By David Tong
David gives us a look at his favorite Colt Government Model Pre-Series ‘70 1911 and why he likes classic colts.
USA – -(Ammoland.com)- In one form or another, I have shot, customized, accessorized, reloaded for, and generally admired this one-hundred-five year old classic for forty years.
We have witnessed the changes that went on with Colt over the past forty-some years too. Once a maker of largely hand-assembled and finished handguns, sometimes this translated into superior products.
Back in the day, prior to the end of the Series ’70 pistols, John Browning’s greatest handgun design was wholly constructed of forged, or milled-from-stock steel parts.
With the Series ’80 1911s, we began to see the cost cutting efforts. This began with a nylon mainspring housing. Later, as the pistols were manufactured with CNC machining centers to facilitate faster production, we also saw the introduction of metal-injection-molded (“MIM”) parts.
These parts include the disconnector, hammer block plunger and its actuating levers, the sear, the thumb and grip safety, the firing pin and firing pin stop, and possibly the magazine catch. Grip screw bushings were no longer properly staked in the receiver, which meant that an over-zealous owner cranking down on the stock screws might be in for a bit of an adventure trying to remove the grips when they were still firmly affixed to the now unthreaded bushing.
Further cost cutting during the 1990s onward also sadly included the deletion of the chamfering or beveling of all the sharp edges of the frame and slide. I have also noticed that the locking lugs on the barrel, as well as their matching mating surfaces in the slide are also often razor sharp and make the pistol’s slide retraction feel a bit coarse.
Colt nowadays even has the cheek to ask $150 to have those corners properly radiused by their “Custom Shop,” even though many models sell for nearly or just over $1,000 in 2016 dollars. In a day and age when nearly every other maker of the John Moses Browning classic offers pistols properly turned-out (at least in this issue), this seems an odd omission.
The company has had financial turmoil in the past thirty years as well, going into receivership or reorganization four times during this period. It appears that their primary emphasis has always been military contracts, while the commercial side of the business languishes from lack of new products to generate new sales. At this point, I believe that their most recent handgun product is a re-hash of the Mustang micro-compact .380 pistol, itself a twenty-year-old design based upon a fifty-year-old Spanish Star design.
Today’s Colt Government Model still features a forged receiver (frame), slide, barrel, and slide stop. Colt advertised recently that theirs is the only one machined to original government specifications. This makes sense as they are the ones who have the original blueprints!
I had long been looking for another pre-Series ’70 Government Model 1911, actually for nearly twenty years. I have seen their prices rise, and they are quite scarce going now for nosebleed collector prices. I am a shooter, not a collector, so I don’t really care that much if the thing shows a bit of honest wear, or if it has had well-executed gunsmithing modifications from a known expert.
Recently, I came across one in a local shop, and I bought it. A 1969-produced pistol, it was finished by hand and it shows, both good and bad.
The good: the frame and slide flats are flat, with properly chamfered edges, and polished to a soft, not bright, sheen. There are no obvious tool marks on the exterior. The trigger pull is a bit over four pounds crisp, with the short take up, over-travel, and short reset that endears the design to so many millions of shooters over the years. All the parts appeared well finished, and all function properly.
The bad: Colt had two recurring issues with final machining or finishing in this era. Two things that this pistol has are a muzzle crown that was completed by a buffing wheel (!!), uneven and flattened in places.
The second issue were frame tangs that extend beyond the depressed grip safety that were also left sharp. That of course would cut into the web of your hand on recoil after a while if left unattended. Without getting into a refinish caused by a recontouring of the exterior beveled areas adjacent to the grip safety, I resorted to a half-measure of chamfering the inner corner so it was rounded enough to not draw blood on recoil.
These are not isolated incidents either, because my dad’s 1975 Gold Cup had BOTH same problems! Sometimes hand-work isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
Be that as it may. The internal frame rails that the slide rides upon had most of its original bluing, as does the rest of the pistol at approximately 98%. There is no holster wear, just handling marks in the usual places. A prior owner or owners had installed a flat, checkered mainspring housing that replaced the 1923-era arched and grooved one that I personally prefer. He also replaced the very cheap woodgrain plastic checkered stocks on the piece, which usually shrank in both length and width over time, with VZ Grips’ “Operator” medium grey colored G-10 laminated synthetic, a common material for knife scales.
The prior owner(s) also apparently didn’t know how to reassemble the pistol properly, as it had the minor scratch on the left side of the frame as he ham-fistedly slid the slide stop into its place by running the stop’s stud onto the trigger finger clearance cut and the frame flat above. A quick touch-up with Liquid Cold Blue, but “Grrrrr….”
The barrel’s feed ramp was also unusual in that it exhibits a transitional bit of thinking on Colt’s part before the introduction of the Series ’70s fully-throated barrel. This pistol has a bit of a combination of the original G.I. hardball-only narrow feed ramp between 5- and 7- o’clock, with additional narrow beveling extending to 9- and 3- o’clock. This was possibly some recognition of the poor G.I.-style straight feed lipped magazines that were still standard at the time, not the later ‘70- and ‘80-Series ones with the additional rear case crimped area to hold the rounds better in a nose-high attitude for feed reliability with other than ball ammo.
Of course, these several points “could be” completely rectified by installing the original grips and mainspring housing, but any other changes would “harm” it to a collector.
Other pistols are generally lighter, hold more rounds in their capacious magazine, are corrosion-proof, but none, to me anyway, have that same slim feel and the confidence of all-steel construction’s balance when target shooting, or shooting full-powered rounds quickly.
I expect that it would be an adequate shooting pistol, though my aging eyes aren’t going to like those tiny G.I. sights on a black bullseye or silhouette target much.
What it does is take me back all the way to 1975, when my assistant Scoutmaster let me shoot his G.I. 1911A1 in the Mojave Desert on a camping trip.
I can put more value in that memory than any collector can pay me for this factory commercial replica!