Colt's "new" Government Models
Sometimes less is actually more.....
By D. Kamm
The shooting world seems absolutely awash in "custom" 1911-type pistols these days. There was a time when the typical 1911 was of the "mil-spec" variety, meaning that if you wanted something better (or simply more unique) than the average GI-issue pistol, you had to have your gun worked over by a pistolsmith who specialized in customizing .45s for defense or competition use. Many of these modifications made perfect sense to have done. Larger sights, trigger work, reliability tuning, etc were considered a means of improving the 1911's capabilities, and in fact many of these changes did indeed rectify some of the stock GI pistol's shortcomings. However, a lot of other modifications were merely a means of personalizing the firearm, so that the owner would have something just a cut above the rest. It was much like a Japanese Samurai with his hand-made katana, created by a master craftsman who made the weapon exactly to suit the owner. Such a weapon was a unique work of art, and it was considered an extension of the warrior's own soul. Many contemporary gun owners have had the same desire to have a personalized sidearm, something that made them feel they had something nobody else had and that was uniquely theirs. To that end customizing 1911s became a cottage industry, with untold numbers of gunsmiths and parts vendors getting into the act. Soon the idea was established that you actually HAD to have one of these tricked-up 1911 pistols if you actually considered yourself a serious handgunner. Using a plain-jane, mil-spec 1911 for defense was something only WW1 doughboys and ignorant shopkeepers did. This trend did not go unnoticed by many 1911 manufacturers, who eventually began making new pistols straight from the factory with the features considered most desirable in a "combat .45", such as no-snag hi-visibility sights, beavertail grip safeties, ambidextrous controls, forward cocking serrations, and flat-black "ninja" finishes.
Unfortunately, it seems that these days the industry has lost focus. Just about everybody now makes what is typically called a "factory custom" 1911. Here's just a short list: Kimber, Springfield Armory, Charles Daly, Wilson, Les Baer, Rock River Arms, Valtro, Dan Wesson, Smith & Wesson, Caspian, Ed Brown..... just to name the most well known manufacturers. This list doesn't include the small one-man custom shops like Larry Vickers, Dick Heinie, Dane Burns, and the like. As a result of all this, it seems to me that having a custom 1911 just ain't what it used to be. Your "personalized" handgun nowadays looks just like everybody else's, and the only thing that makes you stand out from the rest is how much you paid to have some famous gunsmith's name engraved on the side. Perhaps in light of all this a return to the basics is in order, sort of like starting over with a fresh sheet of paper. Re-enter Colt, the original 1911 maker and one of very few who still produce them in the "classic" configuration.
The pistol under review here is actually nothing new; only the name keeps changing. Colt has never ceased making the 1911 since its debut back in the year 1912. The basic design has remained the same throughout all these years, although a number of minor internal changes have been made from time to time. In 1983 the Series 80 models were introduced with the new firing pin safety system, which guarded against an accidental discharge should a loaded pistol be dropped onto a hard surface. In 1991 Colt revamped their 1911 line by turning the basic Government Model into a value-priced item. They did this by dropping the practice of polishing the flats and using walnut grips, and instead adopting a less expensive all-matte finish with rubber grips. This new variation was named the M1991A1, but it was really just a marketing ploy to catch up to competitors who were making less expensive clones of the 1911. Only a year later the rest of Colt's 1911 line was updated with many of the custom features buyers had been asking for, thus creating the "Enhanced" line of pistols. So while Colt began chasing after the "factory custom" market with those, the M1991A1 soldiered along as one of the few "mil-spec" options available to consumers who wanted a basic 1911-type pistol. However it appears the market is once again changing, as many buyers tired of the saturated "custom" 1911 market are now demanding the polished flats and classic lines of older 1911s once again.
While Colt continues to offer "factory custom" 1911s in the form of their new XSE models, it was recently decided that the all-matte M1991A1 model had about run its course and no longer offered the buyer much. Probably the reason for this assessment was the fact that Colt had to increase prices to curb riding costs, and as a result the "value priced" M1991A1 wasn't that much of a value anymore. Colt's decision then was to improve the appearance of the product, which hopefully would justify the price increases and make it more appealing to the buying public. First to go was the old "COLT M1991A1" rollmark on the slide, which many people had complained looked ugly since it was nothing more than a billboard-sized marking in big letters. The new pistols are rollmarked in a new, much more pleasing manner that says "Colt's Government Model 45 Automatic Caliber" in a much more eye-pleasing font. The flat surfaces of the slide and frame are given a semi-gloss brushed finish, which while not as finely-polished as older Colts still looks better than the dull all-matte finish of the M1991A1-marked pistols. The blued models are given double-diamond checkered rosewood grips, while the stainless ones retain the black checkered rubber grips of the older models. The long plastic trigger was changed to a new black anodized aluminum one with a serrated face. It is worth mentioning at this point that Colt didn't simply turn off the lights one evening, and then the next morning begin making pistols with the new changes. The changes were incremental over the course of several months. As a result, pistols can be found that still say "M1991A1" yet have polished slide flats, and others exist with the new slide rollmark and polished slide but with all-matte frames.
