Home - Volume 3 (2008) - Issue 2 (Spring '08) - Pistol Review: C&S 1903 Pocket Pistol Re-creation (The Model of 2006)

Cylinder & Slide 1903 Pocket Pistol Re-creation (The Model of 2006)

A Gun Test by Harwood Loomis ()

When I agreed to help John Caradimas launch his on-line magazine by testing pistols and writing reviews, a part of my brain recognized the possibility that the assignment might result in my occasionally handling pistols that are out of my price range. And that has happened; to date, I have tested about a dozen 1911 pistols in various configurations, a number of them selling for more than $2,000 and a few with list prices on the warm side of $3,000. That's pretty heady stuff for a country lad like myself.

But ... none of the $3,000 pistols even remotely prepared me for what just passed through my grubby hands. Not long ago, John sent me an e-mail telling me to contact none other than Bill Laughridge at Cylinder & Slide, because Bill was going to send me his one-and-only working prototype of a custom re-creation of the Colt Model 1903 pocket pistol. I remembered reading about this gunsmithing tour de force in one of the gun magazines perhaps a year ago, then I hadn't heard anything more about it. Consequently, once I got over my amazement that I would have the signal honour of fondling the pistol, I began to look forward to receiving it with a sense of anticipation.

My sense of anticipation, however, was quickly supplanted by a sense of awe and stark terror when I spoke with Bill by telephone to finalize the arrangements for sending us the pistol. Bill casually mentioned that the pistol is one of a kind (we knew that) ... and that it's worth about $8,000! He also said I could go ahead and shoot it-just be careful to check the back of the slide, where the bits were welded on to make it look like a 1903, in case the welds crack and the back end wants to fly off! Hoo, boy. That left me scared to death by the notion of firing Bill's creation. But, he also said nobody else had shot it, and he himself had only put about 50 rounds through it. So, if he was willing to trust me with it, I resolved to go ahead and shoot it. But ... I surely wasn't going to shoot it a lot.

For those who don't know what I'm blathering on about, some years before designing the M1911 for Colt and the U.S. Ordnance Department, John Browning designed for Colt a small(ish) pistol for sale to the civilian market. Originally introduced in .32 ACP caliber in 1903, the pistol was called the Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless. A few years later, a .380 ACP version was brought out as the Model 1908. These pistols were in some ways precursors to the M1911 design that was to follow a few years later, but they were also different in that there was no exposed hammer. "Hammerless" is perhaps not an accurate description, since they did have hammers. But the hammers were concealed inside the slide assembly, offering a very smooth exterior appearance. And, more importantly, no hammer spur to snag if the pistol was carried in a pocket. The 1903 and 1908 were also blowback designs; they did not utilize the locked breech and linked barrel Browning devised for the M1911. The originals looked like this:

However, gentlemen around the turn of the 20th century must have had larger pockets than people have today, because by modern standards the original 1903/1908 was hardly what we think of as a pocket pistol. It was undoubtedly intended more for carry in the pocket of an outer garment such as an overcoat or a trench coat, not for slipping into a pocket of a well-tailored dinner jacket or pair of casual slacks. The original pocket pistol was 6.75" (171 mm) or 7" (178 mm) long (depending on configuration), had a 3.75" (95 mm) or 4" (102 mm) barrel, was 4.5" (114 mm) high, and weighed 24 ounces (680 g).

By contrast, the Colt Pony .380, introduced nearly a century later, has an overall length of approximately 5.25" (133 mm), a 2.75" barrel, and weighs only 19 ounces (539 g) in steel or 13 ounces (369 g) in the alloy-framed Pocketlight version. The Pony is clearly in a much different size class than the original Pocket Hammerless. In fact, rather than being what we think of today as a "pocket" pistol, the Colt Model 1903/1908 Pocket Hammerless was, in fact, much closer in dimensions to the 1911 variant known as the CCO. The CCO is essentially a Commander slide mounted to a smaller, Officers ACP receiver. The CCO has a 4.25" (108 mm) barrel, an overall length of 7.75" (197 mm), height of 5" (127 mm), and weighs 34 ounces (970 g) with a steel receiver. It was offered by Colt in .45 ACP caliber with an alloy receiver, weighing in that configuration 27 ounces (767 g).

