Gun Collecting: The Colt Model 1903

The W.C. Wolff Company can supply exact replacement springs for almost any rifle, shotgun or handgun. Here are new springs for the M-1903 Colt 32 ACP, from left: extractor, firing pin and recoil springs. The magazine and its old spring are at right. Note how it was definitely time for a new spring in the magazine.

The W.C. Wolff Company can supply exact replacement springs for almost any rifle, shotgun or handgun. Here are new springs for the M-1903 Colt 32 ACP, from left: extractor, firing pin and recoil springs. The magazine and its old spring are at right. Note how it was definitely time for a new spring in the magazine.

A Marvel of Simplicity

The Colt M-1903 is a marvel of simplicity. It is a straight blowback, single-action design with a fixed barrel, and operation is simple forward. A loaded magazine holding up to eight rounds is inserted into the butt, the slide then retracted and released. This cocks the internal hammer, chambers a round from the magazine and then the arm is ready to fire. The manual safety can be applied at this point for pocket or holster carry.

Upon firing, the slide moves back, the fired case is ejected, and what Colt called the “retractor spring” on its guide beneath the barrel returns the slide into battery, stripping the next cartridge in line off the top of the single-stack magazine. The slide does not remain locked open after the last shot.

Disassembly is likewise easy and straightforward. Remove the magazine and make sure the chamber is empty. Pull the slide back to cock the hammer and release.

Move the slide back until the takedown arrow on the left front of the slide is even with the front edge of the frame, and rotate the barrel to the left. The slide with the barrel can then be pulled forward and off the frame, and then the retractor spring and its guide may be removed, if desired.

To remove the barrel from the frame, turn it back to its original position and pull the barrel out of the slide. Reassembly is basically in the reverse order, but you have to turn the barrel ever so slightly to get the slide back far enough to lock the barrel lugs into their corresponding cuts in the frame.

Colt Model 1903 Specifications
Model:    Colt Pocket Hammerless Model 1903
Type:    Internal hammer, semi-automatic, single-action pistol, blowback
Patent Dates:    April 20, 1897; December 22, 1903
Year of Manufacture:    1923, Model M, Type III (mfg. 1910-1923)
Caliber:    .32 Automatic Colt Pistol (7.65mm Browning)
Capacity:    8+1
Barrel length:    3¾
Overall length:    6¾ inches
Overall width:    ¾-inch
Overall height:    4½ inches
Weight:    24 ounces (with empty magazine)
Safeties:    Slide lock safety, disconnector safety, and grip safety
Sights:    Fixed
Finish:    Bright blue or Parkerized, depending on model
Stocks:    Checkered hard rubber or checkered walnut
Manufacturer:    Colt Patent Firearms Mgf. Co., Hartford, Conn., U.S.A.

4 thoughts on “Gun Collecting: The Colt Model 1903

  1. aimandsqueeze

    I own one of these fine pistols. Mine is a wartime (WWII) officer issue, my stepfather’s brother carried it and I inherited it. It has the “US PROPERTY” stamp on the right side of the slide, and has the wooden grip stocks with the forward facing horse logos, and has a VGC blued finish.

    I used to use it as a concealed carry until I learned its value. From what I learned, tracing a military issue pistol to the issuee increases its value, especially if the officer was a Colonel or General.

    I have fired this pistol many times and concur with the article’s assessment. I found that JHP ammunition (Hornady Critical Defense) tends to misfeed more often than FMJ, probably due to the angle of the bullet ogive, and the fact that the locked-in-slide barrel doesn’t tilt and reduce the effective angle of the feed ramp. However, it is a pistol I will keep forever.

  2. cobrajocky

    GOOD LUCK FINDING ANY PARTS!!
    I have a 1903 Pocket 38 ACP (1906), the large model and I haven’t been able to find any parts in 20 years! Typical parts that wear out – sear, mainspring, firing pin, extractor, etc. are either NOT available or when one shows up on sell boards the prices asked are absurd!

    If you buy one of these in 32, 380 or 38ACP, it have better be complete and in mint condition and then you better expect to virtually never shoot it more than a box of rounds a year, if at all. This is not a shooter piece, only a collectors wall hanger.

  3. bhp0

    Too bad Colt and others do not make high quality guns like this anymore. Today all we have is junk plasticky guns or MIM cast iron garbage. Contrary to popular gun writer propaganda. They could be made today at affordable prices with CNC technology but they would not bring in the obscene profits the plasticky garbage does.

  4. twfarley

    I have a rare beauty that is my favorite handgun. It was made in 1906 and is not only in high-90’s condition but, with the right ammo, can hit pins at 50 yards on a regular basis. The key is bullet weight. with 71 grain bullets it patterns like a full choke 12Ga. However, with 60 grain ammo the accuracy peaks to the point of amazement. I bought it because it flirted with me from the used gun case and I was smitten. Beauty, class and performance…. what more could you want in a small caliber pistol.

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