Guns & Ammo Network

Collapse bottom bar
For the Love of Competition Tips & Tactics

Behind the Scenes at Colt: Making the Nation’s Favorite Rifle

by Iain Harrison   |  July 3rd, 2012 35

This past week saw a gaggle of gunwriters traipse through the hallowed halls of Colt’s plant in Hartford, Conn. I managed to sneak in at the end of the line and thought you guys might like to take a look at what goes into making the nation’s favorite rifle.

There’s been big changes over the past few years in the rifle division for Colt. Nowadays they’re not just supplying one customer with one product (Uncle Sam, the M4), they’re supplying many different customers with up to 40 different rifles in the lineup. This wasn’t an internal business decision, it was kind of forced, as the company lost out on the Army M4 contract when it was awarded to the Freedom Group earlier this year. In many ways, the loss was a good thing for Colt and it’s line of rifles for the civilian market–their line now boast products the market actually wants. Ain’t capitalism grand?

Since 2009, Colt has dropped some serious money into modernizing the plant, with new machinery and processes. It was intriguing to see machine tools made in the 1930′s still hard at work, standing next to a state-of-the-art CNC machines. One thing that was truly impressive though, was the attention to quality that went into each gun. Yes, they’re far from being custom one-offs, but the gauges, comparators and controls that are in place mean that you can pull a rifle out of the rack and it will perform identically to any other in the line.

Each carbine, whether it’s made for the military or civilian market is made to exactly the same standards. We got to see some of the critical dimensions that make up a Military Specification, then compare them at random to parts that were coming off the machines. Suffice to say, the Colt parts exceeded the specification by a wide margin. Having built a fair number of ARs, I always figured that parts were parts, no matter where they came from. I might have to change that opinion.

Take a look inside the plant with me, I’m sure you’ll see a few things that’ll trip your trigger.

Picture 1 of 16

Pretty Soon, These Will Be M16 Lowers

Raw forgings are taken from their racks and placed into fixtures in the CNC machining centers.

  • Zachary Rider

    "Colt’s rifles are the only rifles available to sportsmen, hunters and other shooters that are manufactured in the Colt factory "

    You dont say?

    • JB Gunguy

      He means that Colt doesn't have a third party build their rifles with a Colt Logo, Colt does all the machining and assembly.

      • CBy

        Umarex would beg to differ.

    • shawnmt6601

      no he didnt say that. he said made to milspec from colts TDP and are available.

      • Thomas Acton

        it's funny how the term "mil-spec" is tossed around these days. building to genuine US mil-spec is no simple task, many have tried and most have failed. ie.. on barrels, after each machined cut all other cuts must be re-checked with gages in case any metal has been disturbed..
        remember when FN was awarded the rifle contract in 1986? they had difficulty with hard chroming the barrels. although they had produced many a FAL, w. chromed bores they had a fit meeting specs on the smaller 5.5.6.
        meeting US government mil-spec standards is no simple task.

        • Mack Missiletoe

          Interesting info, thanks.

          So maybe some of that that mil spec stuff we buy ain't mil spec, eh? That is sad…

  • John

    What’s with the plastic heat shield?

  • HankB

    I haven't looked at a Colt rifle for a while – do the ones being produced today for domestic sales to the general public still have the non-standard pins and the steel insert in the bottom to prevent installation of aftermarket parts? How about the bayonet lug, which Colt deleted when they didn't have to? I'd just like to know if you can get a Colt rifle that has the features competitors have been producing for years without going the gray market LEO product route.

    • shawnmt6601

      no, the models sold to the public have all standard parts same as the military line. minue full auto parts. the change took place years ago. Colt did not withold those features out of spite, if you knew about the history of the company you would know the pressur eput on them by the treasurey Dpt then the ATF to make sure they rifles were different then the m16. The gov agencies threatened colt in several ways including the gov contracts for the M16 if they did not comply.

      • Eric

        The M16 is made by FN in South Carolina. Colt makes, well, used to make, the M4. I think Remington makes the M4s now with Colt getting a percentage from each one.

        • Troy S. Lindstrand

          actually Colt can not get a percentage anymore patents and M4 tech spec now belong to the military.

