Throwback Thursday: A Look at the Colt Series 70

Colt Series 70 Combat Commander

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.

Colt bright blue finish
Colt’s bright blue finish sometimes makes photography difficult!

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.

Colt Series 70
The Colt Series 70 is well made of the best materials.

Making Improvements

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.

Series 70 design
The Series 70 primary difference is the lack of a firing pin block.

Near Perfection

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.

Colt 70 series design
Some don’t like the billboard-type markings, others do.

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.

Federal Ammo
The author has enjoyed excellent results with Federal Ammunition. This is a rapid-fire group at 15 yards.

Ammunition Choices

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.

Speer Gold Dot
Speer’s Gold Dot is a first-class defensive loading.

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.

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 (21)

  1. Got my series 70 in 1972. Uncle was still at COLT and got me a spare sear. Spent about (4) hours polishing the action, but thankfully didn’t need that back-up sear. Since then, I have shot a number of other 1911 45s, and also in 9mms. COLT 9mms were the worse! Other than a STAR BM in 9mm, haven’t found any 1911 style pistol I like as much as my series 70. Note – 1200 grit sandpaper was used to remove the almost microscopic burrs, and polished action to a near mirror finish. 1911 series 70 style pistols are worth the effort to polish the action, and can be done by almost anyone willing to spend several hours to disassemble/reassemble everything to check the trigger pull. Understand that such owner action work is not as effective on the latter series 80 & 90 1911s. Think that in another 50 years, the Series 70 1911 will still be considered the best version. Most likely it will also still be in production.

  2. If my memory serves me correctly, Colt Gold Cup 1911’s were designed as target guns, with a lower recoil spring rate since most target ammunition was 185gr. SWC. The 185gr SWC produced less recoil, and cut nicer holes in the targets. Gold Cups came with 16# recoil springs that were lighter than the usual 18# springs in regular 5″ 1911’s. If you’re not shooting light target loads, then I would suggest using an 18# spring for 230gr. FMJ.

  3. I have a Series 70 Gold Cup not much stated about it’s capabilities, and it must use 185gr. What say you?

  4. @BIG ERN – I totally agree on the flat spring being subject to breaking, and thus undependable, although I think the one in 1911’s do not fall in an overworked definition, and less tendency to break, but the steel has also improved, and a trigger can be set so light as to be unsafe just by bending the spring. In the old Colt New Frontier, it has a flat spring for the cylinder lock/trimer reset, and another one for the hammer. Being now 50 years old, didn’t use it for decades for fear of a broken spring, and nowhere to get replacements. Thanks to the internet, OLD “new stock” is available, and now in the spare parts bin, the Colt New Frontier gets a new life of use, until the spare is needed.

  5. Colt Gov. Model 1911 Series 70 .45acp for me, all day, everyday. Never malfunctions, shoots everything, comfortable to carry, accurate as all hell. Even put down a big black bear at 5 yards with it. I trust my life with this gun.

  6. My dad has a sweet shootin ser 70 love that thing. Went to the range and shot his glock 21 then the 1911….. looked at him and laughed when I said “ yea these plastic guns are nice and all but sumthin designed from the early 1900’s just wooped its a$$”. Me personally I have an older rock island that I bought used round count is unknown before I got it but I’ve put Atleast 7500 rds with no issues whatsoever even with that steel case Russian stuff. Easiest handgun for newbies to use also….. can’t mess with an original or with perfection

  7. There’s no doubt any 1911 is a work of art and a historical relic. After polishing the ramp and trigger and opening the ejection port and changing the barrel bushing you have an excellent paper gun.
    But it has one fatal flaw that prevents it from being considered a reliable self defense or combat weapon, and that’s the 3 finger flat spring that will eventually break leaving the gun inoperable in the field. Flat springs were 1800s technology that fell out of favor for coiled springs that seldom if ever break. That’s why no serious law enforcement or military uses any firearms with flat springs.

  8. I purchased my Series ’70 back in ’79 for a house gun. I figured, with kids, a loaded revolver was not safe in the nightstand. I could load the 1911 in 5 seconds blindfolded. Little kids could not.

    At first, I had feeding problems with semi-wadcutters. After polishing the feed ramp, it would cycle anything I fed it. When I loaded about 4 grains of bullseye behind a 180 gr wadcutter, it would drop the brass right at my feet. Easy pickup! The trigger was decent out of the box. I learned to get good results with the factory GI style front sight by painting it bright pink with fingernail polish.

    I have several 1911s and I now carry Glocks and M&Ps. But, after reading this article, I am yearning for the good old days with my Colt. I am definitely going to dig it out of the safe and get reacquainted with that fine pistol. Stay safe.

