1911 Trivia

1911 recoil

The pistol has a long and distinguished history with the US Armed Forces. Designed by John M. Browning in cooperation with Colt, it was adopted in the spring of 1911 and dubbed “Model of 1911 US Army Calibre 45.” With a few modifications to make the pistol more user-friendly, it appeared in WW2 as the Model of 1911A1 US Army, though all parts…including the ones modified…remained fully interchangeable with the originals.

The pistol was phased out in 1985 due to so many simply being worn out, and replaced, with the 9mm Beretta M92/M9 pistol becoming the US Army’s general issue sidearm…though many viable examples were pulled from armories and rebuilt by US Marine and Navy armorers for issue to Marine MEU-SOC units operating in the middle east today.

In 1916, John J. “Blackjack Pershing led a mounted expeditionary force of the US Army 8th Brigade out of Ft. Bliss, Texas into Mexico for the purposes of capturing or killing Mexican revolutionary Francesco “Pancho” Villa. The excursion was unsuccessful, but the US Cavalry met Villas “Bandistas” on several occasions.

The 1911 has had many unofficial nicknames attached to it over the years by the men who carried it into the killing fields. “Old Slabsides” “Old Ugly” “Old Bigmouth” and “The Army Automatic” to name a few of the more memorable ones…but none was so colorful…and maybe even romantic…as that given it by Villa’s Bandistas who…after having been fortunate enough to survive being shot by the big Colt…reported that it felt like being punched by a large man.

To its American fans and historians, it’s simply the Model of 1911 US Army. To the Mexican Bandistas in 1916…it was known as… “The Yankee Fist.”

Colt/Series 70 factoids.

Series 70 pistols were built between 1973 and late 1983. All Series 70 pistols were 5-inch guns. There were no Series 70 Commanders or Combat Commanders. Series 70 denotes the implementation of the collet bushing and the “Accurizer” barrel ™ from which all modern barrels were spun off with a slight modification. (The Norinco barrels being the notable exception.) No Commander or Combat Commander was so equipped.

That your Combat Commander has 70S in the serial number matters not. That tells you that the pistol was built in the 70s, and that its original finish was Electroless…or “Satin” Nickel. If it says 70B…the finish was originally blued. Note that there are also a few pistols without the Series 80 system that are marked 80S and 80B.

“Series 70” and “Series 80” are Colt trademarks. There is no such thing as a Series 70 Springfield or Kimber or anything else that doesn’t come with the Rampant Colt on it.

Series 80 pistols were introduced in 1983, during which time Colt was still producing Series 70 pistols. Early on, there were also some few Series 80 pistols with the Series 70 collet bushing and Accurizer barrel…technically making them Series 70/80 pistols…but were all roll-marked as Series 80s. These were pretty rare, and seldom seen…and when they are, it’s a good idea to check with Colt to determine the production date. If the gun left the factory after 7/1/83, it’s probably a home-built cobble job with the barrel and bushing installed into a straight-up Series 80, in hopes of commanding a premium price for a “Rare Transitional” model. Caveat Emptor and all that.

Colt…not Kimber…pioneered the Swartz system in the 30s. It was deemed too complex and unreliable for regular production and shelved. If you happen to encounter an old Government Model with a rectangular port in the slide without a plunger…that’s one of the experimental models.

“Government Model” is a Colt trademark used in the early days to differentiate between military contract pistols and civilian…or commercial pistols. These had a “C” prefix in the serial number. Thus, there are no Springfield Government Models.

Technically, no commercial pistol is a 1911 or a 1911A1, even though Springfield Armory applied for the rights to use “1911A1 Model” on some of their early pistols. 1911 and 1911A1 are military contract designations. Also technically, the pistols that are equipped with the “Improved” features aren’t 1911s. They’re 1911A1 clones and variants. The exception is the limited run Colt WW1 model…and it’s not a 1911 either. It’s a Commercial Government Model.

The concept of the Drop-In part started before WW2, when the government saw that a war in Europe was inevitable, and that they would be needing pistols in great numbers in a short time. The engineers at Colt were directed to revamp the dimensions and tolerances of the pistol that would allow complete parts interchangeability, regardless of the contractor…and to develop a set of standard gauges that would be used to check nearly every part on the gun on a GO and a NO-GO basis.

It worked. The proof was to select 2 pistols from each of the five contractors…disassemble them and toss the parts into a large bin…shake and stir…and reassemble 10 pistols without regard as to which part came from which gun. The assembled guns were then checked for headspace and other fit and alignments…and test fired. They had to meet function and accuracy requirements…and they all passed….and the drop-in concept was born.

In its original guise, the 1911 is its own armorer’s tool kit. The gun can be completely disassembled and reassembled…except for grip bushings, sights, and plunger tubes…without the need for special tools. Even the grip screws had specially sized slots that could be turned with a case rim.

The perfect armorer’s tool is an M-16 firing pin, and this was no accident. When Eugene Stoner heard that the US military was looking at his little black rifle, he implemented a small modification to the existing pin that allowed it to complement the American service pistol. Even the small tip can be used to punch out the mainspring cap pin far enough to grasp it with the finger and thumb. Stoner was a pretty sharp cookie in his own right.

Check it out. The stepped diameters of the pin fit every hole on the pistol, and the small diameter behind the tip is even the perfect length to use as a slave pin for the sear and disconnect.

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6 Responses to 1911 Trivia

  1. Lee Cruse December 20, 2014 at 8:59 pm #

    I am of the opinion that the “series 70” style guns did not have the mechanical block to prevent the firing pin to hit the primer that the “series 80” style guns had. Also, many claim the drop safety make the trigger less crisp in the “series 80” style guns.

    Is this not true?

    • Hunter Elliott December 21, 2014 at 1:43 am #

      The quality of a Series 80 trigger can be just as good as a Series 70 if properly done.
      You are correct on the Series 70 does not have the firing pin stop, and originally the collet style bushing and Accurizer barrel.

  2. Sarge January 27, 2015 at 5:36 pm #

    “The pistol was phased out in 1985 due to so many simply being worn out”…… that’s a load of horse crap right there. I ran a lot of guns all the way to the end of my active duty in 96 that were made in WWII and Korea.

    • John Travis March 20, 2015 at 12:36 pm #

      Sarge…the last government contract pistols were made in 1945. There weren’t any made during the Korean War. The WW2 contractors were Colt…Ithaca…Remington Rand…Union Switch & Signal…and Singer. Remington Rand produced more pistols than all the other combined, and Singer only delivered 500…making it the Holy Grail of military 1911A1s.

    • ellison January 10, 2016 at 12:45 am #

      Roger that. I was issued one in early 1991 in Germany. When I got stateside later that year, I was issued that (puke) 9mm Beretta.

    • Rich D'Auria February 17, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

      Sarge, “that’s a load horse crap” is certainly not an appropriate response, as the pistols were being “phased out” being replaced by the Beretta M9. As John Travis relates in the article, not all of the .45’s were put out of service!

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