Colt's new "M1911A1" WW2 Reproduction Pistol
By D. Kamm
These days it's no secret that authentic US military-issue 1911-type pistols are hot collector's items, especially among gun enthusiasts or those interested in collecting militaria. Typical asking prices of original, correct pistols has steadily increased in recent years, as the demand has increased beyond what is available among surviving examples. This phenomenon isn't simply limited to the genuine article, either. The author has noticed that even for brand-new guns, the demand for plain-jane, "GI-style" 1911 pistols is on a huge upswing. More and more 1911 buyers are wanting something that looks like what the military used, as opposed to the previous craze that involved high-end "custom combat" .45s with every conceivable aftermarket modification imaginable. Colt's Manufacturing Co., Inc of Hartford, CT is of course the most well-known maker of 1911 pistols, and the current market for "mil-spec" pistols has certainly not gone unnoticed by them. However the grand old gunmaker has been on a rocky financial road recently, due in no small part to their inability to accurately foresee market trends, something they seem to have been plagued with for at least the past couple of decades. They failed to foresee the rush among police departments to adopt double-action automatics during the 1980's. They were also caught sleeping when the .40 S&W cartridge exploded onto the scene a few years later. They had also became complacent regarding the government orders they'd enjoyed almost non-stop since the 19th Century, so when contracts to manufacture their own M16 rifle were given to outside companies instead Colt suddenly found itself without a major source of revenue. And adding insult to injury, major competitors arose who took Colt's own designs (such as the 1911 and Single Action Army) and began making them at the same quality level, and often at a better price as well. Though bloodied and bruised, Colt has so far managed to survive and is perhaps now a little more street-wise regarding market trends. The current market for military (or at least military-styled) .45 autos was simply too big for even Colt to miss. As a result they have now entered into limited production of a new Colt, a reproduction of their very own pistol as issued to US troops during World War Two. Intended production run is only 4000 units, all specially built by the Colt Custom Shop and packaged inside a reproduction kraft shipping box, which is in turn enclosed inside the normal Custom Shop blue box.
The new Colt "WW2 Reproduction M1911A1", as it is called, is discussed here on this website simply because many first-time USGI collectors will encounter these and may have questions. As a matter of fact, when they first hit the market a few unscrupulous sellers were touting these pistols as rare "vault guns" from Colt. The notion that these were genuine WW2 production, that had somehow been left inside a Colt vault for the last 60+ years was spread for a time before honest collectors were able to get the truth out and squash the rumors. However, there still lies the danger that these guns, or at least maybe their individual components may somehow be passed off as genuine GI production in the coming years. In the opinion of this author it is only a matter of time before counterfeiters begin altering these pistols to look more authentic, and then trying to pass them off as originals.
So far I've examined many of these new pistols at local friendly shops who allowed me enough time to thoroughly inspect the pistols inside and out. I also eventually purchased one for use as a "shooter" (so as to finally give my originals a well-deserved rest), which allowed me to examine it even more closely and compare it to my original specimens. The following is my general assessment of Colt's reproduction pistol.
For starters, it is known that many variations of the Colt M1911A1 pistol (the real one) were made from 1924 until the end of production in 1945. The ones Colt eventually chose to model were the 1942 production examples, such as the one seen here. As with the '42 guns, the exterior finish is a matte parkerizing with plain checkered plastic grips. The new repro pistol has the same U-notch rear, half-moon front sight as seen on the originals. The rollmarks are also made as close as possible to the originals, all the way down to the "WB" inspector's stamp (used only from late 1941 until late 1942) and "M1911A1 US ARMY" rollmark. Most control surfaces are checkered, the ejection port is the correct "narrow" style, and there is a lanyard loop affixed to the arched mainspring housing. Since this is specifically a limited-run Custom Shop item, Colt was able to completely omit the Series 80 firing pin safety (which USGI guns lacked of course) and still keep the lawyers at bay. Overall I feel Colt did a credible job turning back the hands of time, and undoing most of the evolutionary changes that separate modern Series 80 pistols from the WW2-era guns. However, having said that I can also say that there are enough differences that knowledgeable collectors should have little trouble identifying one of these repros. Upon examining several of these guns I noticed the following differences from an authentic 1942-vintage pistol:
1. The finish is a dark grey, as opposed to the medium grey of most '42 Colts (prior to the #800,000 range). Late '42 Colts had a greenish-grey parkerizing, which is closer to the finish of the new guns. On some of the repros I have examined the slide and frame are different shades.
