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.
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.
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.
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.
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.