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  #1  
Old 10-12-2012, 10:58 AM
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Default The National Match .45 1911s - A Photo Essay by beetle

Happy Friday everyone! I recently had the opportunity to reach a kind of milestone in my collection - a representative example of each of the major genres of 1911 national match pistols in .45acp. Instead of working like I should, I'm going to write a long essay about my favorite topic -- the 1911!

Sometimes people give me more credit than due. I am not an expert in 1911 collecting. I just try to share with people what I learn. Fortunately there are some very good sources of 1911 information out there.

Acknowledgements
"Before you buy guns .... buy books!". This is a saying from wise collectors who have been in this hobby for a long time. Fortunately there are a number of great books that are invaluable to anyone interested in collecting 1911s. In fact, there are books dedicated to specific categories of 1911s. What I am about to write and share is simply a consolidation of data found from the sources below. All credit goes to the authors of the following references:

"A Short History of The National Trophy Individual Pistol Match" by Hap Rocketto
"Amerian Beauty - The Prewar Colt National Match Pistol" by Timothy Mulin
"The Model 1911 and Model 1911A1 Military and Commercial Pistols" by Joe Poyer
and of course the bible of commerical 1911 collectors ....
"Colt .45 Government Models (Commerical Series) by Charles Clawson

Part I - A "Splendid Little War" leads to the National Matches
In 1898 America entered into a relatively short 10 week war with Spain over the independence of Cuba. Teddy Roosevelt was attributed as saying that it was a "splendid little war" as the outcome was quick and positive for the United States. As a result of the war, the U.S. got almost all of spain's colonies including the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

However, Teddy Roosevelt observed first hand the dismal state of rifle and pistol skills of the american soldiers. Since the United States only kept a small standing army, it relied upon civilians to augment the army in times of war. Roosevelt felt that well trained civilians were necessary for the defense of the country. So when he became president he established a "National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice" (NBPRP). The National Matches were established in 1903 to create a competitive event to test team and individual skills and create interest around marskmanship.

In 1904 the charter was expanded to include pistol marksmanship. Since the idea was to train civilians to be prepared in times of war, the matches focused on service weapons -- in other words, rifles and pistols that were the same or similar to what the army was using. Originally the pistol requirement was the .38 service revolver -- either Smith and Wesson or Colt. Wtih the adoption of the 1911, the rules were modified to allow for 1911 automatic pistols (what they called it back then).

Only one problem with that -- at that time Colt had it's hands full just trying to fulfill the government orders. In 1912 Colt delivered about 17,000 pistols to the government, and just under 2000 for the commercial market. With just 2000 pistols for civilians it was very difficult to buy a 1911 to participate in the national matches.

Since the government wanted to encourage civilian pistol marksmanship, it worked with the NRA to establish a program where government pistols would be made available for purchase by NRA lifetime members. The program was run by the government arsenal at Springfield. There was an economic benefit as well, as pistols could be bought for $16.00 vs the $22.00 a Colt would retail for. Since the program was run by Springfield, the majority of these pistols are actually Springfield 1911s, made by Springfield from 1914-1917. While there is no definite documentation it was assumed that pistols were carefully selected for accuracy from the government inventory. These NRA marked pistols represent the first of the "match" 1911s.




The guns were stamped "N.R.A." to show that they were purchased through the NRA program and no longer US Government Property. It is estimated that only 100-300 guns were sold this way, making NRA marked 1911s valuable. But it seems simple to stamp three letters into a frame, how can you tell if it is authentic?

For collectors that is always the top question. How do you tell if something is authentic? In some instances it's easy -- there are factory records. But unfortunately that is not the case for NRA pistols. Either Springfield never kept track, or the records have been lost in time. In this scenario we have to revert back to comparing it to known good examples to make a judgement. Collectors spend a lot of time looking a "forensic" pictures trying to determine if something is real or fake.

