Review: Colt Gold Cup 1911 .45 ACP

Man coaching a woman holding a 1911 pistol in a home defense drill

Someone said there are two types of artists, the revolutionary and the plagiarist. While this is a little harsh, there is some truth in the statement. The revolutionary is the one who ushers in a major change in the field. There are artists and inventors who stand head and shoulder above the rest. Samuel Colt built on very little that came before him. This solidly set his legacy as a pathfinder.

Man coaching a woman holding a 1911 pistol in a home defense drill
The Colt National Match .45 makes an excellent all around handgun, with proper training.

Ebenezer Starr had unique ideas, but they did not prosper. Smith and Wesson set the pace by shrewd business decisions. In a parallel fashion, mechanics and gun design walked hand in hand as one had to wait for incremental improvements in the other. There have been contributions along the way by dedicated and original workers in steel.

Only occasionally has a designer’s insight and ability led to a revision in the whole concept of the art. One such instance was the introduction of the Colt 1911 pistol. This handgun was a marvel of human engineering when it was introduced. Compare it to the odd looking pistols of the day. Browning enclosed the barrel and operating mechanism in the slide and frame. A straight to the rear trigger compression, fast reloading, slide lock safety and grip safety are among the features of the Colt that made it the finest combat handgun of the day. Arguably, it is still at the top of the heap.

During the time immediately following World War II, considerable effort went into making the Colt 1911 a more accurate handgun. Original military standards called for a five-inch group at 25 yards and a 10-inch group at 50 yards. By the standards of the day, this was an effective handgun. Most Colt 1911 handguns were more accurate than this.

National Match .45 pistol right profile
This is the authors favorite National Match .45.

Army Gunsmiths began to weld up the locking logs, tighten the barrel bushing, and fabricate improved sights for the 1911. These handguns were used at the National Matches. It wasn’t unusual for an Army pistolsmith to spend months on a single handgun. Civilians had to spend a considerable amount to own a similar handgun.

Colt designed and offered a factory version for target use. In most regards, the pistol was simply a tightened 1911A1. The high profile sights were fixed in the first versions. Colt eventually offered handguns with Stevens and Eliason sights and finally rugged Bomar types. There have been Colts along the way that were not as desirable as others. At one time, the roll pin holding the rear sight was prone to taking flight. Replacing it with a solid pin cured this problem.

Specifications and Features

  • Colt 1911 Gold Cup Series National Match Semi Automatic Pistol
  • .45 ACP
  • 5-inch National Match Barrel
  • 8-round capacity
  • Wide target trigger
  • Round top slide
  • Target post front sight
  • Fully-adjustable Bomar rear sight
  • Standard grip safety
  • Walnut with Gold Medallion grips
  • Spur-style hammer
  • Wide 3-hole aluminum trigger
  • Standard safety
  • Lowered/flared ejection port
  • Single action
  • Series 70 firing system
  • Overall length 8.5 inches
  • Approximate weight 37 ounces
  • Carbon steel receiver with blued finish
  • Carbon steel slide with blued finish

A run in the late 1950s to the beginning of the Series 70 type featured a slide two ounces lighter than standard. The balance was not the same as earlier guns. Therefore, this National Match pistol was not popular.

Today, the Colt Gold Cup is recognized as an accurate and reliable handgun that is well suited to pistol matches and personal defense. As long as the recoil spring isn’t cut for light loads (The Gold Cup features the same recoil spring as the Government Model, but it is supplied with a lighter spring for target loads. The hammer spring is actually lighter.) the Gold Cup will last for many years and thousands of rounds of ammunition. The latest sights are rugged and offer good adjustment. The front sight is well designed for precision fire. Fit and finish are excellent with the modern rendition of Colt Blue arresting in its depth and finish.

The pistol is a Colt and handles like a Colt. The safety ident is crisp and sharp. The grip safety functions properly, releasing its hold on the trigger about half way into compression. The trigger is crisp and breaks at a controllable 4.0 pounds. As the slide is racked, the fit of the locking lugs is apparent.

Someone who knows what they are about had worked with this handgun. The only addition I have made was a Wilson Combat barrel bushing with compensator. While I know my way around the pistol, the fit was tight—very tight—and presented some difficulty in fitting. The result was worth the effort. The pistol’s accuracy was increased, and the compensator makes for increased recoil control and decreased muzzle flip.

I have used the pistol primarily with handloads. The sweet spot seems to be a hard cast 200-grain SWC at 820 fps. Accuracy was excellent, with a 5-shot group of 1.2 inches attainable. Among factory loads, the Federal 230-grain MATCH load enjoys an unassailable reputation. These jacketed loads are almost as accurate as my carefully crafted handloads, but it takes careful marksmanship to demonstrate the advantage of one load over the other.

