Colt Reliability Out of the Box?

We test fire 10 Colt 1911 pistols right out of the box without so much as lubrication.

Here at MSW, we get the question all the time: what is the best 1911 to get for out of the box reliability? Hilton and I have felt that recent production Colts probably did the best job in this regard. Last year at a 1911 class in Los Angeles, Jason Davis brought a brand new Colt 1911 to the class and shot the entire class, without any malfunctions, including the 1911 Extractor Test. This year, I brought a brand new Colt Rail Gun to our Seattle 1911 Armorer’s Course and it also passed all our function tests with flying colors. My good buddy and Factory Colt 1911/M16 Armorer Instructor Dean Caputo and I came up with an idea: What if we tested 10 random brand new, out of the box Colt Government Models and see how they ran? We agreed we wouldn’t even lubricate the guns. So not long ago, we did just that and here’s what happened:

At Dean’s agency, they have a large number of brand new, unissued 1911 pistols for their officers. They probably have the largest number of brand new, production Colt 1911s anywhere in the country outside of the factory (and maybe even including the factory.) So we picked out 10 Government Models at random. These included various stainless, two tone and blued models, in both standard format and “enhanced” xse models with dovetailed sights and beavertail grip safeties.

Due to the recent controversy over talking about our 10-8 Function Test Protocol in a public forum, and our decision not to publicize it, we decided we would limit this evaluation to Colt’s consistency in producing guns with properly tuned and functioning extractors, which is a huge factor contributing to the reliability of the pistol.

The Extractor Test was not invented by us. As mentioned in my previous articles, I initially learned it from Larry Vickers and Hilton. Larry had originally gotten it from Ken Hackathorn. A version of this test is used by Wilson Combat as part of the Quality Assurance checks they do on every gun before they leave the shop.

The test is simple: fire a prescribed number of rounds through the pistol without a magazine inserted. In the 10-8 1911 Function test, we shoot 16 rounds this way. Eight are fired two handed and eight more are fired strong hand only. The empty cases must properly eject between 2 o’clock and 5 o’clock. If any cases go forward, to the left, stovepipe, into your face, or fall through the magazine well, the pistol has failed this test.

Before you say, “But I never shoot the gun without a magazine in place,” please READ THIS ARTICLE.

So what happened? An interesting wrinkle appeared during this test. Apparently, all three of the blued steel guns (purchased together approximately 10 years ago), were extremely sluggish and the slides were sticky. They not only failed the extractor test, we could barely work the slide. A quick disassembly revealed why:

Apparently, whatever lubricant Colt packed the pistols in had somehow crystallized during storage. Giant chunks of what looked like gravel fell out of the gun upon disassembly. What remained was a dirty, sticky mess. Rather than try and clean these guns, we opted to select three other guns at random and substitute them in.

Thankfully, I had Colt Factory Armorer Instructors Jason Davis and Dean Caputo on hand to help me test fire all those guns. Note the red tags are still attached.

The final result? Out of 10 pistols, all but one passed the Extractor Test. As luck would have it, the final gun we shot failed the test miserably. Upon inspection, the extractor had zero tension on it at all. It must have been close to quitting time that day. A quick adjustment and I got the extractor working 100%.

Those who’ve seen Panteao’s Documentary on the Colt 1911 know that pistols coming out of the Colt factory are a product of state of the art manufacturing methods combined with old world craftsmanship. Each extractor is fit by a skilled assembler and checked for proper tension. As with anything that involves humans, mistakes can happen. Luckily, it was easily fixed by a skilled armorer.

Colt factory pistols may not have some of the fancy “custom” features that are common with competing brands, but the build and materials quality exceed any at the same price point. If you are determined to carry a 1911 for duty or defensive use, starting with a Colt 1911 will put you ahead of the curve in terms of reliability and durability.

