Which Model Colt 1911 is For Me?

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms, Reviews

Over 100 years ago, the U.S. Army adopted the John Browning designed 1911 Model .45 Automatic pistol. Proofed in the most grueling test of any handgun prior to that point, the Colt 1911 fired over 6,000 rounds without a stoppage, thus proving its reliability. Once it was in the hands of the troops, the Colt did not let them down. The pistol saw action first in Mexico during the Punitive Expedition then in Europe. The pistol was a favorite of adventurers including, T. E. Lawrence and Winston Churchill.

Modern series 70 Colot with gray/black gun and brown grip, muzzle pointed to the left.

This is the modern Series 70 Colt. (courtesy Colt)

There were a few concerns, primarily concerning hand fit and trigger reach—both addressed after World War One. The pistol we call the 1911 is actually the improved pistol known as the 1911A1. Among the changes that resulted in the 1911A1 were:

  • Finger grooves in the frame
  • A new short trigger
  • An arched mainspring housing, which proved to aid in handfit, point and practical accuracy

Over the years, Colt produced millions of 1911A1 handguns. There were few changes to the pistol. The Schwarz firing pin safety was short lived and the primary variations finished with nickel, blue and parkerized variants. The Gold Cup was the target gun, and the .38 Super, a special handgun firing a high velocity cartridge, was created to deal with mechanized bandits. There were also short-slide, lightweight frame versions; however, in this report, our concern is the Government Model.

The 1911 Becomes a Popular Choice

During the 1960s, Colonel Jeff Copper was a leading proponent of the 1911 pistol. The handgun became popular in competition and the good attributes of the pistol recognized as beneficial to speed shooting. When fired against double-action revolvers—or any type of handgun in unlimited competition—the 1911 took home the gold often as not. The pistol’s low bore axis results in little leverage for the muzzle to rise during recoil. A straight-to-the-rear trigger compression, and a grip that fit most hands well, was like the Golden Ratio of handgun design. No pistol is faster to an accurate first shot than a properly carried, cocked-and-locked 1911.

The pistol’s popularity outpaced the availability of good GI guns to build up and improve. After all, the 1911 needed a few things to be competitive. A good set of sights, trigger job, and a speed safety were all that was needed. A handgun so tricked out was sometimes called the “consensus gun,” and this was the consensus of what made a good fighting pistol. If you played around with exotic bullet designs, a feed ramp polish was desirable as well. If you content yourself with the proper cartridge overall length at 1.250-inch, feed reliability is much easier to achieve. The Hornady 200-grain XTP is one ideal example of a powerful loading with a well-designed bullet also designed for perfect feed reliability. However, we had no such loading in 1970.

Colt Improves the 1911

Silver Colt 1911 XSE with deep brown grip on light gray mottled background.

The XSE is arguably as good as it gets in a high grade 1911. (courtesy Colt)

Beginning in 1970, Colt introduced an improved pistol. Colt did not answer the need for improved sights or a speed safety and did introduce a tighter, more accurate pistol than the ones that came before. The MK IV Series 70 Colt featured a rich blue finish, attention to detail and a new collett bushing that gripped the barrel tightly. The collett bushing favored mass production more than hand fitting. A properly fitted National Match barrel bushing was superior—although it required considerable time and effort to get right. Billed as an improvement, the Series 70 pistol was more accurate on average than previous pistols.

In 1980, Colt introduced another line of handguns. With the Series 80 Colt we saw the introduction of a pistol with improved sights, the ability to feed all hollow point bullets, and the Series 80 firing pin block. The firing pin lock, or drop safety, is controversial in some quarters. The fact is that in this century, if you expect to sign an institutional or military contract, the pistol will have a drop safety. The same nostalgia and a desire for a pistol that could be upgraded with custom work led to Colt’s new Series 70.

Gray haired man (the author) in a black sweatshirt and jeans with red ear protection firing a Colt 1911 at a target with a wooded area in the background and a cement area with a wooden table in the foreground.

The author is never more happy than when firing a Colt.

