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What Is the .45 Super Cartridge?

Updated on December 5, 2016
.45 Super cartridge, in KKM barrel
.45 Super cartridge, in KKM barrel

A Dash of History...

To explain the .45 Super cartridge, it might be best to give a little history lesson on its direct descendant, the venerable .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol). The .45 ACP was designed in 1904 by John Browning, specifically for his new M1911 automatic pistol, which would go on to become the standard service weapon of the United States military from 1911 to 1985. That particular weapon is also the basis for modern 1911 style weapons.

The .45 Super is a modern redesign of the .45 ACP cartridge. It utilizes stronger powders, and strengthened brass, without losing any of its original dimensions, leaving it the same size as the original .45 Super cartridge.

Why Redesign What Works?

As it is with technology, what was new in 1904 is nearly ancient in the modern world. The .45 ACP is no exception to that rule. Since its creation, newer, more powerful forms of smokeless powder have been created, as well as more modern cartridges. While still considered one of the most reliable cartridges for home defense due to its size, the .45 ACP struggles to match other rounds in terms of power and speed in comparison with case capacity.

The reason is actually quite simple. In 1904, when the cartridge was first designed, the more powerful smokeless powders in use today had not yet been invented. The case walls and brass webbing were designed to handle the powder of the time, nothing more. That translates into the modern day pressure specifications of 21,000 PSI for .45 ACP, and 34,084 and 37,500, for 9mm and 10mm respectively. As you can see, the 9mm and 10mm can handle pressures just shy of double that of the .45 ACP.

What this translates to is that the .45 ACP cartridge uses less of its modern day potential for its size than more modern rounds. To give you an example, here is a picture of the different cartridges side by side, along with a chart detailing the ballistics data of the cartridges:

From Left to Right: .50 Action Express, .44 Magnum, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, 9mm, .22 LR
From Left to Right: .50 Action Express, .44 Magnum, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, 9mm, .22 LR

9mm, .45 and .44 Magnum Ballistics Chart

Company and Caliber
Type
Grain
Muzzle Energy (ft/lbs)
Muzzle Velocity (ft/s)
Magtech 9mm
FMJ
115
330
1135
Federal 9mm
FMJ
115
356
1180
Blazer 9mm
JHP
115
335
1145
Magtech 9mm
JHP
115
340
1155
Buffalo Bore +P 9mm
FMJ-RN
124
465
1300
CorBon +P 9mm
JHP
115
466
1350
***
***
***
***
***
CorBon +P Pow'R'ball .45 ACp
FMJ
165
550
1225
Buffalo Bore +P .45 ACP
JHP
185
543
1150
***
***
***
***
***
Hornaday FTX .44 Magnum
JHP
225
993
1410
CorBon .44 Magnum
JHP
225
911
1350
The cartridges are chosen for this table at random from where I could find data

As you can see, the .45 ACP, despite being one of the larger rounds being compared, is only slightly more powerful than the equivalent 9mm overpressure round. The solution that Dean Grennell, a well known firearms writer, came up with was the .45 Super, a modernized version of the .45 Magnum utilizing .451 Detonics brass, necked down to the proper size.

You would think that, being the same size as the .45 ACP, and more powerful, that you would have heard more about it, and it would have become standard for .45 ACP weapons. Chances are, if you're reading this, you haven't. The reason for that is also related to the original design of the .45 ACP, or rather, its platform, the M1911.

The second problem facing the .45 ACP and the weapons originally designed to fire it, is the lack of support in the barrel for the case head. This is acceptable, for the lower pressure .45 ACP rounds, but attempting to fire a .45 Super round out of an unmodified .45 ACP weapon can cause the .45 Super shell casing to bulge, and then burst, causing catastrophic failure in the firearm. In other words, weapons blowing up are bad, don't do it.

Firearms manufacturers came up with two solutions to this problem. The first, to create weapons specifically designed to handle and support the .45 ACP. The second, to design barrels for auto-loading pistols like the 1911 and Glock that support the shell casing fully. Many of the people I know have opted for the latter option, just like myself.

The stock barrel from my Glock .45. Notice how the barrel doesn't fully support the case near the feed ramp.
The stock barrel from my Glock .45. Notice how the barrel doesn't fully support the case near the feed ramp.
From left to right, Corbon .45 +P, Federal FMJ, and .45 Super Cast Lead Flatnose.
From left to right, Corbon .45 +P, Federal FMJ, and .45 Super Cast Lead Flatnose.