  • DRo

    Just bought a new Colt LE6920, and have been impressed enough to buy another! Now my Rock Rivers are on their way out the door, the Colt's shoot just as good and weigh 2 pounds less! Not to say the Rock Rivers are a bad gun, they are excellent, great shooters and all, and the receiver fit is usually a bit tighter, but the Colt seems to be just as accurate and more reliable than my RR have been. Very glad to see Colt back in the marketplace, for AR's and their 1911's, and now the Mustang is back, now let's see them bring back the revolver line! Please Colt, bring back the Python and Cobra, hell, the whole snake line! Would certainly love to see that!

    • Richard Sanchez

      I could not agree with more…………YES, bring back the Colt Python. Bought it for myself to replace my 38 caliber duty gun.

  • Eddie Spaghetti

    Isn't there some way of presenting these pictures without having to go throught these long drawn out slide shows? I got to #5, and finally said to hell with it!!!

    • Alan_T

      I have to agree with you Eddie although I made it all the way through . Sometimes it just takes forever for the next photo to load ( and no ….. I'm not using some out – dated laptop or connection , before anyone says anything ) .

      • old vet

        I don't know about that Alan, I think it's kinda neat to have time to grab a cold one while the next picture loads.

        • Alan_T

          Well vet ……. it's kinda neat to have ANY excuse to grab a cold one !

          • Mack Missiletoe

            lol good one guys! Yes it does take forever to load regardless of pc.

          • Alan_T

            Sit down Mack , put your feet up and crack one open with us !

    • Thomas Acton

      i took the whole tour and yep, G&A either has servers running way to s…l….o…..w or it's all those banners having to load first.
      pathetic either way.
      i rarely view their site because of it but on Colt's AR … i had time to waste today.

  • rovernut

    I've been a Colt fan for over 50 years now, I think it's time they bring back their revolvers to replace my tired old ones. nothing beats a Colt! I've carried the 1911 in combat and on duty, now carry a Python or Cobra around the ranch. on my wall is a ar15, so I guess I got a few.

  • jeepers creepers

    great article. I learned alot. The last time I fired an M-16 was back in 1974. Thank you for the photo's.

  • Displaced Texan

    I believe the article is incorrect regarding Colt losing the M4 contract to .gov. The govt commonly uses multiple sources for critical items, and awarding a contract to the Freedom Group to build M4's was just that, a secondary source.
    Colt is still producing M4's for the military, and they retain ownership of the M-16/M4 TDP.
    Freedom Group will be paying a royalty to Colt for each M4 made.

  • Sequoyah

    Back in the early 90's I was trying to outfit a rifle team in hopes of going to Camp Perry. Contacted several companies and none could deliver on our time frame except Colt. They said send the money and they'd send the rifles to our FFL holder. We sent the money and then waited and waited and waited. Called several times to get updates. When the phone was answered we got the same answer we're waiting on parts. Camp Perry came and went without us. Six months after we paid upfront and got NRA involved did we receive the rifles.
    I don't know if a different bunch owns Colt now from then but I'd be leery of doing business with them again.

  • old vet

    If Colt is finally seeing the light as far as what they have been missing in consumer sales then great. As far as really bringing back their old revolver line as it was, don't hold your breath. Those beasties were extremely time consuming to hand fit. And while they could surely MIM the parts, there would still be massive amounts of tweaking and fiddling to time them up so as to get some resemblance of the old quality.

    • Alan_T

      I think you're right vet .

      Before anyone gets all pissed – off …… I'm not knocking the Colts , they were / are wonderful revolvers .

      But that being said vet's right , they required a lot of hand fitting AND it used to be that if the timing got screwed up on a Colt DA , it was so expensive to fix , you might as well just go buy a new one .

      People dumb enough to do the " Bogart Flip " found out in short order , it didn't take long to screw said timing up , flipping that cylinder closed about 5 times was enough to do it .

      • old vet

        I believe this is why most or all of the Brazilian made DAs are basically Smith's, not that Smith & Wessons are inferior, they are just easier to manufacture and make work.

        • Alan_T

          Yep , I don't know about Rossi ( now owend by Taurus ) but Taurus made Smith & Wesons under license in Brazil ( for sale in South America ) mmmmmmm some 20 years ago . In fact , I think that's how they got started manufacturing firearms in the first place .

          • Wolvie

            You guys are 100% on target.

            Colt has, for too long, totally neglected the consumer market…almost to the point of sneering. Since their revolver line does indeed require much more manufacturing attention and is prone to being more delicate than other offering out there, there is no way they could just pick it up again on a whim. It requires full dedication to the business model and employee resources to be able to produce those quality revolvers again.