2. The plastic stocks are similar, but not identical in shape and color to the early "hollowback" grips. The late '42 Colts had wide-ring screw hole grips substantially different in appearance. The new grips are reinforced on the back side in similar fashion to the late-type WW2 grips.
3. The hammer is a long wide-spur checkered type, which is closer in appearance to WW1-era hammers than the short wide-spur hammer used on Colts from 1940 through late 1944.
4. The mainspring housing is serrated, with seven ribs. It certainly looks GI, but 1942 guns had a coarse checkered housing. The serrated version wasn't used until late 1944.
5. The slide stop and thumb safety are checkered as on the originals, but the checkering is much coarser. The magazine catch button is serrated on some guns that I have seen, while on others it is checkered.
6. On most examples the frame rail above the slide stop cutout is milled away, as on other current Colt production. Later guns have the bridge of metal left in place to more closely replicate the original guns.
7. The barrel is a modern production unit, with current markings ("Colt .45 Auto" on chamber hood). In addition the feed ramp is throated for JHP ammunition, as on most other current Colt offerings.
8. The trigger is the correct short style, but it is made of stamped steel and with a smooth face, and it bears little physical resemblance to the original GI triggers. The originals were milled out of a solid piece of steel and had a checkered face. Stamped steel triggers replaced the milled triggers in early 1944, but they were also checkered and look much different than the one used in the WW2 repro. Only the WW1-era long triggers had a smooth face.
9. The rollmarks are close, but the slide markings are a much thinner font than original. The serial number is unique to the repros (beginning with either WK or WMK), and the "M1911A1 US ARMY" is very shallow and also a different font than original. Some of the repros are marked "UNITED STATES PROPERTY" in the usual location above the S/N, while others have the current Colt's address rollmark. The "WB" and "P" proof stamps do look correct, however. It is worth mentioning that the markings are for the most part rather shallow and thus difficult to see under less than ideal light.
10. Internal parts are the same as the rest of Colt's current production, with cast sears and disconnectors and a Series 80-type firing pin and extractor. This was done solely for the sake of manufacturing economy, as the cutouts in the frame and slide for the firing pin block plunger and levers are absent as per original specifications.
As noted above, the sights are correct and look authentic in profile. Lest my pointing out the differences appear to be nit-picking, remember that real GI M1911A1s have not been made for over 60 years and the original tooling is long gone. I merely pointed out the differences to enable observers to readily spot them, just in case somebody were to try fooling a new buyer into thinking the gun was genuine GI production. It might be worth mentioning that I eventually replaced the hammer, trigger, and grips on my WW2 repro with original GI parts, and the resulting pistol is so close to an original M1911A1 in appearance that one quite literally has to look at the markings to tell the difference. This of course brings to mind the ease
While I have not had a chance to test-fire one of these WW2 repro Colts, I have heard from others who purchased one and have fired theirs. Feel and functioning is just like any other military-style .45, all the way down to the trademark "hammer pinch". With the new barrel throating they feed all types of .45 ammunition, and their accuracy is usually as good or better than most original military examples, and the trigger pull is usually excellent. The fit is also a bit tighter than on most USGI pistols, but still not as tight as an accurized weapon.
Overall, the pistol has met with very good success on the market. However, at the typical market price of around $1000 (for the pistol, 2 spare magazines, repro kraft shipping box, and Colt Custom Shop box) it remains debatable as to whether they are truly a better purchase option than an original USGI contract pistol, which can often be found in excellent condition for the same price.