For Springfield 1911s, a huge part of the value will be in the small parts. Springfield manufactured all of the parts on the gun and marked them with the letter "S". Collectors will want to verify that all of the small parts are properly marked -- that the gun is all springfield and not a mixmaster.

thumb safety, slide stop marked with "S"


Here is why I think my example is an authentic NRA pistol. Picture on the left is a close up of the NRA marking from a Springfield 1911 on display at the NRA museum. Picture on the right is a close up of the NRA marking on my pistol. Notice the similarities -- funny looking loop on the "R", low crossbeam on the "A" and the periods between letters increasing in size and depth. I'm convinced that these markings were made with the same stamp.


A number of National Matches were cancelled in the period between 1914 and 1918 due to WWI. The matches resumed in 1919 and started to become a popular spectator sport.

Note -- due to Calguns ridiculously low picture limit (only 6 per post including smilies) I will have to break this up into many separate posts.

Last edited by beetle; 11-28-2015 at 6:23 PM..
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  #2  
Old 10-12-2012, 10:59 AM
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Part II - From the depths of the depression comes a stunning new Colt

Throughout the 1920s the National Matches continued to gain in popularity, with state militia, police departments, and even colleges fielding teams. The demand for more accurate models increased, and Colt investigated different ways to increase accuracy. Colt records show that in 1921 the first match barrel was shipped. It was specially marked with a "MB" in a circle, meaning "Match Barrel".

In 1929 the stock market crashed, triggering the Great Depression. Due to the depressed economic conditions, the Colt factory was producing a very small number of pistols. Thus the factory had a highly skilled workforce who had made guns all throughout WWI with very little demands on their time. It was into this environment that Colt decided to launch a hand-fitted premium grade version of the Colt goverment model. The idea was to make it suitable for competition use right out of the box, thus it was called the "National Match" to go with the National Matches.

The gun was launched with very little fanfare -- a simple one page advertisement in the NRA's American Rifleman.


The reaction to the new gun was lukewarm at first. The National Match retailed for $40, or almost double a standard government model. Dont forget it was also the middle of the depression. However, as word got out about the National Match, demand started to grow. Demand was never huge, but it was steady. The pistol was bought by both the competitor as well as "gifts" from well-to-do customers. If you were going to present a gun to someone, the best that you could buy was the Colt National Match.

Collectors now refer to this generation of pistols as the "Pre-War National Match". (pre-war meaning pre-ww2). Depression era Colts are the some of the most finely fit and finished pistols out there. You had a highly skilled workforce with not too many orders demanding their time. As a result every gun was finished extremely fine. Pre-War National Matches had the following work done to them:

* hand-honed action
* hand-polished trigger
* hand-polished sear & disconnector
* hand-polished strut, firing pin retainer, and underside of the slide
* hand-fitted match barrel
* national match wide trigger. trigger pull was adjusted based on customer request, with default being 4 1/2 lbs.





As with all Colts of this era, the slide was serialized under the firing pin retainer. This slide matches the frame serial number.


and of course a big part of the accuracy is the "MB" barrel.


In 1935 colt introduced an adjustable sight version of the National Match. However, the rules of the National Matches prohibited the use of adjustable sights. So the adjustable sight version was purely for non-competitive shooters -- the "gift" crowd. Today the adjustable sight version is worth about $700-$1000 more.

the last of the National Matches were made in 1940. Britain was in dire straights and purchased everything they could get their hands on. Colt records indicate that 46 National match pistols were shipped to England in December 1940. The common understanding is that Colt "cleared their shelves" of everything available for Britain as it doesn't make a lot of sense for them to send over high priced matched pistols if the situation was not critical.

WW2 put an end to the Pre-War National Match pistol as Colt had it's hands full producing service weapons.