The Colt Gold Cup is a legendary handgun—even an icon—and well worth its price. If set up for defense loads, it is as capable as any 1911 and more so than most. If you are looking for one of the most accurate handguns in the world, and a pistol steeped in history, this is the one.

At a current street price of $1,100, the National Match .45 is a great handgun that is reasonably price for the feature and out of the box performance. Do you have a Gold Cup National Match? What is your favorite target pistol? Share your answers in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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 (25)

  1. I got my Gold Cup in 1972. (Half a damned century ago! How the hell did I get so old?) (IIRC, I paid about $200 for it at the Cameron Station PX in Virginia.) I don’t know how many thousands of rounds I’ve put through it–a lot–but it’s still more accurate than I can really take advantage of. The only down-side is the weight. I bought it as my carry gun, which was kinda a mistake–carrying it in belt holster kinda badly drags your pants down on that side. (Bought a Walther PPK/S .380ACP a year later–a whole lot less bang, but at least my pants stayed in place.)

  2. I’m confused by the following statement in Campbell’s article: “The Gold Cup features the same recoil spring as the Government Model, but it is supplied with a lighter spring for target loads.” I recently purchased a Gold Cup Mark IV Series 70 and have read articles claiming that it should not be extensively used to fire standard rounds through it as it will eventually damage the gun due to the lighter recoil spring. So, does my gun have the same recoil spring as the government model? What does Campbell mean when he says that “it is supplied with a lighter spring for target loads”? How can the Gold Cup have the same recoil spring as the Government Model but be supplied with a lighter spring?
    What spring comes with the gun–the standard spring or the lighter spring? Please, can someone clear this up for me? Thank you!

    1. A number of Gold Cup pistols were shipped with a standard spring in the pistol and a second, lighter spring with a “185 gr target use only” label.

    2. The Gold Cup features a standard recoil spring but a lighter spring for target loads is included. The hammer spring is lighter than a Government Model, which means that the recoiling slide meets less resistance.
      Your gun should have had two springs in the box.

      The full power spring is longer than the reduced recoil spring. No real way to tell a springs weight. Govt Model 16 pound wind is good for most uses. If you fire a lightly sprung 1911 with 230 gr. hardball it will be light firing a Government Model with +P

  3. Jumping Jehova; another article worshipping the 1911, a cultish fetish for a centry aged design with a very few .echanical improvements anda ton of cosmetics added or detracted to it.
    It is only the capability of the 45 rounds killing power and today low cost of rounds that keep it in vogue.
    There are far better weapons out there in same caliber as the 1911 ; and in point of fact the 1911 design in any other caliber have been abject failures.
    Do I like the 1911, my own was produced in 1915 and carried in WWI by ancestor, yes, but as no more than a historical item.
    I have bought two very expensive modernized and cosmeticly pretty, and found not a one of them that at self defence range any more effecient in purpose than gramps old 45.
    In my opinion there are a huge variety of weapons and todays improved ammos that outperform in all aspects the 1911 designed weapons..
    Yet to each their own and it is nice to own one to brag of ownership,but thats about it.
    Todays “modernized” 1911 is not unique except by price demanded for them, as compared to gramps original.

  4. Why I Love the 1911, Yet I Married the Glock

    The 1911 is arguably the sexiest gun to ever grace mankind. It feels perfect in the hand, recoil is an afterthought while firing. The 1911 manual of arms is akin to ballet. Graceful yet deliberate. When you hold a 1911 you feel as if you’ve just stolen Zeus’s Lightning Bolt. The sheer weighted balance of the 1911, reassures its master that when called upon, it can surely beat a man to death! The 1911 was forged from steel and wood, dug from the earth and formed by John Browning.


    With all of this lust, I married the Glock. The Glock is not sexy. The Glock is not graceful. If you’ve seen one Glock, you’ve seen them all. So why the Glock over the 1911?


    Because, even though I look dapper in a tuxedo. I don’t wanna wear a tuxedo everyday, especially in the summertime. I cannot stand dress shoes, sneakers are much better. Ladies, you may love the way you look in a pair of sexy heels, but it’s gotta get old quick.

    That’s how I feel about the 1911 and the Glock. The Glock just works. The 1911 is a real man’s gun and the Glock is a hardworking, reliable and incredibly dependable sweater vest with cankles.

    The Glock is not sexy, yet I never have to clean it. When close friends come to visit, I show off my beautiful 1911. I easily push my Glock out of the way and with two hands gently pick up my 1911. I even wipe down the 1911 before I put it back in my safe. I can’t remember the last time I even blew the dust off of my Glock.

