THERE WAS A TIME when your choice of 1911s was pretty sparse. You could get a new, commercial Colt, or you could get a surplus M1911A1. The GI pistols were often rattly, and would need work by a competent pistolsmith to make it accurate and more functional for a particular use. My how times have changed.
These days, you can go to a range and see a slew of 1911s being used. Few, if any of them anymore, are marked Colt. Sometime in the 1990s, we woke up and found that the company was handing the 1911 market to its competitors through one misstep after another.
Well, Colt has gone through a recent shake-up and reorganization, and the management has determined that they can fix the problems, improve the product, have it available, and convince all of us — new shooters and old — that it deserves the reputation of its namesake, once again.
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That’s a tall order. Colt is not offering its new Competition Series as a custom gun. I spoke with Mark Redl, product manager and Team Colt member, who mentioned the pistol isn’t put together in a special assembly cell within the plant. This is actually a production gun at a price that makes it competitive in the current marketplace when we compare it to other 1911 clones.
The MSRP of this Colt Competition pistol is a buck under $900, and they priced it with the full intention of going head-to-head with other similar 1911s. I see it as a squared-off rival against the Springfield Armory Range Officer (RO). I’ve shot the RO, and if that is the pistol Colt is challenging with this one, it has a big job ahead of it.
So, let’s peg the snark meter on Full, slip into custom gunsmith mode, and inspect this Competition 1911 for its assembly and fit details ahead of testing it at the range.
Built on a base 01992 platform — featuring a long trigger, flat mainspring housing and the original-style recoil spring system — this new Competition Series appears to include a mix of the product details we expect, and the attention to performance that Colt used to have.
Starting at the top, the slide has a pair of Novak sights. The front sits in a transverse dovetail, and features a blue fiber optic insert, but you also have the option of red or green fiber optic tubes. Red is traditional, while a lot of competition shooters prefer green. Blue will take some testing to see if it has any advantages, but these fiber optic inserts are easy to change and there will be extra tubes in the box with your Colt.
From a gunsmith’s point of view, the sight is not only properly machined and fitted, but the flats of the base have been machined at an angle to match the slide contour. Point Colt.
The rear is a new Novak adjustable LoMount design. It fits the standard Novak dovetail and is no higher than a regular LoMount Novak, so your front sight doesn’t have to be taller to match up with an adjustable rear. It has been installed without gaps or light lines around the dovetail. It is a clever design, and one where Colt worked with Novak to perfect. Point again.
Inside the slide is a Colt National Match barrel made of stainless steel. Mark Redl indicated, “Barrels that are made for use as National Match barrels are manufactured in a separate production run. They are test-fired, and unless the result is that they meet or exceed the USMC spec (2 inches at 20 yards), they are not marked used.” I asked Mark what they do with the ones that fail the test. He replied, “It hasn’t happened yet.”
The Colt Competition will come in one of two calibers: 9mm (Colt #01982CCS) and .45 ACP (Colt #01980CCS). The 9mm 1911s of various sizes have been the hot new ticket for a few years now, and that Colt has elected to offer the Competition model in both is also good. Both 9mm and .45 barrels must meet or exceed the USMC accuracy spec previously mentioned, or they won’t be used. Another point, Colt.
The barrel is fitted properly. The hood has only a small amount of clearance, the barrel is properly supported on both of the bottom lugs, and the initial wear marks indicate that it is hitting in all the correct spots for function. Barrel fit on a 1911 is critical, and Colt has done this right. When closed, the slide-to-frame fit is encouragingly tight, with the barest amount of movement felt.
So far, we’ve got a production gun with features that you would expect from the hands of a reasonably good custom gunsmith.”
The bottom edge of the slide, where it blends into the frame, has a bevel running the length of the slide. This bevel matches the de-horning done on the rest of the slide edges, something even really good custom gunsmiths overlook or don’t spend time doing. Big points here for Colt.