Let’s look a little more at Colt’s newest handguns. The 1991 A1 was introduced as an answer to competition from other makers. Other than the Spanish ironmongery, Colt had never faced competition in the 1911 line. The MIL-SPEC offerings and credible GI guns took a portion of Colt sales. The 1991 A1 featured a matte finish and rubber grips. The pistol is a good performer, but one with no frills—meant to offer Colt quality at a lower price point.

Late model 1991A1 production features a nice blue or stainless finish and wood grips—at an attractive price point. Then came the introduction of competitive 1911 handguns with custom grade features such as high visibility sights, an extended slide lock safety and beavertail grip safety. Colt responded with the XSE; a highly developed 1911 with excellent capabilities. All of the Colt 1911 handguns feature the same lockwork and operating action. The difference in price is attributed to nuances of finish and features. All share the same proven Colt 1911 reliability and performance.

With the Series 80, XSE and 1991A1 standard variations—not to mention the Gold Cup and World War One retro pistols—Colt had the bases covered. But there was still a strong demand for a Series 70 gun and other makers were getting these sales.

Colt Reintroduces the Series 70

Black Colt 1991A1, .38 ACP Super, with light brown Lance Larson Katana grips on blue grey cloth.

This is a standard 1991A1 with Lance Larson Katana grips. It is in .38 ACP Super.

The legendary Series 70 was reintroduced with certain changes. Among these changes was a lightweight firing pin and heavy-duty firing pin spring which allows the Colt to pass a drop test without the firing pin block.

  • The Colt Series 70 features the larger sights also found on the Series 80.
  • The rear notch is a full 1/8-inch, and the front post is actually visible! This is a real improvement in practical accuracy.
  • The collett bushing is gone, replaced with a well fitted solid barrel bushing.
  • The new Series 70 uses the classic short trigger and arched mainspring housing. The mainspring housing is serrated for excellent adhesion.
  • The original Series 70 featured grips with a Colt roundel. The new style is crafted in rosewood with an excellent rendition of the double diamond pattern. While the double diamond looks great, it also adds strength at the anchoring point of the grips.
  • The finish is classic Colt blue; no enamels or parkerized finish on this beauty.
  • The trigger action is smooth and crisp with no creep or discernible backlash.
  • Trigger compression is a tractable 4.75 pounds.
Light gray box of Cor Bon high permance ammunition (with two gold/copper cartridges in front of the box) on a lighter gray background with a red and blue label.

Cor Bon’s high performance ammunition is a good match for the 1911.

A slight caution—the ejection port or slide window is also Series 70 or GI standard. It is not the modern scalloped or lowered version. We got along just fine with this ejection port for many years. However, if you use a shock buff on the recoil spring you will find that you are not able to clear a chambered cartridge with a loaded magazine in place. Rearward motion is affected to an extent with the shock buff in place.

In the unlikely event of a dud round with a premium defense cartridge, the magazine would have to be ejected and the slide racked to allow the loaded cartridge to fall out the magazine well. This is more of a concern in competition where handloads are used than in a defensive pistol, but it is worth a few words of caution. The bottom line, the pistol would not be a Series 70 with a scalloped ejection port.

The overall impression is of a high quality handgun.

The pistol handles quickly as a 1911 should and is responsive to a trained shooter. Another advantage was evident over the original Series 70— this 1911 did not need a break-in period because it came out of the box running. In combat shooting, the pistol was as comfortable to fire as any 39 ounce 1911 and slammed the pumpkin balls into the X ring on demand at 7, 10 and 15 yards.

Proofing the Colt 1911

I have proofed the piece with several loads. There is nothing wrong with 230-grain hardball. Among the finest match grade loads is the Cor Bon Performance Match. Mild and clean burning, performance is everything you could want. I have also proofed the piece with a credible high performance +P loading. The Cor Bon DPX exhibits plenty of energy and expands well while maintaining good penetration. The Series 70 feeds these rounds without any sign of hesitation.

The new Series 70 pistol is a better pistol than the original. I feel qualified to judge the pistol based on evaluation, experience with over a dozen originals, two books on the 1911, and 40 years behind me since I purchased my first 1911—a Series 70 Colt. This pistol is much more like the 1950s and 1960s commercial guns than the original Series 70. It is a high quality handgun appreciated by those of us who are hopelessly attracted to blue steel and walnut.

