4500 ROUNDS LATER: AN UPDATE ON MY TIBBETS DELTA
My Delta Elite, as customized by Master pistolsmith Vic Tibbets, is still going strong. The
"tactical black" finish has held up, despite some nicks, bumps and thumps along the way.
After 25 years and despite its critics, the 10mm AUTO remains the most powerful "service cartridge" that can be stuffed
inside a semi-automatic pistol of reasonable size and weight. A full-size 1911, it is generally agreed, fits those parameters.
As for the 10mm, even the round's detractors have long conceded its inherent accuracy and versatility of use. The latter
virtue results from an unusually large energy curve and the availability of a wide selection of bullet-weights and styles.
While my custom Delta Elite does prefer certain factory ammunition over others, the hand-fitted Bar-Sto tube shoots most loads
better than I can hold, so its practical accuracy really isn't open to question. I know this because I've handed the gun
over to people who are better shots and watched them drill clover-leaf groups into 3" orange dots from 60-feet. Me, I have
good days and bad ones.
Back in 2003, master pistolsmith Victor Tibbets reworked to my specifications what was then a stock blue Colt Delta. The
purpose of this update is to summarize where the gun is after firing 4500-rounds of 10mm ammunition.
The story behind finding Vic, the details of his work and the parts used are described here:
The initial range report can be found here:
A SERIOUS 10MM BLASTER
A "Working Delta":
Housed in an elegant single-stack package is a 9+1 payload of no-nonsense 10mm firepower. Whether
on the street, at the range, in the field, or during training, the Tibbets Delta has been good to go.
In the last 5 years, the Tibbets Delta has been handled and shot in the manner of a "working gun." By that I mean a sidearm
intended for hard and frequent use, not babied. Such uses have ranged from training opportunities to concealed carry on the
street, to a companion during outdoor activities such as hunting, hiking or camping. The gun has not been intentionally abused,
but it does show some wear. Somewhere along the way the checkering on the mainspring housing incurred a nice ding. It bears
noticeable scuffs from being banged and scraped against wood and metal in buildings and when exiting vehicles. It's been
dropped on a rough gravel road and another time on asphalt. The first culprit was a sucky holster; wet hands during a storm
caused the other. (Both times, thankfully, the chamber was empty and the safety stayed engaged - still I try not to fumble
it too much.) The gun's been shot lubed, but it was also shot dry for a time after the oil evaporated. And then there were
periods where it was not cleaned between shooting sessions.
The design ideas for Vic's custom work, described in the first link above, including the parts and touches he recommended,
were intended to enhance the gun's capability and performance as a fighter. The one non-combat concession came in choosing
Novak's "Extreme Duty" adjustable rear sight. Among tactical types, it's almost a tenet of faith that an adjustable sight
has no place on a pistol intended for defensive use - as opposed to one set-up for gun games or target work.
That said, the choice of Novak's XD sight was based in part on the sheer variety of factory 10mm ammo that not only employs
various bullet-weights, but is loaded to different energy levels which, in turn, can result in different points-of-impact
(POI). No other auto-loading cartridge among the "service calibers" exhibits this much variation.
In part, too, the attraction of the XD was the relatively low profile design (for an adjustable) and the fact that it's snag-free.
Protective side panels guard the tritium dots, and there's only one adjustment screw for elevation, so it shares attributes
similar to a fixed unit. But truthfully, the POI between my training load and my primary carry load is negligible, so I haven't
needed to crank much on that screw. For training/practice, I use Double Tap's 180gn FMJ ammo. The carry load is currently
DT's 165gn Golden Saber HP, which this gun really likes. After a number of bumps, and approaching 5000-rds fired, the XD
has held up.
As well, the finish Vic applied to the Delta - which, when asked about it, I jokingly refer to as "tactical black"
- has proven durable. A double treatment of parkerizing and semi-gloss black gunkote, the muted look is consistent with wanting
a non-reflective carry piece.
THINGS CHANGE; THINGS BREAK
There were just over 1500-rds through the gun when the left panel of the original Hogue grips cracked. Looking through
Brownell's catalog, I found a new pair I liked. These are sort of a subdued rosewood in color, somewhat darker than you typically
see, and the panels were well checkered. They were also thicker in my hand than the first pair, and this bit of "palm swell"
actually improved the grip. However, the panels arrived sans Delta medallions, the signature handle for this breed of 1911.
Not a problem.
Having seen his posts on 10mmtalk.com, I contacted Randy (a/k/a "Tx4guns" there) about his medallion work.
He also sells exotic wood grips with the Delta medallions already installed. A personable guy and fellow 10mm enthusiast,
he was eager to help me. The new grips were sent off to Randy and, in short order, they returned with new medallions professionally
installed. Given the rarity of these medallions, I felt the price was reasonable, which included his time for installation.
Randy also used an extremely strong epoxy to keep them in the wood and after 3000 more rounds they're still there. You can
see Randy's work and contact him here:
At about the 2100-rd mark, I changed out the FLGR and 24lb Wolff XP spring for a standard GI recoil spring guide and
plug, along with a Wolff 22lb spring. The GI set-up made field stripping easier, with no difference in performance. 1911-users
sometimes comment on the weight differences between these set-ups, but I haven't discerned any savings by ditching the FLGR.
On the spring weights, I've run 18, 20, 22, and 24lb XP springs in the gun. For my needs the 22lb spring is optimal. I've
shot every energy level offered in factory 10mm ammo as well as some handloads, and the Delta runs fine with the 22lb spring.
