1911 .45 ACP to .38 Super conversion - Pistolsmith

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Old 08-13-2013, 12:54 PM   #1
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Join Date: Aug 2013
Location: California
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1911 .45 ACP to .38 Super conversion

Now that California is making it almost impossible to buy a 1911 in .38S, I am thinking about converting one of my 1911 .45's to .38 Super. I have two possibilities: one is a govt model 1911 (5") and the other is a newer Colt Officers model. Either way, obviously, I need a new barrel, bushing, slide (?), and some other parts, but my questions are:
1. Can the gun be converted to .38S by replacing various parts?
2. Does the frame need to be modified?
3. Will the .38S magazines fit the mag well?

I know that it will likely cost as much as buying a new gun in .38S, but this wonderful state has made that almost impossible. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
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Old 08-13-2013, 03:45 PM   #2
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Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: SW Ohio
Posts: 489
It can be done, but as you stated not easily or cheaply. The breech face is different between the calibers, so that pretty much means a switch of the slide as well as barrel, magazine, slide stop, ejector, extractor (I think) and recoil spring. Also probably a barrel bushing too, depending on the barrel's thickness/diameter.

The parts (especially barrel and magazines) are going to be much easier to find for a Government model than an Officer's ACP. By the way the mags are the same outside dimensions regardless of centerfire caliber, best of my knowledge. Some iterations of the Colts in calibers other than .45 acp had a vertical ridge running up both sides of the magazine well's interior though, hence you've maybe noticed that 9mm, .38 super and such magazines have matching channels cut along their exteriors. So if your goal here was to convert a .38 super frame for .45, you'd have been out of luck without machining the ridges out of the well.

No doubt I'm forgetting something here but somebody else will likely be along soon.

I have had good luck doing conversions back and forth between 9mm and .38 super 1911's but they feature the same breech face sizes, and ejectors, so it was relatively easy.
Old 08-13-2013, 04:09 PM   #3
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Join Date: Jun 2001
Posts: 1,691
A possible problem is that a .45 frame is going to have a .45 feed ramp, and this might cause feed issues with the smaller bullet.

Basically, you're going to need to replace the entire top end of the gun plus the slide stop and possibly the ejector.

For a definitive answer and help, you might post this over on the 1911 forum. Several people there have apparently done .38 Super conversions.


Last edited by dfariswheel; 08-13-2013 at 04:12 PM.
Old 08-13-2013, 04:12 PM   #4
Join Date: May 2009
Posts: 67
The frame ramps are different, alas. You might get away with a .45 frame ramp, but I've never tried it. You can have the frame cut for a ramped barrel, then acquire ramped barrels that match the cut in .45 and .38. Thus, the frame becomes caliber-insensitive.

Brian has covered everything else.

Good luck!

Best regards,

PS Colt at one point offered a 9mm Conversion Unit for .45s; this implied they thought it would work on .45 frames. However, I don't believe Colt offered the 9mm Conversion Unit for more than a year, so maybe it was a bust. I have one, but it's one a Super 38 frame.
Old 08-31-2013, 10:18 AM   #5
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Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: AZ.
Posts: 3
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spal, Im a little late on this, but Brian, defaris and Walt are correct. Once you've addressed the other issues, the .45 ACP frame ramp is still an issue, and a big one. The ,45 frame ramp is only cut about .030" further forward,IIRC, than a 9MM or Super .38 ramp. Doesn't sound like much, but in effect, it is a very important difference. I've had both the factory Colt 9MM and .38 Super conversions. Both the barrels overhung the frame ramp and were not usable at all in their as received condition. The 9MM kit required careful throating, so as not to remove case head support, and still remove barrel/frame ramp overhang. The Super .38 kit would have required the same work, so I didn't even try to use it. As Walt said, new ramped barrels in each caliber makes it all workable, but with the new slide, frame machining required for the ramped barrels,etc., it starts to get expensive to say the least...ymmv

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