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View Full Version : A Tale of two Colts



Frank Ettin
20th March 2009, 16:44
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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of ...

Oops! Wrong tale.....Ours begins in late 2006.

In December of 2006, I found a current production Colt Commander, new, blued finish. I bought it. It was a model 04691 then listed on the Colt website in the 1991 series. It was not, however, marked "1991." The left side of the slide is roll marked "Colt's Commander Model .45 Automatic Pistol Caliber" in three lines with the pony. The right side is roll marked simply "SERIES 80."

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It was a traditional looking Colt without the "enhanced" features now common. I was impressed by the fit and finish, and I loved the look of the classic Colt - the vertical cocking serrations, the non-beavertail grip safety and the old style Commander hammer. It was not, however, "fit for duty" yet. There were some reliability issues, and the trigger was on the heavy side. And the edges were awfully sharp.

Although this would have been a fine base for an "up-to-date" custom Commander, I really wanted a retro gun. So I started thinking along the lines of asking Ted Yost to do just a little magic - something like adding his retro sights, fitting a true old style grip safety (or changing the contour on this one), replacing the polymer MSH with one made of steel, doing a gentle dehorning, and sorting out any reliability issues remaining after I've shot it some more. I wouldn't mind a slightly lighter trigger (say around five pounds), if he could retain the traditional hammer. I also thought about having the front strap serrated (or checkered).

So finally, at the end of August, 2007, I got around to sending a detailed email to Heirloom Precision outlining what I had in mind and asking if they'd be interested in taking the work on. The next day I got a telephone call from Jason Burton at Heirloom. We talked for about a half hour about what I was trying to achieve and some of his ideas for achieving my goals. The plan evolved into building a full house custom gun, using all first rate components, but retaining a classic "retro" look. I was "put on the list." They would call me when it they were ready for me to send the gun in -- in an estimated 12 to 18 months. We'd work out all the details at that time. And the wait began.

In the meantime, late September, 2007, I came across a Colt Officers ACP in high polish stainless steel.

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It was used, but in nice shape except for a pretty bad idiot scratch. I shot it a little, and it worked fine - but. Well the "but" was that I started to think about whether I wanted to leave it as it was or use it as a base for another custom pistol. So I sort of put the gun away for the time being, while I pondered the question and attended to other matters.

Of course, for a true Colt collector, there would have been nothing to think about. The high polish stainless, from what I've been able to gather, was a desirable enough gun to warrant keeping original. But I have to admit that I'm not a true Colt collector, and there was that idiot scratch. So I got to think about what I'm going to do with this OACP, if anything, while I waited to hear from Jason.

Then in the first week of April, 2008, the call came. The plan would be that I'd go ahead and send the gun in, he'd look it over and be ready to start on it in a month or so. I mentioned that I now also had an OACP that I was considering doing something similar with. Could he do a similar retro treatment? He said that he could, but suggested that I might want to consider using a Commander top end. He the said that if I wanted, I could send in the Officers at with the Commander; we'd do the Commander first and then work out the details for the OACP.

And so it came to pass that a few days later I was in the FedEx office with a package containing two Colt pistols on their way to Tempe, Arizona.

The birth of the Heirloom Commander

In June I got a call from Jason. He was ready to start, but first he'd send me some pictures of guns they'd recently done in the sort of style I was wanted. The pictures showed a couple of guns with a modified grip safety that Heirloom had developed -- something of a hybrid design offering a "retro" look combined with the comfort of a broad area to rest against the web between the thumb and trigger finger of the strong hand.

I liked it and decided to go with it for my gun. Also, because of the photos Jason showed me, I decided to dress up the Commander with a pair of elephant ivory stocks sporting Colt Medallions. So this would become my Barbecue Gun.

Now with the stocks and grip safety decided on, everything was pretty much set: a fitted, Kart match barrel; cosmetic touches like truing up the lines and a French border on the slide; a short trigger set at a crisp 4.5 to 5 pounds; dehorning; a traditional Commander style, rowel hammer; checkered front strap at 30 lpi; a Yost "retro" rear sight; a Yost "classic" ramped front sight, silver soldered and with an inlaid gold line; and all first class springs and small bits.
But there were still a few tough decisions. First, I'd always preferred a flat mainspring housing, but I thought the gun would look better with an arched one. And even though I appreciate the utility of a new style, extended thumb safety, I liked the looks of the Colt "teardrop" style, especially for this gun. And then there was the question of finish -- blued, hard chrome or two tone. The answer to the first two was easy. I just asked Jason to fit both flat and arched MSHs, and extended and teardrop safeties, and I could switch them as I chose. But the question of finish troubled me for a while. I finally decided to go with a hard chrome frame and blued slide.

