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Series 80 hysteria.

It all started out simply enough. One frame size, one barrel length, one operating system--all referred to as "the 1911." Human nature abhors the simple and finds ways to complicate nearly everything. Although the evolution of the 1911 pistol has been an exciting series of transformations, it has created a confusion among the pistol's devotees that might never be resolved to everyone's satisfaction.

Heard most often are questions regarding the differing types of operating systems found. The actual differences aren't that dramatic, but it doesn't mean we can ignore them. The 1911 (and the A-1, Government model, NM and Commander models) had existed for many years before 1970 when Colt introduced the "Series 70 Government" model.

This model incorporated the new accurizer collet-style bushing along with a barrel revised to contact it more solidly when the pistol is in battery. The internal bits were not modified from the original design, and aside from new rollmarkings and grips, things were pretty much unchanged until 1983 when Colt introduced the Series 80 pistols.

The collet bushing was gone, and rightfully so--it had gained a reputation for occasional breakages, losing it's "fingers" inside the pistol and causing stoppages. With the return of the solid bushing, Colt also introduced the Series 80 mechanism--a firing pin blocking plunger actuated by compound leverage, initiated by the trigger's rearward movement. To make things just a little less simple, the hammer was changed to eliminate the captive half-cock notch, replacing it with with a relocated "shelf' allowing the hammer to be dropped onto the firing pin by pressing the trigger. Amazingly, these changes were not enthusiastically embraced by the shooting public.

In the years since, we've softened in our resolve to a degree and even accepted the Series 80 system, with reservations. With seven unique parts deviating deviate from the previous model, the terms "Series 70" and "Series 80" became a badge by which we either revered or reviled our 1911's. "Series 70" in common parlance now refers to any 1911 of the original design--not technically correct, but conversationally simple.


The chief complaint with the 80 Series was a good trigger was now impossible. Later, as stories of locked-up firing pin plungers circulated, many people avoided the system altogether. Is the Series 80 system really so unworkable? Not at all.

You just have to think your way through the system, and pay attention not only to the things an 80 has in common with the original design, but those which are different, too. Most failures of Series 80 systems occurred because someone did a trigger job, installed a new trigger with a closely toleranced overtravel stop, and reinstalled the Series 80 components. The trigger's effective stroke was shortened, the hammer fell earlier than it previously had, and the firing pin tried to beat it's way past a spring-loaded plunger that had not yet been lifted sufficiently to clear the pin's path.

The result is a damaged firing pin plunger which will eventually get stuck in place and not allow the pistol to fire. It's a simple issue of timing, and it's easily corrected. If you're going to replace trigger, hammer, sear and disconnector, go one step further and also replace the hammer lever in your pistol's Series 80 system with a correct part.

For a trigger with an overtravel stop, you need a hammer lever marked "N" since its geometry is different, and it lifts the firing pin plunger earlier in the trigger's stroke. When the sear breaks and the hammer falls, the plunger is already lifted clear and the firing pin passes without contact. The "N" levers are available from Colt, or in a complete set assembled by Cylinder & Slide and sold by Brownells as the "Series 80 Trigger Pull Reduction Kit."

ITS not impossible

There are a couple of simple tests which should accompany any trigger work on a Series 80 pistol. Check to ensure the overtravel screw is properly set, and the hammer moves freely without contacting the sear. An extra half-turn worth of clearance is a good margin of safety here.

With the slide off the frame, press the trigger to the rear until the disconnector contacts the sear--known as taking out the slack--at this point, the hammer lever should be lifted slightly above the level of the frame's top surface, approximately 0.040", with a maximum height of 0.050". This serves to pre-load the system and begins to lift the firing pin plunger.

Lastly, mark the firing pin plunger with Dykem or permanent marker and carefully reassemble the slide. Dry fire a few times and carefully remove the plunger again--it should show no signs of impact from the firing pin. Remember to recheck all safeties and perform a function test prior to firing the pistol.

While the Series 80 system is indeed more complicated, there's no reason to avoid it. You can have a very nice trigger that's safe and reliable. Once you understand it--it's simple.

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Author:Yost, Ted
Publication:American Handgunner
Date:May 1, 2015
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