A Centennial Celebration of 1911s

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The official date of adoption of John M. Browning’s Automatic Pistol, Caliber .45, Model of 1911 was Wednesday, March 29, in the same month that the first U.S. troops were sent to the Mexican border to quell mayhem and violence caused by Pancho Villa and other cut-throat gangsters running amok. Eventually, a force of 107,000 soldiers under Gen. John J. Pershing sallied forth to clean up gangs of murderous outlaws cut from the same cloth as today’s drug cartels.

Indeed, a lot of history has passed during the M1911’s watch. A “century of service” sounds flippant, a sound bite in a cacophony of marketing racket. But the M1911 has undergone a number of changes during its five-score years of service, becoming the M1911A1, the Commander, the Officers ACP and dozens of other permutations: wider, thinner, smaller, bigger. Its trademark .45 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) cartridge has been joined by everything from .22 Long Rifle to a wildcat called the .50 GI.

It may not be made of polymer, and it may hold a measly seven rounds, but the M1911 is unquestionably the most adaptable and customizable handgun ever made.

To mark the centenary of Browning’s timeless design, manufacturers of M1911 pistols are issuing limited-edition pistols in a variety of commemorative configurations. It might seem presumptuous for any but Colt’s Mfg. Co., the original developer of Browning’s design, to mark 100 years of production, but perhaps the most flattering tribute to the M1911 is that so many different companies are celebrating the pistol’s history.

Coincidentally, 2011 also marks the 175th anniversary of the founding of Colt’s Mfg. Co., so it’s a double dose of anniversaries for the Hartford, Conn., gunmaker.

Some of the M1911 celebrants are truly unique. Certainly Colt’s own commemoratives would win a “Most Collectible” prize because of their limited production and because the rampant horse logo has measurable value. Suffice it to say that members of the Colt Collectors Ass’n routinely pay five or six figures for a particularly exquisite and historic M1911. One of Colt’s centennial pistols, a special one-of-a-kind Government Model donated by Colt to benefit NRA will fetch the most money, probably well north of $100,000.

Another commemorative of note is an M1911 from Bill Laughridge of Cylinder & Slide Shop in Nebraska. Precisely made to the specifications of a pre-500 serial number Colt, the pistol is machined entirely from bar stock steel, just like the first production run in Hartford, including the original magazine and magazine release button that Colt changed immediately after they turned out to be a nightmare to assemble.

A great example of how the M1911 can evolve is a pair of commemorative models from Browning Arms Co. One is a Government Model of the A1 configuration and the other is an exact miniature at 85 percent scale in .22 Long Rifle. The Lilliputian Government Model is also offered in a standard production version, new for 2011.

Many of the limited-edition models included in this round-up are already sold out—and have been since they were first announced in 2010. Colt’s models were snapped up instantly; Wilson Combat’s are all gone, too; however, check with your local gun shop because some of the models following may still be in the distribution pipeline.

Other than the M1911, no service arm has survived 100 years of U.S. military service. Today’s elite Special Forces troops, created in World War II as the Office Of Strategic Services, can pick any handgun in any chambering, yet many of our Tier One operators continue to sharpen the tip of America’s spear with a 100-year-old pistol design. Happy birthday, old slabsides, long may you rule!

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