Colt's M1911 WW1 Replica

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In 2001 Colt's Custom Shop released for the civilian market a reproduction of a parkerized WW2-issue USGI M1911A1 pistol. Close to 4,000 units were made before production ended in December 2002, and the pistol made big waves through the crowded 1911 pistol market. The demand for clean, original military-issue pistols had already begun skyrocketing (as were prices), so the new Colt filled a demand for a look-alike weapon for anyone wanting a military-looking .45 auto. Those unable or reluctant to spend time searching for an original example in good shape now had a brand-new gun with a factory warranty as an option. No sooner had the pistol been released for sale when rumors began to surface about a WW1 replica as well. Given the success of the WW2 model it seemed natural to follow it up with a replica of the original WW1-era pistols, and so now in late 2003 the Colt Custom Shop has commenced limited production (again, about 4,000 pieces) of a replica M1911 pistol like those made for the US military during World War One.

 When the rumors of this model first surfaced the scuttlebutt was that it would be a replica of a 1922-vintage commercial Colt's Government Model. On several online forums I repeatedly mentioned that such a replica might have limited demand, but that an accurate reproduction of a 1918-vintage M1911 pistol would create much more interest, and would also be a logical follow-up to the WW2 reproduction M1911A1. I don't know if anybody at Colt was actually listening to me, but the pistol I had asked for is the one I now have before me. It did take awhile to finally find one however, as production volume is low and initial demand is still very high.

 The number one question I am always asked is just how close the new replicas are to the original government-issue weapons. First off, one must realize that Colt had to take a giant step backward in time to create these pistols. The original guns have not been made since 1924, when the first 'A1 pistols began to appear (to understand the differences between an M1911 and the newer M1911A1 please click here). In the many decades since, the old tooling and machinery used to build the original pistols has been worn out and replaced many times over, and today Colt uses mostly CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/machining) machines to manufacture their pistols. As a result Colt needed to invest in some new tooling, as well as contract out some of the parts needed to make an authentic-looking replica. Some other parts were also created by modifying existing product components (for example, to re-create the original short grip safety spur the current long safety was simply trimmed down). In addition, Colt designers carefully researched the original factory and inspection marks, for which of course new rollmark and stamping dies had to be made. And finally the period-correct, brush-blued "Carbonia" finish had to be farmed out to a professional refinisher equipped to handle these types of older finishes.

 The end result is a striking and attractive pistol that very closely replicates the originals. After researching through Charles Clawson's excellent "Collector's Guide to Colt .45 Service Pistols", it becomes apparent from the location and type of markings Colt chose to use that they were based off original examples made around the beginning of 1918. It should be realized that during the first few years of M1911 production there were many design changes made to the then-new pistol. Things weren't really settled in until around mid-1918 during the height of wartime production. For example, my early 1917-vintage original has the same placement of markings as the new replica, but with Serif as opposed to Gothic characters. My mid-1918 example has Gothic markings, but the location of the "Rampant Colt" symbol has been moved from the rear of the slide to the center. There was a transitional period during late 1917 to early 1918 where the placement of the markings changed back and forth on the slide, and the new replica apparently models an M1911 from around that time frame.

 A thorough examination of the new replica pistol reveals that Colt paid attention to many very small details. For example, the "H" inspection stamp of Frank L. Hosmer is present on the rear of the slide as well as on the chamber hood and on the frame in front of the disconnector hole. On top of the frame there is also a G, a T, and an 8, all replicating original assembly marks. The Ordnance acceptance stamp of Major John M. Gibert is perfectly replicated on the left side of the frame. Even the slight chamfers applied to the front edges of the slide are present on the new pistol. Colt also deviated from their current practice of using a JHP-friendly "dimple"-shaped feedramp on the barrel, and re-created the original GI-style ramp shape. The "Carbonia" brush-blued finish looks beautiful, although on some examples I've seen there is sometimes a slight tonal mismatch of the slide and frame. Unlike a modern hot-salts blue, where the parts are dipped in a heated chemical solution, the Carbonia blue is applied with the parts and chemicals heated inside a gas furnace. The result is a gorgeous deep-blue finish on the carefully brush-polished metal surfaces. Fitting of all the parts is excellent, with hardly any tool marks visible and very little slop in anything. Even if there were, the originals often had a lot of slop in the parts so the replica is definitely fitted much better than what the military usually got. The trigger pull on my example is excellent, although some owners have reported heavier triggers on their guns. However, anyone who has tried the trigger on most original M1911s can probably attest that it's all a matter of perspective.