The total number of Pre-War National Match pistols is unknown. Charles Clawson has estimated it to be in the 5,000 range, while Mullin believes the number to be far fewer than that. Mullin goes on to state that the number of unaltered pistols in prime collectible condition to be very small, perhaps fewer than 1,000. Today the Pre-War National Match is a highly desirable pistol by collectors, bringing between $7000-$10,000 for high condition examples. Pistols with box and paperwork are worth even more and can approach the $15,000 mark.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:00 AM
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Part III - Government Armorers Show Us Their Stuff!

The National Matches were again suspended from 1943-1945 due to WW2. when it returned, the rules were modified to specify the M1911A1. With Colt stopping production of the Pre-War National Match in 1940, there was a lack of match grade pistols for service and civilian competitors.

Similar to the early NRA program, the Government again stepped up to make pistols available to service teams as well as civilians. Government armorers got a chance to show their stuff by modifying ww2 service pistols. The accurizing program took place at Springfield Armory.

A ww2 USGI receiver was picked at random to which specially made national match parts were fitted. A hardened slide manufactured by either Drake Industries or Colt was mated to the receiver. A match barrel was also installed and stamped with the matching serial number of the gun. In addition, a hand fitted barrel bushing was also installed. By this time, the rules were modified to allow for adjustable sights. Depending on the year, a variety of adjustable sights were used by the government armorers. The interesting thing is that they were marked "U.S." - this is one of the things a collector looks for.

Other upgrades include front strap checkering and depending on the year internal upgrades as well.

A firearms journal tested one of these government national matches against the best from a variety of well known gunsmiths of the time. Only Elliason could match the accuracy of the government match pistols of the time.



Here you can see the "SA" stamp meaning that this pistol was worked on at Springfield Arsenal. The "T" near the magazine release mechanism means "Targeted". You can also make out the "NM" on the trigger guard.


You can see that the match barrel has marked with the serial # of the gun.


National Match Barrel Bushing


As stated before the government also made these available to the public. The one shown above was purchased in 1962 at a cost of $103.00 and is in pristine shape. I have the original paperwork and shipping box for it as well. Today these government national match pistols start at around $2000 and can go up to about $4000 for a perfect example.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:01 AM
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Part IV - The Return of the King

The National Match pistol was re-introduced by Colt in 1957 as the "Gold Cup National Match". Like it's pre-ww2 predecessor, it had a hand-fitted action and wide grooved trigger. Because of the change in rules it also had an adjustable Eliason sight as standard. Unlike the pre-war National Match, it had a flat mainspring housing. While the fit and finish is still impressive, it is not as nice as the Pre-War model.





For this model Colt lightened the slide as much as possible by internal maching to allow it to function well with wadcutter ammo. You can see where Colt machined the slide to take material out.



The result is a few ounces difference.
60s National Match slide


Series 70 slide


Because of the weakened slide this gun got a reputation as a wadcutter only pistol. When Colt introduced the Series 70 pistols they went back to the heavier slide.

Today the 60s era National Match is worth $1500-$2500 depending on condition.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:04 AM
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Part V - Let your Fingers do the talking -- introduction of the collet bushing

The original Pre-War National Match can be thought of as the first of the National Match pistols, or Mk I.
The 1960s version of the National Match is therefore Mk II.

Colt thinks of the Mk III pistol as a variant of the Mk II, except chambered in .38 special rimless.

In 1970 Colt introduced what it considered to be Mk IV, the Series 70 Gold Cup National Match. This was also the first time that the Gold Cup name was stamped onto the gun (previously only National Match was stamped).



The biggest change with the Series 70 was the use of a collet bushing. Colt (and gunsmiths) had learned that two important factors played in the accuracy of the gun. The first is of course the barrel. However, the barrel fit to the barrel bushing was just as critical. That is why on the military version the barrel bushing was replaced with a NM model. However, hand fitting the barrel to the bushing was a time consuming process.

To speed production (and perhaps cut costs), Colt introduced a new type of bushing, the collet bushing. This bushing uses spring tension to center the barrel. Here you can see the difference between the bushings. On the left is the solid bushing used in earlier guns (and modern day guns), and on the right is the collet bushing.