    Both guns are great, yet the 1911 is not for everyday. The 1911 is America and the Glock is an early 2000 Toyota Camry. It’s got over 200k on the speedometer, yet it cranks every time. Sure, the Glock is tactical Tupperware, but I never have to worry about dropping it or marring the finish. Heck, you could even clean it in your dishwasher!

    1. Okay, so I bought a Colt in 1971 and have carried and used it until now, and it gets normal care, and it is in a holster right now.

      It is not perfect, but I will trust my life to it working like it should, when I need it to.

      You referenced your Glock as being a Toyota Camry, but if you need to call it a car, the 1911 family are simply the Mercedes guys. They may seem like they cost too much to begin, but I’d rather be in one than that Camry when the Devil kicks in the door.

  5. It would be indeed wonderful to win the Gold Cup National Match. Being a veteran and having the honor of carrying the Colt M-16 A-2 and the 1911. The National Match talk about a smile Man!!!!!

  6. I recently returned to competitive pistol shooting and found that the pistols that I had were not up task. I replaced my previous .45 with a new Gold Cup National Match and was more than pleasantly surprised. The Eliason sights are easily adjustable and are easily visible in all kinds of different lighting conditions. The trigger is crisp and clean, no creep and a consistent 4 1/2 pounds. It is extremely accurate, able to keep 5 shots at 25 yards within a 2 inch group, 1 1/2 inches with handloads. I have found it to be an all around excellent pistol and well worth the money. I would recommend it to anyone looking for quality and accuracy.

  7. “slide lock safety”

    John Moses Browning never intended for there to be a “slide lock safety” in his design he submitted to the Army Ordinance Corps with his Model of 1910:

    He intended the pistol to be carried with a full magazine, chamber loaded and the hammer cocked: depending on the grip safety alone to prevent “unintentional discharges.”

    The thumb-operated safety was added to make the Army happy.

  8. I love my gold cup, I have since I bought it aprox 8-10 years ago. It’s stainless, other than that and it’s 80’s series trigger safety I don’t see any difference from that and the pre 70’s model. It MAY be a little less accurate than my Les Baer was, but it couldn’t have been by much. Not enough to tell from my handloads anyway, but a LOT less money!

  9. I’m a 57 year old man who has always dreamed of owning a custom 1911 45acpbut unnfortunatly have never had the money to be a able to purchase one. I own several black powder pistols and rifles. & A few ww11 guns, a Smith and Wesson & a colt……but my dream has always been a 1911..45.who knows, maybe someday……. thank you for your time and consideration…. James D. Wilcox!

  10. 1991 Safari arms match master 1911, and a 1958 high standard model 102 22LR are two guns that I own that always seem to impress me the safari arms is a new purchase and it’s so tight that is very picky with magazines and ammo I’m still working on the right combination to run without a FTF, the high standard runs flawlessly with all types of ammo and has the best adjustable trigger on any gun I’ve picked up.

  11. I absolutely love my Gold Cup. As the author mentioned, it drives nails right out of the box. I have not made any modifications to mine and it is good to go. Although it is to heavy as a carry weapon it still is nice to take out shoot when the opportunity arises. If you have to means, by all means get one, I do believe you will not be disappointed.

  12. I own several handguns and this is one of my favorites. I only addrd a wilson combat beavertail grip safety and a comander hammer. I truly emjoy shooting this weapon

  13. Gold Cup Trophy owner and grateful for it. Dead on out of box and shoots my hand loads well with no issues. Only thing added was fiber front sight for my old eyes.

  14. I’ve owned series 70 gold cup for thirty plus years it’s really my favorite 45acp . Have a Remington Rand A1 ww11 45 and it’s second . Several revolvers that I enjoy also. My gold cup has papers from custom shop at colt.

    1. Papers from the Colt Custom Shop detail the work done. Keeping these papers with the gun make the piece more valuable if ever sold. Hope you learned something today.
      And Chris let me add everyone likes a– none likes a smart a–.

  15. If you have one of the pre-70 series Gold Cup pistols get a solid front recoil spring cap, a much heavier recoil spring, and an honest, working spring loaded recoil buffer.

    How heavy the spring is determines the minimal load, but that spring loaded recoil buffer and solid metal on the recoil spring cap takes the beating for recoil, not the slide.

    And, of personal opinion, use it. I am not a fan of the newer sights, the old Gold Cup sights simply are a quick and easy visual pickup, but both do the job well.

  16. I was of the understanding that the Gold Cup was overpriced for it’s enhancements, and not adequate for competition out of the box. If you want to be competetive with a Colt, you start with a base pistol and have the gun you want built from it.

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