The Colt Gold Cup, an Accurate and Reliable Modern Masterpiece

Colt Gold Cup and Target

The story of the Colt Gold Cup, National Match and Trophy 1911 handguns is a thrice-told tale that never grows old to some of us. The original 1911 design was to give soldiers every advantage in combat. While most handgun designs were for defensive use, the 1911 was an offensive handgun. Used in cavalry charges and in clearing a path through trenches, the .45 automatic was the greatest fighting handgun of its day. Many of us believe that this is still true. After the war the National Rifle Association and the United States Army worked together to develop the National Matches. These matches involved long-range fire at small targets. The Springfield 1903 rifle design was for long rifle accuracy. The Colt 1911 was not, and needed considerable work to provide the specified accuracy at a long 50 yards. Colt had to rework the heavy trigger and small sights. The heavy action, with its rapid reset, was practically ideal for defensive work. However, firing at 8-inch bull at 50 yards was another matter. The 1911 had been designed for reliability above all else. As long as the locking lugs and barrel bushing were properly fitted, it didn’t matter if the 1911 rattled when shaken—it would place five rounds of service ammunition into a 5-inch group or better at 25 yards.

Colt Gold Cup Trophy .45
The modern Colt Gold Cup is arguably the best target grade handgun Colt has ever produced.

The original military accuracy standards were for the 1911 to group five rounds into 5 inches at 25 yards, and 10 inches at 50 yards. Most would perform slightly better. This is generous by modern standards; however, the 1911 was a comparatively accurate handgun by standards of the day. For competition use, the 1911 needed to become roughly twice as accurate or better. A 4-inch 50-yard group was needed—or even smaller. Army gunsmiths went to work. They polished and relieved the trigger action, fabricating lightweight triggers as they went along. Reduced trigger compression went from 6 to 8 pounds to 4 pounds or lighter. The barrel, welded up until it would not fit the slide, had the contact points carefully filed and polished into a tight fit. The fabricated target grade sights were not often adjustable during the first attempts at a target gun, however, they were large and easily picked up. The expense of such a handgun was prohibitive for civilian shooters. An Army gunsmith might work on the handgun for months, devoting his time to the team. Colt took notice and introduced the first National Match handguns.

Colt Gold Cup and Target
All Gold Cups have been famously accurate.

The factory National Match handguns received special treatment in fitting and trigger work as well as good high visibility sights. The original Colt was a great pistol. Over the years, the pistol incorporated various fully adjustable sight combinations including the Stevens, Elliason and Bomar. The Gold Cup at one time became more of a target gun than an all around shooter. The slide was lightened about 1957. Many shooters did not like this as they preferred the original 39-ounce balance. The lightened slide facilitated function with lightly loaded target ammunition. The rear sight attached to the slide by a pin that sometimes worked loose. Later the Colt Gold Cup’s weight returned to standard. Along the top of the slide was an added rib. Many of these modifications meant the Colt Gold Cup was a pure breed target gun, and not necessarily an all around service gun. This has changed in recent years. The new Colt Gold Cup is a great all-around 1911 well suited to serous duty—but also a great target gun.

Colt Gold Cup Sights
The Gold Cups sights are ruggedly attached in the modern dovetail fashion.

The Gold Cup features sights solidly dovetailed into the slide. The front sight is a bold post while the monolithic rear unit is fully adjustable. This allows the shooter to regulate the sights for bullet weights of 160 to 260 grains. If fitted with a lighter recoil spring, one may fire the Colt with loads as light as 185 grains at 750 fps. Such a load is a pure joy to fire, extremely accurate, and light on the gun. By changing the recoil spring the pistol may be set up for target loads, or +P loads as you prefer for different pursuits. A good addition to the field kit is the Wilson Combat ‘Spring Caddy.’ This kit contains a bushing wrench and a number of springs that allow the shooter to fine-tune the pistol for individual loads. Remember, a light recoil spring and full power ammunition will quickly batter the handgun. Match the spring to the load and you will have good results.

.45 Auto ammunition boxes of American Eagle, Federal Premium and Speer Gold Dot
The Colt proved accurate with a wide variety of ammunition.