Covering the Colt 1911

Colt Series 70 with brown grip showing in a black Milt Sparks Nexus holster

Note the excellent fit of a quality holster.

There are times when a covering garment isn’t practical. In hot and humid weather you have to go the extra mile to conceal a 1911 but it can be done. Following the steps I have taken for some 30 years, I completed the choice of range holster and concealed-carry holster by ordering an inside-the-waistband holster for the Series 70. The Milt Sparks holster and Colt seem to go together. The angle of the Nexus complicates my style and an aging rotator cuff. The holster spreads the weight of the pistol out on support wings, keeping it secure. The belt loop snaps are enhanced by Neodymium magnets. These are powerful devices that work well in practice. With these leather goods the Colt is very versatile in year round use.

Comparisons

For the education of the author and you, some time was spent settling into the benchrest and firing groups from a solid firing position. This isn’t a target gun but accuracy is always interesting. I fired a late-model 1991A1 version in .45 ACP and a 1991 .38 Super alongside the Series 70. The Colt pistol is accurate, reliable and effective.

Combined with a sense of history, the Colt is a winner.

Accuracy Results

Average of Two 5-shot Groups at 25 Yards

Load .45 ACP Series 70 1991A1
Cor Bon 230-gr. Performance Match 1.9 2.6
Cor Bon 200-gr. JHP +P 2.0 2.4
Cor Bon 230-gr. JHP +P 2.25 2.65

Load .38 Super, Fired in 1991A1 .38 Super

 

Load .38 Super 1991A1
Cor Bon 125-gr. JHP 3.0
Cor Bon 130-gr. DPX 2.6
Cor Bon 147-gr. Performance Match 1.75

 

Colt Series 70 1911 Specifications

  • Manufacturer: Colt’s Manufacturing Co.
  • Caliber: .45 ACP
  • Action: Recoil-operated locked breech single-action semi auto
  • Frame: Carbon steel
  • Slide: Carbon Steel
  • Barrel: 5 inches
  • Rifling: 6 grooves, LH, 1:16
  • Magazine: 7 rounds
  • Sights: Fixed rear, ramp front
  • Trigger Pull: 4 lbs., 12 ounces
  • Overall Length: 8.5 inches
  • Width: 1.25 inches
  • Height: 5.75 inches
  • Weight: 39 ounces

 

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So what about you? Have a favorite 1911? Share your 1911 story in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

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Comments (7)

  • Pete in Alaska

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    Soooo, as far as I can determine any sentence that has “1911” “Colt” “.45 ACP or .38 auto” in it is ALWAYS the start of a good conversation. In the firearms world there are a few iconic platforms which will hold the attention of the true follower. The “1911” defines that definition by setting the bar to near its highest point.

    Reply

  • Brian

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    My first 1911 was a Series 80 Colt Officer’s ACP. I paid $400 for it including tax and a box of Winchester 230gr hardball. It was my first handgun. I even shot my first IPSC Match with it. I really miss that first 1911.

    Reply

  • Tommy Paine

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    my 2 cents: Springfield Armory Commander Model, 45ACP, blued, checkered wood: will eat anything! Fast and accurate. What’s not to like?

    Reply

  • LeeC

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    Ahhhhhh…. Oh, sorry, started to drool. I like mine fairly simple… beavertail with ‘speedbump’, long trigger and arched main spring housing. Throw in stainless steel construction and rubber wrap-around grips for function or Double Diamond for show. }:o)

    Reply

  • Hank Alvarez

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    What Colt has is the high end of engineering and production that’s improved the beast. A friend of mine has one and she loves it. I have to side with Art, they’re like sex and some are just better than others. My Rock Island isn’t a Colt but up close mine will put just as big a hole in you.

    Reply

  • Glenn W.Osborne

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    I, have a series 80 Colt, .45 ACP And a Springfield TRP .45 ACP that I have done a little work on. I,know what I’m going to say next sounds stupid, but some days that box stock series 80 will out shot my TRP. I,Think its me, but the Colt seams to be on ball bearings, who am I,to argue with the one who started it all. G.W.O.

    Reply

  • art kunstmann

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    All makes and models of 1911’s are good..they’re like sex, all sex is good, but some is better, same with 1911’s…

    Reply

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