Colt M45A1 Review: USMC Pistol Review

The Marine Corps and a Colt 1911

Two big things happened to me when I turned 18, I joined the Marines and I bought my first pistol (in the state I live in, you used to be able to obtain a handgun license at the age of 18).  Having read quite a bit of gun rags (this was the in mid 1990s during the pre internet days), I knew I needed a 1911 chambered in a man’s cartridge, 45 ACP.  So I headed to the store and purchased a new-in-box lightweight Colt Series 80 Officer’s ACP.

I was on a short leave when I brought it home.  I cleared the pistol, engaged the safety, and couldn’t take it off safe.  It turns out the rear stake of the safety plunger tube broke off causing the safety lock detent to move over the bottom edge of the factory safety.  I brought it into the dealer.  He told me “this happens all the time with Colts” and sent it back for repair.  I bought a used Generation 2 Glock 19 to shoot the rest of the time I was home, before heading back to my duty station in MCAGCC, 29 Palms, CA, a few thousand miles away.

U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Mickey Eaton sights in with his M1911 .45 caliber pistol at a target during Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) aboard the USS Anchorage (LPD 23) off the coast of San Diego March 23, 2015. Eaton is the assistant operations chief of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Maritime Raid Force. The 15th MEU's MRF Marines constantly sharpen their skills with different weapon systems to maintain a high level of readiness. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jamean Berry/Released)

U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Mickey Eaton sights in with his M1911 .45 caliber pistol at a target during Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) aboard the USS Anchorage (LPD 23) off the coast of San Diego March 23, 2015. Eaton is the assistant operations chief of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Maritime Raid Force. The 15th MEU’s MRF Marines constantly sharpen their skills with different weapon systems to maintain a high level of readiness. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jamean Berry/Released)

Six months later, I was home on leave and my gun was back from Colt.  I headed to the range with my 1911, a case of Winchester 230 grain ball and a couple hundred rounds of Cor-Bon 185 grain JHP (the gun rags of that day told you to shoot 200 rounds of your defensive load of choice).  The pistol functioned well for the first three rounds, but then I couldn’t find my front sight- literally- it flew off!  Apparently it wasn’t staked right at the factory.  I figured I needed some professional intervention so I sent the pistol off to Wayne Novak.

Wayne is one of the premier pistol smiths in the country.  In the mid 1990s he was the go-to 1911 gunsmith and made the best combat style sights around.  What started off as sending my officer’s ACP off for new Lo-Mount sights, turned into over two thousand dollars worth of work.  From what I can remember, this included a barrel, bushing system, bar dot night sights, memory groove beavertail safety and Birdsong Black-T finish.  At the time, he even sighted in the gun at the range using the ammunition choice you wanted, I selected 10 yards with Cor Bon 185 JHP.  Clearly I had no clue.

Here I am the second time in the mid east.  Note the smile on my face thinking about my Colt 1911, white thermal shirt ( Sergeant Majors don't like this) and my trusty M9 in the shoulder rig.

Here I am the second time in the mid east. Note the smile on my face thinking about my Colt 1911, white thermal shirt ( Sergeant Majors don’t like this) and my trusty M9 in the shoulder rig (it is hiding behind the M4).

By the time my gun came back from Wayne, years had passed since the original purchase date.  I had left the Marines as a Sergeant and was starting civilian life as a full time college student and worked part time at a gun dealer.  I headed to the range again with my custom 1911, and while it looked great and shot well, reliability wasn’t where it should have been.  While most will instantly recognize that the Officer’s sized guns aren’t known for reliability, I didn’t know it at the time.  Years later, my father-in-law bought it from me for about 40% of what I paid for it, to this day I consider it an act of mercy.

Sgt. Raymond Figueroa, a reconnaissance Marine with the Force Reconnaissance Detachment, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, sights in on his target during a pistol qualification aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8), Feb. 10. Embarked aboard the three ships of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, the 11th MEU has provided a flexible, sea-based, crisis response force to regional commanders throughout its seven-month Western Pacific deployment. (U.S. Marine Corps photos by Cpl. Demetrius Morgan/Released)

Sgt. Raymond Figueroa, a reconnaissance Marine with the Force Reconnaissance Detachment, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, sights in on his target during a pistol qualification aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8), Feb. 10. Embarked aboard the three ships of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, the 11th MEU has provided a flexible, sea-based, crisis response force to regional commanders throughout its seven-month Western Pacific deployment. (U.S. Marine Corps photos by Cpl. Demetrius Morgan/Released)

Enter the Colt M45A1

Fast forward twenty years and I’m at the same dealer, picking up some transfers and he shows me a Colt M45A1.  This is the so called “blue box” Colt pistol, model 01070M45.  Similar to the Custom Shop CQB pistol, this is a production line version of the pistol that the Marines bought for the MARSOC units.  Unlike the CQB pistol, this one does not have USMC roll marked on the slide, but it does have EGA (Eagle Globe and Anchor- the Marine’s symbol) as a serial number suffix.  So, while it costs less than the custom shop version and doesn’t have the USMC roll mark; it is more like the pistol the Marines bought, because it is off the production line and not hand fitted (I confirmed this). I couldn’t say no and bought the gun (I’d buy a broken toaster with USMC stamped on it).