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About Tim Lau

Tim Lau has over a decade of experience as an end user, armorer and instructor. He has worked for several well known firearms training organizations, and holds multiple firearms instructor certifications. He owns and operates 10-8 Consulting, LLC, which provides industry consulting services as well as marksmanship and specialized firearms training to qualified civilian, law enforcement and military personnel.

11 thoughts on “Colt Reliability Out of the Box?

  1. I really enjoy reading your 1911 articles. I have dreams and aspirations of one day owning a colt and in turn retire my once stock but now unrecognizable RIA. Hopes and dreams once crushed in OIF/OEF but in the future fully realized through that Colt rollmark.

  2. Jason Davis? Cal guns lawyer? If yes what a great guy! Helped me out of a jam. Tell him u said hi.

    You guys have a great website. Been reading daily for a month or so. Keep up the good work.

  3. Insightful article. However, I’m I the only one that finds it odd that an agency would have a large number of new in the box Colt 1911’s, some of which are up to 10 years old, just sitting around collecting rust.

    • It is not that uncommon for agencies to have unused guns sitting around. We issue Glock but allow a wide selection of others. We have to have a Glock for those who carry their own in case their breaks or they get in an officer involved shooting. We also keep a surplus of 10% just in case everyone goes to the issue gun and there is breakage, etc. Then there is also the fact we are authorized for a certain number of officers but we have not be up to full staffing for years. That will cause extras. Not to mention our authorized staffing has dropped over the last few years anyway.

      It is easier to have extra guns ready to go that to try to rush order guns. If we had “just enough” someone might have to sit around the station rather than work the streets. Possibly for weeks.

  4. Is it common for a weapon lubricant to “crystallize”? I am sure there are factors involved, weather, humidity,etc…but that seems kind of weird. I do not own a Colt but have began to lust for one. Of the few I have picked up, the fit and finishes have been inconsistent. Iam not talking about slide to frame fit and the classic “Colt rattle” which I think is kind of cool. More like thumb safeties being very very hard to activate and all different feeling triggers.
    The best way I can explain it is how my buddy said it “they feel janky”. Iam not a 1911 master like the men that run this great blog. i did sleep in a holiday inn express last night and for comparison I own AND shoot a Dan Wesson Valor and try to shoot everyone’s 1911 I see on the range.
    So was it “quitting time” when they lubed that gun with play-doh? Is Colt just a great base gun for custom work? What gives with these inconsistencies? All human error? Do all of the “old world craftsman” that hand fit only work in the custom shop? I would love to buy a pony but I guess all horses are not the same.

    • Our best guess is that in the course of storing the gun for a decadr, residual bluing salts that werent completely removed or rinsed off had a reaction with the metal and affected the lube as well. That is why it is a good idea to clean a new gun even before long term storage. I think the above test shows the Colt is a good,
      functional gun out of the box. Note we have had good experiences with the Dan Wessons we’ve seem, but also notice that they are quite a bit more expensive than a production Colt.

      • Thank you for explaining the “crystallization” and the advice on cleaning a new gun before storage. Stay sharp.

  5. I very much appreciate the genuine honest no bull articles and commentary here!
    I have been growing tired of the overly anal, fussy whiny stuff that goes on at other sites. I appreciate the unique insights into the 1911. I am pretty much equal opportunity when it comes to pistols – glocks revolvers and 1911’s and with the exception of one les Baer all my others past and present are colt with no complaint

  6. If you must have a Colt for the nostalgia of owing one…fine, I understand that. However, when it comes to defending myself or my family, I trust my Glock period!

  7. I have been using the colt 1911 for over 27 years. I have owned over 30 across the years and put a lot of ammo through them. I have never had one that gave a problem that was not the fault of the ma. And I can count that in under 10 cases. in my opinion, COLT is the standard. They have over 100 years in combat experience and manufacturing experience and are the original. who else can claim that. I have never seen another brand with the reliability and quality in the same mass produced price range and not be custom or semi custom worked over

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