Nighthawk Turnbull VIP 2: A $7K Pistol Worth Every Penny
There comes a time in most people’s lives when they can sit back and take a deep breath. The kids are done with college, retirement is in sight, there are just a few more mortgage payments, and your spouse is planning that once-in-a-lifetime cruise. You’ve worked hard all of your life, raised a family and put everyone else’s concerns ahead of yours. Now it’s time to do something for yourself.
You’ve always enjoyed shooting and own some nice guns. But do you own something really special? Something of heirloom quality that can be passed down for generations as a reminder of your hard work and love? Would it be a gun that exhibited the same attention to detail and care you used to build your business or profession? Would it endure like your love for your family?
This brings us to Nighthawk Custom and its Turnbull VIP 2. This full-sized, all-steel 1911 features the legendary Doug Turnbull’s color-casehardened frame and a charcoal-blued slide. Parts like the slide stop, thumb safety and magazine release are nitre blued for contrast, and the pistol is fitted with a pair of mammoth ivory grips. To top it off, the front sight bead on this pistol is made of 14-karat gold, and each gun comes with a custom-built case. Because of the time needed to manufacture each VIP 2, they are available in very limited quantities.
This is a gun that, in my estimation, fulfills every criteria to be an immediate heirloom where the owner is but a temporary custodian of what will undoubtedly become a family treasure. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Mark Stone, the owner and CEO of Nighthawk Custom, regarding the Turnbull VIP 2.
“I’d always admired Doug Turnbull’s work, and about three years ago, I was wandering around the NRA show with Richard Heinie and saw Doug standing by himself and went over and introduced myself to him. We decided to do a collaboration. It’s been a great working relationship and friendship. He has a huge following of loyal customers who appreciate his work, and so has Nighthawk.
“We send him eight to 10 receivers at a time and do all the prep work at our shop. We build a complete pistol—everything is fitted by hand. Each part is fitted exactly to every part it comes in contact with. The gunsmith will actually function-test the gun before it even has sights or a finish on it. Underneath the left grip panel is where the gunsmith will stamp his initials. This is where he says this gun meets the Nighthawk standard as well as my own. From there he’ll put all the bevels on. None of that is done with a tumbling machine. It’s all done by hand. We’ll work on all the radiuses first and then come back and sand all the flats. Then we’ll take sanding sticks and take any file marks out.
“At that point, they are wrapped up and bagged individually because all the parts have to be kept separate, as they are all hand-fitted to each individual gun. Then we’ll send them to Turnbull. He’ll do the casehardening and nitre bluing of the smaller parts like the slide stop, magazine release, thumb safety, and sear and hammer pins. He’ll send the parts back to us and we’ll go through the gun and make sure everything is OK, then we’ll assemble it, test it on target and get it ready to ship.”
The Turnbull casehardening finish on the frame is really a sight to behold. Colors from straw to plum to purple to violet and deep blue can all be seen, adding depth and character to the Tunrbull VIP 2’s frame. It also makes a perfect backdrop for the nitre-blued parts, which contrast beautifully against the casehardening.
The Turnbull VIP 2 has one of the nicest frame-to-slide fits I have ever examined. In battery, there is not an iota of play between the two parts, yet the slide feels as though it is gliding when cycled by hand. I asked Stone how this precise fit was accomplished and if each Nighthawk technician had a specialty. “In the beginning, we did what everyone else did—we had one guy who did the frame-to-slide fit, another who cut the barrel lugs, another for the trigger and safety work, etc.,” Stone said. “But now we have one guy who builds the gun from start to finish. It takes well over 50-percent longer to build it this way, but the end result proves that it’s worth it.
“But, to answer your question, when we machine the frames and slides, you can always remove material, but you can’t put it back on. We’ll bevel the edges of the frame rails and slide rails and see if we can get them to fit, then we’ll mic the slide and the rail dimensions and, depending on how much material has to be removed, either use a sanding block or machine it off. Then we’ll use sanding stones to flatten it back out and then go to a lapping compound, where it actually feels like it’s on ball bearings when you work the slide.”
The frame-to-slide fit isn’t the only impressive part. The beavertail, for example, is so flawlessly fitted to the frame that I doubt a human hair could be wedged between the two parts! Even the single-sided thumb safety disengages with the same crispness as the pistol’s 4-pound trigger. All of the gun’s lines are true; the frame and slide flats are exact, and transitions between the frontstrap and slide top radiuses are precise.
“Taking a gun like the Turnbull VIP 2 to the next level takes about 40 percent more prep work. There’s probably 10 to 12 hour of prep work in that gun! Our barrel has 100-percent contact with the lower lugs, and people don’t understand what that does for the gun and why it’s so expensive. A lot of people don’t see the details required to make a great gun. We’re making a living, but we’re not getting rich building these guns. We try to be lean in everything we do. We do our best to maintain a great name in the industry.”
The Nighthawk Turnbull VIP 2 is a functional work of art. Though much effort has been given to creating a beautiful pistol, Nighthawk doesn’t lose sight of this gun’s mission as a defensive firearm. Its feed ramp and throated barrel are polished mirror bright for feeding. Nighthawk also uses an oversized bushing and deeply crowns the barrel. Gunsmiths also lower and flare the gun’s ejection port. The one-piece magazine well funnel/mainspring housing is flawlessly blended to the frame for fast and easy reloads, and all of the sharp edges have been beveled.
Stone said, “We used a matte blued slide on the Turnbull VIP 2 because it is more forgiving of scratches. This gun could be used for daily carry.” And we can’t forget the mammoth ivory grips. The fact that they were made from the tusks of a now-extinct beast that lived thousands of years ago is mind blowing; they are just two more additions that make the VIP 2 unique.
Stone said, “Three or four years ago, a guy came by our SHOT Show booth with a block of mammoth ivory. I saw him sometime later at another meeting, and he had the grips with him, and, man, were they beautiful! They’re expensive, but every one of them is a little bit different and unique. It’s like picking lumber for the floor in your house because it’s not all the same. You still really don’t know what it will look like until it gets cut. He has a process where he actually puts some material on the back of it to stabilize it more. Some sort of resin material keeps the bone from coming apart and makes it look great. We helped him figure out a way to keep the grips from warping, and we couldn’t be happier.”
Chuck Allen’s Gun
By now you’re probably wondering how the gun shoots, and I wish I could tell you. Based on my experience with other Nighthawk Custom 1911s, I’d be very surprised if this gun couldn’t shoot groups under an inch all day long. But this gun doesn’t belong to me and it is not an ordinary test gun.
This gun was presented to Chuck Allen, the CEO of Athlon Outdoors, our boss and a man who has always put the needs of his employees ahead of his own, at the 2018 SHOT Show. On the left side of the slide, behind the cocking serrations, you’ll see a simple Athlon Outdoors logo. The Nighthawk was commissioned by some of Chuck’s grateful employees and given to him as a token of their respect and gratitude with the hope that this pistol becomes a cherished family heirloom.
Nighthawk Turnbull VIP 2 Specs
|Caliber: .45 ACP|
|Barrel: 5 inches|
|OA Length: 8.66 inches|
|Weight: 37.4 ounces (empty)|
|Grips: Mammoth ivory|
|Sights: Gold bead front, Heinie SlantPro rear|
|Finish: Blued, casehardened|
For more information, visit nighthawkcustom.com.
This article was originally published in “Combat Handguns” July/August 2018. To order a copy and subscribe, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.
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