Colt Double Eagle
By Harwood Loomis for M1911.ORG
Several years ago, Colts Manufacturing was moving forward in their corporate thinking. In addition to introducing more CNC machining into the manufacture of their iconic 1911 pistol line, Colt was also looking at ways to expand their product line. Perhaps remembering that when the M1911A1 was replaced by the Beretta M9 at least in part because too many NATO countries insisted that handguns should be double action, Colt started work on a then-new, double action version of the 1911.
The proposed new, double action 1911 was backed by the then-President of Colts Manufacturing, Marine General (Ret.) William Keyes. The author saw and handled prototypes of the new DA 1911 in the Colt factory sometime around 2008 or 2009. The DA 1911 was featured in Colt’s catalog for several years, but never quite made it into full production. We have seen rumors that a few were eventually sold on the retail market, but we’ve never seen any confirmation of this. The double action 1911 project was terminated a couple of years ago, shortly after General Keyes retired. It has been said (without confirmation) that it was a pet project of the General, and that his replacement couldn’t see any reason for it so he ended the project.
The point of this meandering monologue is that it’s an introduction into why and how we arrived at the subject of this article. The M1911 Pistols Organization was closely following the development of the double action 1911, and we had been promised that M1911.ORG would be among the first to receive evaluation samples when the new pistol was released for sale to the public. And, of course, we wanted to be able to tell the whole story.
That story began, we believed, a number of years earlier, with a 1911-“ish” double action/single action pistol that Colt sold under the name Double Eagle. Our brief exposure to the double action 1911 prototypes led us to think that the new pistol was, in fact, a re-engineered and refined version of the Double Eagle. Just at that time, a used Double Eagle in superficially good condition showed up in the used gun case at a local gun shop. Expecting that M1911.ORG would soon be receiving a production sample of the new double action 1911, we bought the Double Eagle so that we would be prepared to compare the two pistols.
The new pistol didn’t make it to market, but we still have the Double Eagle, and we decided that it’s an interesting enough pistol that it deserves some ink in its own right.
The Background Behind the Background
The 1970s saw the beginning of the transition among law enforcement officers from revolvers to semi-automatic handguns. During the reign of the revolver, the law enforcement market was shared (and vigorously contested) between Colt, and Smith & Wesson. When the transition to semi-automatics began, Colt found itself lacking. Colt’s only semi-automatic handguns at the time were the tried-and-true 1911s—in Government and Commander sizes. (Colt’s smaller Officers ACP wasn’t introduced until 1985.) Smith & Wesson, on the other hand, had come out with their 9mm, single stack Model 39 as early as 1955, and upgraded that to the double stack Model 59 in 1971. The Colt 1911 was a single action only pistol, which required that it be carried with the hammer cocked and the manual thumb safety applied if the bearer wanted to be ready to use the firearm on short notice. The Smith & Wesson designs, on the other hand, were what has come to be called “traditional” double action, in which the hammer does not have to be cocked. A first shot can be fired in double action mode, with the trigger first cocking the hammer, then releasing it. After the first shot, succeeding shots are in fired single action mode. Further, the single stack Colts had a capacity of only 7+1 rounds in .45 Automatic, and 9+1 in 9mm. The competing Smith & Wesson Model 59 held 14 rounds, nearly double that of the Colt 1911s, and almost three times the capacity of the revolvers carried by police.
In the private, aftermarket sector a small gunsmith company in Connecticut, the L. W. Seecamp Company, in 1973 began marketing a service to convert 1911s to fire in traditional double action/single action (DA/SA) mode. The founder of the company, the late Ludwig “Louis” Seecamp, had designed the conversion for his own, personal 1911 and had patented the design. Although Seecamp’s patent remained in force until 1998, the company ceased performing the 1911 conversions by about 1979 or 1980, in order to concentrate on manufacturing their new line of small-caliber pocket pistols. Seecamp sold a license to his conversion system to a company called Omega Defensive Industries, who produced commercial versions from 1981 through 1982 under the name ODI Viking.
Facing a law enforcement market that was rapidly moving away from revolvers, and not having a large capacity or double action semi-automatic pistol to sell, Colt was at a disadvantage. The Seecamp Company was in the New Haven, Connecticut, area, only 30 miles south of Colt’s factory in Hartford. Nonetheless, Colt was not interested in paying a licensing fee or royalties to Seecamp for his design, even though it was popular with police officers. Instead, much as John M. Browning had to work around his own patents on the 1911 to design what ultimately became the Hi-Power, Colt set out in 1985 to design a double action pistol based (as much as possible) on the 1911, but without infringing on Seecamp’s patent. The result was the Double eagle, which was designed in 1985 and produced by Colt from 1989 through 1997. Colt offered three sizes on Double Eagle, a full-size model with a 5-inch barrel, a Commander size with a 4¼-inch barrel, and an Officers size with a 3½-inch barrel. Unlike the single action 1911s, however, the Officers size Double Eagle used the same full-size frame as the two larger models.
