It’s midway through Labor Day weekend. Deadlines for both publications and a court report are upon me, and I’m grinding my teeth that I had to miss one IDPA match yesterday and another today, but I’m damn sure gonna make the Labor Day Match tomorrow. It’s right next door, no travel time really, and the ProArms Invitational is sponsored by some great folks who do a podcast where
I’m usually one of the regulars.

Can’t miss this one. My match schedule has been tanked by work this year and I’ve missed many that I usually attend. I want to test at least one feature pistol on the clock for Complete Book of Handguns, and today I’m carrying the Colt Gold Cup .45 ACP, since concealed carry is part of my usual testing protocol. I’ve just learned that the match is going to include a 100-yard stage with the same carry gun used for the rest of the tournament. The Colt is loaded now with 185-grain JHP, which it has shot five for five into 2 inches at 25 yards.

An IPSC target goes up backwards, presenting its white back to me, similar to the steel silhouette from Action Target that will be on tomorrow’s long-range menu. I settle down at the Stable Table that dwells on my 100-yard bay, and squeeze off five shots.

Four of them hit about where I’m aiming, mid-way up. Fast 185s hold flatter long range trajectory than the slow “mid-range target” versions, or 230-grain loads. There was one shot that didn’t “feel right”—my fault—and that accounts for the one low right in the hip. The other four, though, are three in the A-zone
and one in the adjacent C-zone.

Later, I drop by the range where the match will be held tomorrow. They’re setting up the 100-yard stage and trying it out to make sure they’ll be able to both hear and, through a Safety Officer’s spotting scope, see the hit on the steel that will stop the shooter’s time. Invited, I take a turn. From standing two-hand off-hand, the Colt clears its Safariland holster and comes dead into line, and the trigger breaks “by surprise.” I hear a welcome “Ting.” The range officer announces, “Three point one four seconds.” Someone says, “Do that again.” We do. BANG. “Ting.” “Four point zero eight seconds,” says the guy with the electronic timer.

Even with the second run almost a whole second slower than the first, I’m thinking, “I might just have the right pistol for the match tomorrow.” If the Colt National Match Gold Cup could think, it would probably be thinking, “Yeah, but do I have the right shooter?”

History

From the time he patented his first revolver in 1836, Samuel Colt knew that if he were going to establish a reputation for top quality, his Colt stable would need some fancy show ponies. That was why almost from the beginning he made sure fancy engraved models were available to highlight his products’ superb workmanship. Samuel Colt died young, but that was one lesson the company which bore his name absorbed and made part of its corporate DNA forever after. While later years would see corporate ownership change repeatedly, that strand of heritage has never been lost. We see it exemplified in the latest (2012) Colt National Match Gold Cup .45 pistol.

The Colt Automatic Pistol of 1911 (“automatic” was Colt’s original term) should need no introduction to readers of this publication, nor should the slightly updated Model 1911A1 variation of the 1920s. In standard configuration, the commercial version of this 5-inch barrel locked breech, hammer-fired pistol has always been known as the Government Model. In 1933, during the Great Depression, Colt picked the worst possible time to introduce their fancy target-grade National Match version of the Government Model .45, with extra-nice finish. It did not sell well enough to survive, nor did its even rarer sister product, the Super Match chambered
for .38 Super.

In 1957, Colt assayed its second try at the deluxe 1911 market, and this time it was more successful. The new fancy .45 was initially called the National Match, and it was built around a special light, super-accurate target load Remington had pioneered some eight years earlier. Its button-nosed 185-grain bullet trundled out of the 5-inch barrel at a weak velocity down in the 700 feet per second (fps) range, and the gun came with light recoil spring—and lightened slide—to make it all work. It did…but the light spring and the couple ounces lighter slide took a hellacious beating when most everybody ran it with full power 230-grain hardball ammunition.

Time went on. Colt changed the name to National Match Gold Cup. It became known as simply the Gold Cup. The manufacturer finally realized the gun had earned a reputation for being too weak for sustained fire with full power ammunition and went with a full weight slide etc., but the die was already cast, and American shooters had locked into the impression that the Gold Cup was a light duty gun that looked beautiful, but didn’t stand up. With its fabulous Royal Blue finish, it commanded the same price at the similarly finished super-deluxe Colt Python .357 Mag revolver, which back in the 50s was a princely $125.

The Gold Cup never gained the prestige of its revolver counterpart, the Python—and frankly, in this writer’s opinion, never achieved the accuracy of that gun, either. Yet, unlike the Python, it remains in the line today. There have been variations, including the Trophy, never bestsellers either. But now comes the National Match Gold Cup .45 ACP of 2012, and it is worthy of the 1911 enthusiast’s attention.

Finishes

The pre-World War II National Match Colt autos had a finish to die for. From 1957 on, the Colt Royal Blue—polished in its end stages with grit so fine it was like talcum powder—gave a mirror finish that became an industry standard for top-level perfection, tied only by the “Bright Blue” their arch-competitor Smith & Wesson put on their top-line products. Sign up at the fascinating coltforum.com, and do an archive search for pictures of pristine National Match, Super Match, and early Gold Cup Colts. When you do, have a towel handy to wipe the drool off your computer’s keyboard.

The finish on the current Series ’80 National Match Gold Cup .45—our sample being serial number FN100594—is actually pretty close to that. It is very, very nice. However, if I look very hard I can still see the “grain” of the underlying metal, and I don’t remember seeing that in the old days on pre-War guns built before I was born, nor the Royal Blue of the Colt Gold Cups of my youth. I checked my own old Colt of this series, serial number NM5504, but I so abused it over the years that not much of that finish is left to see for all the scratches and wear. Hey, maybe I’m just an old man who remembers The Old Things as better than they were.

In fairness to Colt, however, their website (coltsmfg.com) lists this partic-ular model, their stock-keeping unit (SKU) O5870NM, as only having a “blue” finish, and makes no promise of a “Royal Blue.” Colt aficionados can, of course, argue whether it really is a Gold Cup if it doesn’t have the Royal Blue of old, or the highly polished Bright Stainless equivalent, but if it’s “only” blue, it’s an extraordinarily good “only blue.”

The first NM guns of the 1930s came with fixed sights that were state of the art, and the long gone Stevens adjustable. From ’57 until recently, they wore adjustable Elliasons. This new gun comes with an excellent clone of the BoMar, buried into the slide: a distinct improvement!

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