Colt M1911A1 World War II Parts Gun
August 12, 2019
Saving a mysterious World War II vintage parts gun.
Many years ago, I bought an old Colt M1911A1 from friend and gunwriter, Tom Beckstrand. On the right side of the frame, it wears serial number “1729XXX” in a scripted font with “UNITED STATES PROPERTY” roll-stamped above it and “M1911A1 U.S. ARMY” to the right of the protruding slide-lock lever pin. There’s a “7” stamped at the front and atop the triggerguard and the number “131” is stamped at the bottom and to the rear of the triggerguard on the left side of the frame. The slide is particularly unique as I cannot find another with the same roll stamp. It reads, “COLT’S PT.F.A.MFG.CO. HARTFORD, CT. U.S.A.” The second line reads, “PAT’D APR. 20,1897. SEPT.9.1902. DEC.19,1905. FEB.14,1911. AUG.19,1913.” And “CAL. 45 AUTOMATIC” reads the third line. Colt’s rampant pony logo is almost gone, but you can still make out the two front legs holding a spear, the head biting another spear, and its cocked hind legs and tail. What’s unusual is that the logo is at the far-right of the roll stamp, just in front of the slide serrations.
Could the slide be a commercial model used during a rebuild? I’m not certain because the parkerized finish has worn similarly to the frame’s. However, there’s clear evidence that this M1911A1 was a parts gun. It features commercially blued and incorrect parts such as the barrel, barrel bushing, slide-lock lever, thumb safety and three grip screws. Interesting to me, it does include the stamped, checkered short trigger shoe, checkered magazine release and World War II-era plastic checkered grip panels.
The serial number indicates that the frame was manufactured sometime around January 1945, early enough that it could have seen use before World War II ended. Random scratches cover its surface and there is slight pitting towards the muzzle end of the left slide slab.
I sent the pistol to Turnbull Restoration Company (turnbullrestoration.com) with some spare, period-correct parts hoping that Doug Turnbull’s craftsmen could make it as it was originally. Days later, I received a call informing me that it wasn’t a candidate for restoration. It’s hard to see, but the bottom of the grip frame was cut at a 45-degree angle and replaced with another grip frame that was brazed. Perhaps the grip had been crushed or rolled over at some point, cut and replaced by an armorer. The service was effective, and it still functions properly. To add to the mystery, Turnbull was unfamiliar with the slide’s roll stamp, but said he thought it was a Colt marking. Having seen his collection of roll stamps on a wall, this statement surprised me.
I’ve reached out to Garry James who is looking into the markings and asked Beckstrand to see if he could learn more of its history. Beckstrand told me that he bought it from a U.S. Army Special Forces team sergeant he served with at a fire base in Afghanistan. I’ll have to wait patiently to see what becomes of those queries.
In the meantime, I’m wondering what to do with this old Colt. Though it can’t be restored to its former glory, it could be rebuilt again. For example, Wilson Combat has been gunsmithing on Colt Model 1911s since 1977, and he currently offers custom work by his team of master gunsmiths. Other gunsmiths such as Jim Garthwaite (garthwaite.com), Bill Laughridge (cylinder-slide.com), Wayne Novak (novaksinc.com) and Mark Stone (nighthawkcustom.com) also offer custom services for 1911 pistols. So, I turn the direction of this project over to Guns & Ammo’s readers. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and help this Colt gallop again.