Tales from the Crypt: A Colt Mystery
A Blast from the Past
by Harwood Loomis for M1911.ORG
My decade-plus involvement with The M1911 Pistols Organization (better known as M1911.ORG) has led to my having a bit of a reputation (undeserved) as the local expert on all things 1911-related. Of course, many readers are already well aware that an “expert” is simply a former drip under pressure. Nonetheless, whether or not deserved, this reputation occasionally leads to unexpected things in life.
Thus it was that, several weeks ago, I received a voicemail message and an e-mail from a friend who is an FFL as well as a security officer on the force of a nearby university. He had acquired a somewhat unusual Colt Officers ACP and he wanted my opinion as to whether or not I thought he should use it as a daily carry weapon. He sent a single photo, which didn’t look like any Colt Officers ACP I had ever laid eyes on. Needless to say, at the first opportunity I made my way across town to his shop to see the mystery pistol up close and personal. What I saw left me (to borrow a word from one of my favorite authors) gobsmacked. Although I was reluctant to take temporary custody of it, I finally did so. I brought it home, took several photos, and reached out to some friends in the custom gunsmithing business to see if anyone had any idea what it was and who might have created it.
At first glance, the pistol appeared to be Commander-size rather than Officers ACP-size. But there was something odd about the front part of the slide, and whatever it was that was beneath the muzzle was like something out of a 1950s science fiction movie. Once I picked the gun up and moved it around, it was immediately obvious that the additional muzzle length was a compensator … but that still didn’t explain whatever it was beneath the compensator. Here’s what I saw:
The muzzle of the mystery pistol
A closer view of the muzzle
Aha! It’s a compensator!
The business end slide
Full-length guide rod
Slightly extended thumb safety
A very unusual beavertail
The mainspring housing checkering extends to the grip frame
The front strap is checkered to match the mainspring housing
Who put an adjustable target sight on a compact-size carry pistol? And where’s the rest of the hammer?
The quick look was, to say the least, intriguing. Someone had clearly put a lot of work into this pistol, but … why? What was it all about? Enlightenment came in the form of a series of e-mails from a semi-retired custom gunsmith named Bob Hunter, proprietor of Hunter Customs http://huntercustoms.com/Hunter_Customs/Welcome.html in Osborn, MO. Among other things, Bob Hunter was an early proponent of Para-Ordnance double stack 1911s and had developed an enviable reputation for building Para-Ordnance competition pistols. I doubt he remembers, but I had corresponded with him about Paras a number of years ago. I still had his e-mail address, so I reached out to him regarding the mystery pistol, and he very kindly obliged by responding with some valuable insights. Although this was not one of his guns, Bob told me that he had built a few compensated Officers ACP pistols “back in the day.” He also mentioned that some of the famous gunsmiths/gun shops of days gone by, such as King’s Gun Works, manufactured and sold parts to make guns such as the mystery pistol. However, even after looking at a packet of photos, Bob was not able to figure out who had done the work on this particular pistol.
Among 1911 cognoscenti it is well-known that short-action 1911s are more finicky than full-size Government Model pistols. The slide moves faster and doesn’t have as much travel, so everything that has to be done in a cycle must be done faster … there’s no room for anything to be out of time. Although Colt had it pretty well figured out and I know people who have shot thousands of rounds through stock Officers ACP pistols without a single bobble, the Officers ACP nonetheless developed a reputation for being unreliable. On top of that, recoil when firing full-power .45 Automatic ammunition through a short barrel was significant. A couple or three decades ago the prevailing lore was that a Commander-length pistol was the shortest you could make a 1911 and have it be reliable. But people still wanted something smaller, so enterprising minds turned to developing ways to make an Officers ACP into something as reliable as a Commander, and to help control the recoil.
Something like my friend’s mystery pistol illustrates one of the paths taken by those creative minds from yesteryear. The compensator isn’t a bushing compensator, it’s an integral part of the barrel. My examinations couldn’t figure out if the compensator was welded into a stock Officers barrel or if it’s a custom barrel. It’s a huge port, but Bob Hunter informed me that King’s Gun Works at one time sold a compensator much like this one.
The compensated barrel compared to a factory Colt Officers ACP barrel
The bullet-shaped “thingie” projecting forward from the slide beneath the compensator is actually an elongated recoil spring plug. The factory Officers ACP used a reverse recoil spring plug that was retained in the slide by a small tab in the bottom, that engaged a slot cut in the rear of the recoil spring tunnel. This custom recoil spring plug is retained by a flange, and the slide has been machined to remove material from the recoil spring tunnel to accommodate the flange without reducing the amount of slide travel.
The modified slide with elongated recoil spring plug, compared to a factory Officers ACP slide
Slides compared, to show the extent of the machining
The custom recoil spring plug compared to a factory Officers ACP recoil spring plug
The end result of the compensator and the extended recoil spring plug is a pistol that’s essentially the same length as a Commander, but with the shorter grip frame and magazine well of the Officers ACP. It’s a lot of work to get to what Colt at one time did (and other 1911 manufacturers do today): simply mount a Commander-length slide and barrel on an Officers-size receiver. Colt called theirs the CCO—Concealed Carry Officers.
The mystery pistol compared to a factory Colt Combat Commander
The unknown pistolsmith who created this pistol spared no effort in making it a one-of-a-kind creation. In addition to the custom touches already discussed, the magazine well opening was beveled, even extending to the mainspring housing and up the front strap. The rear of the slide was serrated, to reduce glare.
One of the true mysteries remaining about this pistol, once we learned what the compensator and elongated recoil spring plug were all about, is: what happened to the hammer? Perhaps it was bobbed to reduce mass and thus to reduce lock time, but that’s generally more of a concern in a bullseye pistol, not a carry pistol. How was it done? Laying the bobbed hammer on top of a factory Colt rowel-style Officers ACP hammer suggests that there isn’t quite enough material remaining that the pistolsmith simply milled off the ring from the factory hammer. How was it done? Why was it done? Is it possible that the owner who had this work done wanted to turn an Officers ACP into a bullseye gun? We’ll never know. My friend got the pistol from an estate sale, and we haven’t been able to identify the gunsmith, so the mystery will remain unsolved.
Whatever purpose the owner had in mind, this pistol is a fine example of the level of skill, craftsmanship, and ingenuity found among custom gunsmiths of decades ago.
Many thanks to Bob Hunter for taking the time to share his knowledge and insights to help us try to figure out just what this pistol is and what it represents.
Please go to this thread on the M1911 Pistols Organization discussion forum to discuss this pistol and this review: http://forum.m1911.org/showthread.ph...326#post983326
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