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Back to the Future: The Series 70 Colt 1911

by R.K. Campbell   |  July 22nd, 2016 0
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Has the time come for a retro 1911? If you’re one who thinks beavertail grip safeties and full-length guide rods are just fluff, there’s a gun for you.

When the word “retro” is used, many things come to mind. A link with the past, the Chevy Super Sport, the Ford Mustang and perhaps the piston engine airplane. The term is seldom used in a negative manner. Retro means that we hearken back to the “good ol’ days.” I lived some of those days, and I like today better.

Just the same, there was much worth remembering. One of the classic quotes from a favorite movie comes to mind. In Gumball Rally, Chris Sarandon noted that his classic Shelby Cobra got ‘meaner with age.’ When I was a young man, the only 1911-style handgun worth using was the Colt 1911.

This was before Springfield burst upon the scene and got everyone’s attention. It was either the Colt 1911 or the Spanish ironmongery. You could build your own 1911 from various poor quality parts that would have been rejected by a GI parts inspector during World War II.

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Campbell believes that for defensive use, rather than competition shooting, the arched mainspring and short trigger blade are the right way to go.

These handguns may have been OK on the range, but were best reserved as door stops for the range house. These parts guns still exist, and some have big names on them. I have seen such pieces put together in a manner that rivals the best efforts of a Yankee factory, but it is still a parts gun. Some folks have the touch. Most do not.

If you desired a reliable service-grade 1911 .45 that would save your life, then the Colt 1911 was the only show. When a friend of mine first came to America and joined my church, we discovered we each had much in common. We had had our troubles and had each been shot and rather obviously lived to tell the tale. My friend, Trevor, served in Rhodesia. My pastor, a former South African military officer, served in Nairobi.

While many carried a Star 9mm or the Walther P1 in Africa, Trevor handed over a month’s pay for this Colt 1911. He did not call it a 1911 or a .45. It was simply the Colt. It was money well spent, and the Colt 1911 was held in high esteem on the continent. There was no more reliable handgun when loaded with 230-grain FMJ ammunition.

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The Colt Series 70 has many commendable features. These include a short trigger, arched mainspring housing, and an action unfettered by a firing pin block.

The Colt 1911 was labeled unreliable with jacketed hollow-point ammunition by some when these loads were introduced during the late 1960s. The problem was ammunition loaded to a short overall length and poorly designed bullets. The Colt 1911 features a 1/32 of an inch gap between the two parts of the feed ramp.As long as this gap is present and the ammunition is loaded to an overall length of 1.250 inches, the cartridges will feed.

Eventually, the major makers got the word that hollowpoints were desirable, and when Remington and Winchester offered their 185-grain JHPs, they fed in Colt 1911 handguns. Ammunition should be designed for the gun, the gun should not have to be modified for off-specification ammunition. If a stubby .22 LR had been introduced and exhibited poor feed reliability, it would have been roundly condemned. The Colt 1911 was criticized for not feeding Super Vel and the short and CCI’s stubby Flying Ashtray load. Today, the Colt 1911 remains and they are gone.

The Colt 1911 probably needed better sights, and a speed safety was beneficial to some. Many of the GI guns exhibited a heavy trigger compression of 8 pounds or more. Producing a smooth five-pound trigger action is an art. Many good 1911s were cut up, feed ramps polished improperly, and fitted with parts of dubious quality by sundry gun butchers.

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Campbell has considerable experience with the original Series 70 and has always liked it, but he says the new pistol is a better handgun for regular carry.

Today, we have good quality 1911 parts from Brownells and Wilson Combat. While some Colt 1911 pistols were ruined, many were well tuned and attractive custom pieces. When Colt recognized the need for an improved 1911 with tightened tolerances, the company introduced the original Series 70. This handgun featured a high-grade finish and a collet bushing that replaced the solid barrel bushing.

This new bushing kept pressure on the barrel, grooved in tighter with use and produced good accuracy. The Series 70 was replaced by the modern Series 80. The Series 80 features an improved feed ramp, good combat sights and a positive firing pin block.

The Series 80 is a good gun. A handgun without a drop safety isn’t going to be accepted for institutional use. However, many Colt 1911 fans did not like the added complication. Some are thinking of the Series 70 and wish to own a good example. Examples in good condition bring more than a new Series 80 at the gun shows.

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In the past, master pistolsmiths such as Hilton Yam built many masterpieces on the Series 70 Colt. The new Series 70 is a credible choice for such work.

A few years ago, Colt introduced a new Series 70 1911. The new Series 70 is the answer to the wish list of many Colt 1911 fans. First, the pistol has good features but they are not target features. Over the years, target features have crept into the Colt 1911.

The Series 70 is a combat gun, not a target gun. Second, the pistol does not use the firing pin block that some do not like. The Series 70 features an extra strength firing pin spring to make the new Colt drop-safe. The pistol features a short trigger and arched mainspring.

Many of us think the short trigger/arched mainspring combination is superior for control in rapid fire and a natural point. Again, a target gun may feature a long trigger and flat mainspring housing, but it is a target gun. The Series 70 is a combat and carry gun.

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The primary difference between the Series 70 and the Series 80, right, is that the former does not incorporate a positive firing pin block into the action.