And now please meet the Heirloom Commander

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The Commander arrived on 8 August 2008, a little shy of a year after my first contact with Heirloom Precision. I was very pleased. The fit and finish were absolutely top drawer. The barrel locked up solidly. There was no play in the slide to frame fit, everything functioned smoothly, all the formerly sharp edges were nicely, and unobtrusively broken. I really liked the grip safety -- a great blend of looks and functionality.

The gun actually arrived with the flat mainspring housing and extended safety (photo by Jason Burton):

https://ezine.m1911.org/images/pictures/HeirloomPrecision/LRe.jpg

But I soon put on the arched MSH and teardrop safety. And I'll most likely leave it that way.

Although everything is well fitted with no play, the gun can be easily broken down without tools (except for a screwdriver for the grip screws, which have a very narrow slot).

https://ezine.m1911.org/images/pictures/HeirloomPrecision/IMG_4946_2.jpg


You can see, above, the gold line inlaid in the front sight, but this photo below shows it in greater detail, together with the fine serration of the sight ramp to cut down glare.


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Here you can see some detail of the unique grip safety. And you can see where Jason welded and re-cut part of the frame rail to improve slide to frame fit. This photo also shows Jason's discrete signature, under the left grip panel.


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Here's some more detail of the grip safety.

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And this shows some detail of the Yost "retro" rear sight.

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Personally, I think it turned out to be a very handsome pistol.

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The metamorphosis of an OACP

Now it was time to start thinking about the Officers Model. I had decided to go with a Commander top end and thus make it into a CCO size. It would be done essentially like the Commander but with a flat mainspring house, since that's the way the OACPs came, and with exotic wood stocks (we finally settled on desert ironwood). I also thought we'd do it in all stainless steel.

I called Jason, and we discussed matters. One question was what sort of slide to use and where to get it. A Caspian slide was a possibility. Jason and I discussed this at length, and we agreed that a Colt slide would be a better choice. It just seemed most appropriate, given the whole feeling of the project, to have a Colt slide with proper Colt roll marks. So the next order of business was for Jason to find a suitable Colt stainless steel Commander slide.

And there's the rub. Apparently Colt Commander slides aren't all that easy to find. He thought he found one, but it had angled cocking serrations, and I really wanted to stick with the vertical ones.

Finally Jason found a current production Colt Commander slide, in blued steel, with the same roll marks as my Commander. I thought that was fitting. The CCO would also be two tone and a nice mate for the Commander.

In due course, the Heirloom CCO was delivered to my door on 19 February 2009.


And now permit me to introduce the Heirloom CCO

https://ezine.m1911.org/images/pictures/HeirloomPrecision/IMG_5075.jpg

This one too has been discretely signed by Jason.

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Just as with the Commander, there is no play in the slide to frame fit, and the barrel lock up is solid. Yet it can be broken down without a bushing wrench.

https://ezine.m1911.org/images/pictures/HeirloomPrecision/IMG_4932.jpg

Put it all together, and it's a fine looking roscoe.

https://ezine.m1911.org/images/pictures/HeirloomPrecision/IMG_4966.jpg

Okay, they're pretty. But do they work?

Yes, thank you. Very well in fact.

The Commander

Shortly after it arrived, I went up to my local range, the Livermore-Pleasanton Rod and Gun Club (http://www.lprg.org/ ) to try it out. I set up a target at twelve yards and started to burn up some ammunition. The pistol was 100 % reliable with both Federal American Eagle and Winchester White Box 230 grain FMJ ammunition. Shooting quick 2, 3 and 4 shot strings from low ready, I was pretty much able to hit what I was shooting at.

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A few days later, I was able to make a trip to Reed's Indoor Range (http://www.reedsindoorrange.com/). I like to wring out guns at Reed's because I'm holster qualified there. So I put the Commander through its paces, shooting quick strings of varying numbers of shots, presenting the gun from a Milt Sparks Versa Max 2.

