A handgun that saw much action from its introduction to the end of the Vietnam War was the Colt 1903 Safety Hammerless. Just the right size for comfortable carry, reliable, and more accurate than most any handgun in its class, the Colt was a remarkable handgun on all accounts. The pistol was offered in both .32 ACP and as the 1908 .380 ACP. It seems that the .32 ACP was the most popular. Colt has seen fit to recreate and reissue among the most interesting handguns of all time- yep, the Colt 1903 Safety Hammerless.
The Colt is suitable for collecting or shooting and isn’t made under the dome at Colt, but by US Armament Corporation. This is a licensed Colt or perhaps even a Colt Brevet. The original pistol, introduced in 1903, was well received by a public wishing to own a flat and easily concealable handgun. But the Colt was also reliable, accurate, and more powerful than the common .32 caliber pocket revolver.
The .32 ACP cartridge pushes a 71-grain bullet at well over 900 fps. Penetration is adequate and the cartridge is certainly deadly, if not ideal, for personal defense. Colt made the pistol for 42 years and over a half-million left the Colt factory. The Model M was wielded by Humphrey Bogart in the cinema and was the pistol used by Dick Tracy in early comic strips and the 1990 movie. It was a favorite hideout of New York City cops and thugs of all stripes as well. The Colt 1903 was issued to American Generals as the General Officer’s Pistol. The initial offering of the Colt 1903 is a replica of the General Officer’s Pistol.
The Colt 1903 isn’t as famous as the larger Colt 1911. Yet, the Colt 1903 was involved in quite a few actions. It was used by the Shanghai police. Japanese officers purchased it in quantity before World War Two. (I would rather have the Colt .32 than the Nambu—the 8mm Nambu is clumsy in comparison and only slightly more powerful in practical terms.) A flat light and reliable handgun goes places a larger handgun doesn’t.
Compared to the modern miniature .32 automatic pistols, the Colt 1903 is much easier to handle well and more accurate. The Colt 1903 is accurate enough to place K zone hits on a man-sized silhouette to 25 yards. In short, while light and compact, the Colt 1903 was as reliable and accurate as a service pistol. The pistol isn’t a true hammerless handgun but the Colt Pocket Hammerless is a concealed hammer handgun. The slide rides over the hammer, making for a snag free handgun.
The pistol weighs 24 ounces empty. The Colt 1903 is 6.75 inches long, 4 3/8 inches high, and less than one-inch wide. The barrel is 3.75 inches long. The caliber is .32 Automatic Colt Pistol. (7.65mm Browning.) The pistol uses a heel based spring-loaded magazine catch to retain the 8-round magazine. The 1903 is a straight blowback action. This type of action isn’t possible with more powerful handguns but works fine with this Colt. The pistol features precision crafted barrel lugs for lockup. The Colt 1903 pioneered the Colt grip safety and slide lock safety later used on 1911 handguns. The grip safety works differently than the 1911, with the primary pressure delivered to the bottom of the grip safety.
The reproduction Colt is supplied with a nice even parkerized finish and checkered wooden grips appropriate for the time period when the pistol was issued to General Officers. Fit, finish, quality control, and attention to detail are excellent. The sense of history and emotional attachment might drive a Colt collector to weeping! Period correct proof marks and the U.S. Property Stamp are well done.
As for shooting characteristics the pistol, not surprisingly, was faultlessly reliable. Initial work was done with the Fiocchi 71-grain 7.65mm Browning (.32ACP) load. The piece was properly lubricated. Then, the 8-round magazine loaded and the slide racked smartly. There were no failures to feed, chamber, fire, or eject.
The small sights limited accuracy. Using shooting glasses and concentrating upon the sight picture, excellent groups were fired from the benchrest. Two and one-half inch, 5-shot groups (or a bit smaller) were the norm at 15 yards. Neither quality nor function may be faulted. I also fired a single magazine of the Winchester Silvertip hollow point. Function was good. While primarily a collector’s piece—and expensive with a MSRP of some $1400—the Colt 1903 could serve as well as ever as a protection piece. If you are a Colt collector or anyone that appreciates a finely made firearm, the new Colt 1903 is a worthwhile investment.
Are you a collector? Where does the Colt 1903 rank on your top handgun list? Share your opinions in the comment section.
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 Shooters 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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