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Ready, Aim and Fire! 5 Best Colt Handguns on Earth

When one considers the “Big Three” American handgun manufacturers, a first guess as to which of them is the oldest would probably be Colt, by virtue of the fact that Samuel Colt patented the first viable revolver in 1836.

Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Colt Series 70

When one considers the “Big Three” American handgun manufacturers, a first guess as to which of them is the oldest would probably be Colt, by virtue of the fact that Samuel Colt patented the first viable revolver in 1836. Well, it turns out that Smith & Wesson (S&W) actually predates Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company (nowadays known as Colt’s Manufacturing Company, LLC) by six years, with respective official founding dates of 1852 and 1858. Sturm, Ruger, & Co. is the proverbial “spring chicken” comparatively, having been founded in 1949. 

But it’s still fair to say the Colt is the most famous name of that trio, especially among non-gun-savvy, thanks, especially to the term “Colt .45” (more on this in a moment.) With that in mind, let’s take a look at what I consider to be Colt’s 5 Best Handguns of all time. 

Single Action Army (SAA) “Peacemaker” .45 Colt (AA “.45 Long Colt”) Revolver

When folks use that “Colt .45” label (and assuming that they’re not talking about the malt liquor that Billy Dee Williams used to plug in those memorable 1980s TV adverts), this is one of the two guns they’re probably referring to. Known as “The Gun That Won the West,” it officially served as the standard issue sidearm of the U.S. Army from 1873 to 1892, and unofficially stuck around even longer than that, as late as the Spanish-American War. 

As if all that wasn’t enough to make the gun famous, the “Peacemaker” gained even more immortality when it was selected by General George S. Patton as one of his two ivory-handled revolvers; he first used the gun in combat as a young lieutenant on General John “Black Jack” Pershing’s Pancho Villa Expedition of 1916. (And yes, the grips were in fact ivory and not pearl; in the General’s own words, “Son, only a pimp in a Louisiana whorehouse carries pearl-handled revolvers. These are ivory.”

Thankfully for collectors and weapons history buffs, Colt is still producing the SAA in the present day. Regarding the caliber, though ofttimes referred to conversationally as the “.45 Long Colt,” the proper name for the cartridge is simply .45 Colt.

M1911/M1911A1 Government Model .45 ACP Single-Action Semiautomatic Pistol

This is the other gun that’s being channeled when people utter or write the words “Colt .45.” Still arguably the world’s most popular – and definitely America’s most popular – centerfire autopisol 102 years after the late John Moses Browning patented it. After passing a grueling 6,000-round torture test with a 100 percent score – for a fascinatingly detailed account of this, read Chapter 2 of Dean A. Grennell’s “Gun Digest Book of the .45” – it became the first semiauto pistol to be adopted by the U.S. Armed Forces and served officially in that capacity for 75 years before finally giving way to the Beretta M9. To this day, it remains the most powerful sidearm to ever become standard issue to a sovereign nation’s armed forces – as dramatically demonstrated by Sgt. Alvin York’s legendary feat of dropping seven German soldiers with seven shots.

Besides those original WWI-era Colts, arguably the highest quality M1911 .45 autos actually made by Colt (and not one of the myriad of competing brands), are the Series 70 guns.

Python .357 Magnum Double-Action (DA) Revolver

The Rolex of .357 Magnums,” though in fairness, one might reasonably argue that such an analogy would actually be more appropriate for the even pricier German-made Korth revolvers. Probably THE smoothest factory-stock DA trigger of ANY revolver from ANY of the “Big Three” manufacturers. This beloved “snake Gun” debuted in 1955.

I’ll never forget the first – and so far only – time I fired a Python. It was 2004, and I was a 1st Lieutenant in the HQ Air Mobility Command (AMC) Security Forces Directorate. One fine day, I went to the range with our executive officer, “Captain R,” who was a fellow hardcore gun enthusiast, who brought his Python – with the incredibly beautiful Royal Blue finish to boot – to the range. After firing one full cylinder’s worth through the wheelgun, I turned to Capt. R and said “Holy ****, sir, which gunsmith did the custom work on this trigger for you, and how much did he charge you?” To which he replied, “Oh no, that’s a factory stock trigger.” Hearing that really blew me away. 

Woodsman .22 LR Semiauto Pistol

Of all the guns that Colt decided to discontinue, this is probably the one that’s most sorely missed by old-school pistoleros. It actually predates the enduringly popular Ruger Standard as the first successful rimfire semiauto .22 caliber pistol, having been designed by the aforementioned Mr. Browning and produced from 1915 to 1977. The Woodsman is so coveted that surplus specimens can fetch a price range from $950 all the way up to $4,400.00!

New Service DA Revolver (Various Calibers)

My Facebook Friend and fellow gun enthusiast “Winston Wolfe” (yes, that’s a pseudonym; my fellow fans of Quentin Tarantino films will undoubtedly appreciate) absolutely insisted I include it on this list. Here’s his rationale:

“The gun is built like a tank. You can barely see the lines where parts fit together.  Very versatile for military, defensive, and hunting uses. Firing it feels like Airsoft, especially with a long 7.5-inch barrel in the more tame calibers like .38 Special or .44 Special. Recoil is easily manageable with all calibers it was chambered in. Excellent accuracy out to 40-50 yards even in stock models. Early on Colt realized it’s a great target platform too … Also, New Service was the first large frame to be made into a snubnose. I own the first one made in 1924 … It was also the model that [famed gun writer J. Henry] Fitzgerald himself preferred. I also own #1 of that … There is really nothing like a New Service.”

Winston, you lucky dog, you (for owning those collectibles, that is)! 

The Colt New Service was produced from 1898 until 1941. 

Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He 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.  

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Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).