In testing the newest Gold Cup, I collected a number of loads with proven accuracy potential. I carried the Colt in a Don Hume thumb break for range work. The Federal 185-grain jacketed SWC is a target grade load that burns clean offers excellent accuracy potential. From a solid benchrest firing position, with concentration on the sight picture and trigger press, I was able to fire a 5-shot group at 15 yards that settled into 1.75 inches. Remarkably, the Federal American Eagle 230-grain subsonic load was nearly as accurate, with a 5-shot group of 2.0 inches. To confirm the Gold Cup’s performance with full power ammunition, I also fired two magazines of the Speer Gold Dot 230-grain load. A 40-ounce 1911 .45 is comfortable to fire with these loads. With excellent accuracy off-hand, I loaded five more into the magazine and fired a 25-yard group with the Gold Dot loads. I was rewarded with a 1.75-inch dispersal. The Colt Gold Cup is among the best shooting 1911 handguns I have ever used.

Over 20 years ago, I stopped a young man for speeding. In a military uniform, he snapped to attention and saluted me. I suppose it was the lieutenant’s bars on my stiff brown uniform collar. I have no military experience and this was pretty funny at the time—of course he got just a warning. As he shook my hand he said, ‘Nice Colt’. I was carrying a 1970’s Colt National Match in a Don Hume holster. This is the type of thing memories are made of. The Colt is good enough for who it is for.

Have you ever shot a Colt Gold Cup handgun? What did you think? Tell us in the comment section.

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About the Author:

Wilburn Roberts

When Wilburn Roberts was a young peace officer, he adopted his present pen name at the suggestion of his chief, as some of the brass was leery of what he might write. This was also adopted out of respect for families of both victims and criminals. The pen name is the same and the man remains an outspoken proponent of using enough gun for the job.

He has been on the hit list of a well-known hate group, traveled in a dozen countries and written on many subjects, including investigating hate crimes and adopting the patrol carbine. He graduated second in his class with a degree in Police Science. It took him 20 years to work himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant and he calls it as he sees it.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (16)

  1. 1969 I was stationed at (then) NATTC Jacksonville and was a member of the pistol team. We were issued with Gold Cups. I have fired many handguns (semi-autos and wheel guns) in the years since, but I have never found a pistol that ‘fit’ me better and by that I mean the Gold Cup was like an extension of my arm. There were better shooters on our team and the Marines often kicked our collective butts, but nobody had more just plain fun than I did when shooting my Gold Cup.

  2. How do I determine the duty or compression value of the recoil spring on my Colt 1911? I want to avoid shooting excessive loads on a spring that is underrated for the round.

  3. I acquired a 1960 pre Gold Cup National Match 45 from my local gun shop. It had been worked on at some point in its life by Austin Behlert who did a lot of on site work at matcheson the 50s and 60s. This one had the sight radius extended 1.5 inches and a weight attached to the front of the frame. It also had custom carved wood grips for a right-handed shooter. I’m a mediocre shooter, but this pistol is a dream to shoot and still retains much of its highly polished blue finish.

  4. Wilburn- I have to say while I don’t particularly miss my Colt Combat Commander, I do however, miss my Gold Cup! The Gold Cup was without a doubt, the best shooting, most accurate, large bore pistol I have ever shot, bar none. Even at 50 yards I had no trouble racking up bullseyes with it, much to the chagrin of my competitors. I used to shoot with a guy who swore by his revolvers against “any” semi-auto made. As long as I was shooting with my Combat Commander, he kicked my butt, every time. Then I got the Gold Cup. We started at 10 yards and I stayed even with him. We moved back to 20 yards and again we were dead even. At 30 yards he faltered a bit, but kept up. Once we got to 50 yards, it was over. I drilled 7 consecutive bullseyes, he had 5. His next words were priceless to me. “Hang on a minute. Lemme see that thing.” He then proceeded to run 3 mags through it and asked me to field strip it in front of him, which I did. Once he was satisfied I hadn’t done “anything funny” to the gun I reassembled it and put 7 out of 7 in the bullseye, again. LOL! He was so pissed off that I beat him on his range with, “one of them new fangled guns”. He’s a funny guy, he grew up with John Wayne as his idol and basically tried to emulate “The Duke” in about every way. Thank God he didn’t try to where a cowboy hat where we lived, in the Detroit Metro Area, as he’d have gotten his butt whipped, a lot.
    Nonetheless, I eventually had to sell my prized gun(s) or get divorced. I finally stopped working as a P.I. and my then wife saw no purpose in having guns in the house with 2 toddlers. I did manage to hang on to my Grandfather’s shotgun, that I had inherited.
    My current wife likes to shoot too. She shot skeet on her collegiate skeet team, which was coed by the way. Yes, she kept up with the boys and still out shoots me with a shotgun. We have a range set up here and though I do have a few handguns, I have not been able to justify buying another Gold Cup to her, yet. I won’t give up until I have another, one of these days, LOL! Thanks for the article, it was informative and good reading.

