One of the more rare and interesting variants of the Colt 1911 is the one made specifically for the ISSF (International Shooting Sports Federation) Centre Fire target match. The pistol was made for international export to countries where firearms laws may be highly restrictive, limiting calibre and magazine capacity. The pistol was also made to provide a specialised and highly accurate target pistol for US and Canadian shooters participating in the ISSF Centre Fire match. It’s a pistol that is near to my heart as I owned one and competed with it during the early seventies so I have personal experience shooting it competitively and reloading for it.
The Colt Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid-Range was not a conventional Colt 1911. Everything was done to maximise accuracy. In addition to the tighter tolerances we expect to find in Colt Gold Cup National Match pistols Colt decided to eliminate the potential accuracy problems that can be created by the normal Browning recoil operation by eliminating it. When a Browning action operates it recoils a short distance before the toggle linkage beneath the breech of the barrel trips and pulls the rear of the barrel downwards, unlocking it from the slide and aligning the breech with the magazine. The Browning action requires that the barrel be moved out of alignment, and that introduces a potential for misalignment to the detriment of accuracy. In the .38 Special Mid-Range version the top of the barrel did not have locking lugs to engage in the slide and the toggle beneath the barrel did not pull the rear of the barrel down. Instead the pistol functioned as a simple blow-back action, the advantage of this being that the barrel could be kept in alignment throughout the cycling of the action. The disadvantage of this was that the magazine needed to align the cartridge at as close to that barrel line as possible. This problem was exacerbated by the flat nosed shape of the .38 Special Mid-Range wadcutter ammunition that had to be used.
The result of all this was a pistol that was indeed highly accurate but very finicky about what it would feed reliably and what it wouldn’t. Some factory ammunition would feed OK, Winchester being one that would. And some just wouldn’t, the Canadian Dominion being an example.
However, in my experience in order to get reliable feeding with this pistol, and to maximize accuracy, one had to reload. To get one of these pistols really working well there are four simple things I learned to do that produced the results I wanted.
- Seat the wadcutter bullet a little above the case mouth. Don’t seat it quite flush.
- Use a good amount of roll crimp.
- Do not attempt to use minimum loads of powder to reduce recoil, that only works in a revolver. Work up your loads until you are getting 100% reliability. The blow-back action of the automatic pistol needs a loading sufficient to function the action reliably.
- Once you have reliable function then check for accuracy. If you are below the maximum listed loading, which you almost certainly will be, then work up group shooting from an arm rest or machine rest and find out what your peak accuracy point is. This pistol is designed and intended for 25metre target shooting so do all your group shooting at 25metres. The pistol will be shooting five shot strings so shoot five shot groups. You will shoot a lot of those five shot groups fine tuning so you have an excuse to do lots of shooting.
For me I found that swaged 148grain hollow base wadcutter bullets produced the best results. The bullets I used to use are long out of production so, if I were setting up one of these pistols again, I would likely try the Lyman #358091 150grain wadcutter bullet. It is listed as being made from Linotype alloy (84% lead, 4% tin, 12% antimony, producing a Brinell Hardness Number of 22). As for powder I settled on Red Dot, but the Lyman 49th Edition Reloading Handbook lists Titegroup as producing best accuracy in their testing. Be prepared to try a few different bullets and powder combinations in order to find what works in your pistol. That’s a large part of the fun of reloading.
The Lyman Reloading Handbook, 49th Edition can be found on Amazon if you click here.
One of the common questions people ask if they are blessed in having one of these pistols is “where can I get a spare magazine or two”. Magazines are available, Brownells make them. You’ll find them listed on Brownells web site if you click here.
The Colt M1911 Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid-Range began with an initial limited production run in 1961. The pistol was then taken out of production and improvements were made to create the Mk III pistol. These improvements included changes in the rifling, a reduction in the chamber diameter by 0.002″, and the addition of threads in the chamber wall to improve the case grip against the chamber. Other improvements were tightening of the action fit especially the barrel bushing and the fit of the barrel in the slide and improvements to the magazine.
In 1965 Colt introduced the Colt-Elliason sights and rib which improved the sight picture and provided precise click adjustment. Adjustment was a quarter of an inch at 25metres per click. Author’s pistol was manufactured around 1969-1970 and so this is how it was equipped.
These pistols were purpose designed for the ISSF Centre Fire target shooting match and are best used in that environment although they are great fun to shoot and to tinker with. Collector values on them can be moderately high. You can get an idea of what a good one might be worth if you look at the listing here.
These Colt M1911 Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid-Range pistols are a delightful pistol to shoot and a challenging one to get performing at their best. If you are looking for a peak accuracy 25metre pistol for target shooting then they are still a good choice despite their age.
Jon Branch is the founder and senior editor of Revivaler and has written a significant number of articles for various publications including official Buying Guides for eBay, classic car articles for Hagerty, magazine articles for both the Australian Shooters Journal and the Australian Shooter, and he’s a long time contributor to Silodrome.
Jon has done radio, television, magazine and newspaper interviews on various issues, and has traveled extensively, having lived in Britain, Australia, China and Hong Kong. His travels have taken him to Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan and a number of other countries. He has studied the Japanese sword arts and has a long history of involvement in the shooting sports, which has included authoring submissions to government on various firearms related issues and assisting in the design and establishment of shooting ranges.