Review: Rock Island Armory Baby Rock .380
March 10, 2016
In the world of carry and concealment, compromise is the name of the game. You want high capacity and velocity? Good luck concealing that 20+1 longslide autoloader without a Hawaiian shirt. You want the utmost in concealment? A .22 LR derringer in an ankle holster is neither handy nor potent. Enter the Rock Island Armory Baby Rock.
Many armed citizens have found that the happiest medium lies in a single- or double-stack autoloader. The top caliber choices are — arguably, of course — 9mm Luger, .45 ACP and .380 ACP. Because of this ever-ripening and expanding market, there are hosts of guns that fill this niche, and many do it quite well. Rock Island Armory currently has a host of guns that fit this bill, namely 9mm and .45 ACP 1911s, but they've not jumped into the .380 ACP arena until very recently with their latest offering, the M1911 A380, more commonly known as the Baby Rock.
Rock Island Armory has been selling guns in the United States for 30 years. In that time, the company's focus has been on crafting and delivering quality firearms at reasonable prices. While the company has plenty of experience with the design, they diverged a bit in function but retained the form in the Baby Rock. As the name implies, the Baby Rock is a scaled down 1911 in looks, but operationally it's a tad different.
I first encountered this diminutive pistol this past summer at a media event where Armscor (Rock Island) was exhibiting. Besides their .22 TCM guns, .22 TCM conversion kits and full-sized 1911s, the Baby Rock caught the attention of many writers and editors. Most of the pint-sized 1911s on the market have abbreviated features that make them look like a hacked-down full-size 1911, whereas the Baby Rock looks like it was put into Wayne Szalinski's (Rick Moranis) shrinking machine from the movie "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids." Creating a slightly-larger-than-pocket-sized 1911 took some creativity and a few liberties with the functioning of the pistol. But here's a spoiler: it runs like a top.
First, some specs. The Baby Rock is 6.62 inches long, roughly the length of some full-size custom 1911s barrels. For comparison, a full-sized Dan Wesson Silverback in 10mm is nearly 8 ¾ inches long. Granted, the Silverback is a big, heavy gun. And it needs to be to soak up the recoil that 200-plus grain 10mm loads dish out. But I mention the Silverback to compare a jumbo 1911to the Baby Rock. The Baby Rock is 4.62 inches tall, and the Silverback is just shy of 5 3/4 inches. The Baby Rock is widest at its grip panels, and that measurement registers in right at 1-inch. The slide is ¾ of an inch across.
The grips are tacky plastic and quite round as far as 1911 grips go, making it easy to grab, even with big hands like mine. The recoil impulse from even the hottest .380 loads (oxymoron?) is pussycat soft. The grip length is such that no silly two-finger hold is necessary; most everyone ought to be able to get a full and proper strong-hand grip on this gun. The barrel is 3 ¾-inches long. When I grip a full-size 1911 naturally, the gun instinctively points dead on where I'm aiming, whereas the Baby Rock wants to point a little low. This is because it has a slightly steeper grip angler than that of a traditional 1911. That said, shooting it is a pleasure.
This gun is intended as a carry piece, and its design reiterates that fact. The grip heel is slightly bobbed to print less under a shirt. The mainspring housing is vertically serrated. The dovetailed windage-adjustable rear sight is what Rock Island calls a snag-free number, and it's a plain squared U notch with serrations to reduce glare. It's no more snag-free than a tiny Novak-style sight can be, though. The front post is a plain black post and is dovetailed in place.
The sights are the weakest point of this gun, a trait shared with many pocket-sized handguns. Gaining a proper sight picture can be difficult given how shallow the rear sight's notch is. Either a white dot or ideally a night sight up front would help immensely. The grip safety is small but depresses very easily and keeps the skeletonized hammer away from the web of your hand nicely. The thumb safety is difficult to work without altering your grip on the gun, but after all it is a tiny 1911. It hits between the joints on my thumb with a proper grip. It's somewhat hard to activate, but it bumps to "fire" with ease, even using the skinny part of your thumb.