Plus, it hammers the frame less when the slide slams forward on a new round. I've noticed no difference in felt-recoil or
in the smoothness of functioning during the firing/recoil/slide-cycling phase, and none in accuracy.
For the next 2000-rds, the gun continued to be fed factory loads running mostly in the 10mm's mid- to full-power range.
It did finish off what remained from a case of Georgia Arms' low-powered 180gn FMJ load. It also digested some hot handloads
using Sierra's 190gn 10mm FPJ slug. This bullet was loaded to a level intended to replicate a high-performance carry load
(i.e., 1200fps). Shooting during this time included several tactical training opportunities as well as general range practice.
Around this time I replaced the old 22lb recoil spring with a new one.
For some drills during a recent tactical carbine course, a simple belt holster worked best. At other
times the Delta rode in a vest-mounted rig. For this and other training opportunities, see:
During an advanced tactical rifle course at Tactical Defense Institute (TDI) in Ohio, I completed a final drill in
one of the Live Fire Houses (LFH). After checking targets with the instructor, I went outside to re-up on ammo for the carbine
and an extra mag for the Delta. That's when I noticed the slide looking funky. It wasn't all the way shut. I unholstered
the gun, ejected the mag, and locked the slide back. A spent case fell out the mag chute. I then saw that the "hook" on
the extractor was completely sheered off. I had fired the gun repeatedly during the LFH drills because the geometry and logistics
of safely navigating through different rooms and doorways necessitated several transitions from the carbine to the pistol.
If your rifle jams or runs empty inside 50-yards, the sidearm comes into play. The Delta served
well in this role. A variety of pistols are seen in these tactical courses, including 1911s, Glocks and Sigs.
To that point, the Tibbets Delta had digested upwards of 4100 mostly problem-free rounds, notwithstanding the occasional
finicky magazine. Well, working guns are wear items. Any hard-use tool will require maintenance and, sometimes, new parts.
To my knowledge, the only guns that don't are museum pieces, unfired collector models and safe queens. This gun is none
After returning from TDI, I contacted Vic Tibbets about the extractor breakage. I wasn't sure whether he'd have the time
or even the inclination to fix it. Vic, a few years earlier, had closed his solo shop to become the in-house 'smith at Guncrafter
Industries, makers of the pricey 1911 chambered for the big .50 GI cartridge. But ever the professional, Vic promptly replied
that he'd be happy to fit a new extractor and that both the extractor and his time were still "under warranty."
Soon afterward, I shipped the slide to Vic, along with a new Ed Brown 10mm extractor. He recommended fitting a second extractor,
one to be kept in the kit that holds the Delta's extra mags, bushing wrench and cleaning tools. That way, the gun won't be
down long should there be a catastrophic repeat. He fitted and tuned both the EB and a new Wilson 10mm/.40 extractor. Both
were then refinished to match the slide's black finish. Looking at them, you couldn't tell either wasn't the original. When
Vic e-mailed that the slide was ready, I took the opportunity to conduct a brief "catch-up" interview. See the companion
article, Who is Victor Tibbets?, at this link:
Since getting the slide back, I've now put a variety of over 400 more rounds through the Delta. When using the Wilson
or Tripp Cobra mags, all rounds have fed, chambered, fired, extracted and ejected perfectly. The McCormick CMC mags still
hiccup occasionally, as they did before, but these are for range use only, so I don't worry about it. Will the gun see the
10,000-rd mark? I honestly have no reason to think it won't, and finding out is going to be a lot of fun.
SIGN OF THE DELTA
I wish I had a dollar for every time it's happened. Occasionally, someone will recognize what it is, but you'd be surprised
how many don't. I smile every time.
Sign of the Delta:
"This ain't your Grandpa's .45." Beginning in 1987, that red triangle inside the black circle
defined a new breed of 1911. Colt's Delta Elite merged the powerful 10mm Auto with John Browning's venerable design.
They can see the 1911-profile. Maybe it's in my holster at the range or during drills in a tactical rifle course. They were
going to ask, "What .45 is that?" - but the words never get past their lips when their eyes catch on that Delta insignia
on the medallions. Something about the design - specifically that red triangle outlined against a sharp black circle - acts
like a telepathic suggestion that this thing ain't just another .45. After some hesitation, the question becomes either a
generic guess - "Is that a Springfield?" - or simply, "What's that?"
From 1987 to 2008, it appears we've come full circle with the 10mm and the classic 1911 form. At the recent S.H.O.T. Show,
Colt revealed plans for a limited run of Delta Elites later this year. The new Deltas will be stainless with bull barrels
and no bushings, but, hopefully, the grips they leave the factory with will pay accurate homage to their heritage. Old school
is still cool in my book.
A 10MM FOREVER?
My Delta has been a comforting companion. It's a great shooter, and I value the time I'm able to spend enjoying it. Accurate,
reliable, durable and unique - it's been everything a fine, personalized firearm should be.
Any customized gun generates a pride-of-ownership factor, and that's true of mine. But at the end of the day there's a practical
aspect to it, the intersection where Form and Function - esthetics and utility - must merge to succeed. The design ideas
that Vic Tibbets executed flawlessly on my gun all worked, and in that there's an immense satisfaction.
Call it a Man-Moment-Material thing: an elegant, well-tuned 1911 chambered for the 10mm Auto is what you get when a
master pistolsmith with over two decades of experience meets with an opportunity to render a stock gun.
While it's probably good advice to "never say 'never'," I'm certain I won't be parting with the Tibbets Delta Elite during
A 10mm Forever?
Hot-weather visor says it all. The Tibbets Delta should provide many years of shooting enjoyment.