Steve Coulston provides an assessment of the 2012 Limited Edition Custom M&P9 by 10-8 Performance.

The M&P series of hand guns aren’t new to the market. Like any good capitalist, Smith & Wesson has continued to improve their line of semi-auto hand blasters by adding new members to the family. As of this writing they currently offer 61 different variations of the M&P pistol line. That’s a lot of choices. But what about the discerning shooter who is looking for something to take their game to another level? When stock just won’t do, where do they go? 10-8 Performance, that’s where.

10-8 Performance is owned and operated by Hilton Yam. For those of you who are unaware, Hilton is a seasoned Florida LEO, 1911 master gunsmith and USPSA competitor. 10-8 specializes in offering 1911 armorer training and developing and retailing 10-8 firearm parts. They will also on occasion offer custom 1911s and Smith & Wesson M&Ps in very limited numbers. When I say very, I mean like six a year.

How do you get one of these masterpieces built by the great Hilton Yam you ask? Luck of the draw, fastest on the trigger, the stars aligned just right or… you know someone who already has one. We are very fortunate that our friend, Roy Lin from Weapon Outfitters, was willing to loan us his custom 10-8 Performance M&P 9 to review. The pictures do not do it justice. You must handle it and put it through its paces to truly appreciate this custom polymer pistol.

The gun starts off as a standard M&P 9mm with a 4.25” barrel sans thumb safety. The stock trigger is deep sixed and upgraded to an Apex Tactical trigger kit with an Apex sear, Ultimate Striker Block Kit and Reset Assist Mechanism (RAM). The extractor is replaced by an Apex Failure Resistant Extractor. Next the slide is sent to the machining masters at ATEi for full top serrations front side serrations. They then add the 10-8 logo right in front of the ejection port. The slide is then refinished in black QPQ nitorcarburizing. 10-8 then adds its renown rear sight and tritium front sight. The barrel is removed and hand fitted with a new Storm Lake Match Barrel. The breech face, feed ramp and chamber are hand polished. Finally, the frame is then textured by Hilton.

There is nothing on this gun that is superfluous. Everything has been added for a reason. Form follows function, right? Does it look amazing? Of course it does! But how does it perform?

It feels great in my hand. The texturing makes it stick and I am confident even in the wettest conditions, I would have no problems maintaining a solid purchase on the gun. I noticed right away that something was different in the way the grip felt. I have held and textured many M&Ps myself, but this one was different. It almost felt like… a 1911? Really? Being made by Hilton, long renowned for his fondness and mastery of the 1911 platform, I figured I’d just ask him. He told me he did undercut the trigger guard. This provides a higher grip on the gun by about 3/16 of an inch, or at least that’s what my eye tells me. It allows the shooter to get a higher grip on the handgun which helps to mitigate recoil. It may not seem like much, but it is noticeable. The undercut has been smoothed and brought to a satin polish. Yes, the polymer actually shines.

At the range, there were no surprises. I expected the gun would perform and it did. The front tritium site was easily acquired through the u-notched 10-8 rear sight. The gun pointed naturally and shot where it should. The trigger had about 5/16ths of an inch take up before it broke crisply at 6lbs. The reset was about an 1/8th of an inch and announced itself with an audible click. Magazine changes were quick thanks to the 10-8 aluminum base pads. These pads are made from 6061 aluminum and weigh in at .5 oz. That’s .3 oz heavier than the factory ones. It may not seem like much, but the mags drop like a rock when you hit the mag release. This speeds up mag changes and is a nice feature. Press checks were made easy with the side serrations and one handed manipulation was outstanding. The rear 10-8 sight allows the user to chamber a round by hooking the front end of the site on a gun belt, table or other flat surface to rack the slide. What if a flat, hard surface isn’t available… use the full top serrations. Getting a gun back into action after inserting a fresh ammunition source is as easy as rotating your wrist to flip the gun upside down, place the top of the slide on just about anything from your jeans to a bad guy’s face and smartly push the gun forward, keeping your finger off the trigger of course. The top serrations will keep the slide in place as you move the frame forward. Once the frame is fully forward remove the gun from your jeans (or bad guy’s face) and the slide will ride home chambering a round. If practiced, going from empty to back in the fight can be done very quickly one handed, thanks to the slide work by ATEi. The gun also rode very well in the holsters I had at hand. I tested it in Crossbreed Supertuck, G-Code/HSP INCOG and a Praetor Defense holster. All stayed secured and allowed smooth presentation of the handgun.

Impressed? Yes, I was. But there was still the nagging question. How does a die hard 1911 guy like Hilton get into a “plastic gun” project? You know the old debate, steel vs plastic, .45 vs 9mm, blah, blah, blah. When I asked him he said, “I was one of the first adopters of the M&P, having shot the prototypes at the factory prior to the release. We were the first company to make after-market accessories for it as well. It has excellent ergos and is American made. It is a good transition gun to polymer from a 1911.” I must admit it is encouraging to hear someone like Mr. Yam speak highly of the M&P right alongside the 1911.

Was anything missing on this gun? For this shooter I would have preferred to have the frame stippled where my right forefinger and left thumb ride. I stipple all my M&Ps that way. I like the way it feels and it confirms the same purchase every time. Mandatory? User preference will dictate. Also, there has been run on machine shops like ATEi to mill slides to accept a micro red dot. Even S&W is jumping on board with the introduction of the CORE line of pistols. Should a fighting gun have the ability to run a MRD? When asked why he didn’t accommodate a MRD, Hilton said, “I have another gun with the RMR. I do not think the mini red dot tech is matured nor is it for everyone at this point, so irons will have broader appeal plus much more competitive price point.” He brings up a valid point. This gun carries a price tag of $1,750 after shipping. Adding a MRD would push the price tag north of $2k. Also, not all holsters will readily accept a MRD and finding one may put you in the custom realm. If an optic on a hand gun blows your skirt up, ATEi will gladly take care of you.

In conclusion, this is a very fine handgun that is a pleasure to shoot and carry. The features 10-8 added to the M&P are all welcomed and aid the shooter in deployment and manipulation. Is it worth $1,750? I’ll leave that up to you, the reader. But if I had that kind of coin…

I want to thank Hilton Yam for taking the time to answer my questions and officially ruining my perspective on a stock M&P9. Stock just doesn’t cut it anymore. And Roy, I hate to say this, but I can’t seem to find your pistol. I am sure it is around here somewhere… I’ll let you know when I find it.

Steve has been a firearms enthusiast for over 20 years and is currently an NRA lifetime member. In 1996 he joined the United States Navy and served as a Special Warfare Combat Crewman (SWCC) at Special Boat Unit 12 (Now renamed Special Boat Team 12). He made two tours during his time of service and spent most of his time in southeast Asia and the Middle Eastern theaters. Upon his Honorable Discharge in 2000, Steve spent the next 10 years earning his Masters Degree and state license as an Architect. Steve brings a unique perspective from both his tactical and design background and is a reviewer and contributor for Guns & Tactics Magazine, Defense Marketing Group and other media outlets.