Friday, November 20, 2009

Colt 1903 Model M Pocket Hammerless .32 ACP




Click here for an outstanding Ed Harris article on the .32 ACP (and associated pistols) over at Trail Boss TV (it includes reloading info for those so inclined).

Click here for Ed Buffaloe’s very complete article on the Colt Model M, which includes a table for cross-referencing serial numbers to the year of manufacture.

Although the
Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless is large compared to the pocket pistols of today (it is nowhere near as compact as a Seecamp), you can indeed carry it in a pants or coat pocket. It is not a true hammerless pistol; the hammer hides inside the slide. Since there is no exposed hammer spur, there is nothing to snag on the inside of a pocket. Unless you have gigantic mitts, the Model 9 provides a good grip area. There is no chance for hammer-bite and only a faint chance of suffering slide cuts from having a high grip. I find the grip safety much more agreeable than that on the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket Pistol.

The subject Model M of this blog entry is a 1918 vintage Type III, making it around 91-years-old. While not in pristine condition, it is still a tight, fully functional pistol. It would not be my first choice for concealed carry or home defense, but worse choices are ever possible. If I were on a super tight budget and had inherited a pistol like this as an only gun, I believe I could sleep well. Many feel the
.32 ACP is sub-marginal for stopping power; my humble opinion is that it is smidgen better than they believe it to be; .32 ACP ball looks to have the same stopping stats as does .380 ACP ball and .38 Special round nose lead, about 50% according to Evan Marshall. Those are not impressive numbers, but far better than .22 L.R. and .25 ACP. The jury is still arguing the merits of using .32 ACP hollowpoint ammunition. That case is moot unless an old design like this proves to be 100% reliable feeding hollowpoints. With its 8-round magazine, the Model 9 does have adequate capacity and its mild recoil makes fast follow-up shots a sure bet. Since the slide does not lock back after firing the last round and the mag release is located on the butt, the pistol’s design is not ideal for fast mag swaps. While my search for them has not been exhaustive, I am of the opinion that spare mags for the Model M are as rare as hens’ teeth.

The main concern with using these old designs for defense is carrying a round in the chamber, cocked-and-locked using the manual safety. While some gunnies are very fast at racking the slide to bring a pistol into action, many people would fumble the maneuver under pressure. Modern guns seem to be relatively safe with a round in the pipe, but pistols like this one, and the striker-fired pistols like the Colt Vest Pocket and the
Browning Baby, have reputations for sometimes discharging when dropped. Whether those stories are truth or fiction I cannot say, but they do give me pause. If my personal safety gave me no choice, I would pay a competent gunsmith to detail the pistol, and then I would carry it locked and loaded, ever mindful that I am legally and morally responsible for every bullet that races from the barrel, intentionally or negligently.




26 comments:

Arthur B. Burnett said...

Greetings from Falls County,
Wonderful review. My wife and I were given one of these for a wedding gift. At first I didn't think I was going to like it. When I finally got it out to the range I was won over.
Like your example, ours is not a mint, but it functions flawlessly.
I train on pistol targets set at 25, 50, 75 100 feet. At 25 feet I got a tight pattern. At 50 feet it was still good but not great. I had shots on the paper at 75 and 100 feet but it was not so much marksman ship as "by gosh and by golly!"
It's a fun range gun and fits well with my peoird weapon talks. Not one I would use for conceled carry. For that reason I will never be faced with the delima transporting it with a chambered round. I wouldn't do it.
My concel carry choices would be the 1911, the P-38 or Mom's Colt Detective Special. I'm big (read fat) enough to hide the first two and I know the .38 will at least knock somebody down so I can run!

James A. Zachary Jr. said...

Hi Art!

Great comments, thanks!

It is a fun gun to shoot and I don't think I ever ran into anyone who did not like it. Those old designs are really special.

Take care,

Zack

Borepatch said...