 Elsewhere on the pistol, going from top to bottom:

 *The sights are absolutely identical to the originals. The front blade is a half-moon shape, and is correctly tapered from top to bottom. This is impressive as the tapered profile could have easily been overlooked. The rear sight has the proper U-notch profile as well. For those keeping track, the front sight tenon used is the narrow (.058") 'A1 type, not the tiny round post used to secure the ones on the originals to the slide.

 *The barrel has the correct feed ramp profile and H marking on the hood as mentioned previously. It is also marked with an H on top as well as a P (proof mark), so it resembles a correct "P H" barrel. However, the barrel is also marked "Colt 45 Auto" just above the lower lip of the ejection port. BATF rules now require that the caliber be visibly marked on the barrel of new firearms, so Colt did the best they could to make the marking as discreet as possible. The underside of the barrel is also shaped like all current 1911 pistol barrels, with a "step down" from the chamber to the barrel tube. Original M1911 barrels had a smooth transition from chamber to barrel tube underneath.

 *The disconnector cutout underneath the slide is crescent-shaped in the modern 'A1 style, not a drilled hole like in the original M1911. Again, there was a limit as to how far Colt was willing to go to replicate the originals. On the same note, some of the internal parts (extractor, firing pin, etc) are Series 80 type, which is unnoticeable from the outside of the pistol. These pistols are still pre-Series 80 however, with no firing pin safety nor any cutouts for the FPS plunger and lever. Die-hard purists can feel free to remove the "impure" parts from their new replica and replace them with correct-looking USGI or Series 70 components if they wish. One thing I personally dislike is the stamped-steel firing pin stop plate, which has a "1" stamped at the top and can be seen right next to the replicated H marking on the slide. The "1" character is something found on all current production stop plates, and it looks out of place next to the H marking. Personally-speaking, I'll be swapping out the stop plate on my pistol for another one without any markings on it.

 *The slide stop is period-correct, with checkering on the top surface and a milled "step" below the thumbpiece. The thumb safety lock and grip safety look authentic as well. The safety lock is checkered and has the tiny thumb shelf of the originals. The mag catch is also checkered. The hammer is the proper long wide-spur type with checkering. The trigger is of the correct long, smooth type, although it is made using a stamped steel bow brazed to a steel trigger pad. The original triggers were milled out of a single piece of barstock, and were very expensive and time-consuming to make. The mainspring housing is the correct flat, smooth profile with a lanyard loop at the base. The recoil spring plug has the proper dimple to grab onto the recoil spring to prevent loss.

 *The grips are checkered black walnut panels, with the familiar large diamond around each screw hole. Colt has used more than one vendor for the grips, so the color and appearance will vary with each example. On my example the grips have a beautiful tone, although the number of rows of checkering and overall shape of the grips don't perfectly match those of the original guns. Underneath the left grip panel there is a factory "Rampant Colt" symbol stamped on the frame. While not a feature of the original guns, on the new ones it's Colt's way of identifying the maker of the frame to meet BATF rules.

 *As mentioned earlier, the markings are as period-correct as realistically possible. The left side of the slide has the original patent dates through 1913 stamped in Gothic characters, and the "Rampant Colt" symbol is stamped at the left rear of the slide behind the cocking serrations. The "UNITED STATES PROPERTY" mark is in its proper location on the left side of the frame's dust cover, and looks authentic. The JMG acceptance stamp is right where it belongs and looks good as well. On the right side of the slide is the marking "MODEL OF 1911. U.S. ARMY", which looks similar to the rollmark on the originals. The only other marking left to mention is the serial number. On the originals they were marked with "No." (with the "o" underlined) and then the serial number just behind the slide stop pin. The new replica also has the "No.", but the serial number is xxxxWMK (with the "x" designating the serial number, and "WMK" being for Colt's CEO retired General William M. Keyes).