The Seecamp Conversion
A Colt 1911 with a Seecamp double action conversion
During the life of the M1911, several people tried to alter the basic design, by creating either Double Action (DA) versions of the pistol, or some other variants. Most people who are fans of the M1911 design consider this to be, as Colonel Jeff Cooper expressed it, a solution to a non-existing problem. Here are some details about the most famous double action conversion done on the M1911 (and, quite possibly, the inspiration for the Colt Double Eagle).
Louis Seecamp had personal reasons, derived from his life experiences during World War 2 in Germany, for favoring a double action handgun. However, he also admired the 1911 design. Being a skilled gunsmith, he therefore set out to come up with a way to convert the single action 1911 into a “traditional” double action (or double action/single action) firearm. He accomplished this through the introduction of a drawbar between the trigger and the sear, shortening the shoe of the original 1911 trigger, and introducing a new, swinging trigger that sat directly in front of and pressed on the original trigger. The “front” trigger and drawbar were used to cock the hammer when firing in double action mode, while the original (“rear”) trigger released the sear and fired the pistol in both double and single action modes.
Left side of a Seecamp conversion 1911
Right side of a Seecamp conversion 1911
Detail of the Seecamp drawbar mechanism and trigger
One final piece of background on the Seecamp conversion is the following, which can be found on the M1911.org Home Page Site:
Originally Posted by M1911.ORG
The Colt Double Eagle
No doubt for reasons of economy of scale, simplified manufacture, and reduced design and development time, Colt based the Double Eagle as much as possible on the existing 1911 pistol design. Louis Seecamp's son, Larry, has been clear that Colt did not purchase rights to use Seecamp's patented double action design. This meant that in order to develop a double action offshoot of the 1911, Colt had to do something sufficiently different from Seecamp's design that it wouldn't infringe on his patent. Magazines are completely interchangeable between the two pistols, as are slides and barrels (except that the Double Eagle slide lacks the small, scallop cut for the disconnector). The major difference was in the receiver and the firing mechanism.
Akin to the Seecamp conversions, the Double Eagle uses a swinging trigger rather than the sliding trigger of the 1911. However, the Double Eagle does not retain an original 1911 sliding trigger behind the swinging trigger. There is only one trigger in the Double Eagle. And, while the Double Eagle also incorporates a drawbar along the outside of the right side of the receiver (hidden under the right side grip panel), it doesn’t look like or function like the Seecamp drawbar.
Colt Double eagle drawbar and trigger
1911s with the Seecamp conversion retained the standard 1911 thumb safety and grip safety. With the Double Eagle, Colt chose to replace the traditional thumb safety with a decocker lever, and they eliminated the grip safety entirely. Reports dating to the 1980s suggest that this was a popular feature with police officers who chose to carry the Double Eagle as a duty weapon.
Double Eagle decocker
There were two “generations” of the Double Eagle. When the pistol was first introduced, criticism quickly followed that the mechanism incorporated small, hairpin-like springs on both sides that were held in place only by the grip panels. Colt soon thereafter made some production changes, resulting in the Mark II models that included positive retention for those little springs. The pistol on which this article is based, a full-sized model with the 5-inch barrel and slide, appears to be the early type. I feel confident in that because when I brought it home after buying it, the decocker didn’t function. Removing the left side grip panel resulted in a spring falling out on the workbench. I then had to deduce where and how it should be installed, and then find a way to hold it in place while putting the grip panel back to retain it.
Detail of decocker spring on left side
Detail of drawbar spring on right side
At the time the Double Eagle was designed and introduced, trigger guards with squared off and serrated fronts were popular. Apparently, although the fad seems to have skipped over me, there was a period when many shooters favored placing the index finger of the support hand on the front of the trigger guard. The Double Eagle has a trigger guard shaped for this. Between that and the downward curve that allows the rather long trigger to swing freely, the Double Eagle doesn’t fit holsters molded for 1911 pistols even though the slides and magazines are the same. At the time the Double Eagle was in production there may have been holsters available to fit it, but such holsters are virtually impossible to find today.