Hey James, maybe pockets were bigger in 1903. ;-)

Anonymous said...

An article of mine on another blog about the .32 ACP http://shilohtv.com/?p=2720 elicited some interesting comments. Includes good info on reloading the .32 ACP.

James A. Zachary Jr. said...

WOW! That is a great link to a great article; many thanks! For some reason my comments section does not allow a click-through (at least on my browser) on the link so I'm going to update the blog entry to include it when I get a chance. Again, thanks!

James A. Zachary Jr. said...

Hi Borepatch (Ted)! Thanks for stopping in!

James R. Rummel said...

Another insightful post!

James A. Zachary Jr. said...

James, you are far too kind.

Many thanks.

Zack

Murdoc said...

My wife and I were given one of these for a wedding gift.

Dang! We got a toaster and coffee maker.

David McFarlane said...

Great review. My Girlfriend ended up with her dad's Colt .32 Model M, manufactured in 1928 and used, we think, very little. Evidence points to maybe 8 to 10 rounds max. Took it to our Concealed Handgun Permit class here in VA last weekend and fired it a bunch. She had never ever fired a pistol till that day and did extremely well with the .22 semiautomatic she qualified with. Then the instructor and I went over the Colt, loaded it and discovered it worked just fine. Girlfriend again watered the eyes of all the other guys. I've taught her how to break it down and clean it. Now, I am being asked, by her, to sign us up for a self defense course. Awakening sleeping (beauty) monsters is proving to be a costly business.

James A. Zachary Jr. said...

That's great, David! It sounds like her heirloom will work out just fine for her.

Thanks for the comments and for stopping in.

Best,

Zack

Taggart Snyder said...

Great article! Got my 1903 on layaway and I've already got my little 1908 which was my grandfather's. Fun little guns! LOL

Anonymous said...

The Colt model 1903 is still a great gun even today in 2010 , most people today consider the model 1903 as being too large for the .32 ACP cartridge when comparing it to some of the weapons made now , such as the Seecamp or the little Kel-Tec P32 ! I seen a story once that the Colt model 1903 was favorite weapon of the legendary lawman Wyatt Earp during his later years ! That little automatic pistol sure beat the big single action when it came to getting off a fast second shot , I bet he wish that he could have had a model 1903 during his lawman days back in the 1880's !

Anonymous said...

The Colt 1903´s and 1908´s are great little vintage pistols. And still viable for defensive use. Yes, I´m aware that more modern weapons are superior. Me, I prefer a nice Glock, Beretta or Sig over just about anything.

But a few years back, in a very bad part of the world, I bet my life on a nickel plated 1903, two magazines and a box of fmj S&B hardball. The gun looked practically mint. It served admirably, I used half of the 50 round box for an abbreviated function test. Carried in a locally produced but well executed IWB, it covered my back as well as my principals for the weeks he had to stay.

Yours/

Brit BG

Anonymous said...

I was at the latest gun show in Phoenix Arizona the Crossroads (April 24th) and the prices on all used handguns are going thru the roof especially the old Colt automatics like the 1903 and 1908 , people now buy these weapons as collectables and buy the Kel-Tecs and Rugers as their shooter defence weapons !

Anonymous said...

Late to the party, as usual, but a great site.
I think, could be wrong, that this particular model was the preferred carry gun of John M. Browning his ownself.
I can't swear this is true, but I've seen it quoted by several 'knowledgeable' sources.
Well designed little auto that points well and is easy to shoot.
And regarding the .32 acp round - placement is everything. It will do its job if the shooter does theirs.

Thanks for the site.

James A. Zachary Jr. said...

Thank you for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

I JUST TRADED MY ROSSI 38. FOR A 1903 TYPE 3...250727.DO YOU THINK THIS WAS A GOOD DEAL NOT SURE WHAT ITS WORTH...THANKS...JOE

James A. Zachary Jr. said...

Hey there Joe, thanks for visiting.

