The Colt National Match and Its Descendants

A contemporary ad for the Colt National Match, reproduced in the Mullin book.

A contemporary ad for the Colt National Match, reproduced in the Mullin book.

The Elliason rear sight proved to be superb on the Python revolver, where Colt offered it as an extra-cost option, but it did not stand up to the rocketing slide of a 1911, particularly with full power .45 ammo. Secured with hollow pins, the Elliasons often came loose when the pins cracked.

All this was a shame, because the Gold Cup was beloved by handgunners including cops of the Sixties and Seventies who wanted a gun that would feed the jacketed hollow point ammo that was becoming popular but didn’t want to send their Government Model to a pistolsmith to throat its feedway for the high performance rounds. A Government Model or Commander of the period was “mil-spec” in that regard. It would feed fine with the 230-grain round-nose full metal jacket military cartridge (or, from its introduction in the early 1970s to this day, with the Remington 185-grain JHP whose nose duplicated the ogive of hardball), but would often balk at hollow-cavity projectiles with wider mouths. The Gold Cup, designed to feed the softball round, with its strangely shaped button nose and short overall length, was much more amenable to the hollow points once Lee Jurras’s pioneering Super Vel ammunition company got the ball rolling in that direction in the Sixties.

Unfortunately, many of the people who wanted beautifully made Colt .45 automatics with the gorgeous Royal Blue finish, which gave the deep, rich blue-black of the prewar National Match pistols a solid run for the money, wanted heavy duty fighting handguns. The Gold Cup’s reputation for fragility, to whatever degree it may or may not have been deserved, got in the way of that. By the time Colt started using the same heavy-duty slide dimensions as the Government Model, it was too late to change the Gold Cup’s image. Sales of the Gold Cup were long disappointing. Colt briefly offered the Combat Elite, in essence a Gold Cup with fixed sights but without the gorgeous finish and without the advertising it should have had, and it went by the wayside. Colt produces in dribs and drabs a pistol they call the Gold Cup Trophy today.

In everything but glassy finish, Wilson Combat CQB equals National Match in quality and exceeds it in accuracy. The author bought this one after shooting multiple one-inch 25-yard groups with it in testing.

In everything but glassy finish, Wilson Combat CQB equals National Match in quality and exceeds it in accuracy. The author bought this one after shooting multiple one-inch 25-yard groups with it in testing.

In time, with the big resurrection of the 1911’s popularity, new manufacturers came along to fill the void. The Kimber pistols, particularly the Gold Match, and the upper lines of the Springfield Armory 1911A1s, especially the TRP (Tactical Response Pistol) with fixed sights and the Trophy Match with sturdy BoMar or equivalent adjustable sights, are today’s heirs to the National Match concept. They will not have the lustrous, captivating finish of the best Colts of yesteryear, however, though they’ll be proportionally more affordable than the NM was when Colt introduced it in 1933.

Production pistols of fine quality, like the Bill Wilson and Ed Brown lines, come closer. Perhaps most in keeping with the NM tradition are the top-line pistols from Rock River Arms and Les Baer. The latter two brands are the only out-of-the-box 1911s likely to take you to the winner’s circle today at Camp Perry without aftermarket custom work. More accurate than the Springfields or Kimbers, each can be ordered in a super-tight version that guarantees accuracy on the order of 1.5 inches at 50 yards. That’s more than the Colt National Match in any of its incarnations could offer. But even these fine pistols will not come with a finish that matches a prewar Colt National Match, or the best of the Gold Cups in Royal Blue.

The few thousand National Match pistols shipped out of Hartford in the less than a decade of their epoch also presaged the “combat custom” 1911 so popular today. The best of the current craftsmen, Mark Morris and Dave Lauck and Dick Heinie and a handful more, will give you today’s equivalent of a National Match for several thousand dollars after a considerable wait. These guns will be much more user friendly, with lighter and cleaner triggers, beveled magazine wells, beavertail grip safeties and other amenities. But, geared for heavy duty, they will come with a finish that cannot equal the beauty of that old National Match.

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

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