Another blast from the past.....

Colt's newly-reintroduced Series 70 Government Model

 Colt's Patent Firearms Mfg. Co. is well known as the original and most recognized maker of 1911-type pistols. Ever since the design's military acceptance in March of 1911, and the beginning of production in January of 1912 Colt has never ceased manufacturing pistols based off the original 1911 design, known in commercial trim as simply the Government Model. However, in its 90-plus years of production the design has seen many slight evolutionary changes in the name of improved (or cheaper) manufacture, product safety, and market trends. From 1911 until 1970 there were virtually no significant changes to the basic design, but the year 1971 saw the first mechanical "improvement" to the 1911-type pistol. Colt redesigned the barrel bushing from a solid cylindrical type to a spring-steel, "finger cullet" bushing that gripped the end of the barrel, which had also been slightly redesigned with a slight belled end to accommodate the cullet bushing. The new "Accurizor" barrel and bushing was intended to improve the intrinsic accuracy of the new Colt Government Model pistols, which were then designated the MK IV/Series 70 to differentiate them from all prior variations of the Government Model. While not as capable of superb accuracy as a true hand-fit barrel and match bushing, the new setup nonetheless allowed the typical mass-produced Colt shoot better than the older military-spec pistols with their loosely fit solid bushings and straight barrels. The new setup was successful enough that the full-sized Gold Cup National Match pistols also incorporated the finger collet bushings, although the shorter Commander models retained the use of their shorter solid bushings.

In 1983 Colt made an even more drastic change to their 1911 line. Out of concerns for product liability, all of Colt's 1911-type pistols were redesigned internally with a new firing pin safety system. The new setup involved a small plunger located inside the slide to block the firing pin against movement, thus preventing the pistol from discharging accidentally should the pistol be dropped or hit hard while fully loaded with a round in the chamber. Two small sheet-metal levers working alongside the trigger pushed aside the plunger, which would then free up the firing pin to fire the weapon once the trigger had been deliberately depressed. The new pistols were all re-designated Series 80 models, and they replaced all of the older Series 70 models in Colt's lineup. Around 1988 it was decided that the collet bushing wasn't all it was cracked up to be, as there were a few reports of the bushing fingers breaking in use. In addition, it was felt that modern CNC manufacturing techniques had allowed tighter factory tolerances with the older solid bushing setup. As a result the original mil-spec barrel and bushing configuration was reinstated during that year, but the Series 80 firing pin safety was considered here to stay. Or was it?

Not everybody liked the new firing pin safety system Colt devised. Many gunsmiths groaned that the FPS made it that much harder to do a good trigger job on the piece, and some purists contended that the small parts that made up the safety system were fragile and thus prone to failure after extended use. The arguments for and against the firing pin safety system are beyond the scope of this article, but suffice to say there was a strong market demand for 1911-type pistols without the FPS that rival 1911 manufacturers were all too willing to meet. Manufacturers such as Springfield Armory, Kimber, Norinco, and others made huge inroads on Colt with their non-Series 80 1911 "clone" guns. Colt of course continued to make only Series 80 pistols, as conventional wisdom dicated that once a manufacturer made changes in the name of decreased product liability there was no looking back.

Fast-forward slightly to the year 2001. Due to a multitude of issues, Colt's financial situation had degraded to the point that their very survival seemed uncertain. Rival 1911 manufacturers now dominated the market. Some of them had also made changes to their 1911 line to include a firing pin safety system of some sort, yet their business didn't suffer as a result. The new CEO of Colt, retired General William M. Keyes took notice and realized that the public's perception of Colt was much different than that of other manufacturers. While other 1911 makers were making significant changes to the appearance and function of their pistols and being warmly received, the public attitude towards Colt's own products leaned more towards nostalgia and "the way they used to make 'em". Colt was continuing to sell the fabled Single Action Army (aka "Peacemaker"), despite the fact that there were imported clones on the market that sold for a third of what Colt was asking for theirs. As one associate of Keyes reportedly pointed out to him, "the other ones don't have the little horsey on them". The point was clear. Customers might have been willing to try out new products from other makers, but if they wanted to own the original it HAD to be a Colt. It was then that Mr. Keyes decided it was time to test-market a few new products, aimed not towards cutting edge handgun technology but instead backwards in time to "the way they used to make 'em". First to market was a close replica of the original military-issue M1911A1 pistol as used by Uncle Sam for over three-quarters of a century. While the pistol closely matched the originals in outside appearance, what was more significant was the fact that internally the new pistol had returned to the old pre-Series 80 ignition system as used by the original military-issue weapons, meaning there was no firing pin safety! Colt was able to do this without fear of liability in the same way that they were able to continue making the old Single Action Army, with its outdated fixed firing pin system. Being made and marketed by the Colt Custom Shop, the pistols were at once designated collectibles intended for a niche market, as opposed to products intended for general public consumption. Of course the pistols were still almost as readily available as any regular-production item, but by listing them as Custom Shop-only offerings Colt cleverly managed to drop the firing pin safety system and skirt product liability concerns at the same time.

