|Product Tests : NCG Gas-delayed Blow-back conversion kit|
One day last year, I stumbled across the NCG web site, and remembered being in Bo Clerke's shop in CA in the 1980's. Bo was quite an innovator and inventor who was doing development work for several custom 'smiths (me included.) He showed me a prototype gas-retarded blow-back 1911 he was working on for Jimmy Clark. Bo said that with this type of system, you could "tune" the slide acceleration to where the empty case would just roll out of the ejection port and land on your shoe! I never got to fire the gun and apparently the project never went forward as Clark Custom Guns never offered it. But, I thought that NCG must have followed up on the idea of such a design and here might be a new "toy".
I spoke with Mr. John Atkins of NCG about his "gunsmith' kit" and, of course, he was most enthusiastic about his success in this endeavor - remarking on how he now had solved the problem of making the gas piston self-cleaning, how incredible the accuracy was, etc. So, I ordered the $425 "gunsmith's kit".
When it arrived, the workmanship appeared to be very good but there were about 5 pages of installation instructions which included obtaining special size reamers, etc. Being pretty busy and not wanting to wait while I obtained special tooling I would probably never use again, I decided to let Mr. Atkins install the kit on my gun and sent it back with the gun and $175 for installation.
When the gun arrived with the kit in place, I admired the machine work and headed to the range with a couple of boxes of Federal 185 grain Gold Medal Match ammo - the "gold standard" we use to test the accuracy and performance of 1911 target guns.
Loading the first round by releasing the slide gave a "bump" feel I didn't like, but I am used to having to tune magazines and didn't think too much of it. The first shot was a revelation. The gun recoiled so violently I was rocked back! It felt like I had touched off a .44 magnum! The second round hadn't fed and was jammed against the chamber mouth. With some trepidation, I fired the rest of the magazine, having to clear a "jam" at each shot. Same effect - violent recoil. The group was not awful for the circumstances, but that was almost beside the point by now.
I discontinued the "test" and once back in the shop called Mr. Atkins. He told me that it was probably that the gas port was too small, the recoil spring too weak, etc. He suggested a stronger spring and enlarging the port from .040" to .060". I opened up the sealed gas port area and inserted a .040" drill - it "fell" in. Tried a .050 and then a .060". The port was ALREADY .060". Back on the phone. "Oh", said Mr. Atkins, "I guess I had already done that. Well, try the heavy spring."
Put in the recommended spring and found that I could not fully retract the slide to lock it. Now, I AM a senior these days, but I have never had a problem with manipulating even the stiffest of auto pistols. Still, we would try it. Same result. Horrible recoil. Back to Mr. Atkins. "We'll send you: a Wolff magazine with super stiff springs for the feeding problem, a really strong recoil spring AND a new bronze collar that is longer."
Sure enough, these parts arrived along with another piston assembly. The "longer" collar was the same as the one in the gun and the piston parts appeared identical, but what the heck - in they went. Back to the range. Same god-awful smashing and banging in the hand. Back to the phone. Discussed with Mr. Atkins my expectations - softer than a "normal" 1911 recoil with target loads, good accuracy, normal functioning, etc. Was I being unreasonable? "No", he said. However, he never really addressed the recoil problem with any specifics, just that "I don't think of it as a problem when I shoot", and that the accuracy of the fixed barrel was the point. I told him I would experiment a bit more. I thought to myself - what about REALLY reduced loads - we could make "revolver" loads and try them! They would be sure to function and maybe we could get this to be a "powder-puff" gun after all!
We tried several, getting down to about 2 grains of WW231 with a 185 grain bullet. And, finally the recoil felt pretty darn soft. Of course, the bullets just sort of fell out of the barrel and grouped about 12" at 25 yards. Back to the phone. Told Mr. Atkins I could see no place for this unit, as it was working, in the target gun universe. Hard recoil, unknown accuracy, poor functioning - what was to like? We reached an agreement where I would return all the hardware and he would refund the $425, keeping the $175 installation fee and the shipping fees.
Well, then the business problems began. No check for some weeks, no returned phone calls - typical bad deal stuff. Finally, after my intial posting on the "Bullseye" bulletin board, a phone call was answered. "Money has been tight, but a check is on the way". And, a check DID come - but for only $300. (Thanks if any of the "Bullseye" correspondents helped here!). Another phone call (answered!) and another promise - yet to be fulfilled - of another check, "soon", for the balance of the $425.
So that is my story, and my recommendation is to wait for a more successful rendition of a gas-retarded, blow-back 1911 and, if you can't wait: CAVEAT EMPTOR as to NCG. I will mention that, as a result of the initial posting, we have heard from three others who have tried the units and they tell tales of horrible accuracy and much the same recoil problems.
I would like to thank Don, for sharing his experience on this product with us.
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