At the same time, USPSA was going strong and IDPA was gestating and a more-or-less standard configuration of "upgraded" 1911-pattern pistol had become established. These guns had a fairly consistent suite of modifications:
- "No-snag" sights.
- A beavertail grip safety and "Commander" hammer to allow a higher grip while eliminating hammer bite.
- An extended "combat" thumb safety.
- A long, alloy trigger with lightening holes.
- A flat, checkered mainspring housing.
- Forward cocking serrations.
- A full-length guide rod.
- A slightly extended magazine release.
- A beveled magazine well opening.
It was a market niche just waiting to be exploited.
Sure enough, someone figured out how to fill it. The company that bought the old Kimber rifle company realized that, if the upgrade parts were bought in bulk and installed when the gun was made, a "custom" 1911 could be brought to market for not too much more than a standard "Government Model"-looking piece from one of the more established makers, and thus was the "Kimber Custom" born.
Kimber started out small, and quickly built an enviable reputation for near-custom levels of features and quality at a production-level price. Of course, as word got out, orders skyrocketed and there was soon trouble in paradise. With the need to ramp up production volume while holding the price point steady, cost-cutting measures had to be introduced, and by 2001 many shooters were noting that Kimber had maybe become a victim of its own success.
Other manufacturers responded with their own "factory customs", such as Springfield Armory's "Loaded" models, and Kimber's formerly private pidgin was threatened. Kimber's answers were largely marketing-oriented, and I have to give them credit for their success. In much the same way as a certain German company, Kimber coasted on past innovation and glories, and offered cosmetic packages and contracts with high-profile elite organizations as proof that they were something special, when in reality, their guns were, on average, nothing that you couldn't now buy elsewhere for less money.
To this day, though, fans remain loyal. When you buy a Kimber, you're buying the Kimber Mystique, and no matter what the naysayers claim, you'll put up a fight if someone claims it's not a better gun than a Springfield, Colt, or S&W. It's truly commendable that Kimber, which has been around for a comparative eyeblink, has developed a brand-name cult following as loyal as it has; you expect that with Colt (or Harley Davidson or Levi's) but not with a company that, at least in its current incarnation, wouldn't even be old enough to vote.
Truth be told, from my experience, if you're planning on leaving your 1911 stock or using it as a home project gun, you're as well off with a Taurus or a Filipino slag gun. If you're going to use it as a pistol kit on which to have a professionally-done custom built, then it doesn't make much difference whether you buy a Kimber or a Colt or a Springfield or a Smith.
But that's not what the marketing says...