The WW2 reproduction pistols were an immediate success, even despite the limited availability of just 4000 units and high Custom Shop price tag. Colt was thus inspired to introduce the next item in the "retro" line, a new MK IV/Series 70 Government Model like those manufactured for the civilian market from 1971 until 1983. True to original specifications there was no firing pin safety in this one either, but even more significant was the fact that Colt chose not to re-introduce the finger collet barrel bushing setup. Apparently it was decided that the collet bushing was a feature nobody would miss anyway, but the end result is that the new Series 70 models are technically more true to the older "pre-Series 70" production Government Models of 1911-1970 than the original "1st Generation" Series 70 guns. It is this author's belief that Colt merely used the Series 70 designation with the new guns as a means of identifying all pistols not using the firing pin safety system, rather than risking confusion over their products by naming them differently. It seems to make perfect sense, as it's not too difficult to remember that Series 70 means any Colt product without a firing pin safety system, versus a Series 80 which has the safety.

 Anyway, onto the review at last (those of you who find history lessons boring can wake up now). As a matter of fact this author personally bought one of the newly re-introduced Series 70 as soon as they hit the market. However, I would be less than truthful if I said that I picked mine up at random from the local gun store. I actually passed on two or three of them after making a close examination, and seeing evidence that Colt was still struggling a little with their quality control. While I saw nothing that would have indicated the pistols had anything wrong mechanically, from a practical standpoint I was reluctant to pay $850 of my hard-earned dollars on a pistol that displayed a few cosmetic flaws. One had severe dust cover rubbing, where the slide was clearly not centered on the frame and dragged against the frame's dust cover. Another had a poor final polish that resulted in poor blending of the matted rounds and polished slide flats. The third one also displayed dust cover rubbing, plus slide edges that looked wavy to me. I finally found one that looked just fine in the cosmetic department, lay down the cash (actually, plastic money), and took it home. In Colt's defense I might mention that I have since examined several more pistols just out of my own curiosity, and with one exception they have all been fine cosmetically. These pistols have all been higher in the serial number range than mine, so apparently Colt's workers are finally getting back into the groove, which is a good thing.

First off, a basic comparison of the new "Second Generation" Series 70 pistols with the originals is in order. As already mentioned the new guns use the solid barrel bushing, whereas the 1st Gen. guns used the cullet bushing. Both lack the Series 80 firing pin safety, however the new pistols do use the same internal parts as the Series 80 pistols. In other words, the extractor, firing pin, and grip safety have the notches cut into them that would have allowed the FPS parts to function. There are however no cutouts in either the slide or the frame for the levers and plunger, which means that a firing pin safety cannot be retrofitted to these guns without making the additional machining passes that a Series 80 gun requires. This all may sound like a cheap cop-out at first, but one must look at it from Colt's standpoint. Series 80 parts are fully backwards compatible in Series 70 guns, as the "notched" parts do not affect function and aren't even noticeable when the gun is completely assembled. In the name of streamlining its spare parts network Colt dropped all of the older Series 70 parts from production many years ago, and existing owners of older pistols are merely expected to order S80-type replacement parts which of course will still work fine. There was simply no point in making these older parts all over again just for a limited-production Custom Shop item, and so the new Series 70 guns use the exact same internal parts as the other current pistols in Colt's product line. It is worth mentioning that Colt did the exact same thing with the WW2 repro M1911A1, meaning that model uses S80-type internal parts as well.

The sights on the new guns are also from current production, as they are identical to the plain, high profile ones used on Colt's M1991A1 model. They are very similar to the original mil-spec sights of the originals, but they are taller and wider and allow a much better sight picture than the tiny sights of old. While not exactly period correct, as with the collet bushing they are probably another departure from the original that few owners will mind. If you intend to shoot your new S70 on a frequent basis you'll no doubt appreciate having sights you can actually see. The grips are rosewood checkered in the traditional fashion, with a large diamond surrounding each screw hole. The are supplied on contract by the Chip McCormick Corporation, and in the opinion of this author look much nicer than the plain checkered or rough-sawn wood grips of the originals. I do however miss the gold Colt medallion that was inset into each grip panel on the originals. On the positive side they're only grips, and if you prefer the original style they're not too hard to find at gun shows or on eBay.

