By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
VOLUSIA COUNTY - The M1911 is a legend among gun aficionados, but Cliff Benjamin says he can make the venerable pistol better.
The 66-year-old owns Better Firearms Designs, one of 11 businesses getting a leg up at the University of Central Florida Business Incubator at the Daytona Beach International Airport.
"Right now, we have a patent on a modified (M1911) handgun," Mr. Benjamin said. "I'm trying to bring that patent to market - either by licensing to a manufacturer, or manufacturing it myself."
In his ideal world, Mr. Benjamin would find a gun maker to manufacture handguns using his patented design, and he'd be busy hiring local folks to modify existing ones.
"There's millions of 1911s out there," he said. "It's the most popular handgun in the U.S. today. They sell 300,000 to 400,000 a year."
Mr. Benjamin believes his design could make waves in the pistol market and account for up to 10 percent of future M1911 sales. He said valuing the monetary possibilities is difficult.
"It's hard to say," he said. "But, let's say I got $20 a gun (sold), which isn't unreasonable. That's what, $800,000 (a year)?"
The M1911 is a single-action, recoil-operated semiautomatic pistol. It was the standard sidearm for the military from 1911 to the late 1980s. Some United States forces are still carrying them. Mr. Benjamin's patented design replaces the M1911's movable-barrel swinging-link locking system with a fixed-barrel gas-retarded blowback one.
In other words...
"It's more accurate," Mr. Benjamin said. "The barrel doesn't move. The recoil impulse difference is huge."
Mr. Benjamin has been in the gun business since 1966. His father owned a coin shop and he talked him into opening part of it to guns. The result was Ben's Gun & Coin Shop in Holly Hill. After his father's death, Mr. Benjamin closed the store, but he intends to reopen it soon.
He read about the patented M1911 redesign in a trade publication, and got in touch with the engineer. The two were developing a business together when the fellow suddenly died, leaving the patent to Mr. Benjamin. The engineering student got a few ideas for improving the M1911, too.
"(I work at the business) about 40 hours a day," he said. "I dream about it at night. I actually work on new (gun) designs in my dreams. I have 20 concepts I believe are patentable."
The UCF Business Incubator opened in July last year, and was the ninth the university started since 1999. Another opened since then.
The Volusia County Council approved about $1.4 million dollars to renovate the business incubator's 10,000-square-foot facility at 601 Innovation Way, and another $750,000 to run it for three years.
Businesses pay anywhere from $270 to $1,000 a month to have office space at the incubator's facility. Most are paying $270 to $350. While that's pretty inexpensive rent, it's not why the businesses are there. The entrepreneurs did a lot of work to hang their shingles there. To get in the program, prospects go through a rigorous application process that includes making repeated presentations. They have to show that they have business ideas that'll work, that they have the dedication to make them work, and the resources they'll need to see them through until the ideas start generating sufficient income.
Better Firearms Designs was one of the first businesses accepted into the incubator. Mr. Benjamin hopes to generate jobs in Volusia County for several reasons. One is to get his two adult daughters to move back to the area.
"God's placed (the business) in front of me," he said. "I'm a Christian, and I believe God puts things in front of you."
Mr. Benjamin lives in DeLeon Springs with his wife, Debbie.