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Back saddle: there reissued colt classics indicate that a legendary brand in American handguns is fully operational.

For the last few decades (some say even longer), Colt has essentially been a nonentity in the firearms world. There was a time when the company could have owned it all. It built ARs before anyone else was building ARs, and it still makes the gold standard against which all others are measured. Colt duked it out with S&W for the police revolver market, before LEOs went to pistols.

Colt created the Single-Action Army, then gave the Cowboy Action market to the Italians and frittered away the 1911 market to a bunch of newcomers, copiers and clones. Then, when they could have gained it all back, they lost it to people who knew how to make 1911s, and good ones.

So when my editor asked me if I wanted to write about the new Colt handguns, I emailed him back: "Sure, when will they actually have guns?"

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

His reply? "They're on my desk now."

Wow, I thought. Colt actually has guns. But I wondered if they'd be available to all of us, not just the procurement desk in the Pentagon. Two years ago when I visited Colt, I'd wondered if we were actually going to see guns, but I hadn't held out hope. At the time Colt had just cleared all the old machinery out of a wing of the plant and was installing an acre of CNC machining centers. I was told they would be set up for 1911s and "other handguns," but since I'd just waded through a shipping dock and test-fire range packed to the rafters with M4s, I really expected those CNC tombstones I was looking at to be set up for more M4s.

As it turns out, I was wrong.

THE GOLD CUP

The first Colt I pulled out of the shipping box was the 1911A1, a blued one. Curiously, it is marked "Gold Cup National Match," but it doesn't have the iconic Gold Cup rib on top of the slide. The barrel had the narrow GC hood on it, but no rib. Why? Simple: Colt still makes a "flattop" Gold Cup, but the company's in the midst of redesigning the rear sight. We've all known for decades that the fussy little roll pin in it breaks. Well, Colt is now doing something about it. Until then, we have a cool new round-top Gold Cup to shoot.

It does have the Gold Cup wide trigger, and the trigger pull was OK for a Gold Cup, if not gush-worthy -- more than clean and crisp enough for a carry gun were you to carry a full-size 1911A1.

But alas, it did have the Series 80 firingpin block in it, so there's no escaping that engineering travesty (Colt offers the old style in some models, so why not across the board?). The rest of it was an interesting mixture of the old and the new.

Out front, the sight is a blade in a transverse dovetail. No staked-in sights here, which is a vast improvement. The rear sight is a Bo-Mar-appearing sight (since the original Bo-Mar is no more, a number of companies have stepped up to replace it), but the sight has an interesting anomaly: It overhangs the slide.

It has been literally decades since gunsmiths worked out the simple arithmetic to position the rear blade flush with the slide when machining a dovetail for a Bo-Mar. Colt placed it where it is to clear the Series 80 plunger. The hammer and grip safety are spur-and-standard tang so it would be kosher for Camp Perry. Thankfully, it lacks a full-length recoil-spring guide rod, something I find these days to be less important than I had thought back in the dawn of IPSC.

The mainspring housing is flat, and, if that matters, it's easy enough to change. The grips are wraparound synthetic with the Colt medallion inset. If you like 'em, great. If not, changing is simple. And last, it came with magazines, but instead of 21st century magazines, they were the same design as the old Colt-style magazines that were the subject of my very first published article. I discussed that with Colt, and it is another thing the company plans to change. Soon you'll be able to buy 21st century magazines with "Colt" on them.

All grumbling aside, it shot well. Very well, indeed. Two-inch groups at 25 yards in cold, damp weather were the norm, which is a positive that allows for a lot of forgiveness on small details. The slide fit the frame well, the barrel locked up tightly, (Colt has brought its barrel-making fully into the 21st century), and the polish was well done. Reliability? One hundred percent.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

THE NEW FRONTIER

Despite being known as either a 1911 shooter or a double-action revolver shooter, I actually learned to shoot, and learned a lot in the process, with a single-action revolver, so I was quite curious to look over the New Frontier they had sent along. The version I got was a 5 1/2-inch model in .44 Special. The fit and finish was good, but not perfect.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The color case-hardening was quite good, the blue deep and the polish well done. The timing was excellent, and where the exterior fit and finish of the guns a few decades ago were better, those revolvers suffered, sometimes heinously, from uncertain chambers. I've seen Model P revolvers with the chamber throat (the portion ahead of the case, but inside the cylinder) in .44 Special that varied from .426 inch up to .433 inch in diameter. So after I checked the timing on the New Frontier, I pulled the cylinder to measure the throats.

The best way to measure is with a set of "pin" gauges, each ground to a specific diameter. Of course, my set was out on loan when I needed it, so I had to settle for using digital calipers. I came up with all six dead-on at .430 inch, which typically means they would only accept a .429 pin gauge. So there is the promise of top-notch accuracy. My Colt contact told me that there was quite a lot of discussion over the proper throat dimension. There was a vocal contingent advocating larger (over .430) to "control pressure." The accuracy advocates won out, and we have spot-on .430 throats as a result.

The metal fitting was excellent, the grip fitting only so-so, and the trigger was clean and crisp.

I know there are those who simply have an attack of the vapors over the New Frontier. Me, I just don't warm to the style. I'm a fixed-sight kinda guy when it comes to the SAA, and while I can appreciate the option of adjustments, I'm OK without them. The ammo I had to use in the short time available was a swaged Black Hills Cowboy Action 210-grain flatpoint, and it printed four inches high at 25 yards. However, if there isn't enough movement in the sight adjustments, you can always shorten the rear blade. If you go too far, it can be replaced, unlike a fixed-sight SAA.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The groups, while high, were centered and under three inches center-to-center. Given the slamming-door action of the SAA hammer, a three-inch average with the first off-the-shelf ammo tried is a very promising start.

