by R.K. Campbell
The pistol featured in this report is a sleeper. It looks old but it is a modern pistol, a product of a respected custom shop. There is a question as to whether the Colt Black Army may be called a reproduction. We may say that Colt (Colt’s Manufacturing Co., PO Box 1868, Dept. GWK, Hartford, CT 06144; phone: 800-962-2658; online: coltsmfg.com) began producing the pistol again as they are the original maker. There are many good 1911 makers today and also a number of poor makers. Good or bad 1911s aside, Colt was the first.
The 1911 was introduced in response to stringent military requirements. The test period was long and difficult, arguably beginning about 1900 and progressing through several versions, including the commercial Model of 1905. The 1911 was at the time the most proven military handgun ever made. With the modern tests conducted by the LAPD SWAT and FBI HRT considered, the 1911 handgun remains the most proven handgun of all time.
There is a certain amount of history and even emotional attachment that some do not understand. I accept that. I will never warm up to a low bid polymer frame pistol and the bean counters will never purchase a Colt 1911. That is perhaps as it should be. Colt’s Model of 1911, 1918 Black Army is a faithful rendition of a classic pistol made for the author and like-minded shooters.
We refer to everything from a Rock Island Armory GI pistol to the Wilson Combat custom .45 as a 1911 but we are actually referring to 1911A1 pistols. That’s OK because we know what we are talking about. No one makes a 1911 anymore. This has changed. The Colt Black Army is a tried and true 1911. There are no finger grooves in the frame to accommodate shorter fingers and the mainspring housing is flat. The trigger is longer than the later 1911A1. The Black Army is a pistol that will satisfy the shooter who desires an example of the original 1911 issued to troops
beginning in 1912.
With Colt limiting production to 4,000 pistols, the new Black Army may become rarer than the original. The newest Colt is similar to the previous short production run WWI pistols with the exception of the finish. The first run was correctly finished in bright Colt blue, a legendary finish with few equals in the firearms world. The finish of the new 1911 version is correct to the famous Black Army pistols. These 1911s were finished in a black oxide finish that was a wartime expedient. No one knew how quickly we would knock the Germans out and Colt was prepared to provide our expanding Army with a half million pistols. When hostilities ended the various pistol contracts were canceled.
The new 1911 is a faithful rendition of a rare piece. How close?
This Colt is not strictly identical to the original. Markings are correct for the period, including the United Sates Property marking. They are not exactly measurably the same. The serial number features a WWI suffix. The JMG letters stamped on the frame are for Lt. Colonel John M. Gilbert, along with the “H” inspector stamp attributed to Frank Homer. “G” indicates government contract and “K” on the frame rail is for assembler W. Kay. Original barrels were not marked for caliber, the new 1918 is.
There are differences in the recoil spring and magazine that mark the Colt as a new production gun. The sights are thankfully a bit taller than the original, with a slight flattening of the round front sight and a larger open U-notch on the rear sight. Enough to help a little but remain correct for the period; the Black Army sights are recognizable as the “GI pattern.”
Grips are the classic double diamond pattern, with the design offering strength for attachment while the checkering offers a good adhesion for the firing grip. The magazines are the original split follower type. Icing on the cake comes in a bright blue Colt box. The box includes a reproduction of the original Army manual for the service pistol. The Black Army is delivered in a period correct box, stored in wax paper, with a spare magazine.
As for mechanics, this 1911 remains true to the original controlled feed action. The pistol is loaded with a full magazine and the slide racked to load. The cocking block portion of the slide catches the case rim as the slide runs forward and presses the cartridge forward. The bullet nose catches the feed ramp and at this point the cartridge is free of the magazine. The bump in the action snugs the cartridge case rim into the breech face and under the extractor. The cartridge bumps off of the feed ramp and into the chamber. On firing the extractor brings the case out of the chamber and the ejector bumps it clear of the pistol. This design allows the 1911 to be fired at odd angles, even upside down, with complete reliability.
Firing tests were a test of the new Colt and may not be indicative of what would be expected from an original. The modern Black Army has the longer frame rails and beefed up locking lugs of the 1911A1 that were incorporated into the design during the 1920s, based on World War One experience. The new gun is heat treated and is in every way fully as strong and capable of hard use as any other modern Colt. The original was only spot treated in certain areas.
There is no reason not to use the Black Army as often as a Gold Cup or Colt Rail Gun. Just the same, the Black Army is much closer to the original 1911 than anything we are likely to find in this century.
I elected to fire the piece first with proven standard loads. The magazines, by the way, are seven round magazines and fit flush as John Moses Browning intended. I added a number of Wayne Novak’s Novak magazines for convenience. These are modern magazines of a good design and a great aid in feed reliability in any handgun. I carefully lubricated the long bearing surfaces of the Colt and loaded seven rounds of Black Hills 230-grain full metal jacketed loads. I began firing offhand at seven yards in rapid fire, the type of work the pistol was intended to do. True to form there were a number of failures of the slide to fully close during the first few magazines. This is simply the modest break in period some 1911 pistols require. I nudged the slide forward with my thumb in these instances. This problem disappeared with the first 50 rounds of ammunition. I also noticed a tendency of the pistol to chew brass up. The case mouth was dented in perhaps a quarter of the cases. This is typical of 1911 handguns with the original small slide window.
The Black Hills FMJ load is clean burning, accurate, and affordable. Results were good. I also used a box of the Black Hills 230-grain round nose lead load, an economy loading that virtually equaled results from the full metal jacketed bullet. It was no surprise that the Black Army fed hollowpoint bullets. After all, it is a modern 1911 in all but appearance. A number of magazines of the Black Hills 185-grain JHP sailed through the Black Army without problems.
Confirming the pistol is a great shooter in combat practice—and I would have been surprised otherwise—I elected to fire for accuracy. The range was a long 75 feet, 25 yards. Moving to a solid benchrest, I carefully lined the sights up. These sights are of modest size by modern standards and were a limiting factor. A great aid, however, was a crisp four-pound trigger compression. This is a match grade trigger by any standard. I also used my Hansen Eagle Eye shooting glasses to achieve a good sharp sight picture. The results were pleasing. I was able to exhibit several 3 to 3˚ inch groups with ball ammunition. The single smallest group came from the Black Hills 185-grain JHP, a very nice cluster of five shots in 2˘ inches. The Black Army is good enough to ride with.
Speaking of riding, I carried the Black Army in a very special holster during this range outing. Kirkpatrick Leather Company (PO Box 677, Dept. GWK, Laredo, TX 78042; phone: 800-451-9394; online: kirkpatrickleather-company.com) is renowned for quality leather. This Texas-based company knows how to produce workmanlike durable leather. The special Ranger rig illustrated is probably 10 years old and is well executed of good material. The balance is great and there is no faster rig for open carry. When firing on the range or spelunking, the Kirkpatrick holster is a good choice. This holster is waxed properly and will not mar the finish of the Black Army.
Shooter or collectible? Only the purchaser may make that decision. The Black Army was too good not to shoot. If you choose to carefully oil and store yours, that’s fine; guys like me have made your pistol worth a bit more! If you are looking for a modern shootable rendition of a great pistol or a modern collectible, the Black Army should be at the top of your list.