Seecamp Conversions

A few months back, I walked into a gun store in California that I frequented in the early 1970s. It hasn’t changed very much—same large log building with no change in floor space or show cases. This is a full-service gun shop that is deep into everything available. In the old days, there was room for several samples of everything current in handguns. Today, there are so many kinds of competing handguns that usually there is one example of each on display with more under the counter. In essence, that’s the difference between then and now—there is a lot more from which to choose. That is particularly true in the field of automatic pistols. For reasons that don’t seem to make much sense now, in those days everybody was mad for pistols with DA/SA triggers, particularly .45s. They were perceived to be somehow “safer.” Many current 21st century models fill the bill, but there weren’t that many in the 70s.

So an ingenious gunsmith named Louis Seecamp took up the complex problem of making DA/SA .45s, using Colt Government Models as a starting point. Looking at one of these pistols years after the fact and you realize how complex the procedure that made it happen actually was. It involved a great deal of machining on the right side of the 1911 receiver in order to make a channel for a draw bar.

This part internally contacts the bottom end of the hammer and draws it rearward to a cocked position. This happens just as a new pivoting trigger contacts the stub of the old SA trigger and fires the gun. A few brief sentences cannot possibly describe how precisely these various part must be shaped and positioned in order to make the system work. 

Initially, Seecamp converted individual pistols sent to him by their owners. Word of the system’s efficiency spread by magazine article and word of mouth, so  Mr. Seecamp entered into some kind of arrangement with Colt and modified an unknown number of 1911s for sale via Colt’s distribution network. I saw several in that old time gun store. Although the DA conversion is probably his best known innovation, it is not his only one. He came up with several other pistol products, as well as a unique rifle. Master of the combat sight and 1911 guru Wayne Novak recent commented to me that Louie Seecamp was easily the most underrated and overlooked of the great 1911 pioneering pistolsmiths.              

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3 Responses to Seecamp Conversions

Harry P. wrote:
January 04, 2013

Mr. Clapp: Having had the opportunity to handle & shoot a number of Seecamp conversions from the period in time about which you speak, I am in complete agreement with you and, especially, Mr. Novak in regard to how overlooked & underrated his work (in particular, his one-at-a-time, meticulously crafted early work) was in terms of ideas & execution. Not only was he “converting” single action 1911 platforms to what I think was a patented, double action first shot design of his own but he was also making short barreled guns out of both Government & Commander size semi-autos, as well as installing Bar-Sto barrels, adjustable S&W revolver sights, beveled magazine wells and more. Some of the ones that I have seen were truly amazing. We take so much for granted today in a fighting/defensive handgun, we often forget that less than just 50 years ago, much of this stuff was unheard of, let alone being done to even custom guns. And most people, if they even know of Mr. Seecamp at all these days, know him only through the current line of small double action Pocket & Vest Pocket pistols that bear his name or the semi-production DA Colt platforms that became at least somewhat better known in the later days of those earlier efforts and not these still-earlier handmade ones. But it is the early guns that intrigue me the most for they could be ordered from a take-out-food-like menu, picking & choosing the features that one felt best for their application or pocketbook. Some of the ones I have seen were built like watches (not in complexity or fragility but in hand honed workmanship) and were reflective of Mr. Seecamp’s skills as an old world gunsmith. By chance, do you have any photos of his work from that period that you might post here to illustrate your original comments on this matter? I am sure that your readers would not only enjoy the opportunity to see what you, Mr. Novak and I are talking about but also to help them to understand how some of this stuff actually came about.

Rob wrote:
January 03, 2013

Then came the Double Eagle... and the Glocks... but the 1911 in its original form continues to soldier on...

Pete wrote:
December 31, 2012

The reason the DA/SA was so popular was that police departments started to trust their officers to carry semi-autos instead of revolvers because they did not trust us to be safe with single action autos. The sight of a cocked hammer sent them into a conniption. I remember these Seecamp conversions, and remember thinking at the time, "The perfect gun!"