Global Defense Thunderbolt 1911: Mid-Level Price, Upgraded Features

The 1911 world is filled with interesting choices. I am a 1911 fan and find many of the examples I test are useful and interesting. Some are true target guns; others are service guns. Some pistols have competition features, such as target-style triggers, that some deem desirable on a personal defense pistol.

The pistol illustrated is a popular type. The Global Defense Thunderbolt is a steel frame Government Model with five-inch barrel, full-length slide, and full firing grip. The pistol is heavy at 42 ounces — as most steel frame light rail guns are. Let’s look over the pistol and gauge its performance.

Global Defense Thunderbolt 1911 .45 ACP semi-auto handgun, right profile - cocked and locked
This is a well put together 1911. Perhaps the addition of an ambi safety would have been warranted though.

Thunderbolt Features

The Thunderbolt is nicely finished in a dark blue (almost black) coating. The grips are nicely checkered.  There are no huge billboard-type markings, only ‘Thunderbolt’ on the right side of the slide. The Novak-style lo mount sights include a serrated rear and a fiber-optic front. These sights are designed to offer a good sight picture while remaining snag free as you draw the handgun.

The safety is well fitted and locks in sharply. The grip safety properly releases its hold on the trigger at about midway in its compression. The barrel is well fitted. The barrel bushing isn’t tight, but snug enough. The feed ramp is polished and free of burrs. The trigger is a solid type.

The action is smooth enough with trigger compression breaking at 4.6 pounds on the RCBS trigger press gauge. In common with most pistols these days, the Thunderbolt is supplied with a single magazine. The mainspring housing is checkered. Surprisingly, the front strap is nicely checkered, an unusual feature on a pistol in the $700–750 price range. Initial inspection showed a pistol with a good balance of features.


  • Action: Single
  • Caliber: .45 Auto
  • Capacity: 8 rounds
  • Barrel length: 5 inches
  • Frame finish: Black
  • Slide finish: Black/blue
  • Weigh: 42 ounces

Range Preparation

Before heading to the range, I prepared in several ways. I executed several hundred dryfire hammer drops. I have not purchased any 1911 magazines in a good while and probably needed to add fresh magazines to the mix. Cheaper Than Dirt has 143 choices in 1911 magazines as of early this year.

skeletonized hammer on a 1911 pistol
The Thunderbolt’s hammer is a skeletonized type.

To ensure feed reliability, I ordered a couple Wilson Combat magazines. These are the premier 1911 magazines, and I did not hesitate to pair them with a middle of the road 1911. I also used MecGar magazines during the test and a couple of longer-serving McCormick’s. Next, ammunition was selected.

Remington 230-grain ball .45 ACP has a reputation for feeding in any type of pistol, and Federal American Eagle is often match-grade accurate. I chose a couple hollow point options as well from Cheaper Than Dirt’s 137 options (as of this writing). Most, but not all, 1911 handguns exhibit some type of break-in period. Most modern handguns do not demand break in in the same manner. I elected to fire 50 rounds of each type of ball ammunition during the initial phase before declaring the pistol’s reliability.

When testing a pistol, I run through a combat course before proceeding to accuracy testing. Combat shooting means firing at man-sized targets at 5, 7, and 10 yards. I recently shot beside a deputy sheriff who never fires on his own time at more than 10 yards and only fires the longer distances at qualification. He remarked that every shooting his agency has had in 50 years has been under 10 yards.

full length guide rod showing when the pistol's slide is locked back
The Global Defense THunderbolt features a full-length guide rod.

He may be correct, but there is always the exception. There are relatives and there are absolutes. I attempt to cover each. During firing, the pistol proved comfortable to fire. A 42-ounce 1911 .45 should be comfortable.

The Thunderbolt is fast on target. The fiber-optic front sight and serrated rear sight are a good contrast. Firing quickly, recovery from recoil is rapid. The pistol is fast, very fast in recovery. A combination of a decent trigger and fast reset provides a trained shooter an advantage. Remember, only training can lead to proficiency. If you do not train, certain concepts learned only in training will not be available to you.

There was virtually no difference in performance at 5 and 10 yards. Function was good with the initial 100 rounds of ball ammunition. Further testing with +P loads led to several slide locks and short cycles. Perhaps this was a break in symptom.

group showing 25-yard accuracy testing
Accuracy in off-hand fire was good, very good, to at least 25 yards.

