There is a level of talk and belief that is called “legend.” Like its disreputable relative, “superstition,” legend may not be exactly as it happened, but legend has a strong basis in fact. We then have “revisionist history,” which is a stratum of distorted and obscure facts.
The Colt 1911 pistol is a thing of legend to some, but a very real tool to others. And like some, it has been attacked by distorted reasoning. I am not one to invest in objects with fantastic attributes, but then the Colt 1911 pistol does not need my help to flesh out its legend. Although I have been a small player in the game, I have been part of the actual phenomenon — personal defense — on more than one occasion. I am simply one of many that may say the Colt saved my life.
The Colt Series 70 is my favorite Colt, and the subject of this report. I will not leave my conclusions in a tentative state: the Colt is the best fighting handgun in the world and there is little I can do to add to that.
Effective from the Beginning
Well over 100 years ago, the U.S. Army adopted the Browning-designed Colt . 45 automatic pistol. The Model 1911 as it became known was a result of continuing research into what was needed in a combat pistol. The self-loader was obviously the more efficient type and the double-action revolver was being replaced. But the Army was not satisfied with European developments or with the domestic Colt 1900 .38 ACP pistol.
Actions in the Philippines and elsewhere showed the lack of wound potential in the .38 Colt cartridge. By the same token, the . 45 Colt revolver cartridge proved effective. The .45 Colt was originally designed to offer not only good wound potential, but to be effective against animals as well. More horses than men were killed in many of the battles on the plains and the .45 Colt was regarded as effective against Indian war ponies to 100 yards. The cavalry, the spearhead of the military, was a very influential service and needed an effective sidearm. While the advantages of the self-loader were evident, they needed a reliable hard-hitting handgun similar in effect to the .45 caliber revolver.
Ammunition of the day wasn’t as reliable as modern ammunition, but just the same, the Colt 1911 fired 6,000 rounds without a single malfunction. It was adopted for service and served in the last actions in the Philippines and in Europe during World War I.
After World War I, the pistol was modified with a different hammer, sights, mainspring housing, and trigger — and became the 1911A1. The 1911A1 featured a short trigger and arched mainspring housing. Most 1911 handguns today have a long target-style trigger. The flat mainspring housing makes fitting a beavertail grip safety easier. For my needs, for fast shooting and personal defense, the original is preferred and offers a shorter trigger reach. This brings us to the modern Colt Series 70.
The original Colt Series 70 was introduced as an improvement in fitting and finish. The pistol featured a four-fingered collet-type barrel bushing that tightened the barrel to slide fit. I often wondered why Colt did this. A properly fitted National Match bushing is at least as efficient, but perhaps more desirous, of man-hours in fitting. At any rate, the collet bushing developed a reputation for breakage, particularly with the then-new +P ammunition, and was replaced with a solid bushing.
Next came the improved Series 80 with better sights, a polished feed ramp, and a firing pin block or drop safety. With the introduction of a stainless steel version, we had the finest service pistol Colt has ever offered. But there was criticism of the firing pin block — some legitimate, some simply a product of human resistance to change. I have never encountered a problem with the drop safety. It is subject to malfunction by those with a bad case of tinkering. But something was done to satisfy the traditionalists, and the result is a great carry gun and my favorite Colt.
The problem with the 1911 and the drop safety was that the original, if dropped on the muzzle, might generate sufficient force for the firing pin to take a run against the firing pin spring and run forward to strike the primer and fire the pistol. Colt solved these problems with a firing pin block that keeps the firing pin locked in place until the trigger is completely pressed to the rear.
Specifically, Colt introduced a new Colt Series 70 that solves this problem neatly by using a stronger firing pin spring and deleting the firing pin block. The 1911, after all, would not discharge unless dropped directly on the muzzle from a considerable height. The new pistol also features a solid barrel bushing, excellent fitting, improved sights, and very well-turned-out grips. The pistol features an arched mainspring housing and short trigger. The mainspring housing is nicely serrated. In short, those wishing for the return of the Colt Series 70 have a pistol superior in every way to the original. The handgun is indexed properly in the hand and has the feel of a Government Model at its best. The bearing and looks of a Colt Government Model are much in common with the men I served with in police work: all business in a manner that words alone cannot convey.
Form and Function
The 1911 is thin for the caliber. The bore sets lower to the hand than most handguns, making for less leverage for the barrel to rise in recoil. The grip fits most hands well and the trigger compression is smooth and straight to the rear.
The sights have an adequate notch in the rear and a highly visible front post. Barrel-to-slide fit is excellent. The slide is racked and the locking lugs roll smoothly in and out of battery. The nicely checkered grips and well-done bluing remind us of a day when the goose hung high and Colt was the king of the hill. While there are pistols with an accessory rail and larger sights, the Colt is relatively light, slim, and fast handling in comparison. The pistol is reliable with every load I have fired. A combination of a fast handling self-loading pistol and big bore cartridge makes for an unbeatable combination.
I have used a great deal of the Federal American Eagle 230-grain FMJ for general use and practice. This is a formidable loading with good accuracy and a clean powder burn. For personal defense, use the Speer 230-grain Gold 45 Dot, as it offers a good balance of expansion and penetration. This load is proven in institutional use and offers excellent accuracy potential in addition to its wound potential.
There are many good .45 ACP loads and they will do the business. The loads mentioned are simply good loads that I have a great deal of personal experience with. I usually deploy these loads in Wilson Combat magazines.
Carrying the Colt Series 70
The Jackass shoulder holster from Galco is a fine choice for carrying under a covering garment. When a pulled-out sport shirt is the rule, one of the Galco inside-the-waistband holsters is deployed. It doesn’t get any better. There are lighter pistols and there are smaller pistols, but there are not better pistols.
What do you think of the Colt Series 70? Do you agree that Colt 1911 is the best fighting handgun in the world? Let us know in the comments.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October of 2019. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.