USMC Re-ups with the Colt 1911

By Robert Sadowski published on in Range Reports

There’s a reason why USSOCOM’s elite forces use the 1911 in .45 ACP: It works, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter that the design is over 100 years old. When the Marines called for bids on a new .45 ACP pistol, naturally they gravitated to the 1911 platform. And despite the range of manufacturers offering a slew of 1911s today, they chose Colt, the original.

Colt M45A1 CQBP in Box

Colt chose its rail gun as the basis for the M45A1, since one of the requisites called for an accessory rail meeting MIL-STD-1913 specifications.

The Marines’ new M45 CQBP (Close-Quarters Battle Pistol) is based on Colt’s rail gun, and in the words of retired Lieutenant General William M. Keys, Colt’s president and CEO, it is a “highly enhanced version of an already excellent combat weapon.” The team at Colt was eager to have the new M45 “exercised” and was gracious enough to make one available for Shooter’s Log examination. With the exception of its roll marks, the early prototype I tested was built nearly to military specifications. The Farmington, Connecticut police granted me access to their range, and the boys from Colt were loading magazines as fast as I could empty them. Later on, I received a production model for more extensive accuracy testing.

In the official RFP (Request For Price), the Marines stated that “the pistol’s operating environment is characterized by high usage in training, rough handling and environments on deployments, and limited access to repair and maintenance resources during high-tempo operations.” To translate the official jargon, the pistol will be used in whatever environmental hell this world offers. It might be dropped in sand, caked with mud, dunked in saltwater, driven over by trucks. There will be no time for cleaning or repairs. Bottom line—it needs to work all of the time and anywhere. Though the RFP did not specifically require a 1911 platform, it was obvious since a “semiautomatic pistol in .45 ACP using a single-stack magazine that must hold at least seven rounds” was outlined. It further outlined: “It is desirable that the pistol function with the Marine Corps .45 ACP 7-round magazine (NSN 1005-01-373-2774) used in the current MEUSOC pistol.” That magazine only fits a 1911-style pistol.

Colt M45A1CQBP Profile with Muzzle Right

The M45A1 wears a UID (unique identification) label on the receiver, which is basically a serial number for the 21st century. The 2D Matrix symbol contains data and can be read by a suitable device. It functions similar to a barcode. All Department of Defense equipment choices have worn a UID since 2005. Photo courtesy of Colt.

Compared to the last Colt pistol contracted by the military, the 1911A1, the new M45 is vastly different. But in some respects, the M45 more closely resembles the first 1911 issued prior to World War I. The M45, however, is by no means your great-granddaddy’s 1911. At first glance, the M45 looks like a Colt rail gun, except it has a desert-tan Cerakote finish instead of being all black. The M45 starts out like all Colt 1911s, from chunks of stainless steel forged into a receiver, slide, slide stop and barrel. Non-stainless models are forged from carbon steel. The forging process actually makes the steel stronger and allows tolerances to be more closely held. It also makes the receiver tough. The .45 ACP round has an average a chamber pressure of 21,000 pounds per square inch (psi), but the Colt receiver can easily stand high chamber pressures like those from .38 Super and 10mm cartridges, which have average pressures of 36,500 and 37,500 psi, respectively. Not all 1911s in the market are manufactured from forgings—Colt builds theirs to last. The framework of the Colt is designed for strength. Having a forged slide stop is extremely important because it is the one piece that holds the slide, barrel and receiver together.

Colt M45A1 CQBP Profile with Muzzle Left

Except for the M45’s longer trigger, the grooved, solid trigger and the flat mainspring housing on the M45A1 are similar to original-issue 1911s. Photo courtesy of Colt.

The pistol features a smooth, long, solid trigger with a flat mainspring housing. This is where the M45 is more like the circa-WWI 1911s. The WWII-era 1911A1 changed the setup with a short trigger and arched mainspring housing in an effort to help GIs shoot better. Shooting styles have changed over the years but have come full-circle with the M45—long and flat is the setup most shooters prefer today. Per military specifications, the M45 also has a lanyard loop in the mainspring housing, but that’s where the similarities with your great-grandfather’s pistol end.

The M45 has features that today’s shooters demand and expect in a 1911-style pistol: an upswept beavertail grip safety with a hefty bump, an extended ambidextrous safety, a lightweight, enhanced hammer, beveled magazine well, lowered and flared ejection port, front and rear slide serrations, and a real Mil-Std-1913 accessory rail. The Marines specified this rail because it has more surface area for an accessory to grasp onto. The extra area makes it more reliable in extreme environments.

In the hand, the M45 felt comfortable. The ambidextrous safety worked crisply when I used either hand. The centerline of the bore was low due to the upswept beavertail grip safety, and it protected the web of my hand. The hammer serrations provided enough surface to easily cock the hammer. The sides of the hammer were easy to grasp and hold while I pulled the trigger to lower it. I also like the more contemporary slide serrations. The 1911A1’s slide serrations are fine but can collect gunk and get slippery with wet or sweaty hands. The M45’s serrations allowed for a good purchase barehanded, and I assume it will work just as well with gloves. The trigger has a specified 5-pound pull weight, perfect for its intended purpose. If I used the M45 for a carry gun, I personally wouldn’t mess with the trigger. It does utilize the Series 80 trigger system, which many traditionalists feel mucks up the trigger pull, but Colt has had years to perfect the Series 80—since 1983 in fact—and I could not tell the difference between it and a Series 70. The Series 80 has an internal firing-pin safety that is actuated via the trigger; a Series 70 does not have a firing-pin safety system. Unfortunately, my benchmark for a prime 1911 trigger is a 3.5-pound Series 70, but the M45A1 is not made for precision work.