Series 70 National Matches still exhibit a medium level of polish and finish. Because Colt manufactured them in large numbers you'll find a mix of shooters as well as new-in-box collectors out there. Opinions are mixed on the collet bushing. Many agree that it does help make for a very accurate gun. But the problem was that the fingers tended to break. when this happened the gun often got jammed. It is said that many gunsmiths got the un-enviable job of freeing the gun by pounding it with a rubber mallet while there was still a live round in the chamber. No surprise that the first thing gunsmiths recommended was switching back to the solid bushing.

Today the series 70 gold cup national match can be found at a range of prices. Everything from $600 for a banged up, mixed up shooter to $2000 for a new-in-box version.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:05 AM
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Part VI - The Dreaded Series 80 Firing Pin Safety

Curiously, Colt started using the Mk terminology with the Series 70. But in 1983 when they introduced a new version they did not increment the model. Instead they went with the term "Series 80". So this line of pistols is still called MkIV, but with the surname of Series 80. Confusing.

This is my series 80 that I put ivory grips on.


Anyways, it is uncertain why Colt decided to make a change. Many suspect it was the lawyers convincing the company to do so. The issue they were trying to address was accidental discharge when the gun was dropped. Colt had known that it was possible for the gun to fire if it was dropped hard enough on the muzzle end. Throughout the wars there was a few documented cases of this happening. When dropped at high speed towards a hard surface, enough momentum might be generated for the firing pin to fly forward and ignite the primer on the round.

As early as the 1930s Colt experimented with the "Swartz" safety which was invented by a Colt engineer. The Swartz safety worked by blocking the firing pin. When the grip safety was engaged, it would release the firing pin making it ready to fire. In fact there were a small number of Pre-War National Matches (Mk I) equipped with Swartz safeties. These are very rare and command a high premium today. Colt did away with the Swartz safety and did not carry them forward in the 1940s. Interestingly enough Kimber continues to use the Swartz safety.

Anyways, back to the story. Lawyers probably convinced mgmt that a firing pin safety was needed. Instead of going with the Swartz safety, Colt designed a new system altogether. This new safety was activated by the trigger. When the trigger is pulled, a lever is raised which releases the firing pin block.



It should be noted that this new safety system was installed not just on the Gold Cup National Match, but all 1911s made by Colt. Wtih this move to the Series 80, Colt went back to a solid barrel bushing and eliminated the Collet.

In terms of fit and finish, the Series 80s are where Colt started to take shortcus. The general Series 80 Gold Cup National Matches are not finished as nicely as previous models. Colt eliminated a polishing step after the roll mark was applied. This leaves raised metal around the roll marks. However the model I show as the representative example is a special case. This was a special run of 2000 made for Talo and finished in Colt's Custom Shop using the "Royal Blue" process. In this particular case fit and finish is excellent, as you can see in the pic above.

The series 80 has been criticized by many. Gunsmiths did not like the new system as it added complexity to the trigger. It supposedly made it harder to get a good trigger job. Purists hate it because it's not the original JMB design. Others will say it's a solution to a problem that doesn't exist (only a handfull of accidental discharges were ever recorded). In any event, on a collectibility level the series 80 guns trail the series 70s.

Value again is all over the map, but the top end is around $1400 for a new-in-box specimen. Maybe a couple of hundred more for the special runs like my Talo above.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:06 AM
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Part VII - Modern Day

In 1997 Colt dropped the whole Mk and Series 80 naming altogether. For the new gun they renamed it from Gold Cup National Match to Gold Cup Trophy. It was meant to be an updated version of the competitors target gun.



In the pic above you can see some of the finishing shortcuts I mentioned earlier. If you look closely you can see that the lettering is not smooth like in previous versions. The metal is raised up around the edges of the letters. Also you can see that the gun is a lot less polished than before, having a bit of a dull finish.

