Modern machinery joins old fashioned craftsmanship.
Colt’s Manufacturing Company
By: Kevin Davis
Samuel Colt’s 45-caliber revolver is widely known as the “great equalizer.” The Colt Single Action Army® or Peacemaker® is known as the “gun that won the west” with 16,000 of the 45 Colt revolvers produced between 1873 and 1874. The SAA would reign as the primary U.S. military sidearm until 1892.
Newer wars and newer designs were the impetus for John Browning’s semi-automatic 45 ACP pistol. The Colt Model 1911 semi-auto pistol has served with our troops in far off lands since then. The late Jeff Cooper and his Gunsite firearms training facility did much to perpetuate the use and deployment of the 1911 45 ACP pistol. Still today high-speed, low-drag military and police special operators (as well as some line officers) are carrying a 1911 “cocked & locked.” That is over 100 years for the John Moses Browning 1911 design in the hands of good people going in harm’s way.
The M16 and subsequent civilian AR15 have been produced by Colt for 50 years. Originally, Colt supplied 5000 M16s to our nation’s Air Force in 1962 according to Colt company reps and is still being produced by the company today. The M16 gas impingement, 5.56 mm carbine is used by our folks and plenty of others the world over whether in the full-size version or M4 carbine.
In my first police academy (30 years ago), the top shooters in the class all carried Colt Python revolvers. Although it was out of my pay grade back in the day, I always aspired to own one with its slick lines and smooth action. Often copied but never duplicated, Colt’s line of fine revolvers, semi-auto pistols and carbines are serving law enforcement on the front lines all over this country.
Colt’s Manufacturing Company (formerly Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company) is alive and well. I recently had the opportunity to tour the Colt plant in Hartford, Conn. as well as put their handguns and rifles through their paces in a live-fire range session.
The Colt Plant
Colt has the latest of CNC (computer numerically controlled) machines. However, there are also machines in the plant that have been manufacturing 1911 pistols since the 1930s and are still used today. This is an amazing concept that an older machine does a better job in a specific manufacturing process than a high-tech “modern” machine. Further, there are proud workers who have been making handguns and carbines for over 40 years. That’s experience and trade-craft using time proven manufacturing to produce a product that has stood the test of time.
From a block of steel or aluminum, the pieces and parts from pistol or carbine lower frames to complete uppers or slides, from springs to bushings and pins, all are manufactured at the Colt plant.
While touring the plant we were privy to the fact that over 30,000 carbines were being assembled and packed up for an overseas order for an ally of the U.S. Shortly after my tour, Colt Defense announced they won the contract to supply 10,000 .45 Close Quarter Battle Pistols (M1911A1 Rail Guns) in Coyote Tan metal finish.
According to MilitaryTimes.com “the pistol had to survive a 20,000-round shooting schedule.” Military.com’s Matthew Cox quoting Charles Clark III, who oversaw the project, “Marine testers placed a high priority on accuracy. The winner had to be capable of putting five-shot groups on target that “didn’t exceed 4 inches by 4 inches at 25 yards from an unsupported firing position” as well as reliability.
As we toured the factory, it became clear you can order direct from Colt a 1911 or carbine with the barrel length, forearm, sights, stock, foregrip as well as the finish you want versus buying a plain vanilla and spending hundreds of dollars aftermarket from other suppliers. My first 1911 circa 1985 or so was a Colt Combat Commander, which I still own. The sights were all low profile and other options were slim. Back then aftermarket sights, action jobs and barrel throating cost plenty of money I didn’t have.
I had higher profile sights and a beaver-tail grip safety installed by a local gunsmith but this was several years before Novak® sights became well known. The pistol shoots extremely well even with hollow-point ammunition so it didn’t need a throating job, but perusing the current Colt catalog and looking at pistols at the plant and on the range later, I realized I could buy one today with everything needed direct from Colt.
A pistol such as the Colt XSE™ Commander model with 4.25 inch barrel comes with Novak sights, beaver-tail safety, enhanced hammer, lowered/flared ejection port and more is everything I look for in a duty handgun in a serious caliber.
One of the treats of the factory tour was walking through the Colt Custom Shop and taking a look at some of the engraving. Master engravers were at work on various projects performing some awe-inspiring detailed engraving. Once again, sound experienced design executed by master craftsmen.
On the Range
What right-thinking lawman and firearms instructor would pass up the opportunity to put rounds downrange with fine handguns and long-guns? Certainly not me! We traveled to the Hartford Gun Club in East Granby, Conn. (established in 1884 and is the oldest gun club in America). The Hartford Gun Club has facilities to host trap, skeet as well as action shooting events.
Colt set up various ranges with everything from their single action revolvers, 380 Mustang pistol, Model 1911s of various configurations, Colt carbines as well as scoped rifles. It should go without saying…I did not experience any malfunctions or failures to fire with any of the firearms present. The 1911s functioned flawlessly and shot better than I could.
Of significant interest was Colt’s new gas-pistol driven rifle the LE6940P and the LE901-16S. I was banging a steel IPSC target at 100 yards off hand with LE6940P sporting iron sights. Smooth, well-designed carbine for those interested in a pistol driven AR system, the LE901 is a great system which allows 5.56mm (223 Rem) or 7.62mm (308 Win) from the same lower.
The system has an MSRP around $3000 but it gives the shooter two uppers (223 Rem and 308 Win) and one lower. According to Colt, an ingenious low-cost part developed in-house permits standard 5.56 AR magazines to be used in the carbine or AR10 308 Win mags if that caliber is chosen. I shot this carbine a lot and I like it a lot. Look for a future review in this magazine.
I have dealt with many firearms industry professionals over the last 10 years or so. The folks at Colt Manufacturing Company are some of the nicest I’ve met so far. A team is only good as the sum of its players and from the factory folks building guns in Hartford to the front office and management people, they are all committed to putting out quality products.
Sam Colt may be long gone, but the company he built lives on, making men equal the world over with quality firearms. From what I saw and shot, Colt is still a leader in small arms manufacturing, combining a rich history and design with master craftsmen building and assembling the best. Now, if I can only get them to put that Colt Python back in production.
Kevin Davis is a 28-year law enforcement veteran currently assigned to the training bureau. Previous assignments include patrol, narcotics and SWAT where he was a team leader and lead instructor. Davis welcomes feedback at email@example.com, or visit his website at www.advancedtacticalconcepts.com.