Detonics MkI With, Yes, Forgotten Weapons

Although the concept of a sized-down 1911 has become quite common today there was a time when it was unheard of. The Detonics MkI was the first sub-compact 1911 to be made, and it was a boon for the company not only because it was the first of its kind but because making a 1911 smaller presents numerous challenges. They were manufactured between 1976 and 1988 by theĀ Detonics Manufacturing Corporation and were, of course, chambered in .45 ACP. The MkI has a fixed front blade sight and adjustable rear notch sights and a 3 1/4″ barrel. Its creation ushered in the era of smaller 1911s we know and love today, making it an important part of 1911 history.

There are many 1911 fans out thereĀ but perhaps the biggest of all was the late Jeff Cooper. Cooper was a big fan of the Colt M1911, and although he was instrumental in the creation of the Bren Ten, it was the 1911 he preferred. Cooper came up with the now fairly common readiness terms of carry based on his 1911:

Condition 4: Chamber empty, empty magazine, hammer down.

Condition 3: Chamber empty, full magazine in place, hammer down.

Condition 2: A round chambered, full magazine in place, hammer down.

Condition 1: A round chambered, full magazine in place, hammer cocked, safety on.

Condition 0: A round chambered, full magazine in place, hammer cocked, safety off.

Cooper carried his 1911 in Condition 1 and taught that method to students at the American Pistol Institute, which is now known as Gunsite. Gunsite is located in Paulden, Arizona and is a fantastic place to hone your firearms skills. Visit Gunsite’s website at

Take a look at the video Ian at Forgotten Weapons made about the Detonics MkI. He does get to play with the best toys!

TFB Staffer

TFB Staff, bringing you the latest gun news from around the world for a decade.


  • MrEllis

    Fan that hammer…

    • MR

      And shorten the sight radius up even more. But, for the intended use, probably not that big of a deal.

      • iksnilol

        Shorter sight radius = quicker acqusition

  • In the early 80’s a Detonics was a very compelling backup piece. Even back then, most of the really sub-compact autoloaders were European in design and usually not chambered in anything more potent than .380 ACP.

    If I had to choose between this and a .38 J-Frame, I think this would be the better choice. From what I’ve heard they were quite popular with detectives well into the 1990’s.

    • DIR911911 .

      and even if you would choose it , you might not could afford it. they weren’t cheap even back then.

  • jng1226

    Sonny Crockett’s backup in an ankle rig!

  • Agitator

    What does Jeff Cooper have to do with this?

    • Shmoe

      It’s a 1911 variant; after John Browning, Jeff Cooper is the first name one would think of, I suppose, A potted history of Detonics might have been more appropriate, I guess, but I imagine there’s already one in Ian’s video. Seeing as certain commenters seem to get mad at Katie if she simply reblogs something, she probably feels compelled to add some extra content. Damned if she do, damned if she don’t!

  • hami

    I keep my 1911 in Condition 5

    As in: Out of battery due to a jam, thrown in a trash can

    • BKE Evers

      This Huckelberry loves to adopt tossed aside perfectly good pieces of fine firearms. If its jamming, you or your smith did something wrong.

      • hami

        I kid, of course. Mine jams only if I don’t clean it. My irritation comes from the fact that I have owned may firearms that don’t require as much attention.

        • Hedd Wyn John

          In fairness the 1911 is a hundred year old design. Things needed a lot more care and attention to run back then. Cars, bikes & planes all need a high degree of care from owners to work and broke down frequently. The 1911 dates to that era. Anyone wonder why the revolver took so long to be replaced by the self-loading pistol? Because despite the greater firepower and quick reloads offered by a semi-auto the reliability was always a bit iffy, so the revolver endured for decades.

          • DeathFromTheShadows

            Excuse me? the 1911 could and WOULD run full of mud it was designed to do so as a military combat piece. Jamming of a 1911 was and is STILL an issue of not knowing How to hold and fire it. Blaming it on something else is just an excuse

          • Hedd Wyn John

            Seeing as most 1911s are carried in holsters mud wouldn’t be too much of an issue. The main weakness with the 1911 is the magazine also older 1911s tend not to feed hollow points properly. The 1911 is a great weapon but it’s just not as inherently reliable as a revolver or a modern handgun like Glock, M&P etc

      • DeathFromTheShadows

        Jamming? try exercising your wrist instead of letting it flop around limply

    • BigFED

      See my reply!!! Except the “jams” on mine NEVER went away after MANY, MANY efforts!