THE MUSTANG

The Colt Mustang was a leap forward when it came out in 1986. In effect a scaled-down Colt Government, it was in its time the smallest .380 you could actually carry, handle and shoot. A lot of that shootability was due to the locked-breech -- not blowback -- design. Of course in 1986 the number of people who could carry was a lot smaller than it is today. And the meager choices of ammo in the 1980s were depressing: 100-grain FMJs or 95-grain JHPs that didn't expand. The Mustang slipped off the charts in the late 1990s when we were all enamored of bigger guns.

Today, with the full resources of the ballisticians having resurrected the .380 into something that we can depend on (and lots of us are carrying), the Mustang looks enticing again.

The one sent is the Mustang Pocketlite, a .380 equivalent to the 1911 Officer's Model. However, there are improvements, and there are non improvements. The slide and frame are both machined from solid bar stock. Unlike the cast parts of the past, the .380 is treated like its big brother. An improvement is the shaft of the thumb safety, now secured to the frame by means of a small "C" clip on the off side. While not many safeties came loose, when they did it wasn't easy to fix, The "C" clip solves that problem.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

However, the front sight is an integral ramp on the slide. A ramped sight, integral to the slide, is high-tech circa 1974. Today, owners expect to be able to swap out the sight for night sights. When I mentioned this, the answer was simple: Colt wanted to have .380s as fast as possible. The first run was of the old style, but the second run has a front dovetail. So you'll be able to swap the front sight (and rear, too) with night sights.

Curiously, the trigger pull on the Mustang Pocketlite was actually a bit better than that of the Gold Cup. Sure, it was a tad spongy on the takeup, but once you had the slack out it broke nicely. However, that nice trigger availed me naught on the target. The results were so resoundingly average that I thought perhaps I'd shot too much for the day and was tired. I gave it another go with the Gold Cup and printed yet another two-inch group. I dug back into the truck for some .380 Hornady XTPs. The Pocketlite did better with them, but this particular Mustang was determined to be an "across the table" kind of handgun.

On the good side, it was absolutely reliable, something that could not always be said of Colt products from the Clinton era.

But Colt still knows how to make good handguns. The accuracy of the Gold Cup and the precision of the New Frontier chamber throats and timing prove that.

I think it's great that Colt is back in the civilian firearms business. For those looking for a base gun to send to a custom gunsmith to craft the $4,000 1911 of their dreams, a Colt rollmark on the slide is always good. But a lot has changed while Colt was gone, and it will take more than an iconic name and a few products to gain back the market share the company once abandoned.

Gold Cup National Match

TYPE: Short-recoil single-action auto

CALIBER: 45 ACP

CAPACITY: 7+1

BARREL LENGTH: 5 in

OVERALL LENGTH: 8.5 in.

WEIGHT: 37 oz

SIGHTS: Bo-Mar-type adjustable rear, target post front

STOCKS: Wraparound synthetic

FINISH: Blued

MSRP: $1,103

MAKER: Colt, www.coltsmfg.com

Mustang Pocketlite

TYPE: Recoil-operated single-action auto

CALIBER: 380 ACP

CAPACITY: 6+1

BARREL LENGTH: 2.75 in.

OVERALL LENGTH: 5.5 in.

WEIGHT: 12.5 oz.

SIGHTS: High-profile fixed

STOCKS: Checkered synthetic

FINISH: Electroless nickeled aluminum receiver, brushed stainless steel slide

MSRR: $599

MAKER: Colt, www.coltsmfg.com

New Frontier

TYPE: Single-action revolver

CALIBER: .44 Special,.45 Colt

CAPACITY: 6

BARREL LENGTH: 5.5 in. (also 4.74, 7.5 in.)

OVERALL LENGTH: 11 in. (5.5 in. bbl.)

WEIGHT: 42 oz.

SIGHTS: Fully adjustable rear, ramp front

FINISH: Blued barrel and cylinder, color case-hardened frame

STOCKS: Walnut with gold medallions

MSRP: $1,455

MAKER: Colt. www.coltsmfg.com

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CHRONO/ACCURACY RESULTS

LOAD BULLET AVERAGE STD. AVERAGE
 WEIGHT VELOCITY DEV. GROUP
 (GR.) (FPS) (IN.)

MUSTANG POCKETLITE
(.380 ACP)

HORNADY XTP 90 799 17.2 4

HORNADY FTX 90 831 21.1 4.5

WINCHESTER SXT 95 793 34.2 5

MAGTECH FMJ 95 865 41.1 6

BLACK HILLS JHP 90 857 27.9 5.5

GOLD CUP NATIONAL
MATCH (.45 ACP)

BLACK HILLS LSWC 200 838 18.8 2

REMINGTON FMJ 230 836 18.1 2.5

FIOCCHI XTP 230 869 14.7 2

HORNADY FTX 185 964 4.7 2

NEW FRONTIER (.44
SPL.)

BLACK HILLS LFP 210 715 23.1 3

Accuracy results are averages of four five-shot groups at
25 yards off MTM K-zone rest. Velocltles are averages of
five shots measured on a PACT MKIV chronograph set 15 feet
from the muzzle.
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Article Details
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Author:Sweeney, Patrick
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:May 19, 2012
Words:2161
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