With the Gold Cup Trophy, Colt tried to modernize some aspects of the gun. For example a "duckbill" tang was introduced to replace the old grip safety tang. A commander hammer replaced the spur hammer. Finally wrap around rubber grips (which was probably a cost saving decision). Unfortunately all of these changes went against the rules of the National Matches.

Colt found itself in the embarssing situation that it's target gun could not be used in the National Matches without modification. This from the company that was specifically named in the National Match rulebook as the example acceptable pistol.

Perhaps Colt was hoping the rules would change, but they did not. It took the company until 2011 to re-introduce a pistol mostly compatible with the National Matches. Announced at SHOT 2011, Colt brought back the Series 80 Mk IV Gold Cup National Match. Cosmetically it is very similar to the Gold Cup Trophy but with the right parts needed to meet National Match rules.



You can see that the commander hammer has been switched back to the spur hammer. The duckbill tang is gone. Curiously the wrap around rubber grips are still used even though this is prohibited by the rulebook. Perhaps Colt has a lot of them, or they figure that it's easy enough for a competitor to switch out.

One thing that irks me on this latest Gold Cup National Match is the elimination of the flat top slide which has been in use since the 1960s (Mk II) version. Without the flat top the gun just looses that "custom feel" to it, that you were buying the top of the line Colt.



Both the Trophy and Gold Cup National Match continued to be made. Today if you want it in stainless, it HAS to be the trophy. If you want one in blue, it HAS to be the National Match. Retail value is around $1200 for a new one.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:09 AM
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Conclusion

There you have it, 8 generations of National Match pistols spanning the years 1915 to present. In terms of the Colts, while there are more expensive models, the National Match pistols continue to be their marquee model. If I were to pick one current production model that might appreciate in value, it would have to be the National Match.

As I said in the introduction this is a bit of a milestone for me. The addition of the pre-war National match "completes" my collection of National Match pistols. I now have one representative example frome each of the major genres. I'm done for now..... or at least until I start collecting match pistols of different calibers. .38 special, .38 super, the Super Match......

Last but not least, a family pic of my national match pistols.


Top Row (left to right): 1915 Springfield NRA, Pre-War National Match, WW2 Military National Match
Middle Row: 1960s National Match, Series 70 Mark IV Gold Cup National Match, Series 80 Mkv IV Gold Cup National Match
Bottom Row: Gold Cup Trophy, Series 80 Gold Cup National Match (2011)

I hope you enjoyed this little essay on National Match pistols. As I said before I'm not an expert on all things 1911 -- if I have made a mistake please feel free to jump in and join the conversation. Have a great weekend folks!

Last edited by beetle; 10-12-2012 at 7:52 PM..
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:13 AM
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Amazing photos. Those are some beautiful guns.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:28 AM
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top middle gun, my favorite!
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:54 AM
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Wow. At first, with the WWI NRA, I was like



and then I saw your Pre-WWII National Match that looks new, and I couldn't help myself.



You obviously have one of the best collections here. Your taste is excellent, pictures are great, and the information is helpful even to seasoned collectors. THANK YOU FOR SHARING!
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Old 10-12-2012, 1:11 PM
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congratulations for your newest gun and great work on this thread!
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Old 10-12-2012, 1:24 PM
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Awesome and informative as always. I always look forward to the newest post of aquisitions. If you don't mind me asking, what field of work are you in?
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Old 10-12-2012, 1:27 PM
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Best thread on CG in a long time. Thank you.

I now return you to your normal programming = "which 9mm looks the best" or "glock v 1911/.45 v 9mm"
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Old 10-12-2012, 1:28 PM
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Awesome read. Iíve put the Distinguished Pistol Badge on the next things Iím going after, and have participated in two sanctioned matches thus far. So needless to say Iíve become aware of what needs to be in a 1911 to be match legal.