The slide release, however, is very easily manipulated by hands of all sizes. The magazine release is also eminently usable. However, for the first 100 or so rounds the magazines didn't drop free and had to be pried out, but as the gun "broke in" they ejected nicely. Rock Island states in the included literature that there is a 500 round break-in period due to tight tolerances, and while it is fairly tight, it's no Les Baer.
The extractor is an external number and proved 100% reliable in test firing. The front of the slide sports deep, aggressive cocking serrations that make press checks easy, if you should choose to check the gun's status that way. The trigger has a two holes drilled in it, almost like a skeletonized job, and is vertically serrated on the front face. Finally, the company's logo is etched into the very rear of the slide. As is standard anymore, the ejection port is lowered and flared.
The gun is constructed of 4140 ordnance steel and sports a handsome Parkerized finish on both the frame and the slide.
Operation of the Baby Rock is straight blowback. Traditional 1911s have a locked breech design to deal with the pressure and recoil the .45 ACP produces. Many .380s and small-caliber guns enjoy the simpler straight blowback design because of the cartridge's lower power level. Although some still refuse to believe it, today's defensive .380 rounds are competent man-stoppers, especially when aimed accurately and sent through a 3 ¾-inch barrel. Due to the Baby Rock's blowback design, shooters with weaker hands might find the slide a bit tough to retract. It's not hard by any stretch and it's very smooth, but it's not as easy as a regular 1911.
A short guide rod is enveloped by a single recoil spring, and the barrel interfaces with the frame via a single large, non-moving lug. It's just wedged against the frame. However, the barrel does sport a nicely polished feed ramp that mates nicely with the polished ramp on the gun's frame. A fixed ejector hammers empties and sends them out of the way. The barrel bushing and recoil spring plug look right at home on a 1911, they're just small. Only the top half of the barrel is polished and is stamped "CAL .380." The barrel is a six-groove, and has a 1-in-16 twist.
To disassemble the Baby Rock, just follow standard 1911 protocols. No barrel bushing wrench is necessary.
Speaking of firing the Baby Rock, in testing I put more than 200 rounds through it, mostly Armscor's own 95-grain FMJ load, which proved disappointingly inaccurate. However, the ambient temperature when I did my test firing was sub-freezing, and feeling the tips of my fingers was difficult. But when I ran 95-grain Speer Gold Dots through it, I realized this little gun could shoot. The best 5-shout group I posted from 15 yards on this chilly day was less than 1 ½ inches. Again, I never experienced a malfunction of any sort.
The trigger has a little bit of takeup before it breaks fairly cleanly right at a touch heavier than 6 pounds, which is a little on the heavy side for a single-action straight-pull 1911 trigger.
It pointed somewhat naturally but again was a touch low when pointed instinctively. Gripping the small frame tends to leave the trigger closer to the index finger's first joint than second, but a small adjustment places the second joint right on the trigger's face. Pulling the trigger with the pad of your index finger is awkward and not easily accomplished; you almost have to curl your finger back toward you to get it on there. Just get a comfortable grip and get used to where the trigger hits your finger; the Baby Rock isn't like a lot of small double-action guns where the trigger breaks near the frame.
Now, the biggest question of all: is it a good carry gun? Well, it's got a lot going for it, and just a few strikes against. One of the cons is its weight. It's kind of heavy for its chambering and size, but this makes managing recoil a breeze. The sights are marginal at best, but there again, no one is going to mug you from 25 yards. On the upswing, the long-ish barrel means you'll be getting the most out from the .380 ACP round.
It also enjoys high-than-normal capacity for small .380s. It's quite thin and concealable and would disappear under even a T-shirt. Then there's the retail price. The Baby Rock is listed at $430 on Rock Island's website, which means you'll be able to find it for less than $400 all day, and maybe even close to $350 some places. This puts it squarely in contention with many self-defense minded .380s, and much less than lots of small-frame 1911s.
Every shooter who handled and shot the gun complemented it in one way or another. One gal commented that it had a nicer trigger pull that the Kimber Solo 9mm she was fond of packing. One guy asked me if it was for sale right then and there. Besides its performance, the intangibles that this gun has are of the charts. It's a tiny 1911, and that's just plain cool.