The pistol under review here is one of the stainless steel versions of the newly overhauled pistols, which by the way are still officially called "M1991A1" models. The blued version is cataloged as factory part number 01991, while the stainless model reviewed here is part number 01091. This naturally causes confusion among distributors, resellers, and customers alike. At this point in time you could order a #01991 from your distributor, and it might come in as either one of the "old rollmark" or "new rollmark" models. Heck, you might even be one of the lucky dogs to get a transitional variation with any combination of old/new rollmark, old/new finish, old/new grips, or old/new trigger! Naturally I wanted one of the completely new versions of course, so I waited it out a few months until one finally showed up in the display case of a local dealer. It was bought at first sight even though I was on lunch break from work, and after the paperwork and NICs check it was on its way back to the office with me.
Going over the pistol top to bottom, the pistol displays the following characteristics. The external finish is very good overall, with the rounded surfaces bead-blasted matte while the slide and frame flats have a pleasing brushed finish. There are very few tool marks anywhere to be seen, and the slide action is silky-smooth. There is 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. When a semi-auto pistol gets dirty through use the grit and gunk has to go somewhere, and it usually ends up inside the slide and frame rails. A tight 1911 might be more accurate, but it certainly won't be more reliable because of it!
The rollmarks are evenly stamped and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The serial number is laser-etched into the frame. The sights are basic M1991A1 style, only slightly larger than GI sights but still big enough to be useable. The rear notch is shallower than I would like, but that is easily fixed with a small needle file. The sights also have the ubiquitous "three white dot" setup common to many of today's pistols. The ejection port is lowered, but without the case rollover notch cut into the rear as many custom guns are. The barrel bushing is the solid type, and the barrel is stainless steel (present on both blued and STS models). The barrel hood is actually narrower than conventional 1911s, for some reason. This is the same narrow hood as used on the Gold Cup and Enhanced models, so perhaps it was merely a means to standardize production on Colt's part. The hammer is of the conventional spur type, however on this stainless gun it is actually nickel-plated carbon steel instead of stainless. Many of the other small parts are also nickeled carbon steel, obviously to reduce manufacturing costs. This pistol is of course still a Series 80, so the firing safety system is present. The slide serrations are the classic straight style, with 19 grooves. The pistol uses a standard GI-type short guide rod and recoil spring plug. The extractor is either a cast or MIM (metal injection molded) unit, which I most certainly don't like. The extractor in a 1911 is a critical component that affects reliability, but unfortunately most 1911s in the sub-$1000 range (regardless of manufacturer) use cheap cast or MIM extractors in their guns, which have a known tendency to fail after awhile. I STRONGLY advise anyone who buys a new 1911 from these makers to replace the factory extractor with a quality aftermarket one from Wilson, Ed Brown, Caspian, or Cylinder & Slide. These aftermarket extractors are normally made of either barstock or spring steel, and will hold up much better than the inferior units normally installed at the factory. In my case, since the pistol is stainless I only had one source for a "white" extractor, which was Caspian Arm's stainless steel unit. Although it too is cast, Caspian knows how to heat-treat parts properly and their extractors are known for their quality. The other makers typically use barstock steel, but currently only offer blued extractors.
Moving down to the frame, the pistol retains the narrow GI-style grip safety spur and rounded frontstrap (w/o the high triggerguard junction cut of the Enhanced/XSE line of pistols). As already mentioned the trigger is a long, black anodized aluminum unit with a serrated face. There is no overtravel screw, and no lightening holes. The trigger pad is also slightly longer than most conventional "long" triggers, which some short-fingered users may not like. However the trigger is a fairly easy item to replace on a 1911, and is often done to make the pistol better suit the user. In fact I suspect many owners will indeed replace this trigger, as not only is it very long but there is also a lot of up/down and side-to-side play, giving it a very "cheap" feel. The mainspring housing is flat and serrated, but typical of most recent Colts is made of nylon. This is another item that usually gets replaced; however I personally have nothing against a "plastic" housing on a 1911. They are lighter than a steel housing, won't corrode, and on blued guns won't suffer wear to the finish like a steel housing will. The grips are black checkered rubber, very utilitarian but quite functional. The blued models normally come with very attractive double-diamond checkered rosewood grips, supplied under contract by Chip McCormick (yes, the same folks who sell the same exact grips to Kimber). The control levers are serrated and of stock configuration, meaning that they are not extended or ambidextrous. The magazine well entry is beveled, however the treatment isn't as thorough as typically seen on true custom pistols.