  9. The Ruger SR1911 is built on the 70 series design, with no firing pin block, just like the Colt. The thing that is impressive about the SR1911, I read where the barrel, and the bushing, are made from the same piece of steel, on the same machine. In other words, the barrel and bushing are VERY concentric to each other, and the SR1911 accuracy is awesome, right out of the box. In a world now where safeties are kind of optional per firearm, I kind of which there was a option on 1911s to NOT have the safety lock the slide when engaged, like in many of the micro 1911 styles, as they can be loaded or unloaded with the safety engaged, reducing the risk of accidental discharge.

  10. None of my 1911s are made by Colt. My preferred weapon is one made by Smith, their ProSeries that is their version of the Officer’s model with a 3″ barrel. I have a government model that has a Caspian Frame with a military slide that is almost exactly like the one I carried overseas many years ago, the major difference being the Crimson trace grips. Of all the 1911s I have fired, I have never shot a Colt. The one I carried overseas was not a Colt, but was put together by an armorer with brand non matching frame and slide. It worked well, which is a testament to the design of the weapon and being able to interchange parts easily. I would not be surprised if they had to change out the barrel after I turned it in as I was leaving. It was showing signs of wear, having been used a fair bit.

  11. I have the same stainless Model 70 with those Great New Rollmarks they put on those Blue Box Custom Shop Ones before the Hard plastic box versions that came later. Great shooter out of the box… My older Colt Series 80 Combat Elite Two Tone shoots just as good tho..

  12. My first love was a Series 70 , bought new in 1978, and I’ve had many variations since from brand new in 2015 ranging back to a nice mid 20s commercial gun.
    The one comment I find dubious tho, was that the series 70 was an improvement in fitting and finish, presumably over the 1960s “commercial” Government Models….
    I don’t think so. The last 60s gun I had was a 38 Super, a slick , well made pistol . The flats of the slide looked like a blue mirror. I even liked the look of the liver coloured plastic grips with the horsey…..tho that might be one point of improvement. The checkered wood with medallion on the 70 Series are attractive. Anyway, my $.02

  13. I have a combat commander 70 series on satin finish, did not customized or replaced any parts (except the grips, replaced it with LOK) and had atleast 500 plus in it…0 mulfunctions. All you need is a good reliable magazine. And I liked it that way. Very mint and reliable pistol and excllent box with it.

  14. Leo Tafoya, your post of Oct. 8 to lower the front sight to lower the point of impact is 180 degrees wrong & hopefully the advice disregarded. Lowering the front sight will RAISE the point of impact. Lowering the REAR sight will lower the point of impact. This really should be obvious.

  15. To Peter’s problem of shooting too high, Have a gunsmith install the proper height front sight. Should be lower to lower your point of impact.

  16. I love my Series 70, but I have one problem.
    The pistol shot a nice, tight group where sighted. I had a gunsmith put adjustable sights on it, and it shot even better groups.
    Later, because of the fuss over the barrel bushing. I replaced the 4-prong bushing with a solid one. HOWEVER … since I did that, the pistol shoots high — so high that I cannot adjust the adjustable sights to match the bullet strike.
    I tried changing the length of the barrel link, but that didn’t help.
    Any suggestions that might help lower the bullet strike?
    Thanks in advance.

  17. Among other 1911s, I have a Series 80 Gold Cup National Match from the early 80s. The finger bushing was the only problem with that gun… replacing it with a drop-in solid bushing cut the group size by 2/3rds without sacrificing reliability. I never had any issues with the firing pin block. With the solid bushing it shoots about the same as my Kimber Gold Match and both are a bit better than my slightly tuned Norinco 1911A1… fitted bushing and replaced the trigger spring, barrel link and slide stop along with smoothing the feed ramp. Bottom line is it’s a good reliable design regardless of manufacturers’ tinkering.

  18. I do prefer the 70s series to the 80s series. However, having said that, I have never dropped any of my 1911s and have never had any failure of the firing system in them either. I did have two magazines that were WWII leftovers fail in 2017 (metal fatigue). And the extractor in my 1942 1911 began skipping an ejection every once in a while in 2018 (replaced it). The 1942 is on its third barrel, eighth or tenth main spring and second firing pin spring. I bought it used in 1982 and since that time carried it daily until 2015, when I rotated it to the night stand and put a new Taurus 1911 on my hip. It has eaten well over 50,000 rounds since I owned it. still quite dependable.

    Perhaps on of the best designed firearms in terms of reliability, accuracy and durability.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.