The M1911 autopistol series remains one of the most enduringly popular handguns of all-time, for private citizens, military, and law enforcement alike.
One of the more popular variants of the M1911 is the Colt Commander series, the Lightweight Commander and Combat Commander alike. Chronologically speaking, many old-school gun experts consider Colt’s Series 70 to be that manufacturer’s single best decade of the 1911 production.
So then, a Colt Series 70 Combat Commander should be the best of both worlds, right? Er, well, let’s just see…
Cold Combat Commander Early History and Specifications
The Commander first arrived on-scene in 1949. It offered a somewhat more compact version of the full-size Government Model by trimming the barrel length from 5 inches down to 4.25 inches and the weight from 39 ounces down to 27 ounces, whilst retaining the frame size and 7+1 magazine capacity of the original. The weight savings came largely due to the aircraft-grade aluminum alloy frame.
There were some initial concerns about the Commander’s long-term durability, but the late great gun writer “Skeeter” Skelton dispelled those concerns via a 5,000-round torture test. The gun caught up in popularity in a short space of time.
Still, a goodly number of shooters were still more partial to all-steel handguns, so Colt addressed that contingent in 1970 with the all-steel Combat Commander, thus redubbing the alloy-frame version as the Lightweight Commander. The Combat Commander weighed in at 33 ounces, which was still 6 ounces lighter than the full-size Government Model, and believe you me, even those measly 6 ounces go a long way in saving wear & tear on your lower back.
Indeed, the Combat Commander seemed to be the best of all worlds for 1911 fans; somewhat more compact and concealable and lighter weight than the full-size, whilst still maintaining the same ammo capacity, and still big enough for relatively easy control of the ,45 ACP cartridge’s recoil compared to, say, the Colt Officers ACP – which debuted in 1985 – with its 3.5-inch barrel and reduced capacity of 6+1 rounds.
That same decade that the Combat Commander debuted, Colt came out with the Series 70 line for its Government Models and Commanders alike, which were highly praised for their fit, finish, and trigger pull quality. By contrast, the Series 80 Colts were ofttimes cursed with suboptimal triggers that were adversely affected the passive firing pin block safety.
Personal Shooting Impressions AKA Why Did Mine Have to be the Damn Lemon
I first took an interest in the Colt Combat Commander back in July 1990 (a month shy of my 15th birthday), when I read an article by Dave Anderson of American Handgunner Magazine covering a beautiful duotone (blued slide, hard chrome frame) Combat Commander customized by gunsmith Kim Ahrends. Granted, that was a Series 80, but eh, why nitpick. I was fascinated!
Alas, for whatever reason, none of my local firing ranges in SoCal had a Commander available for rental! Full-size Government Model, yes, Officers ACP, yes, but for whatever reason, not the “middle” option.
Well, y’all know the same “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em?” When it comes to firearms, my rejoinder to that is, “If you can’t rent ‘em, buy ‘em.” That’s the philosophy I put into practice with the .41 Magnum, and I ended up doing the same thing with the Commander.
It was in 2004 that opportunity finally knocked and I answered the (proverbial) door. At the time, I was an active-duty U.S. Air Force Security Forces (hooah!) 1st Lieutenant stationed at Scott AFB, Illinois, and my local gun shop, Belleville Shooting Range – nowadays known as Metro Shooting Supplies – had a beautiful blue steel Series 70 Combat Commander in the price range of $650.00 or thereabouts. I just had to go for it.
After all of the great things I’d heard about Commanders in general and the Series 70s Colts in general, I did my first range outing with my pistol full of great expectations…and then had my hopes dashed. Just my luck, mine had to be the damn lemon!
Trigger was, well, okay but not great. Grip ergonomics were good as I expected, and recoil was manageable. Sights were a bit on the small side but still usable.
The positive ended there.
Accuracy-wise…sure, I could keep my rounds – using standard factory 230-grain full metal jacket (FMJ) “hardball” – within the head and center-torso of the BT-5 silhouette target at 7 yards. But even at that distance, the rounds were keyholing! At 15 yards and beyond…as Tony Soprano might say, “FUHGEDDABOUTIT!”
Then there were the reliability issues; I was lucky if I could go two full magazines without some sort of stovepipe jam, extraction failure, or double-feed jam, even after a 250-round break-in period.
So, one of the range staff, my friend Rodger, had me detail-trip – that’s a complete disassembly as opposed to a basic field-strip – the pistol and let the part soak in a bath of Hoppe’s No. 9 Gun Bore Cleaner in a Tupperware container for two days, to make sure the innards of the gun were thoroughly cleaned. Alas, even doing so, re-lubing, and reassembling the pistol, the malfunctions persisted. I eventually sold the damn gun in frustration.
Oy vey, what a letdown.
Want Your Own?
My troubles with the Combat Commander seem to be the exception and not the rule, so if you dear readers want to buy one, I still encourage you to do so! True Gun Value states that “A COLT SERIES 70 COMBAT COMMANDER pistol is currently worth an average price of $1,231.73 new . The 12 month average price is $1,231.73 new.” Seems kinda weird that the site doesn’t list a price for a used Series 70, but anyway…
Guns.Com lists multiple Combat Commanders, with the lowest price being $999.99 and then next two up the latter at $1,063.99 and $1,099.99, and ticking upward from there. For comparison, Colt lists an MSRP of $999.00 for its current edition Combat Commander and Lightweight Commander.
Christian D. Orr has 34 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.