The trigger is a classic, three-hole-lightened, blackened aluminum Videki-style design, matched up with Colt internals. The 01992, if you’ve forgotten, is a Series 80 platform meaning that it has the trigger-activated passive firing pin safety. When the Series 80 first came out we all complained, and some gunsmiths even refused to work on them.
Since then, many of us have learned to at least not hate them, and there are plenty of gunsmiths who can properly tune it (if yours needs tuning). Out of the box this one had a bit of take-up with a “hitch” in the middle of it, but the hammer fell cleanly to just over 41/2 pounds.
Not bad Colt, but no extra points here.
Colt took the two-spring design they developed for its USMC contract pistol and put it into the Competition Series. The idea is simple; a better spring assembly
dampens felt recoil, making the pistol shoot softer. And, it extends spring life, something a high-volume shooter can benefit from.
The thumb safety is extended, and while it would not be my first choice for a thumb safety, it is certainly up to the task. All this is matched with the Colt upswept grip safety, so you can get a high hold on the pistol. The grip safety has a speed bump on the bottom, and the spring is properly tensioned to control the safety movement. On G&A’s test pistol, the grip safety has a minor amount of wobble on the thumb safety shaft, and is tuned to release at the halfway point.
As a production gun, it is up to par. As a custom gun, this would be something to complain about. – No points.”
The grips come from VZ Grips and feature a double-diamond pattern checkering with alternating layers of black and Colt Blue G10 material to match the front sight’s fiber optic insert. They also have the Colt logo engraved in the center of both nearly indestructible G10 panels.
One point deducted, but only personally.
The grips are solid, the checkering is sharp, there’s a groove to reach the magazine button on the left side. However, they are too thick for my tastes.
The frontstrap is smooth but it has been lifted behind the trigger guard. This undercut is something Colt has done well for many years now, is something a custom gunsmith will charge you a lot for.
The magazine well is beveled for faster reloads, but it is minimally done. Point for the frontstrap lift, no points for the minimal approach to a mag well funnel.
The finish is listed as matte blue on a carbon-steel slide and frame, but it is an awfully black blue — almost like a dark Parkerizing. On this I heartily agree, and for the same reason Colt chose it. As a competition gun, this will be run hard. Colt has done well on attention to detail, fit and finish, and the street price will certainly be attractive for those in the market. But how well does it work? The whole purpose of a competition firearm is to acquit itself on the range. If there is a problem with function or accuracy, it would be a poor tool for the job.
Range day proved to be … interesting. It was flat, dreary, overcast and cold. I’m going to predict that a whole lot of Colt Competition Series owners are going to switch from the blue fiber optic to one of the others in the box once they experience a day at the range like this. When the sky is overcast, the blue just doesn’t show up. The front sight might as well have been black.
The trigger proved not to be a problem in shooting, and as expected, improved quite a bit with use. By the time I was done doing chrono, accuracy and drills, it had settled down to 2 ounces over 4 pounds, and the hitch was absent in the take-up.
Accuracy-wise, this is a really nice pistol. The groups were a bit high and to the right, and I found that I did not have a properly-fitting screwdriver to adjust the sight. Since I did not have a competitor’s pistol along to do a side-by-side test, it wouldn’t be fair to do a detailed comparison of accuracy. However, in checking my notes from testing of the aforementioned Springfield Armory Range Officer, I find that the Colt Competition pistol edges it out for accuracy.
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Despite my initial impression that the grips were too thick, I didn’t find them a hindrance in doing drills. I have to give back the point I deducted in the earlier snark-fest.
During all of this, there were no malfunctions.
So, does the Colt Competition pistol measure up? I am as surprised as anyone to say yes. While the groups were a bit more variable than I liked, I can probably take some of the blame for that. At the price point Colt lists, the Competition Series is a very attractive proposition.
If you are looking for a high-value non-custom 1911, you can no longer assume that Colt shouldn’t be on your list. This one should be.”
This article originally published in the Guns & Ammo (March 2016) Magazine, and used with permission.