  5. I have had many 1911 and was always looking for the “ONE” that would shoot better than i could shoot. I was able to purchase a Gold Cup trophy National Match IV …first time out it was incredable . Never had a gun shoot that good! 15yds three in same hole off hand and at 25yds just rag
    a 50c hole in the bulleye. The best by far of all that i have shot and that is
    saying a lot. it out shot wilson CQB …Kimber …Sig…Para.

  6. So I own and shoot 45 acp in just about all makes. Two will put a single key hole at 25yd with 230 ball everytime. One is my Colt National match, just fun to run and the best deep blue fine tuned machine ever! The other is not the most costly, yet just out proforms all but the Colt. It is a Dan Wesson 1911 in stainless with Ed Brown throughout. Old Colts and Wessons, still setting the bar for the rest.

  7. Own & shot the MK IV 1970 NGCM. Placed 3rd in first competition with 61 shooters- with no training, timed event, hit twelve targets in 13 shots. Boy was I surprised ! Combo of balance, trigger, and natural POA. A pleasure to shoot !
    I’m saving it as an investment piece and carry Sig 9mms.

  8. I just bought a Colt GCT last Friday. Started out looking to buy the 1911 1991 since it has such excellent reviews. But then I saw the Gold Cup and it was love at first sight. Let me explain something; this is my first .45 and my first Colt. I was never interested in a .45 because it cost too much to shoot, and I thought I could never afford a Colt. I have shot other .45s. I finally decided to make the leap. Figured if I’m going for a .45 it might as well be a Colt. And if I’m going for a Colt it might as well be what is considered the best. So, I bought it Friday. Took it to the range Sunday, no pre-clean or pre-oil. Loaded the mags with Federal 230g ball ammo and began to shoot. I proceeded to put all 50 rounds down the tube and shoot the center out of the target at 25 yards – repeatedly. I’m not trying to brag. I’m saying that is how good the gun is. There are a lot of .45s out there these days that are getting good reviews. But this isn’t just any new kid on the block. This is a Colt – you know, the gun so many dream about. Now I have one, and I can’t stop grinning.

  9. I own a Series 70 Gold Cup that I bought (in 2004) from a friend who originally purchased it for her husband in 1975, and he never shot it (they soon were divorced). I also purchased from her the .22 LR slide adaptor kit. The pistol is as sweet shooting piece as I have ever fired. Still have yet to try our the .22 LR adaptor kit.

  10. 45acp is all I shoot.What is more satisfying than putting 5 rounds in the black @25 yards? p/u a Brown,Wilson, Les Baer, or Nighthawk and find out how refined this wonderful design has become! Great round for reloading.

  11. Well, I don’t have a Colt Gold Cup, Match, or anything like that, just a couple of Series 80 Colts, a Government Model and an A1. I like them very much, and if everything everyone is saying is true, I might have to get me a Gold Cup someday. ;D

    Random Colt .45 story: Recently me and couple of guys went shooting in negative something weather. Perhaps due to the cold, when I fired six shots out of a friend’s 9mm Ruger of some kind or another, I literally missed a normal sized sheet of paper at less than ten yards with three of the six shots. I felt like a complete newbie… until I pumped a mag of .45ACP into what passes for a tight group with me. ;D

  12. I have the Colt National Match 1911 that has been reworked by a gunsmith and is my favorite in shooting for target or otherwise. It was the duty weapon for my cousin in law- inforcement. I love the sights and the all around feel and shootability.

  13. I have put green crimson trace , front activated laser grips on my National Match Gold Cup .45 to enhance the sighting and speed target acquisition. This pistol is the most accurate and comfortable .45 I have ever used since leaving the USAF Luke AFB pistol team.

  14. The Gold Cup is an excellent pistol. It’s my only 1911 and each time I shoot it I’m amazed at how accurate it is. Until I picked it up I never really understood all of the trigger snobs out there.

    Now it’s clear to me that they do indeed have a point. 🙂

  15. Had a Gold Cup back in the day. great shooter but weak sights. I see now the sights are much better..might be my next new 1911..

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