The Colt 1903 was the predecessor to the famous Colt 1911 that is still in use today in some small capacities. The 1903 was carried primarily by officers but also favored for concealed carry because of its small size and “hammerless” design; something that is not entirely accurate because it does have a hammer contained within the frame/slide assembly. Military generals and officers were often presented the Colt 1903 with their name engraved on the side. However, being of sleek and rounded shape made it extremely comfortable for low profile carry. The gun saw use in both World Wars with the United States military and, not surprisingly, in criminal organizations of the era because it could be hidden so easily.

The Colt 1903 is chambered in .32 ACP with a single stack 8-round magazine fed capacity. While rather underpowered by modern military ammunition standards it is still very effective with a muzzle velocity around 1,000 feet per second. Weighing 24 ounces, it has a barrel length of 4 inches and a total length of 7 inches depending on the generation. Grips were typically made of wood but later variants had plastic. The small G.I. style sights are unobtrusive but difficult to acquire quickly. The gun was also produced in .380 ACP with a 7-round capacity but was never as popular as the .32 ACP variant.

Basic field strip of the Colt 1903

The Colt 1903 was designed by John Browning and features a contained hammer that actuates through the rear of the slide, essentially it is a contained action like the 1911’s on a smaller more vertical frame. It features a slide lock but will not actuate unless employed manually, this means the gun will go “click” when empty and a fresh round must be hand cycled after a magazine swap. The gun also features a grip safety on the back strap that must be depressed for the pistol to be fired, a magazine disconnect/safety was added to later variants. The magazine release is typical of the style found in that era, being a lever located on the butt of the pistol grip behind the magwell.

The barrel features 6 locking lugs near the chamber that mate with the slide during battery. To disassemble the pistol, the slide must be pushed back and the barrel rotated 180 degrees which allows the slide to separate from the frame. While it can be a little tricky to take apart, cleaning and routine maintenance is quick and easy. Overall, the Colt 1903 is an exceptional firearm and revolutionary gun that has paved the way for the pistols of the modern era.

All photos courtesy of the author


*Originally published on SOFREP