Colt M45A1 CQBP with Hands on Gun

In hand, the M45A1 felt comfortable, and its rail gave the weapon slightly more heft and front weight than a government model 1911.

That firing-pin safety was a requirement for the M45 replacement. The G10 grips on the M45 are gritty without being too sharp or raspy, and they are slightly thicker than the flatter, double-diamond checkered walnut or plastic grips of 1911A1s. Including the grip panels, the grip’s actual width is 1.3 inches. My hand is of average size, so smaller-handed users may feel a bit of girth and will need to modify the grip panels to their liking. The G10 grips and only two other components—Novak tritium three-dot night sights and a Wilson Combat seven-round magazine—are the only non-Colt manufactured parts on the M45. Most 1911s today have an eight-round magazine, but the envelope for the 1911 pistol magazine was originally designed for seven rounds. Seven-round magazines have proven reliable in battle, and that was good enough for the Marines—so the Wilson Combat magazine went into the M45’s specifications. The seven-round Wilson magazine has a nylon follower that is self-lubricating and does not corrode, unlike some magazines with metal followers. The polymer base pad gave the magazine just enough length so that I didn’t jab my palm on the lanyard loop when I slammed it home, and the beveled edges of the magazine well allowed me to reload magazines quickly.

The M45’s Novak tritium night sights, in the three-dot arrangement, are simple and fast for acquiring targets. They’re also great for targeting at night with their three glowing green dots. The sights are snag-free, unlike standard GI sights, which catch on anything near them. The Novak sights are also rugged and provide a good sight picture.

It strips down just like all Government 1911s were meant to without the use of tools. There is no need for a hex wrench to disassemble a recoil rod nor is a bushing wrench required to rotate the bushing like some newer 1911s. If anything, preventative maintenance suggests replacing the recoil springs every 5,000 to 7,000 rounds and checking the extractor. Like most military 1911s, it will run dirty and nearly forever.

Colt M45A1 CQBP Target and Winchester .45 Ammunition

At 25 yards, the Colt M45A1 CQBP’s accuracy met the author’s and the Corp’s standards with Winchester 230-grain ammo.

Initially having limited time with the M45, I was only able to fire one type of ammo: Federal Gold Medal Match 230-grain FMJ rounds. This load has a stated muzzle velocity of 860 feet per second (fps), while mil-spec .45 ACP ammo runs at 855 fps. While the boys from Colt were busting their thumbs to load magazines for me, the M45 produced groups that usually had holes touching each other with an occasional flyer. Military specifications require the M45 to hold a five-shot group within a 4-by-4-inch area at 25 yards when fired from a rest, but I was only able to test the M45 off-hand. I used a two-handed hold and placed the front sight on the target at 15 yards. It was easy to achieve the mil-spec group—something I didn’t expect. Though my time with the M45 was short, I felt as if I’d been shooting the pistol for years. The Colt M45 worked flawlessly. Align the front sight, press the trigger, bang, repeat. And repeat I did, until I was standing in a puddle of empty cases.

When I had alone time with the new Colt, I ran two additional factory loads and a handload. At 25 yards and shot from a rest, the Colt was impressive. I like it when a 1911 belches out 1-inch groups with inexpensive 230-grain ball ammo. It’s a combat-ready pistol that will shoot the black out all day long.

We expect our government to purchase military equipment that works, and the M45 does just that. And it doesn’t dent your empties like the former military 1911s. Would I change anything on the M45? While 1911s beg to be customized, I would carry this weapon as is. Uncle Sam has made a wise purchase.

Colt M45A1 CQBP, MSRP $1,995
Action Single action
Barrel Length 5.0 inches
Caliber .45 ACP
Overall Length 8.5 inches
Weight Unloaded 42.5 ounces with empty magazine
Sights Novak 3-dot, Tritium night
Grips Textured laminated G10 Desert Camouflage
Capacity 7+1 Wilson magazine
Firing System Series 80
Finish Cerakote Desert Tan
Frame Stainless steel

Colt M45A1 CQBP Accuracy

Velocity measured 15 feet from the muzzle by a ProChrono digital chronograph. Accuracy reflects three five-shot groups at 25 yards.

Load Velocity Average Best
Federal Gold Medal Match 230 FMJ 860 fps 2.03 in. 1.02 in.
Reload 185 SWC 926 fps 2.88 in. 1.75 in.
Winchester WinClean 230 BEB 779 fps 2.06 in. 1.50 in.
American Eagle 230 FMJ 838 fps 2.06 in. 1.00 in.

Tell us what you think about the Colt M45A1 CQBP in the comment section.


Robert Sadowski has written about firearms and hunting for nearly 15 years. He is the author of four gun books, editor of three others and is a contributor to numerous gun-enthusiast magazines, including Combat Handguns, Black Guns, Tactical Weapons for Military and Police, Gun Tests, Personal and Home Defense, Gun Hunter, SHOT Business, and others. He has a personal affinity for large-caliber revolvers and the AR platform.

View all articles by Robert Sadowski

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Comments (44)

  • Bob M.


    My SW1911 has a note on the side :Warning! this gun will fire with the magazine removed.
    It is a series 70 action. I was told at the gun store that series 80 has a link that blocks the firing pin when the magazine is removed, so it will not fire !


    • Mike Smith


      Well there’s your problem. Stop listening to the guy at the gun shop. The series 80 system has absolutely no connection with the magazine. It only blocks the firing pin if the trigger is not depressed. I have heard so much misinformation at gun shops I stopped going. Well, except for transfers.


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