Colt Enhanced Stainless Combat
Complete Product Or “Kit” Gun?
By David Tong
By now, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t know that I am an
ardent admirer of the 1911 pattern pistol. Having over 35 years’ experience with
"Old Slabsides", as a pistolsmithing apprentice, sometime practical pistol
competitor, and lately legal concealed permit holder, I still believe it to be
the best and most versatile service automatic out there.
That said, back in the 1970s when first working on them professionally, the Series 70 and older Colts were about the only ballgame in town, and generally they had a host of issues to contend with. These included poor fitting of slide/frame/barrel, stiff and creepy trigger pulls, sloppy machining, poor sights, and so forth. Jim Hoag, one of the original Jeff Cooper associates in the Souhwest Pistol League, did land office business correcting all the problems and making them truly accurate and reliable.
It was with some interest that I was able to shoot a near-current Series 80 steel Commander model. For those unfamiliar, it is the latest development of the pistol originally introduced in 1949 by Colt as a “Lightweight” Commander with an aluminum alloy frame and a 4.25”, rather than the Government Model and GI standard 5” barrel.
The use of the steel frame increases the weight from the Lightweight’s 26 oz. to 33 oz. All still use the full size butt section and magazines, and the pistol came with a “Colt” marked 8 rounder….more on that later.
I had recently submitted an article named, “Wither Colt?,” which detailed some of the issues facing the grand old company, mostly the normal Northeastern hostility toward gunmaking, as well as prohibitive labor costs.
While I am not sure when the test pistol was manufactured, it did have roll markings on the slide and frame except for the serial number, which was laser-engraved; thus I surmise it must have been relatively recent.
The Enhanced model means that there were several mostly stylistic changes to this 1911, including angled “Gold Cup” style cocking serrations; a raised (but non-serrated) slide rib; a wide grip safety tang to prevent hammer bite; a (unfortunately plastic) flat mainspring housing; a (unfortunately plastic) long trigger; sub-contracted/rubberized nylon finger grooved stocks that replaced walnut on originals; and the usual modern three white dots for sights.
Some of these features are due to market demand. Most makers of 1911s these days fit their pistols with long triggers and flat housings, which drives this writer nuts as he prefers his pistols the other way around. In addition, the thumb safety lever is the postwar “A1” style, small and non-extended; to my knowledge, Colt has never fitted so-called “speed” safeties to their pistols, ostensibly for fear of liability issues arising from people actually carrying their pistols Condition One, e.g., cocked and locked.
The slide-to-frame fit was indeed better than the old days, as was the barrel and bushing fit. The slide was centered on the frame, the locking lug recesses in the slide were cut to a uniform radius and depth, the breech face was smooth, and the extractor tension appeared to be set properly.
What was less apparent was a lackadaisical approach to fit and finish overall. While the aluminum oxide grit blasting of all the non flat surfaces and the polish of the flats was well-executed, all the edges on the front and rear areas of the slide and frame were left SHARP. No attempt was made to break those edges to be kinder to both hands and holsters.
One of the best features of a proper 1911 is the trigger system. If properly fitted, as Smith & Wesson and Springfield 1911s are, the sear release is akin to a late model bolt action rifle compared to its pistol brethren, generally under 5lbs, with minimal take-up, overtravel, and no creep. Well, this one must have escaped QC, because the pull was abominable, probably 7.5 lbs. with a hard “tick” each and every time the trigger was pressed. Both slow and rapid fire were tough to do.
I’ll grant you that the two trigger-activated, frame-mounted levers, and slide-mounted spring loaded plunger of the Series 80 does make it somewhat more difficult to provide a decent trigger, but this one was one of the worst examples I’ve handled.
The grip safety too came under scrutiny. In the bad old days, we’d occasionally see a grip safety whose depressed surface sat BELOW that of the frame tangs to either side, and needless to say, this feels like a butter knife when you grasp the pistol; worse after shooting some number of rounds. Wouldn’t break skin, but not exactly comfortable.
The “beveled magazine well” was also not done well. The angle in which it was (probably) single-pass plunge cut was at too shallow an angle, rendering the attempt not really any better than no bevel at all to enable fast magazine changes on reloads. In addition, the front strap of the frame’s thickness at the bottom was thinned to the point that checkering of the frame was no longer possible as there wasn’t enough meat on it to avoid perforating the frame.
The firing pin stop (the sliding metal plate which retains the firing pin and extractor) has a small “1” stamped onto it. This means that it was one of the slides whose cut was oversized and Colt then had to produce oversized parts to fit it.
Finally, this Colt showed that it was manufactured with the use of subcontracted or outsourced components. Now it is common knowledge that a company named Metalform has been making “Colt” magazines for years. While other companies advertise 100% in house manufacture of their pistols, I do not believe that the proper use of outside firms to supply well-proven parts is a big deal, viewing their use as more of a true enhancement.
The magazine had one of the Chip McCormick spring-loaded followers that provided the room for the eighth round, compared to the usual seven. I’ve used the McCormick magazines now for over ten years, and aside from the occasional change of springs, they have proven reliable in my pistols.
Indeed, the pistol worked with all loads and magazines tried, including the “factory” 8 rounder, McCormick’s, and Novak’s. What wasn’t as pleasant was wrestling with that trigger, particularly in rapid-fire “hammers” drills when one aims the first shot and triggers the second without a second sight picture. Shots ended up going rather low for me, some 4-5” below point of initial aim on the second shot.
This was the first time I’d ever fired a steel Commander, and it differed from the Government in that it was a bit faster to swing from target to target, and slide cycle time was a bit snappier.
Muzzle rise was also somewhat reduced due to less slide mass on recoil.
I’d like to conclude that this pistol does rather remind me of the old days in terms of the amount of remedial work that one would probably have to do if one wanted to actually shoot it much, as opposed to leaving it in a nightstand drawer or showing it to one’s friends.
I wanted to love it, but at the end of the day, I just couldn’t.