And this brings us to Bill Laughridge, the master gunsmith behind Cylinder & Slide. We'll fast-forward past the complete story of the creation of Bill's "re-creation" (it isn't an exact replica and it isn't in either of the two original calibers, so it isn't quite correct to call it a "replica") of the Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless. The abbreviated story is that Bill always admired the smooth lines of the Pocket Hammerless pistols, although he always thought a self-defense pistol should be chambered in .45 ACP. And one day he realized that the dimensions of the Pocket Hammerless were very close to those of the CCO, and he began to think, "Why not?" For most of us, of course, that's where it would have ended. However, Bill Laughridge is not most of us. He is, after all, a master pistolsmith and a wizard with the 1911 platform. So he set out to make out of the raw components of a 1911 CCO a different pistol, not a true clone of the 1903 Pocket Hammerless but nonetheless having the same shrouded hammer and graceful lines of the original. And, of course, the new pistol would be chambered in .45 ACP.

How did he do?

Judge for yourselves. The following photos compare the maestro's "re-creation" with photos of an original. In the writer's opinion, he did very well indeed.

In the next photo, a very thin line can be seen "stair-stepping" around the hammer pin and thumb safety pin. The line is nowhere nearly so visible in normal viewing; it's an accident of lighting angle that makes it appear so obvious in this photo.

In this next view, the weld is much less visible. What is visible is the meticulous fit between the back of the frame and the back of the slide. The two simply flow together. The craftsmanship involved is all the more remarkable when one remembers that both the frame and the slide had chunks of metal welded onto the back end to extent them sufficiently to shroud the hammer and mimic the profile of the original 1903 Pocket Pistol.

On the C&S Pocket Pistol, the grip safety is fully functional, but the rear tang (that nasty little bit that on the M1911 and M1911A1 seem to attack significant numbers of shooters) is gone-replaced by the overhang added to the rear of the slide to enclose and shroud the hammer. The photo above shows how neatly the modification was performed.

Unlike the original Model of 1903, the C&S Pocket Pistol does retain the M1911 thumb safety, using one of the original style but polished to a gorgeous shine and beautifully blued. The small-tab military-style thumb safety looks perfectly appropriate on this pistol. The welded joint where the slide was extended is much less visible on the left side of the pistol, possibly because much of it is concealed behind the thumb safety.

Like the original Model of 1903, the C&S Pocket Pistol uses an external extractor. This isn't an endorsement of the external extractor over the M1911's internal extractor. With the rear of the slide built up and smoothed off, boring a hole for an elongated internal extractor would have ruined the lines of the pistol. The use of an external extractor for this application simply makes sense.

And-the use of an external extractor also happens to be true to the original Model of 1903 design:

The treatment at the muzzle was, to say the least, innovative. It seems that today a great many custom pistolsmiths try to make a 1911 barrel fit perfectly flush with the barrel bushing or end of the slide, for a "monolithic" look. In the Pocket Pistol, Laughridge took a different approach. He used a coned, bull barrel with no barrel bushing, but he left the barrel longer than the slide. He then turned down the outer portion of the muzzle to sit flush with the end of the slide, leaving a smaller diameter that protrudes slightly beyond the end of the slide. Blueing the turned portion while leaving the extension in the white completes the visual illusion of a smaller, thinner barrel than what is actually used.

There are some contemporary pistolsmiths who like to "bob" the lower end of the grip frame and mainspring housing as a way of making their pistols easier to conceal. These bobbed frames for the most part consist of a straight cut at an angle across the lower. back corner of the grip frame. But the original 1903 Pocket Pistol had a smoothly rounded corner. So, Laughridge rounded the butt on his re-creation. Beautifully.

The sights, in keeping with the style of sights typically used at the turn of the last century, are ... small. The rear sight has a rounded top, following the line of the top of the slide rather than being a straight, horizontal line. The actual sight notch is tiny, much akin to that on an early M1911.

We were instructed by Bill Laughridge not to attempt to even field strip the pistol for cleaning after shooting it, because the take-down procedure is not standard M1911. Not having any self-destructive desire to break an $8,000 one-of-a-kind pistol, we happily complied with this advisory and made no attempt to peek "under the hood." The original Model of 1903 is not really a hammerless pistol, even though it is called that. There is, in fact, a hammer hidden inside the slide. And we are certain there's a bobbed hammer of some type concealed inside the C&S Pocket Pistol, as well, but we were unable to see it or photograph it.