Internally, the pistol uses other cast parts such the sear and disconnector. However I have never experienced a problem with the cast sears and disconnectors Colt uses, so I would not immediately reject these components. The grip screw bushings are heavily staked in place, which is good since Colt was previously not doing so, creating many frustrated owners when the bushings came out of the frame with the grips when removing the latter. There is one final feature worthy of mention, and that is the new bullet ramp/chamber entry throat configuration. The barrel 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, this new throat 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.
Okay, now for the shooting/handling portion of the review. Unfortunately all my shooting these days is confined to an indoor range, so I don't have the ability to sit at a bench and make pretty 5-shot groups at 25 yards. In any case, such tests are meaningless in my opinion. Unless you have a Ransom Rest, at that range too much shooter error is induced thanks to the short sight radius of your typical handgun. Besides, only gun-rag article writers are actually capable of shooting 1" 25 yard groups anyway (offhand, no less). But in the couple of months that I have had this piece I can certainly say that it shoots much better than I am capable of, as chewing out the center of a bullseye target at 15 yards is no sweat. At 25 yards no 1" groups unfortunately, but they're always inside the scoring rings which will have to suffice until I get a job with Guns n' Ammo. At 7 yards it's quite easy to put each round into nearly the same hole. Functioning with several brands and bullet styles of .45 ACP ammunition has so far been flawless. I have been using the two 7-round magazines shipped with the pistol as well as several quality aftermarket mags, such as Wilson and Metalform. The trigger pull is very smooth, about 4-5 pounds and with a distinct "rolling" letoff that makes keeping the sights on target easy. In fact, the entire pistol feels like a quality piece, certainly not rough or sloppy like many older Colts made in the last 30 years. I have owned or handled many Colt 1911s made in the past couple of decades where either the slide was so loose it felt like it was ready to fall off the frame, or there were so many tooling marks present that the entire action and controls felt rough and gritty. There was none of that present with this new Colt.
As for negatives, fortunately there are very few. The issues with the alloy trigger and cheap extractor have already been mentioned, but in addition I feel the entire exterior could use a little dressing-down of the sharp edges. Mine being a stainless pistol that should be fairly easy, but owners of a blued model would have to either live with it or have the gun refinished afterwards. The spur hammer does nip the web of my hand slightly when I fire it, but that's half the fun of shooting a "mil-spec" 1911 anyway. And last, I feel Colt should actually bevel the magazine well around its entire circumference, and not merely be content with the half-arse treatment they currently give it. All these are minor complaints however, and if this is the worst you can expect from current-production Colts then there should be little to worry about.
If you're like me and feel that there was never anything wrong with the original "classic" 1911, you'll like the newly overhauled basic Colt Government Models. By the way, Combat Commander Models in both blue and stainless have also been introduced in the new configuration, for those who prefer the shorter 4 1/4" barreled guns over the full-sized 5" Government Models. In any case, these new Colts are certainly worthy of note if you're in the market for a new 1911 but still haven't decided on the classic style or custom. The new Colts make excellent base guns for a custom project, but I think you may actually end up leaving your "new rollmark" 1991 Colt as-is and agree with me that sometimes "less is more".
Since this review I have received additional information regarding the new Series 80 guns. For one, Colt did indeed have issues with the MIM extractors and has recently changed to ones made from barstock. I was also told that Colt uses the following materials in their new pistols:
Made from forged steel:
Slide, Frame, Barrel
Made from machined barstock:
Barrel Bushing, Slide Stop, Extractor, Firing Pin, Hammer, Recoil Plug, Barrel Link, Grip Screw Bushings, Sights, All Pins
Thumb Safety, Grip Safety, Plunger Tube
Firing Pin Stop, Springs, Trigger Bow (alloy or steel finger pad)
MIM (Metal Injection Molded):
Magazine Catch, Mag Catch Lock, Sear, Disconnector
Old versus new. MIM Colt extractor at left (note sprue mark on bottom), newer barstock extractor on the right.
I also recently bought another stainless new-rollmark #1091 Colt for use as a possible custom project. Overall fit and finish was about the same as the one I reviewed here, and in addition it came with the newer barstock extractor. The only area where I can still see room for improvement is the way that Colt bevels the mag well, in addition to the sharp edges which were still present on my second pistol. Aside from that however there was little else I could fault.
Guns so nice, I bought one twice.
Hopefully Colt will continue to remain more consistent with their quality control and will also keep these pistols in their product line for some time to come. Rumors abound that Colt also intends to release a stainless version of their new 2nd-Generation Series 70 pistol. If they do you can bet I'll have a review of one of them as well the minute they (hopefully) hit the market.
Copyright 2002 D. Kamm