The curved mainspring housing points better for most of us. There is more to the equation. The new pistol features excellent fit and finish. The blue finish on my example is flawless. The newer Series 70, in my opinion, is more similar to the high standard of fit and polish seen in 1950s Colts than it is similar to the original Series 70.

The Colt features high visibility sights. The bold front post and high rear sight allow excellent all around utility. The pistol features the new feed ramp design with a slight dimple in the feed ramp. This ensures feed reliability.

The sometimes troublesome collet bushing is eliminated in favor of a solid bushing. The full length guide rod is not present on this pistol. The grips are superbly turned out with first class checkering. The grips are true double-diamond pattern. The diamond at the grip screws serves to strengthen the grips and add stability at the contact point with the frame. Taken as a whole, the pistol is gorgeous.

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The billboard lettering isn’t identical to the original, but very close. Campbell says it still stirs of the blood of those that love the rampant pony.

When I wrap my hand around this handgun, something says “Friend.” With all respect to modern wonder guns, nothing feels like a Colt. The Colt 1911 brings back memories of more than one Colt that rode with me and spoke in my favor.

All of the memories are not good, and after more than 20 years of dealing with drunkards, punks, dopers, stealers, whores and seeing what happens when a truck hits a telephone pole at 80 miles an hour, there is not a lot of wistfulness in the memories.

I do not rush to walk that road again—there are better things to do. But the Colt 1911 I am writing about today is a better gun than the ones I carried in those days. I have proofed this handgun with most types of modern ammunition. I began with standard 230-grain hardball, primarily Black Hills Ammunition, in order to confirm the pistol’s function. It was once SOP for a 1911 to exhibit a modest break-in period.

Very few need this 100-round break-in to seat the link or work out burrs today. The Series 70 came out of the box running. Once proofed with a standard load, I moved to my own handloads. I often use the Oregon Trail 200-grain SWC and enough WW 231 powder for 850 fps in my 1911s. This load is mild but accurate.

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Note the double diamond reinforcement on the new Colt cocobolo grips. And also note the flush fit magazine—a good choice for concealed carry, Campbell says.

Both function and accuracy are good. It is important that the pistol function well with handloads in order to promote practice. A straight to the rear trigger compression, low bore axis and excellent hand fit all contribute to outstanding practical accuracy. The pistol shoots well and hits where it is pointed.

I am more likely to be impressed by a handgun with a point of aim and a point of impact that coincide and which demonstrates off the hind feet accuracy than a pistol that produces small groups. Firing offhand, practically any firearm is more accurate than we may hold. The Colt 1911 will group five rounds of quality ammunition into 2.5 to 3 inches off of a solid bench rest at 25 yards.

Firing at small targets at unknown distances is more of a challenge, and the Series 70 performs. As for a service load, public safety demands an expanding bullet. I am not one of those who promotes the smallbores, although I seem to be the Lone Ranger among writers. The consensus is quite different in the professional community of experienced peace officers and soldiers.

I do not trust secret sources and unverifiable data. The .45 cal. 230-grain hardball load penetrates and reaches the vital organs. It will produce a large exit wound. This results in a total wound volume superior to most JHP loads.

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This is the Ted Blocker ST 17, an inside-the-waistband holster for the 1911 with a strong spine, reinforced thumb break and excellent fit and finish.

A load with a good balance of expansion and penetration is demanded. The only thing that shuts an attacker down is blood loss and actual damage. Energy dump and shock waves have about as much credibility in handgun ballistics as little green men.

I am not confident of a load useful in most scenarios but prefer a service grade load that is useful in the worst case scenario. Among the most trusted loads are those from Black Hills Ammunition. The 230-grain JHP has given excellent service, good accuracy, and demonstrates a full powder burn in the Colt’s 5-inch barrel. Since this is a steel-frame Colt that weighs 39 ounces, recoil isn’t offensive.

When selecting leather for the ‘retro’ Colt, it was only natural that first quality leather from an established maker was chosen. I have used Ted Blocker holsters as long as I have used the 1911—a long time. For use when covering garments are seasonably appropriate, the 24A holster is among my favorites. The belt loop is well sewn for rigidity and the strong spine allows excellent marriage to the belt—providing a good quality gun belt is used.

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The new Series 70 shoots hollow-points just fine, but Campbell says you can’t go wrong with the 230-grain FMJ, made in this case by Black Hills Ammunition.

This holster features a reinforced thumb break. I have come to prefer a thumb break in some applications, and the leather rides between the hammer and the firing pin when the pistol is properly carried cocked and locked. For effective concealed carry, I have chosen the ST 17 inside the waistband holster. This is good kit with a strong reinforced spine, spring steel belt clip and reinforced thumb break. These are first class concealed carry holsters well worth their price. I also use the 24A as a field holster with excellent results.

The Colt 1911 Series 70 is among the most credible and capable Colt pistols to come along in the last 104 years. It is often perceived as a link to the past, or a pistol for those that do not care for modern changes to the 1911 such as the full-length guide rod and beavertail grip safety. Every change to the 1911 isn’t beneficial.

The original Series 70 Colt 1911 was a good gun, but there were improvements that were sensible. A better trigger action and good sights and the elimination of the collet bushing were among the improvements I made ‘back in the day’. Today, the Series 70 is good to go as issued. It just may be the best personal defense 1911 ever offered by Colt. If that is retro—count me in.

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