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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!

Another signature feature of the original Gold Cup and its predecessor, the very early National Match, was an absolutely glass-smooth action when the slide was manually operated. This, brothers and sisters, lived on! When the pistol came out of the box, the first thing I did of course was to clear it… and the slide rolled to the rear with that ball-bearing smoothness that I remembered from its predecessors. I just wanted to say, “Aaahh.”

Connoisseurs and pure collectors care about how the gun is finished on the outside. Shooters care how it’s finished on the inside. Being more a shooter than a collector, that sweet, smooth action on the new Colt instantly scored some points with this reviewer.

A Lyman digital trigger pull gauge from Brownell’s was applied to the center of the sliding 1911 trigger. The average came out at 4.67 pounds. There’s a light take-up, rolling into a crisp, clean break. I could feel no trigger backlash, and the sights didn’t move when the hammer fell in dry fire. The wide trigger feels like the old one, including the long reach that puts the center of the fingerprint of the average adult male index finger squarely onto the trigger face, with the gun held with the barrel straight in line with the long bones of the forearm. That’s right out of the marksmanship manual for finger placement.

Range Time

I initially took the new Colt to the Matrix rest on the concrete bench at 25 yards with two 230-grain loads and one 185-grain. The first of the 230-grains was Buffalo Bore’s powerful +P jacketed hollow point rated for 950 fps out of a 5-inch barrel like that on the test gun. The resulting five-shot group went exactly 2.5 inches. Four of those hits were in less than 2 inches, 1.9 to be precise, and the best three were just over an inch, with a 1.05 measurement. With a load geared more to power than precision, I thought that was pretty good.

Most recreational shooters, if they don’t “roll their own” ammunition, use economical “generic GI ball.” In the last few years, I’ve found Brazilian Mag-Tech 230-grain full metal jacket to often be the most accurate of that breed, and it certainly proved so in this test. All five shots were under 2 inches (barely, at 1.95 inches center-to-center of the farthest-spread shots), and four of those five were at 1.4 inches.

The best three? One-inch even!

Over the years, Federal’s standard line 185-grain jacketed hollow point has often won .45 accuracy tests I conducted, many times beating the same company’s own storied Gold Medal Match 185-grain full metal jacket version of that grand old Remington light target load.

In this case it came in a strong second, with the five-shot group measuring exactly 2 inches (measuring to the nearest 0.05 inches), and the best three cutting a 1.35-inch cluster. Given that I’ve found that “best three” measurement out of five hand-held shots from a bench rest, in the hands of an experience shooter who didn’t perceive any error with any of them, tends to equal what the same gun and ammunition will do from a properly adjusted machine rest for all five shots, that leaves me pretty comfortable with the accuracy of the new Gold Cup.

The fact is, the National Match and Gold Cup pistols of old were doing pretty good to hit two inches at 25 yards. It would appear that Colt’s recent investment in new machinery has paid off in this respect.

Shooting Impressions

True to its old time roots, this iteration of the Gold Cup has a 1911A1 style grip safety, and not the beavertail that has become all but a universal standard in high-end 1911s over the last few decades. If you want the beavertail, you want the SKU Colt calls O5070X, which renders in brushed stainless steel with a skeleton hammer.

Speaking of hammers, the one on our test blue Gold Cup was very much like that of the 1957 National Match, except with the once-sharp tip flattened. This, I would guess, is to prevent pinching the web of large hands between that tip and the old-style grip safety tang. For me, with an average size male hand, it worked.

Recoil was the same as with any full-size 1911 .45 ACP: if you held it properly, it came back to target fast, in continuing homage to the absolute brilliance of John Moses Browning’s grasp of ergonomics, which I don’t think was even a word when he designed the 1911. There were, however, some other places where sharpness was not appreciated.

Oddly enough, the test gun came from Colt with one seven-round magazine with standard follower and one eight-rounder with what appears to be a Checkmate follower. Both magazines had flush bottoms (no extensions). Interestingly, they both had a used and reblued look, not at all in keeping with the very nice finish on the pistol itself. However, both worked fine. So did two styles of Wilson magazines, and the excellent Dave Lauck eight-round magazine. The Colt-furnished magazines both locked easily into the pistol with the slide forward, including the eight-rounder, which you certainly don’t see with every eight-round 1911 magazine.