It was great to read the history through the years which resulted in what I currently use for competition.

I think it is ironic though that Colt still doesn't meet match rules, as those wrap around grips have to be replaced to compete in EIC matches. They are being as cheap as they can.
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Old 10-12-2012, 1:41 PM
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This thread just made my Friday. I started in on it for a bit but then got caught up scrolling back and forth between the pretty pictures. I got it bookmarked for reading later. Great thread, OP, and thank you for sharing your wonderful collection!
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Old 10-12-2012, 1:48 PM
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I think you just triggered a bunch of "colt national match" google searches and buds guns inquiries. Thanks for your time.
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Old 10-12-2012, 2:05 PM
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This thread is so good

5 star quality

Good job
Good job and great collection.

Calling first dibs.
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Old 10-12-2012, 2:26 PM
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Great stuff as always. Vickers had a pre-war National Match redone by Heirloom Precision... that generation of the NM is my favorite.



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Old 10-12-2012, 2:27 PM
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I have gun at Heirloom as well -- should be done by December. It's based on the Colt WWI repro. can't wait!

I'm kind of on the fence on the vickers gun. On one hand it's awesome. On the other that's one less collectible out there. maybe helps the value of mine go up
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Old 10-12-2012, 2:48 PM
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I had mixed feelings about that as well, as it's a beautiful gun to begin with and didn't seem to be that beat up. Can't argue with LAV though.

Post pics/build sheet when it comes in
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Old 10-12-2012, 4:08 PM
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Thanks for sharing the best collection I have ever seen. What I would give for the depression era 1911.........

My stainless Trophy now seems inferior.
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Old 10-12-2012, 5:04 PM
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Wow, that's just awesome, thanks for sharing.
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Old 10-12-2012, 5:19 PM
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nice writeup, thanks for sharing the pics and knowledge
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  #25  
Old 10-12-2012, 5:29 PM
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Sweet collection. Thanks for posting. Please also post on 1911forum.com in the colt forum if you haven't yet. You will make some heads explode
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  #26  
Old 10-12-2012, 5:43 PM
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Enthralling. Thank you for posting it.
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Old 10-12-2012, 5:55 PM
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Great read...Thank you...
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  #28  
Old 10-12-2012, 6:00 PM
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Great write up, thanks for your contribution...
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  #29  
Old 10-12-2012, 6:10 PM
GlennG31 GlennG31 is offline
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Great read, beetle! Thank you for posting. That family picture of your whole collection is all kinds of awesome!
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  #30  
Old 10-12-2012, 6:13 PM
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Excellent Beetle!! Great pictures!
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  #31  
Old 10-12-2012, 6:16 PM
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Excellent write-up and story, thanks for sharing
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  #32  
Old 10-12-2012, 6:27 PM
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That Springfield is gorgeous! I love that well worn look!
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  #33  
Old 10-12-2012, 7:20 PM
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That's a great collection.

The most I could afford is a Mk IV Series 70 National Match takeoff slide/barrel for an 80% build.

It doesn't have a collet bushing or NM marked barrel so I'm not sure exactly what I've got but it looks nice.
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  #34  
Old 10-12-2012, 9:18 PM
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You my friend, have made another 1911 fanatic very happy. Thanks for spending the time to write this up.
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  #35  
Old 10-12-2012, 9:27 PM
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Thanks for the write up!! and awesome 1911
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  #36  
Old 10-12-2012, 9:43 PM
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That was very interesting. Thanks!

-- Michael
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  #37  
Old 10-12-2012, 10:04 PM
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Not a 1911 fan, yet I thoroughly enjoyed your write-up and the history lesson. Thank you!!
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  #38  
Old 10-12-2012, 10:12 PM
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Thank you for the great pics and history!
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  #39  
Old 10-12-2012, 10:55 PM
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nice
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  #40  
Old 10-13-2012, 10:12 AM
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Great information.

Any photos of the NM frame rails?
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