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Pachmayr Combat Special 1911 Pistol: My 'Holy Grail'

Finally finding the Pachmayr Combat Special 1911 pistol – a must-have for my collection – proves dreams can come true. Here's some history and how I found the "grail" gun.

Pachmayr Combat Special 1911 Pistol: My 'Holy Grail'

Pachmayr Combat Special 1911 Colt Series 70 Government Model (Photo by Keith Wood)

Late on Christmas eve I opened an email. Following the usual holiday greeting was the question, “Have you seen the Pachmayr on Gunbroker?” My heart skipped a beat. In this case, “Pachmayr” referred to the Combat Special built under legendary gunsmith Frank A. Pachmayr’s banner. These particular guns were built on Colt 1911s during the 1970s and early 1980s by a handful of ’smiths in Pachmayr’s employment. At the time, these epitomized that era’s custom 1911s. Jeff Cooper owned a personalized one, as did Charles Askins and Ray Chapman. Sport shooter Rob Leatham earned his by winning the 1983 IPSC World Championship.

For most of my life, a Pachmayr Combat Special was a “grail” gun, a rare must-have addition to my collection. (An estimated 300 were made.) To understand why this gun was so important to me, we need to look back at this story’s beginning.

I was 13 years old in 1990 when my brother Stephen and I were riding in the backseat of Mom’s car. Though it was my subscription, he wouldn’t let me look at it until he was done. The article he was reading was “How to Build the ‘Perfect’ .45 Auto,” written by Ross Seyfried, my favorite gunwriter. Featured in the article was a Combat Special, the same handgun that Seyfried used to win the 1981 IPSC World Shoot in South Africa. From that day forward, I lusted for the two-tone race gun.

Ironically, 30 years later, Seyfried sent me that Christmas Eve email about the Combat Special for sale. He was guiding me to the gun he made me covet. It’s funny how the universe works. I’ve never seen another come up for sale, and I‘ve only held a single example in my hand. I clicked the “Buy It Now” price, which was not unreasonable considering its rarity.


After a long search, I finally have a Pachmayr Combat Special of my own. The gun appears new inside and out; it obviously spent most of its existence as a safe queen.


Mine left Colt’s factory in 1978 as a Series 70 Government Model. The frame bears the “Pachmayr” signature-style mark, so it was customized before February 1982. Afterwards, the marking practice was discontinued. Each Combat Special was unique since they were available with a list of options. This was ordered with a custom-fit barrel and bushing from King’s Gun Works, and it uses a King’s full-length guiderod. The frame was fitted with a Swenson safety, a Bo-Mar adjustable rear sight and a checkered triggerguard. The top of the slide is serrated, too. The original owner opted against a checkered frontstrap and mainspring housing, instead selecting a set of Pachmayr’s rubber grips. The slide stop was made in-house and features an oversized pin that the frame would have been reamed to match precisely.

Many of the Combat Special’s features seem ordinary today, but they were state-of-the-art when this gun was new. Even now, as the custom 1911 trade has progressed, the fit and finish displayed on Pachmayr’s Combat Special can only be matched by a few.

I haven’t shot it yet, but I will! For the last year, I’ve been content to simply take it out of the safe and stare at it to be certain that it’s real. To me, this gun serves as a reminder that if you want something bad enough, and you’re willing to work for it, you can make it a reality. Perhaps I’ll wait until the next time I see Seyfried at the range; then I can shoot mine alongside his. 

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