The .45 Super Cartridge

So, while we've established what the .45 Super is, and is not, it seems fairly clear that it is more than a little trouble to find a weapon that can fire it, or to set a weapon up to fire it. One might wonder, then, what exactly was accomplished by redesigning the cartridge? To that I reply: Take a look at these statistics on Buffalo Bore .45 Super ammunition....

.45 Super Ballistics Chart

Company and Caliber
Type
Grain
Muzzle Energy (ft/lbs)
Muzzle Velocity (ft/s)
Buffalo Bore .45 Super
JHP
185
694
1300
Buffalo Bore .45 Super
FMJ-FN
255
654
1075

As you can see, it allows a significant increase in power and performance, in a weapon of the exact same size. In my case, out of the exact same weapon. That is not to say it does not have other drawbacks aside from the time spent converting the weapon. The ammunition is rather hard to find. Unless you reload your own ammunition, Buffalo Bore is the only company that I know of that currently sells .45 Super ammunition. Ironically, because .45 ACP is so expensive, Buffalo Bore's .45 Super ammunition is actually almost on part with .45 ACP price, however.

Thank you for reading, and I hope the information contained helped someone out there gain a better understanding of this strange, unique, and powerful cartridge. As always, any comments, corrections, and questions are appreciated and welcomed.

For information on how to convert your own Glock 21 to fire .45 Super, you can check out my article on it here.

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    • profile image

      Zachary palermo 5 months ago

      Back in October I was looking to for a good 45 auto load for deer hunting, I did some research and the 45 super kept coming up, so I looked into it and after reading your article on how to convert a glock 21 to 45 super I decided to try it with mine. I used a 24 pound recoil spring with a stainless steal guide rod, and a loan wolf barrel, the gun shot high with the new barrel so i got an adjustable sight, which was only $20. All together the conversion cost me about $150. I purchased 45 super ammo from a company called underwood ammo, them an Buffalo bore were the only two companies I could find which sold the round and underwood was a little cheaper. Now my block 21 can fire standard 45 auto loads, 45+p loads and 45 super loads reliably, making it an excellent all around handgun

    • TomBlalock profile image
      Author

      TomBlalock 2 years ago from Hickory, NC

      Way late reply, due to work hiatus, but I seem to remember the XD's being ready right out of the box for it. That Glock reliability does come with a few quirks, and the slide angle is one of them.

    • profile image

      gunny45acp 2 years ago

      Very interesting stuff! Thanks for the article.

      We're the owners of an XD-45 as well as a XDS-45, and interesting to me that the XD doesn't require any barrel mods to use the 45 Super.

      Considering the age of this article, I'm going to do some more research on the 45 Super rounds, and see what current availability is. I'd love to give it a try in the XD.

      Do you suppose the Super would be usable in the XDS-45 without any mods to that weapon? Personally, I would think so, but...

      Thanks again!

    • Edward J. Palumbo profile image

      Ed Palumbo 3 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      Interesting Hub! I've appreciated the .45 ACP since I was 18, but I enjoy working with and handloading a broad spectrum of centerfire cartridges.

    • profile image

      TomBlalock 4 years ago

      Ack, I meant the xdm-45. That applies to both, however.

    • profile image

      TomBlalock 4 years ago

      A .45 Super cartidge can be fired with no modification at all from a XD-45. However, I would recommend a heavier recoil spring in your XD-45 if you're planning to actually shoot .45 Super regularly out of it. The frame does take a tiny bit of battering without that heavier spring on it.

      You can use an aftermarket barrel if you so choose, but it isn't a necessity.

    • profile image

      isaac 4 years ago

      can the 45 xdm be converted for 45 super rds and where do i find a kit - thx

    • TomBlalock profile image
      Author

      TomBlalock 5 years ago from Hickory, NC

      I highly recommend it. Be happy to answer any questions you have on the matter, as well. Just let me know if I can help!

    • TomBlalock profile image
      Author

      TomBlalock 5 years ago from Hickory, NC

      Thanks for the compliment, and the welcome. My camera is a Nikon Coolpix P90, and it's REALLY not condusive to indoor pictures. The internal program it uses to balance light and focus the picture just doesn't handle the indoors very well at all. I'm surprised the pictures were even useable, personally.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Very interesting and great images!

      Welcome to HubPages

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