Our test gun also came with a light recoil spring, apparently for mid-range target loads. Not having any of that ammunition on hand, that spring never went in the gun, but it was a thoughtful addition that will be appreciated by many Gold Cup buyers. Also in the box was a bushing wrench, not needed because the test gun was—barely—“hand tight” in takedown.

Getting back to the grip safety, I really wish they had used a beavertail with a “speed bump” on the bottom edge. With our test gun, when the pistol was held with the popular “thumb on the safety” hold, it often pulled the web of the hand away from the grip safety enough that it didn’t activate properly. I solved this with a thumbs-down hold, but still…

Many 1911 enthusiasts bemoan the fact that Colt does not round off some of the sharp edges on their autopistols. Our test gun was a classic example of that. Sharp edges could be found from the front of the slide, to the rear edges of the shortened hammer, to the grip tang and the bottom corner of the flat mainspring housing. While the side edges of the BoMar sight had been very slightly rounded, the frontal edge of the rear sight presented a sharp surface to the hand in conventional “GI-style” slide manipulation.

In carrying, this was no discomfort problem with an outside the belt Safariland 568-63 paddle rig, but tighter to the body the sharp edges could have proved uncomfortable to the “love handles.” For that, a high-riding scabbard with protective layer between rear of gun and body—I used one by High Noon—proved quite comfortable.

Match Tested

I took the new National Match Gold Cup to a quasi-IDPA match, the first annual ProArms Invitational. Only serious shooters were invited, and the quality of competition was high. The Colt out of the Safariland holster let me successfully double-tap one “clamshell” target that only gave about one second of exposure. On a “taxi ambush” stage where we had to shoot at awkward angles out of the back windows of an automobile, I went one-handed on the right side and cleaned all three targets with no points down.

In both cases, and throughout the rest of the match, the gun shot beautifully. That 100-yard stage? Took me two shots, darn it—“practice ain’t race day,” as a great shooter named Tom Campbell once said so truly—but that second bullet hit center chest from a standing position, and I’m not complaining. I finished the match third overall for accuracy and luck made me the winner of the Custom Defense Pistol (.45 ACP) division. I was told I was the only division winner using a completely out-of-the-box gun. Colt always concep-tualized the Gold Cup as a pistol the shooter could take from dealer’s show-case to match with a fair chance of win-ning without having to modify the gun. Turns out they were right, for that match at least.

I did fumble one reload, at least in part because there’s almost no beveling on the entryway of the magazine well. Most other high end 1911s have that now, and having grown accustomed to it, I guess I’ve just been spoiled.

Already throated at the factory for hollow points, our test Colt ran 100% in every respect. A wide variety of JHP rounds and ball ammo went through this gun, and from 185-grain standard pressure to 230-grain +P, it never missed a beat in any respect. We collectively put hundreds of rounds down the Gold Cup’s barrel, straight out of the box with no additional lubrication and no cleaning, and it ran like a Singer sewing machine. Those smoothly polished contact surfaces of frame and slide, signature features of the National Match and the Gold Cup from the Olden Days, have to be helping with that.

Final Notes

The BoMar clone sights on this pistol are much sturdier and more precisely adjustable than the Elliasons, which used to epidemically come loose on old Gold Cups. The Series ’80 internal firing pin safety makes it drop safe, and that wasn’t the case with the early National Match and Gold Cup pistols. “Black rubber” grips take away from the high quality image, but are friendly to the hands of many shooters. If the finish isn’t the most lustrous Royal Blue of the finest old Gold Cup that Colt ever put on display, the finish on our test Colt was still awfully nice. At $1,158, its manufacturer’s suggested retail price is not at all out of line for its quality and performance. While you can get a gun with the same shooting characteristics and perhaps even more amenities such as a beavertail grip safety for less money, it probably won’t have the very pleasing blue of the National Match Gold Cup…and as Colt enthusiasts say, “It won’t have that little pony on it.” Pride of ownership really is part of the Colt package, and this writer for one is glad to see this grand old company paying more attention to the civilian market today. For more information contact call 800-962-2658 or visit coltsmfg.com.

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