  • Paratus sum

    I should never have sold mine.

  • Survivalist

    Detonics combat master was carried by 80s TV Show/Series star Stringfellow Hawke/Jan Michael Vincent.

  • Cannoneer No. 4

    Which came out first: Detonics or Colt Officers Model?

    • Lee


  • dhdoyle

    AFAIK, the Detonics was first. This is from the Colt era of, “We’ll make anything you want, so long as it’s one of our classic lines”. Colt’s answer was still the 1950’s Lightweight Commander.

    Even when Colt tried, they couldn’t innovate very well. The Colt Officers model came out in 1985 and had quite a few problems at first. You could make good money cutting OM frames and installing ramped barrels in order to get them to feed properly.

  • Fruitbat44

    Dimly remembered gun magazine article: “At one time it was hoped that there would be a major order for Detonics from a large police department, whose Chief believed that autos should be carried in condition two.”

  • Blue Centurion

    Talk about a blast from the past……and it WAS the first, also very controversal for the time period.

  • BigFED

    I had one of those Detonics in stainless. Great looking designs and I loved the gun, BUT there were some serious QA issues with it, as there was with many of the production guns. The one I ended up “owning” it because WAY BACK (so long ago I can’t remember except it was about the late 1990’s, early or early 2000’s) the then current owner brought it in to our shop because it was jammed partially open. He asked if anybody wanted it. I happened to open my big mouth first. When the guy handed it to me, the slide was locked hard about 3/4″ back from battery. It took me some time to get it cleared and partial working. I grew up working on 1911 style pistols and I NEVER, EVER had one act up like this one. It would cycle manually with no problem, but it would one fire for a round to two or three, then lock again. I switched links, longer, shorter, made sure there were no burrs, all the springs were good, I even contacted Jerry Aherns and that got me a new link and set of springs, but not a solution.

    It ended up that the only way to “cure/clear” the lock up was to smack the barrel muzzle straight on with a hard leather mallet!!! Not exactly a conducive option in a gunfight. After dinking around with it for a couple of months off and on and really, really wanting to get it to work, I had to give up! Took it to a gun show in a town nearby and “reluctantly” parted with it, not even recouping the cost of parts or time I put into it!!! The pistol itself reminds me of the old Star Model “PD”.

  • Bill

    I remember these, except all the ones I saw had a sloped slide with the rear sight mounted closer to the ejection port. Always wanted, at one time could actually afford, never did buy. Hindsight is a cruel master…

  • scaatylobo

    My first gun that I bought after graduation from the police academy – yea that one.
    Carried it for a few years [ decade ] and sold it as it was hard to carry due to weight,still carried a 1911 but Colt lightweight.

  • Mjorin

    The article is incorrect, the barrels were 3.5 inches. So the video got it right. Devel developed the flared bull barrel, not requiring a bushing. Which Colt true to their colors, stole from Devel. The mag follower that sticks out the bottom was also intended to serve as a tactile indicator that you did have a full magazine in the pistol. Detonics biggest contribution was actually making a pistol out of Stainless Steel. Using the same steel caused galling so they used different stainless steels for the slide and frame. Also, Caspian would probably not be what they are today had Detonics not contracted with them back in the late 70’s, early 80’s to make slides and frames. I really did enjoy the video and am a bit of a Detonics nut.

  • Leigh Rich

    I got mine in 1977. Grip safety non functional.

  • DeathFromTheShadows

    the first? Hardly! In the early to mid 70s (pre Detonics) Llama made a series of 1911 clones including subcompact .380 models. The .380 was so small it was often called a sock gun.

  • rick45x8

    I work across the street from the Seattle Tower, where Detonics’ HQ was located in the ’70s. The gun store where the pistols were bought that were cut-down to create the prototypes was about three blocks south. I have some thousands of rounds through a 1979 Mk. I, and they can be very reliable and accurate enough. I’ve found that staying on top of spring maintenance – both recoil and magazine – is necessary. They were expensive, costing more than a Colt Gold Cup. I heard stories from a guy who worked at the plant, in Bellevue, WA, that while they were trying to save pennies by buying parts from one subcontractor rather than another, the guys in the penthouse were driving Ferraris and lighting their cigars with $100 bills.