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The gun and I did satisfactorily at 7 yards with PMC 230 grain FMJ.

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And I also tried out various JHP rounds, including Federal Hydra-Shok 230 grain JHP and WInchester 230 grain SXT JHP. And the results at 10 yards with Winchester 185 grain Silver Tip JHP are shown below.

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The Commander has gone back to Reed's with me on several occasions. It's always preformed flawlessly with a variety of ammunition and various magazines including several Tripp magazines, Checkmates and Wilsons. The Wilson magazines had Tripp innards (the Tripp Research follower and springs).

The trigger breaks cleanly at 4 pounds 12 ounces (average of ten tries using my Lyman electronic trigger pull gauge) and was very manageable.

Even though I'm most used to a flat MSH, I had no difficulty with the arched one.

The CCO

A few days after it arrived, I was able to take the CCO out to Reed's and did the same sort of drills as I did with the Commander. The CCO trigger was a little lighter than the Commander's -- 4 pounds 9 ounces (average of ten), also crisp and clean.

Here we have 50 rounds of PMC 230 grain FMJ at 10 yards.

https://ezine.m1911.org/images/pictures/HeirloomPrecision/IMG_4903_2.jpg

Once again, I was using my Milt Sparks Versa Max 2, IWB holster.

https://ezine.m1911.org/images/pictures/HeirloomPrecision/IMG_4998_2.jpg

As usual, I tried an assortment of self defense JHP ammunition and used various magazines -- all without incident or complaint.

I should note for the record that it's my practice to load seven rounds in a full size magazine and six rounds in an Officers size, even if the magazine is designed for eight or seven, respectively.

With both guns, acquisition of the front sight was quick, aided by the wide notch in the rear sight and the gold line in the front sight.

Some observations

I didn't go through a usual, rigorous testing protocol here. This has been less a gun test than a story about how these guns came to be. Mechanically, I'm fully satisfied that they are excellent machines fully up to any task they could reasonably be assigned.

This was, however, my first custom gun experience, and as they say,"Getting there is half the fun." I started out with a vague idea of what I wanted, and worked through my notions and concepts with Jason to reach a result. It has been a fascinating, enjoyable and satisfying odyssey.

Jason Burton was terrific to work with. We had many long telephone conversations batting ideas back and forth. These discussions helped me tremendously to make the various decisions I had to make along the way. We also communicated extensively by email.

Email turned out to be very handy. I made it a practice to send Jason an email confirming any decisions we made during any of our conversations. This assured that we had a written record of what was decided. Several times during the course of this exercise it was useful to be able to go back to a written record and see what choices had been made.

And I'll have both this article and two very fine "retro" Custom Colts to help me fondly remember this experience.

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https://ezine.m1911.org/images/pictures/HeirloomPrecision/IMG_4994.jpg

Acknowledgments

As I mentioned earlier Jason Burton at Heirloom Precision was a treat to work with. I appreciate all the time he took discussing options and helping me make the decisions that resulted in these guns being what I wanted them to be. Also, he and the crew at Heirloom deserve congratulations for their craftsmanship and artistry.


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

http://forum.m1911.org/showthread.php?t=64852

SOURCES

Pistols:

https://ezine.m1911.org/images/pictures/HeirloomPrecision/logo.jpg

Heirloom Precision, LLC
2118 E. 5th St.
Tempe, AZ 85281
USA


Tel: (480) 804-1911
Fax:

Web site: http://www.heirloomprecision.com
Email: info@hp1911.com

Shooting Facilities:

Reed's Indoor Range
1100 Duane Avenue
Santa Clara, CA 95054
USA

Phone: (408) 970-9870
Fax:

Web Site: http://www.reedsindoorrange.com


Livermore-Pleasanton Rod & Gun Club
4000 Dagnino Rd.
PO BOX 786
Livermore, California 94551-0786
USA

Trap Range: (925) 449-8780
Rifle/Pistol Range: (925) 449-3616

Web Site: http://www.lprg.org

Holster:

Milt Sparks Holsters, Inc.
605 E. 44th Street, #2
Boise, ID 83714
USA

Tel.: (208)377-5577

Web Site: http://www.miltsparks.com/
Email: holster1@earthlink.net