In a brief telephone conversation immediately after we had received the pistol, Bill Laughridge reconfirmed that we had permission to shoot it. But ... he reminded us that the back end of the slide was only welded on, and he advised checking it carefully after every magazine to be sure the welds weren't letting go. (GULP!) Ummm, sure, Bill, whatever you say. (Errrkkk!)

Having decided that one simply does not decline an offer to be only the second person to shoot a one-of-a-kind creation, I did take the Pocket Pistol to the range, and I did shoot it. But, being the arrant coward that I am, I only fired two magazines of standard, 230-grain Winchester FMJ "white box" ammunition through it. No pieces of slide had come loose to conk me after two magazines, so I decided to quit before Murphy's Law kicked into high gear. (It did, but later and not fatally.) I shot the little pistol at a distance of 25 feet, and even with the tiny sights and the less than optimum lighting in an indoor, underground range, it shot a group of about 1-1/2 inches using a normal two-hand hold (not off a rest). More important, there was almost no perceived recoil, and the smoothly rounded butt felt marvelously comfortable even in my smallish and sensitive hands. The pistol functioned perfectly, and was silky smooth in operation.

Bill Laughridge mentioned in a subsequent telephone conversation that Cylinder & Slide is looking into the possibility of producing the Pocket Pistol on a limited commercial basis. The discussion didn't progress to details such as whether it would be built as a standard model for sale, or built only as a custom pistol on special order. Bill mentioned that he hoped it might be possible to reduce the price from the $8,000 invested in the prototype, but that development had not yet progressed to a point at which he could project a market price. The writer, for one, hopes the project comes to fruition. If "production" models can be offered that are finished even nearly as nicely as the prototype, the C&S "Model of 2006" Pocket Pistol would make a spectacular addition to any gent's collection of Browning-designed pistols.

We felt exceedingly relieved when the Pocket Pistol was delivered back to the FFL to be transferred back to Cylinder & Slide. However, our friend Murphy was not to be denied. Bill Laughridge had been away from the shop during the time I had the pistol, and by the time I had finished my testing and photographing, I was later than I should have been for returning it to him. I left it with the FFL with instructions to send it back by the fastest method possible. Someone in the post office gave my FFL some bad advice, because a day or two later he cheerfully advised me that he had sent it back by Registered Mail.

And several days after that, Bill Laughridge called and wanted to know where his pistol was. The FFL had provided a tracking number. The tracking number confirmed when he had turned the pistol over to the postal service ... and nothing after that. Bill was beside himself, absolutely certain that some postal employee along the way had made him (or her) self a gift of an $8,000 prototype pistol. I didn't think that was the case, but when the tracking report didn't show anything I, too, began to worry. A lot!

Finally, about a week after Bill had given up all hope, the pistol arrived at the Cylinder & Slide shop, intact. Two days after the pistol had been delivered, the post office tracking system showed that it had been delivered. So much for modern technology. I breathed a deep sigh of relief, as I am certain Bill Laughridge had already done on his end.

We are immensely grateful to Bill Laughridge for giving us the opportunity to inspect and to actually shoot this masterpiece of the gunmaker's art. We'll be looking forward to news regarding the possibility of seeing the Model of 2006 Pocket Pistol actually being offered to the public

You may discuss about this pistol, ask questions or in general discuss about this review, in this thread in our Forums Site:



Cylinder & Slide, Inc.
245 E. 4th Street
Fremont, NE 68025

Phone: (Toll Free Orders only) (800) 448-1713
Phone: (402) 721-4277
Fax: (402) 721-0263

E-Mail: bill@cylinder-slide.com
Web site: http://www.cylinder-slide.com


Competitive Edge Dynamics USA
P.O. Box 486,
Orefield, PA 18069-0486

Orders: (1) 888-628-3233
Phone: (1) 610-366-9752
Fax: (1) 610-366-9680

Email: info@CEDhk.com
Web site: http://www.CEDhk.com

Home - Volume 3 (2008) - Issue 2 (Spring '08) - Pistol Review: C&S 1903 Pocket Pistol Re-creation (The Model of 2006)