The Colt National Match and Its Descendants

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If you enjoy fine firearms, says Ayoob, you’ll enjoy reading “American Beauty” by Tim Mullin. NM’s gorgeous finish is evident even in this “photo of a photo.”

If you enjoy fine firearms, says Ayoob, you’ll enjoy reading “American Beauty” by Tim Mullin. NM’s gorgeous finish is evident even in this “photo of a photo.”

The history of the 1911 pistol’s design and the nature of its many uses and special-purpose modifications are far too broad to be effectively addressed in a single book chapter … or, indeed, in a single book. A substantial section of a firearms library could be devoted to 1911 books by Donald Bady, Dave Lauck, Tim Mullin, James Serven, Layne Simpson, Bill Wilson, Larry Wilson, et. al. Today’s Gun Digest listing of every variation of currently produced 1911 pistol might well exceed the entire section on semiautomatic pistols in a Gun Digest of the early ‘50s.

Thus, a treatment of the topic in article length demands a specific focus, and no 1911 is more pleasing to focus on than the Colt National Match.

1911 Colt National Match Review and Pedigree

Tim Mullin’s ode to this pistol, American Beauty, states boldly, “…no finer semi-automatic handgun than the prewar Colt National Match ever left the factory, and anyone who owns one of these American Beauties holds a national treasure in his or her hand.” In terms of appearance and workmanship, few would argue with him. There are more accurate pistols today, and more user-friendly ones, but none with the pure Quality with a capital “Q” that permeates this rare and storied handgun.

Massad Ayoob's Greatest Handguns of the World

This article is from Massad Ayoob's Greatest Handguns of the World. Click the image to get your copy.

Those experts who knew the pistol during its short life had good things to say about it. Said Elmer Keith, “It was fitted with target sights, a match grade barrel and carefully honed action parts. Trigger pulls were carefully adjusted. These fine pistols were marked on the left side ‘National Match Colt.’ This was and is, a very fine match .45 auto…The Super Match was a fine target sighted and selected Super .38, but is no longer made. It was brought out soon after the introduction of the National Match .45 Colt.” Actually, most NMs wore that marking on the right side of the slide.

A contemporary of Keith was Charlie Askins, who used a Colt .45 automatic along with .38 Special revolver and .22 auto by the same maker to win the national pistol championship in the 1930s. He once wrote of the National Match .45, “This is the Government Model with target sights and a target barrel, finely fitted and finished. Heretofore the targetmen fell on this gun and felt they had the best. It is believed Colt halted the production of the National Match grade simply because it was too expensive to manufacture and it could not thereafter be offered to the public at a popular price. Hand labor is a costly proposition and a good deal of highly skilled hand effort had to go into the completion of each pistol.”

A Brief History

Born as an expensive gun in the depths of the Great Depression, the finely crafted National Match sold better than expected but was never destined to be a mass-market success. The addition of the Super Match, a .38 Super with the same treatment, differing only in markings, caliber, and cartridge capacity, did little to change the inevitable.

When production ceased with the outbreak of WWII, the epoch of the Colt National Match had come to an end. While Mullin notes that a few were assembled from leftover parts after the war’s conclusion, the company chose not to make it a catalog item. However, the concept was resurrected in 1957 with the Gold Cup. The first runs were marked only “National Match” on the slide, and later “National Match Gold Cup,” and finally just “Gold Cup.”

This article is an excerpt from Massad Ayoob’s Greatest Handguns of the World. Click Here to get your copy.