M45a1 on bench no sn

The FDE Cerakote finish was average at best, but it still looked cool.  I overlooked that fact that whoever coated it, missed some spots. I overlooked that the fit for a gun, that cost me $1,600 plus tax ($1,748 total), was similar to a $800 gun.  I overlooked the fact that it was a Colt and my awful past with Colt.  The Marines bought it and I had to have one.

Sgt. Luis Martinez, a reconnaissanceman with the Maritime Raid Force, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, sights in on his designated target with an M1911 .45 caliber pistol during Special Operations Training Group (SOTG) close quarters tactics qualification aboard the USS San Diego, as part of Amphibious Squadron Marine Expeditionary Unit Integration Training (PMINT) off the coast of San Diego, April 13, 2014. PMINT is the first at-sea event in the 11th MEU’s predeployment training program where the unit will conduct training operations alongside the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group.. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Demetrius Morgan/RELEASED)

Sgt. Luis Martinez, a reconnaissanceman with the Maritime Raid Force, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, sights in on his designated target with an M1911 .45 caliber pistol during Special Operations Training Group (SOTG) close quarters tactics qualification aboard the USS San Diego, as part of Amphibious Squadron Marine Expeditionary Unit Integration Training (PMINT) off the coast of San Diego, April 13, 2014. PMINT is the first at-sea event in the 11th MEU’s predeployment training program where the unit will conduct training operations alongside the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group.. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Demetrius Morgan/RELEASED)

Nearly 20 years to the day that I first brought my original Colt 1911 to the range, I prepared to head out with my new M45A1.  As an avid Glock shooter, digging through my holster box to find one that fit was a chore.  I have a few 1911s I don’t shoot, some have rails, some don’t, but the spec rail of the Colt made fit difficult.  I found a Don Hume 715 MC IWB holster that it fit-good enough.  A case of 230 grain Winchester ball, and a few cardboard targets and I was ready.

My friend, a 1911 aficionado accompanied me to the range.  A huge proponent of the system, he has been lecturing me about the benefits of the 1911 platform for nearly two decades.  He refuses to touch a polymer gun, expect for the Springfield XD I sold him around 2000 (I think he sold it within days).  Normally his 1911 lectures are held during downtime at the range when he is repairing his 1911.  Nearly every time we’ve shot together, he has had some sort of issue that he usually attributes to ammunition, the gun, recoil spring weight, the magazine, the chamber, extractor fit, lubrication, or maintenance.  He’s only had one run away gun and a hand full of hammer follow situations I’ve witnessed- normally they don’t function well enough to get that worn (keep in mind this is over the course of decades, during which time he has owned scores of 1911 pistols).  He keeps telling me that there has been at least one time his pistol worked the entire time, but I honestly don’t have a recollection of this.  Since he edits this website, I’ll pretend that I was there when one of them worked flawlessly.

I ran a series of 6-dot and 5-circle drills with my Colt M45A1.  Shooting two handed, strong side only and weak side only it functioned flawlessly.  My buddy brought his daughter’s Remington R1 1911 to test out.  It must have been a special single shot model.  He told me the extractor and ammunition were bad.  He somehow managed to convince me to shoot one of his “reloads”.  I have it in quotes for a reason, it kinda looked like a 45 ACP cartridge, only it was bent and weird looking.  That cartridge didn’t cycle my gun either.  He switched over to a Dan Wesson 9mm 1911 with gamer sights on it.  The gun ran like a top.

We ended the session shooting the old FBI pistol qualification course on a counter shaded QIT-99 (you can see the course of fire here).  I scored a 92-20X.  Not bad- but not great.  The gun ran well.

colt M45A1 FBI qual

With the exception of the overtly poor, reloaded cartridge, the Colt M45A1 was 100% reliable and the front sight didn’t fly off.  Fit and finish were OK, but the Marines use it, so that is worth the premium.  I am considering having the dealer I bought it from send it back to have Colt correct the finish so it actually covers the entire frame and slide, but I’m worried they may go out of business or bankrupt before I get it back.

The used Glock 19 I bought in 1994, still shoots well.  It actually protected the Colt M45A1 on the way too and from the range.  I know what you are thinking, why carry a gun that holds twice as many rounds, weighs less, is more compact, more reliable and costs a third as much- I must be nuts?

In February 2015, the Marine Corps approved the Glock 19 for MARSOC units. Maybe they are worried they’ll run out of hand grenades?

Sgt. Devin Hughes, a member of the Marine Corps Shooting Team, fires a round at a target during the Royal Marines Operational Shooting Competition at Altcar Range near Hightown, England, Sept. 8, 2014. The U.S. Marine Corps team dominated the pistol competitions, taking first place by more than 1,000 points. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Cameron Storm/Released)

Sgt. Devin Hughes, a member of the Marine Corps Shooting Team, fires a round at a target during the Royal Marines Operational Shooting Competition at Altcar Range near Hightown, England, Sept. 8, 2014. The U.S. Marine Corps team dominated the pistol competitions, taking first place by more than 1,000 points. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Cameron Storm/Released)