There is another internal change in the new pistols, and it's definitely a welcome one. The barrel ramp/chamber entry throat is a new style designed to allow reliable feeding of all bullet shapes, yet at the same time not allow an excessive amount of case brass to be left unsupported. It looks like two ramps in one, first a large sweeping ramp then a much smaller "dimple" right at the 6 O'clock position. The setup works perfectly in ensuring reliability, yet is much safer than the older and more common method of creating a huge, sweeping entry throat that would often leave unsupported brass at the bottom. Many new Colt owners unaware of this new setup have incorrectly assumed that their new pistol isn't "throated for hollowpoints", and have sent their guns off to a gunsmith for a "reliability package". Trust me, the new setup works much better than the old one. I don't know if Colt has patented it, but if not I think the other 1911 makers should follow Colt's lead. The final internal difference with the new guns was only present on the first run of pistols such as mine, and that was that the slide stop cutout in the frame was completely milled away as on other current Colt production. With the second run of pistols the bridge of metal on the frame rail above the cutout is retained, as on the 1st Gen. Series 70 pistols.

The ejection port is the same as with the originals, meaning the opening is narrow and has the high lip on the right side of the slide. Most new 1911 pistols have a lowered port to allow better ejection, but the narrow port is a concession to authenticity. The trigger is made of steel, with a serrated face as on the originals. The flat surfaces of the slide and frame are polished, which contrasts beautifully with the sandblasted matte surfaces present on the rounds. The color of the factory bluing and level of polish isn't quite as bright as on the originals, but it is still pleasing to the eye and nowhere near as dull as most other contemporary firearms. Sadly, bright-polished blue guns seem to be an endangered species these days so I'll gladly take any attempt to replicate the finishes of old! The mainspring housing is nylon, which is a faux pas to my mind since many purists dislike plastic in any form on a 1911, and probably don't expect to see it anywhere on this pistol! However, the fact is the nylon housing has no other adverse affects and won't suffer finish wear like a steel housing will. Lastly, the slide rollmarks are almost identical to the original guns and are very pleasing to the eye. Thankfully Colt chose to use the small slide legend of the late 70's-early 80's guns, and not the huge, ugly billboard-sized rollmarks of the first Series 70 pistols! The serial number is unusual however in that it's laser-etched, with a 71B prefix. The originals were of course stamped. It remains to be seen whether the shallow serial numbers on the new guns might present a problem if a gunsmith were to later attempt a polish and reblue job on the frame. On some pistols I have examined the serial numbers are so light they're hard to see as it is.

Over the past few months of ownership I have had a chance to fire several hundred rounds out of my new second generation Series 70. So far there have been no problems with malfunctioning whatsoever. Accuracy has also been very good for an out of the box Colt pistol. While I haven't had a chance to make pretty 25-yard benchrested groups with it, my estimation is that it can easily hold under 3 inches with most loads. Better accuracy than that isn't needed unless you're shooting Bullseye matches, in which case you'll need a specially accurized weapon for that anyway. The trigger pull on my example is very good, relatively smooth and clean and around 4-5 pounds. With a smooth letoff even a heavy trigger will feel lighter than it really is, and you'll have an additional hedge against an accidental discharge as well. Overall feel and functioning with this pistol is one of quality. The slide action is silky-smooth, with hardly any feel of the parts bumping into one another as the slide moves back and forth on the frame. The controls all operate smoothly and positively, and the slide to frame fit is snug. Note that I said snug, not tight. While some manufacturers seem obsessed with super-tight 1911s that have absolutely no play in the mechanism anywhere, Colt seems a little smarter than most and allows for a little play. Those individuals who sneer at Colt products just because their slides and frames sometimes rattle a little bit either don't realize, or else don't care that a small amount of clearance was purposely designed into the 1911 for the sake of reliability. A tight 1911 might be more accurate, but it won't be more reliable because of it! Don't listen to those custom gunsmiths who say otherwise either, despite the fact that some very big names in the industry still claim that tight 1911s are more reliable. Their arguments simply don't hold up when you stop and think about it. Probably the most reliable 1911s ever made were the old GI guns, which were often fitted so loose they sounded like a baby rattle yet developed a reputation for utter reliability under battlefield conditions. By contrast, if you watch at a local shooting match it seems most folks hitting and cursing at their 1911s are using expensive, accurized, tightly-fitted guns! Hmmmmm.....

Based on my experience, I can state that the new Series 70 Government Model from Colt is a keeper. I do not know just how long they will remain in production however, as they are considered Custom Shop items so production is bound to be limited. So if you really like the idea of a brand-new Colt .45 built along the lines of the classic Colts of old I'd suggest not waiting to pick one up. Do be prepared for a little sticker shock, however.

Copyright 2002 D. Kamm


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