Fast forward to the pistol after a few weeks of work. The pistol was reliable with a wide range of ammunition. Feed reliability with wide nose hollow point loads wasn’t a problem. As for cycle reliability, I swapped the original recoil spring for a new variable spring featuring ‘spring within a spring’ technology. This resulted in improved function and even less recoil.

The pistol is well suited to informal target practice and some types of competition. Considering the Thunderbolt’s all-steel construction (and lack of MIM and cast parts) this SAM Philippines pistol is a bargain. Add Novak sights and both front and rear strap checkering, and you have a pistol with a great deal to offer. If the Thunderbolt is proven reliable in long-term testing, and it should be, the Thunderbolt will make a fine home defender.

Note: 1911 light rails are not all the same. In test firing and speed drills, I drew the pistol from a Galco TAC Slide, large size. This worked well. However, the pistol is not the same rail as a Colt or Tisas, and Rock Island has its own design that also differs. As an example, the Springfield TRP rail gun (I had on hand) fit nicely in a Galco Combat holster, but it would not accept the Thunderbolt rail gun.

The final testing was accomplished with a number of quality, but proven, loads. Accuracy is middle of the road for a 1911. That means accurate enough for most any chore a handgun will be called upon to perform.

Accuracy Testing

Accuracy testing was conducted from 25 yards using a bench rest and MTM Case-Guard shooting rest.


Group (inches)

Remington 185-grain Golden Saber (ammo above probably 10 years old) 2.0
Remington 23-grain FMJ 2.5
Federal American Eagle 230-grain 2.45
Results of the five-shot group (average) fired using a solid benchrest using MTM Case-Gard firing rest from 25 yards.



Group (Inches)

Speed (FPS)

Speer 200-grain Gold Dot/Titegroup 2.6 989
Results of the five-shot group (average) fired using a solid benchrest using MTM Case-Gard firing rest from 25 yards.

Wound Potential

The .45 ACP is an inherently well-balanced cartridge with good accuracy potential. I also feel the .45 ACP offers excellent wound potential for defense use. Despite revisionist history and fuzzy theory not supported by historical and physical facts, the .45 ACP offers superior wound ballistics to all but a few handgun cartridges. The Thunderbolt is chambered in the original 1911 cartridge and should serve well.

Galco belt slide Kydex and leather holster for large frame guns with a light attached
Galco’s belt slide is a good holster choice for those ‘hard to holster’ rail guns.

Parting Shot

The Global Defense Thunderbolt is also offered in a stainless-steel slide version with adjustable rear sight. That version would have been my first choice, but I don’t regret grabbing the first Thunderbolt I could find. Either would be a great all-around entry level 1911. However, the Thunderbolt features are not entry level.

The 1911 still reigns at the top (or close to it) with most shooters, which is why so many manufacturers still offer 1911s today. But what do you look for in a 1911? What price-point offers the quality you demand? What’s your favorite 1911, and how does the Global Defense Thunderbolt compare? Share your answers in the Comment section.

  • Value Pack Box of 100 .45 ACP Remington UMC cartridges
  • Global Defense Thunderbolt 1911 .45 ACP semi-auto handgun resting on a MTM Case-Gard shooting rest
  • Zippered gun rug for the GLobal Defense Thunderbolt 1911 .45 ACP pistol
  • Galco belt slide Kydex and leather holster for large frame guns with a light attached
  • three-shot group to the head of the silhouette target from 25 yards, offhand.
  • serrated rear sight on a handgun
  • Global Defense Thunderbolt 1911 .45 ACP semi-auto handgun, right profile - stainless steel slide
  • Combat accuracy showing group size on silhouette target
  • TruGlo TruBrite combat light attached to the Global Defense Thunderbolt 1911 .45 ACP semi-auto pistol's dust cover
  • group showing 25-yard accuracy testing
  • full length guide rod showing when the pistol's slide is locked back
  • skeletonized hammer on a 1911 pistol
  • front strap checkering on a gun
  • Global Defense Thunderbolt 1911 .45 ACP semi-auto handgun, right profile - cocked and locked
  • Global Defense Thunderbolt 1911 .45 ACP semi-auto handgun, left profile - cocked and locked

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply
Shopping cart