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Colt's .45 auto goes stainless; it's finally here - a Government Model built to stand up to the most brutal service conditions.

The last two years have been quite eventful for Colt Firearms. In 1983 this famous old firearms company introduced a pocket-sized Government Model .380 semi-automatic pistol. Then, a year later, they came out with a chopped version of the 1911 .45 called the Officer's ACP. Now, some six months later, comes an all stainless steel Government Model .45.

In view of the fact that several other companies have been making stainless 1911s for some years, I asked a company representative why it took Colt so long to bring one out themselves. Basically, the answer I got was: "We wanted to make sure that when we did come out with one we got it right."

When one considers the problems some of the other manufacturers have had with their stainless 1911s, this makes quite a lot of sense. Unlike normal carbon steel, this rust-resistant metal is difficult to machine because of its hardness. In addition, when two stainless steel surfaces rub against each other they have the tendency to gall or stick. While not so critical with revolvers, this characteristic can be disastrous in a self-loading pistol. Fortunately, the problem has largely been overcome, either through heat treatment or by ensuring that bearing surfaces consist of different grades of stainless steel.

In actual fact, Colt has considerable experience with stainless steel autos, having had an experimental 9mm double-action pistol under development for some 15 years. Known as the Colt SSP, this stainless steel auto was their contender in the recent military trials to find a replacement for the 1911 pistol.

In spite of this, Colt's approach towards the commercial stainless steel handgun market can best be described as conservative. Their first production stainless hnadgun, the Python, was only introduced towards the end of 1982, some 17 years after the first revolver made of this material appeared in 1965. I understand their policy is to introduce one stainless steel model at a time to see how well it is received.

From all accounts, the stainless Python has sold very well in spite of its high price. Apparently, even the bright, highly polished stainless steel version of this top-of-the-line .357 revolver is also being well received. No doubt, all of this must have encouraged Colt to bring out a stainless version of their equally famous .45 Government Model.

Basically, the Stainless Model is the same as the blued and nickel models as far as the outside dimensions and internal lockwork are concerned. However, there is one small but significant change--the sights. Instead of the standard low-profile ones installed on service 1911s, Colt has elected to fit the same sights to their "Combat Government" version and the new Officer's Model. While the sights of the new stainless .45 don't have the three white dots of the Officer's Model, they have a high profile and are a vast improvement over the old ones.

As with almost all stainless guns, some parts are made of plated carbon steel. In the Colt, this is confined to some of the internal components such as the firing pin and parts of the safety systems. The main components such as the barrel, slide and frame are forged from 410 and 416 grades of stainless steel.

The fact that the gun is forged is significant, because many of the other stainless 1911s make use of investment castings to reduce the amount of machining to a minimum. When high quality casting is used, this method of manufacture is quite acceptable and helps in reducing production costs. However, drop forging and machining a gun from solid blocks of stainless steel, while more costly, does provide an extra measure of strength.

As it is, this method is nothing new to Colt, who has for years forged most of their guns including the new stainless Python. The tendency of stainless steel surfaces to gall when moving against one another has been overcome by giving the gun the same heat treatment as is applied to the components of the company's carbon steel models.

The current stainless .45s will have a non-reflective satin finish, unlike the blued versions which have the flat sides highly polished. However, I have been told that it is itended to offer a brightly polished stainless finish like that of the Python Ultimate model.

The pistol we received for testing had, of course, the standard finish. All rounded surfaces had been sandblasted while the flat sides of the slide and frame had been ground to a very smooth satin-like finish. Checkered wooden grips with silver Colt medallions contrasted nicely with the white metal, making for a nice looking pistol. The high profile front and rear sights were matte black to help in obtaining a good sight picture. In all other respects, the new stainless .45 is exactly the same as the blue and the nickel-plated Government Model autos.

It is a single-action semi-automatic pistol, which means that the hammer must be cocked for the first shot. It has the same thumb safety, located on the rear left hand side of the frame as well as a grip safety and the new firing pin lock. This locks the firing pin and is released just before the hammer drops as the trigger is pulled.

The magazine release is located on the left side just behind the trigger. Depressing it releases the seven-round magazine. After the last shot has been fired, the slide is locked open. It is released by operating the slide stop, which is located on the left of the frame above the trigger.

Its five-inch barrel has rifling with six grooves that have a left-hand twist of one turn in 16 inches. The overall height of the pistol is 5-1/2 inches while its length is 8-3/8 inches. Weight, unloaded, is 38 ounces. At present, the gun is only available in .45 ACP caliber.