Without seeing the condition of each handgun, I cannot offer an opinion of the deal... all things being equal, personally I would rather have the Colt.

Anonymous said...

I once had a .380 version of basically the same Colt Pistol. I carried it concealed (illegally I have to admit) way back before FL enacted a shall-issue permit system. I often traveled to Miami on business at that time and I figured it was safer to carry illegally than go unarmed in Miami back then. Mine was quite old when I bought it for $65 at a junky used merchandise shop prior to the 1966 GCA. But it was in very good condition and 100% reliable with hardball .380 ammo. I sold it many years ago, and like so many guns I once had but sold I wish I still had if now. I also miss the old 1905 vintage Colt "slide-rule" .38 automatic that I sold for $60 about 40 years ago and is now a very valuable antique.

Anonymous said...

I have, and shoot regularly, a 32 cal m1903 that I received from my father. As a child in the 60’s, I researched and found that hundreds of these were listed as destroyed. The M1903 32 cal I had was part of that list of serial numbers and the gun had been completely chromed over with just a faint impression of the serial number showing. Listed as destroyed by Colt, but why was it still here….
After my fathers passing and old, old friends showed-up and told stories of the good old days, I then realized he wasn’t a traveling salesman when he’d disappear for weeks at a time. The M1903 32 cal was something he had got and kept from the Bay of Pigs.

Helene Burnett said...

Nice wedding gift it was, too! Not many folks register at a gun store for wedding gifts.

Anonymous said...

My father was a fireman for 35 years. He worked 24 hours and was off 48. A loaded Colt 1903 was hung by a nail to my parent's headboard. Before I was born, there was a noise in the house that woke my mother and sister up. My sister ran ahead and my mother grabbed the Colt. Turning at the foot of the bed, she hit her hand on the bedpost and dropped the Colt. The round in the chamber went off when the gun hit the floor, putting a hole in the ceiling. My mother was afraid of the gun for the rest of her life!

A from SFO said...

Got lucky today! Bought a Colt '03 32 ACP Pocket Type 1 very low serial number 18xxx, with original finish, beautiful condition, the only ding on it being on the left side of the rear sight, showing someone wasn't careful while sighting it in. Perfect original grips, no cracks or blemishes but for a small smooth wear mark on the right side checkering, just touching the Colt's circle.

This gun has all the marks identifying it as authentic manufacture of the year 1905, according to the really great Ed Buffaloe article. A couple of questions to further identify my find please?

A number 5 on the bottom flat machined firing pin area of the slide, at the forward ejector side corner.

A number 5 just forward of the lugs on the bottom of the barrel.

A letter R ? on the left side trigger housing, on the top of the side radius.

A letter T on the flat machined area of the frame just aft of the grip safety.

A number 3 in the center of the slide bore of the frame.

No marks of any kind on the clip, so smooth I can't even be sure how it was assembled. (Would like to buy additional clips)

I've only field stripped the weapon, so there may be more questions later!

About ammo, is there anything out there with some kick for this gun? Any reliable hollow points? Any advice here ?

Thank you for your comments, but I'd have to kill you if I told you what I paid for it.

Anonymous said...

The comment about trading a Rossi .38 special for a Colt .32ACP 1903, well the Colt 1903 I feel was a much better made weapon, and depending on its condition is worth much more than a Rossi .38, but, for personal self-protection I feel the .38 special is a much better weapon ! The Colt 1903 in its day was a great weapon, but today we have so many quality smaller weapons, that I feel are equal to the Colt 1903 or even much better, the Kel-Tec, the Seecamp and the Ruger LCP .

Anonymous said...

Type 1, Mfr 1906:

http://www.zzzeke.com/Guns/colt32a.jpg
http://www.zzzeke.com/Guns/colt32b.jpg

Was my mother's gun. Now makes a nice hot weather CCW. Hides easily under an untucked T-shirt.