A long-time and well-respected 1911 expert who participates in the M1911.org forum (as well as several other firearms-related forum sites), posting under the screen name “1911Tuner,” had the following to offer regarding the Double eagle:
Over the years I have on too many occasions ignored sage advice offered by people who know more than I about various subjects. In the case of the Double Eagle, having seen what complexity lay beneath just the grip panels, after reading 1911Tuner’s advice about not wanting to go into a Double Eagle a second time I decided that I didn’t want to go into mine even a first time. Consequently, I am sorry that I can’t provide any detail photos of exactly how the drawbar and trigger interface with the hammer and sear. Suffice it to say that the mechanism works, and has been reliable for me over the course of several sessions at the range. For those who are interested in such details, we can offer the schematic breakdown view of the Double eagle from the Colt owner’s manual:Originally Posted by 1911Tuner
Shooting the Double Eagle
No retrospective would be really complete without a range report of some sort, so we packed up the Double eagle and headed off to the range to make some holes in paper. My overall impressions:
The sights are all black, but larger and more visible than the tiny sights on the military M1911s and M1911A1s. Even in the less than ideal lighting of an indoor range the sights are easily visible and completely useable. Beyond that, the Double eagle is heavy. At 38 ounces, it’s heavier than Colt’s current Rail Gun, which has all that added metal on the receiver. The difference is only a couple of ounces (a “standard” 1911 typically weighs about 36 ounces), but I was very conscious of the extra weight as soon as I picked up the pistol and started to take aim. The bright side of that is that recoil (muzzle flip) seemed (subjectively) to be less than normal.
The barrel and slide are standard 1911 fare, so I expected accuracy to be on par with production 1911s and I wasn’t disappointed. The range was again having electrical problems with the string of lights at the 75-foot distance, so this session was fired at a distance of fifty feet. In my haste to toss ammunition into the range bag I grabbed some duplicates, so at the range I found that I had fewer types than I had intended … and all were my own reloads. Here are the results, after firing multiple 5-shot groups with each ammo type:
Ammo Avg. Group (inches) Avg. Group (mm) Best Group (inches) Best Group (mm) Reloads, 230-gr XTP JHP 3.50" 89 3.50" 89 Reloads, 230-gr Remington JHP 2.00" 51 1.75" 44 Reloads, Berry’s 230-gr PLRN 1.75" 44 1.75" 449
My impression was that the single action trigger was very nice, not much different from the much later Para-Ordnance LDA trigger (which was a totally different mechanism). Shooting the Double Eagle in single action mode (which, since it is a “traditional” double action pistol, means every shot except the first) was easy and very pleasant. The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for when firing the first shot in double action mode. The double action trigger pull is very long, quite heavy, and exhibits pronounced stacking as it approaches the break. As is often encountered with DA/SA pistols, the point of impact for the first shot in DA mode was generally well off from the group fired in SA mode.
After firing a number of groups for accuracy over a rest at a distance of 50 feet, I hung up a fresh target and ran it out to 25 feet for some speed drills. For these I was just using up the ammunition left in the box, and filling the OEM Colt magazine to its 7-round capacity. The range has a rule against rapid fire, which basically means shooting faster than you can aim between shots. I burned through each magazine as fast as I could honestly say I was “aiming” for each shot, and the results surprised me. For each target, all shots stayed within the largest ring, which is an 8½-inch circle. The first shot (double action) was generally high, with subsequent shots grouping a couple of inches lower and forming ragged groups of about 2½ to 3 inches. Only a couple of shots made it out to the 6 ring, most were in the 8 ring or better, and one cut the ‘X.’ Prior to this range session I hadn’t fired the Double Eagle for at least a year, probably more like two years, so I was very pleased with the results.
On a visit to the U.S. last year John Caradimas' compatriot (and M1911.org forum co-administrator), Spyros, had an opportunity to try out the Double Eagle that is the subject of this retrospective. Spyros was kind enough to add his shooting impressions to round out this article:
Originally Posted by Spyros
The Colt Double Eagle seems to have been a good, if not spectacular, pistol that failed to capture a significant market due to having been brought into production a couple of years too late. My personal feeling, however, is that it’s just not fun to shoot. I am too accustomed to the crisp 1911 trigger; traditional double action semi-automatic pistols don’t appeal to me, and I have to admit that I don’t shoot them well.
Please go to this thread on the M1911 Pistols Organization discussion forum to discuss this article: http://forum.m1911.org/showthread.ph...cussion-thread
Find us on :
Colt Double Eagle Caliber: .45 Automatic Colt Pistol Overall Length: 8.38" (212.7 mm) Overall Height: 5.19" (131.8 mm) Overall Width: 1.32" (33.5 mm) Barrel Length: 5" (127 mm) Sight Radius: 6.5" (165 mm) Sights: White dot, Combat-style (non-adjustable) Weight w/o magazine: 38.0oz (1.08 kg) Magazine Capacity: 7 rounds Grips: Molded polymer Finish: Stainless steel
Colt’s Manufacturing Company, LLC
P.O. Box 1868
Hartford, CT, 06144-1868
Fax: (860) 244-1449
Web site: http://www.coltsmfg.com
Chris’ Indoor Shooting Range
2458 Boston Post Road
Guilford, CT 06437-1398
Tel: (203) 453-1570
Web site: http://www.chrisindoorrange.net/