            Like others here, I'm just not convinced that they have seen the light in their new (albeit limited) push back into the consumer market. I'm going to need a lot more convincing from them before I start considering their civilian products.

            Though that being said…I probably wouldn't be able to resist a blued, new production Python if the quality standard, fit & finish and action were up to par.

          • Alan_T

            Wolvie , every since I was a kid watching Roy Rogers back in the 19 ( cough , cough ) 's ,
            I've pretty much wanted every firearm I ever saw . Show me a nice handgun and my eyes glaze over , I start to drool and I have one thought in my head ….. A SPARKELY ! ! ! !
            Now that I've said that , in my opinion , Colt's royal blue finish was the most " sparkely " of all the " sparkalies ! ! ! !
            In my mind , beautiful doesn't even begin to describe it .

  • Mike

    I love the history of Colt and their products. But I can't help but cringe when I read about how long it was before they finally updated their company and facility and that the US govt. pays $1500/each for an M4 while 1000 other AR companies have been using state of the art machinery to make improvements on the original design and are in the hands of SOCOM troops. Combine that with Colt's own, government and independent testing on the M4 and it doesn't sit well. Colt got a no bid contract on the M4 but a Colt test in 08 or 09 showed a barrel rupture after 500ish rounds on full auto and 800 malfunctions during the sandstorm test. Hopefully the Individual Carbine Competition will solve some of these issues. Congressmen don't need to make policy decisions on small arms. Just realize that a single rifle/caliber isn't a fix all in all environments. A civilian can get a pretty badass AR for $1500, you'd think a government that buys 500,000 rifles could make a better deal. Again, no-bid contract. A few companies tried to take them to court over it but lost. The Springfield Armory vs. the M16 a half century ago is repeating itself with the bureaucracy at Colt and the USgovt!

    • Sinlessorrow

      you have some bad information in your post.

      ill address them.

      "pays $1500/each for an M4 while 1000 other AR companies have been using state of the art machinery to make improvements on the original design and are in the hands of SOCOM troops"

      first off it was $1200 and that came with BUIS, 1 magazine and a KAC M4 RAS. also from what I have read the price increase(they at one time were $600 per rifle) was done to spite the government for restrictions they put on Colt and the Civilian rifles.

      "Combine that with Colt's own, government and independent testing on the M4 and it doesn't sit well"

      what testing exactly?

      "Colt got a no bid contract on the M4 but a Colt test in 08 or 09 showed a barrel rupture after 500ish rounds on full auto"

      its a carbine not a LMG, there is a reason all LMG's have quick swap barrels and its to avoid cookoffs and ruptured barrels. 500rnds of non stop fire is pretty good for a carbine.

      "800 malfunctions during the sandstorm test."

      the dust test was set up. first off HK and FNH knew their rifles were going to be entered into a dust test and were able to "setup(read overgass)" their rifles for the test. Colt did not know about the test, the M4's(and mags) were drawn from some armory room somewhere off some rack without unkown round counts on the rifles.

      the avg RPM for the M4 is 800rpm, the AVG of the 10 M4's in the dust test were around 690, if a rifle is under 700 it is rejected, so you take old and busted rifles with old and busted mags and worn out springs beyond their service life and compete it against brand knew purpose built rifles with new mags and its a shocker when the old and busted loses?

      Colt later got Stark East-West( a DoD certified company) to redo the test with brand new M4's using Colt's specification on lubrication and came out with 110 stoppages.

      also note that Remington recently won a contract for M4A1's at $678 per rifle, had the government never dicked over Colt they never would have raised their prices.

      end of rant.

      on a side note…whats up Shawn!!!

      • RRBunn

        The DoD gets a quantity discount. (I work for OSD). I’m somewhat brand agnostic, but you cannot beat the 1911 for all around target or protection work. I have three AR platforms, unfortunately non-Colt, but it was their original efforts that make it work. I do have one of their very first assault rifles the Colt LIgtening Magazine Rifle. I trying to find a SAA but no-one has one in my area at any price.

  • old vet

    This sight is AFU! all the blogs are mixed up hopefully it is Solar flares or a Glitch. See Ya


    the rifle americn sodiers hated in nam — and i thought john wayne made the winchester '94 america's favorite rifle!!!!!!!!!!

back to top