine weapon, but it requires a higher level of commitment, in terms of both maintenance and shooting technique. The Sig also offers a combination of reliability and accuracy, which makes it more useful in the long run. A 1911 like the Rand can be rebuilt to offer better accuracy, but it takes a big chunk of money to accomplish that and there is always the specter of lost reliability to deal with. All things considered, the Sig Sauer was the clear winner of this match.
If you think you’d like to own a Sig Sauer C3, the pistol is currently in production and the company offers a myriad of different models all in the area of $1100 MSRP. The C3 I used for testing was a used pistol that I borrowed from one of the local gun shops where it had a price tag of $900. A pistol like the C3, which should have excellent longevity, is a great value on the used market.
If you want a Remington-Rand (mine isn’t for sale) there are still plenty of them floating around; along with 1911’s from the other major WWII era manufacturers such as Colt and Ithaca. In condition similar to mine (good, but well-used), most of these guns can be had for about $1000 after some dickering. New manufacture GI models from various companies that mimic the WWII era models can usually be found in the neighborhood of $600. These new GI models are fair reproductions and cost a lot less, but there is a definite reduction in the cool factor that comes with the lower price tag.