The stainless 1911 employs the usual takedown for normal cleaning and maintenance. The first step is to remove the magazine and pull back the slide to ensure the gun is unloaded. Then the recoil spring plug is depressed so that the barrel bushing can be rotated clockwise to release the recoil plug and spring. As the pistol has the Colt Accurizer bushing with finger-like protrusions that tightly grip the barrel, it can be difficult to rotate. I find that pushing back the slide about a quarter of an inch causes these fingers to engage a thinner part of the barrel, making it easier to twist the bushing.

Once the recoil spring and plug have been released, the slide is drawn back until the small notch on its bottom left side is in line with the rear of the slide stop. In this position, the same can be removed, allowing the slide and barrel to be pulled forward off the frame. Finally, the barrel bushing is rotated counterclockwise, releasing the bushing and barrel so that it can be removed out of the front of the gun's slide. The pistol is reassembled in reverse order.

The test pistol itself was well put together and appeared to be quite tight, with very little play between the slide and the frame. In spite of this, the slide moved freely when cycled to put a round in the chamber. The pistol's trigger required a pull of around 6-1/2 pounds to drop the hammer, which is about right for a service pistol.

I put the pistol through its paces at the Angeles Shooting Ranges in Los Angeles one Saturday morning. The ammunition used in this shooting session was Winchester and Shooters Supply 230-grain hardball, Federal 185-grain Jacketed Hollow Points, Winchester 185-grain Silvertips, and some 200-grain lead semi-wadcutter combat reloads.

I shot the pistol as it came straight out of the box without any cleaning or lubrication and, apart from three hang-ups when chambering the first round, it shot all of this ammunition without a single malfunction. I also did some shooting using combat stainless steel magazines made by Randall and the Wilson Combat Gun Shop, and once again, performance was flawless.

The pistol proved accurate enough for combat use and I had little difficulty in keeping all of my shots in a four-inch circle when I rapidly expended a complete magazine at a distance of 15 yards, using a two-handed hold.

Tighter groups were obtained from a benchrest position at 25 yards. The Silvertips had the widest spread of just over 5 inches. The best groups with Federal 185-grain JHPs and Winchester hardball were 3 and 4 inches respectively. However, I was able to reduce the group size to just under 2 inches with the 185-grain reloads and the 230-grain hardball from Shooters Supply. The heavy trigger did not help any and I am sure even tighter groups could have been shot with a lighter pull.

I did, however, find the new sights a great improvement over the old. Having a higher profile, they were easy to pick up when the gun was brought quickly to aim when drawn from a holster. They also presented a nice, clear sight picture when the gun was shot deliberately.

I continued to shoot the gun for several weeks after the initial tryout, putting a variety of ammunition through it. It continued to perform reliably. Quite a lot of shooting was done in wet weather and, because it is made of stainless steel, I neglected to give it the same care and attention I would a carbon steel gun.

As it was, it stood up very well, even though I have heard reports that stainless steel guns will rust if not attended to. The only evidence of any rust was a few orange spots that I noted on the top of the slide when I took the gun out to clean it about a week after a shooting session in the rain. These were easily removed by wiping the entire gun with a cleaning patch soaked in Break Free. Had this been a blued model, evidence of rust would have been there in the form of pitting.

Actually, apart from the fact that it is made from stainless steel, the new Colt performed exactly like the blued steel Mk IV/Series 80 that I tested two years ago. It proved to be accurate enough for service use and, generally speaking, very easy to shoot. It also reliably shot a variety of different types of .45 ACP ammunition, including lead-bullet reloads, even though it is really only designed to shoot jacketed bullets.

The suggested retail price of Colt's new Stainless .45 will be around $532 compared with $470 for a standard blue steel model. This is quite reasonable, especially in view of the fact that the gun has been forged and machined rather than made of investment castings. I also understand that stainless steel barrels and magazines will be obtainable as individual items. These should prove popular with those who want to dress up their blued 1911s as other companies making these items have enjoyed very good sales.

The big question is what will Colt's next stainless handgun be. While I have heard nothing official, I understand that a stainless Gold Cup National Match (the target version of the Government Model) is a possibility and the "Shorty" Officer's ACP is also being considered.

Much, of course, will depend on how the new stainless steel Mk IV is received in the marketplace. In this respect, I got some idea of the reception it is likely to receive when I showed it to a number of seasoned shooters on the range. Without exception, all commented favorably on its appearance, performance and its price. Even shooters who prefer blued guns were impressed. Consequently, if all the other production guns perform as well as the model I shot, I don't see much chance of failure. In fact, the universal popularity of Colt's big auto is so great that the stainless models will probably be as readily accepted by both police and civilian shooters as the blue and nickel versions.
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Author:Arnold, Dave
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Apr 1, 1985
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