 So far I've only described the pistol. I haven't yet described what the new replica comes with inside the box. Included with each pistol are two blued 7-round magazines, which unfortunately are conventional full-blued mags, not period-correct half-blued, half-bare magazines. The originals were first blued, then dipped part-way in a chemical solution to harden the feed lips and mag catch hole. The process dissolved the bluing, leaving the top halves of the mags bare steel again (just prior to WW2 the process was changed to a new type which hardened the feed lips prior to bluing). However, Colt did omit the normal factory markings on the baseplates, so at least they look proper when inserted in the pistol.

 In addition to the two magazines, inside you should find a reproduction disassembly tool as well, which is basically an L-shaped flat screwdriver with a pin punch at the other end. And yes, this little gizmo looks authentic as well. Also included is a reprint of an original 1914 US Army instruction manual, which is definitely a nice touch. Then of course there are the modern concessions, a cable lock to protect the little kiddies, a bright orange plastic chamber plug, and the usual owner's manual, registration info, and enough warning labels to hopefully shield Colt from careless users. The pistol and spare mag are separately wrapped in wax paper and enclosed in an original-style brown kraft shipping box, which in turn along with the accessories is enclosed in a foam-lined blue Colt Custom Shop box. Regarding the use of the kraft box and wax paper, this is how original pistols were shipped from the factory regardless of manufacturer or time period. Sometimes original pistols are seen advertised online or at gun shows as being "new in box, coated in Cosmolene and wrapped in soaked paper". Pistols were NEVER shipped from the factory coated with Cosmolene grease. If you see such a pistol being offered for sale, you can be sure it is not completely untouched. Military arsenals often stored weapons long-term coated in Cosmolene, but the fact is it wasn't done at the factory.

 Over 1,800 words so far, and I still haven't mentioned how it shoots. I don't plan to ever fire my example, as I have enough similar pistols (including several originals) and pretty much know how a run-of-the-mill military M1911 shoots. I also have no reason to expect that this new pistol would handle or shoot any differently than an original WW1-era M1911 pistol in like-new condition. With these pistols accuracy is always adequate for combat use, but usually not match-grade. The combination of the tiny sights, slick backstrap, long hammer, and short grip safety spur means that these are certainly not suitable IPSC or Bullseye Match guns in their stock configuration. But with the tighter fitting of parts and better trigger pull of the new replica I suspect it would be somewhat easier to keep all the shots within the outline of a washtub at 50 paces. Seriously, the main problem with the original pistols is that nowadays most are usually very well-worn. The remaining ones still in excellent shape are fast rising in value, and as such it probably isn't wise to shoot them much, if at all. Someone with a hankering for a nice WW1 M1911 that they can actually shoot would be well-advised to consider this new pistol from Colt. These new guns are fitted better, made of superior modern steels, and are safer to shoot as they haven't suffered the ravages of time. Any modern .45 ACP ammunition can be used in the new replica pistols, including +P (although as with any pistol wear will be accelerated). You'll also get a factory warranty in case anything does pop. While the original pistols can still be shot, it must be remembered that they were made using softer steels and inferior heat-trating methods, and that there is always the risk that an old component may fail.

 Production on these is limited to about 4,000 units as previously mentioned, so if you want a nice replica M1911 to go in your safe I wouldn't recommend waiting. They should retail for just under $900, so if you see them for much more than that somebody's trying to pay off their new Hummer. Colt has done a much better job with this piece than the earlier WW2 reproduction, and once word gets out they may become extremely difficult to find.

Copyright 2003 D. Kamm

Copyright 2001-2005
All rights reserved.
Revised: 02/13/08