Colt needs a modern pistol design to compete. Believe it or not, they may have one.

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If Colt is going to compete in the 21st Century civilian market, they’re going to need a modern striker fired gun. Believe it or not, they have one; they just don’t know it yet.

SHOT Show was only a couple of weeks ago and there were lots of companies there showing all kinds of new guns. One company that hasn’t produced anything really new for some time, however, is Colt. Going to their booth at SHOT has always felt to me a little like stepping into a thrift store — not because they have junk, but because most everything in their line is old. They haven’t been innovative in years, but such was not always the case.

Some of you may remember, back in the early ‘90s, when Colt started their downhill slide. Their Double Eagle pistol, intended to take market share away from the then market-leading S&W auto pistols, was being widely panned; so much so that industry wags had labeled it the “Double Beagle”, because it was such a dog.

At the same time Glock, having introduced their Model 17 less than a decade earlier, was starting to take the law enforcement world by storm. People were getting used to the idea of a polymer striker fired pistol of modern design and it was becoming very clear that Glock would be the pistol of the future.

Colt no doubt wanted to get back into the market after at least a decade of riding the coattails of their military contracts for the M16, but the Eagle certainly wasn’t going to do it for them. They needed a fresh, new design that could be made in polymer, but they also had a problem: they couldn’t really afford such a project.

That’s because by 1990 Colt was on the ropes from a combination of a disastrous five-year labor strike, very poor product quality (largely a result of said strike), falling military sales and a lackluster civilian product mix. How could they possibly get back into the game? They needed something fresh, and they needed it right away.

Enter Reed Knight (with a little assistance from Eugene Stoner.) Knight was (is) a gun designer of no small talent, founder of Knight’s Armament Company, and of course Stoner needs no introduction. They had a prototype pistol that Colt found interesting: a compact striker-fired gun with a rotating barrel (similar to the current Beretta Cougar in concept), no external safeties, a smooth, light trigger, and superb ergonomics. It was unique, interesting, and had a lot of potential.

Unfortunately they sold it to Colt.

The monstrosity that came out of the Hartford plant was the All American 2000 (the name alone should have been a clue that it was doomed.) It had ballooned into a service-sized gun — though in fairness that’s the market Colt wanted to address — but it had also taken a drop in both quality and usability.

Rumored to be a combination of their accountant’s bean-counting and lawyer’s liability fears, the gun which emerged had an atrocious trigger (the ones I’ve handled have been in excess of twelve pounds and with all the smoothness of sand in your Speedos) and was plagued with reliability issues from day one. The first ones had an aluminum frame with wood grip panels, which would quickly be replaced with an all-polymer frame.

The reception to the Double Eagle had been cold, but that of the All American was something akin to a leper at a beach party. I’ve talked to gunwriters who had tried the gun at its introduction and was told that it was the first pistol from a major maker they’d seen whose parts fell off during the test! It was quickly apparent that this new Colt wasn’t just bad; it was awful on the scale of a Soviet automobile.

Still, it must be pointed out that the 2000 had its adherents (though they rapidly dwindled as the guns fell apart.) Once you got past the horrid trigger the gun had superb ergonomics, especially for a high-capacity pistol; all controls fell immediately to hand and the grip was supremely comfortable even in my small mitts. It was a diamond in the rough – with the emphasis on “rough”.

Unfortunately Colt could ill afford to polish their gem and the gun lasted a scant two years. A few years later Colt had a new CEO who publicly favored the idea of a federal permit to own a gun, a significant boycott of their products was in full swing as a result, and he was replaced by one who pushed the company’s resources into the development and promotion of ‘smart guns’. By the turn of the century the company was close to bankruptcy and could no longer afford to make their iconic double action revolvers. The 2000, along with the massive spending on the smart gun project, had nearly doomed Colt.

In 2002 the Colt company split into two companies, with the military and civilian product lines becoming separate entities. Colt Defense managed to get some decent contracts in the military and law enforcement markets, but in the meantime Colt’s Manufacturing struggled along selling Single Action Army revolvers and surprisingly dated 1911 pistols. Just a couple of years ago the boards of the two companies decided to recombine, and the new Colt is looking for more customers to make a proper go of it.

Unfortunately they have no modern handgun to sell to either law enforcement or to the private sector concealed carry/self defense market that nearly everyone agrees accounts for most of the nation’s handgun sales these days. They still make the 1911, certainly, but the rest of the 1911 market far outsells them. Between those and the Colt ‘Peacemaker’ single actions, Colt has become America’s Uberti: making stuff that appeals to the history buff. This impression isn’t helped by their spending resources on such things as reproduction Gatling guns (even though I’d love to own one!)

It pains me to say that, but as I’m an unabashed fan of Colt their current position in the market is quite distressing to me. If they could just come up with a modern striker-fired pistol…wait, maybe they can!

I think Colt should take a cue from Remington and consider reaching back to their past; they could bring back the All American 2000 (though with a different name.) Should they? Perhaps – and here’s why.

They had the start of something good with the original Knight/Stoner design; they just needed to lock the office doors of the accountants and lawyers and let the gun people refine the design. They could take it back to the original concept by fixing the trigger and making it in the form factor of a Glock 19; with their much improved production facilities and skilled employees the issues related to the original’s poor parts and shoddy machining could be a thing of the past. I also have faith that, with a little work, they could iron out the reliability issues.

Most of the work has already been done; they just need to finish it up. Heck, the 1911 took more work to go from Browning’s prototype to the success it eventually became than this would.

I always liked the 2000 for the way that it operated (I’ve actually fired two examples), as I could reach the controls (magazine release and slide stop lever) without moving my shooting hand from the grip. The trigger reach was a tad long, but not unmanageable and I suspect it could be modified once the lawyers are banished from engineering meetings. It was actually a very likable gun as long as you didn’t try shooting the thing!

Enough time has passed that there isn’t much collective market memory for how bad the first effort was, so they’d essentially be starting new. The All American could still be a winner if Colt were smart enough to keep what was good with the design and fix the rest.

It is, I concede, a big “if”.

-=[ Grant ]=-


About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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