The Colt Sistema
Dealers in surplus pistols soon found another source for inexpensive 1911s in Argentina. Over sixty years previously, in April, 1914, the Argentine Navy had purchased 321 Colt 1911s in the serial number range C6201-C6401, marked Marina Argentina. Pleased with the pistols, the Argentine government purchased a thousand more in 1916, and the new military sidearms were designated the Pistola Colt Modelo Argentino 1916. In 1919, more pistols were ordered from Colt. The serial numbers for all of these pistols fall within the Colt commercial pistol serial range.
In 1923, the Argentine government adopted an armaments bill to eliminate dependency on foreign arms. Finally, in 1927, the Argentine Commission for Foreign Acquisitions negotiated a contract with Colt for the manufacture of M1911A1 pistols, including a a licensing agreement for production. The pistols were to possess a separate serial number series, with the first ten thousand built by Colt in Argentina for the Argentine Army. Colt equipment and employees were relocated and the manufacturing began. From 1927 to 1933 ten thousand pistols, known to collectors as Hartford Argentine Army Models were produced. The serial numbers range from 1 to 10,000. The contract also stipulated that after the first 10,000 pistols, the rights to manufacture would be turned over to Argentina, and production could continue using the same blueprints and Colt trained Argentine employees and inspectors. Thus, the Pistola Sistema Modelo Argentino 1927, Calibre 11.25mm was born.
In 1945, the Argentine Military Small Arms Factory (FMAP - Fabrica Militar de Armas Portatiles)began production of the first replacement pistols at Esteban de Luca Arsenal in Buenos Aires, with assembly taking place at the Domingo Matheu plant in Rosario, Argentina. These pistols would ultimately be called the Colt Sistema. The pistols were manufactured for the Argentine Army, Navy, Air Force, police departments, government bureaus, and for commercial sales.
The Colt Sistema was built according to the 1927 blueprints and standards supplied by Colt, on equipment left behind by Colt. With only a few differences, they are exact copies of the M1911A1 manufactured by Colt in 1927. The extractors are spring steel. The mainspring housing has inlaid checkering in a knurled pattern unique to the Argentine Colt. Grips were black plastic. The Sistema triggers have a knurled face and are machined from barstock, as are the sear, disconnect, magazine catch, slide stop and thumb safety. Colt Sistemas were made of forged German, British, and Swedish steel, and have the same longevity as their US counterparts. Sistema pistols possess the heat treatment common for that era of pistol. With high volume shooting, they can be prone to cracking in the usual areas familiar to GI pistol collectors. The old gun show tale that Colt Sistemas were made from steel salvaged from the Admiral Graf Spee, a nazi battleship scuttled in shallow Argentine waters during World War II, is a myth.
Like many young men during the Reagan era, I walked past these shiny blue pistols being sold as surplus at gun shows. I was interested in large capacity 9mm blasters, not Dick Tracy looking anachronisms from another time. By the time I became interested in the 1911, the beautiful blued Sistemas were gone. All that remained were rearsenaled Sistemas, with a sandblasted and hot dip blue finish. While nice, time and the refinishing process had reduced the lines of the rearsenaled Sistemas to contours more like a Clark meltdown than a Colt. The barrels were frequently shot smooth if not replaced. Sistema magazines were numbered to the gun, but they seldom matched on the rearsenaled pistols. Importer's markings were stamped into the frames. Lanyard loops were bent or cut off. The original finish pistols had become as rare as turtle teeth, snuggled away in gun socks inside of collector's safes. I counted myself fortunate to have purchased two rearsenaled Colt Sistemas for less than $250 each, a great price at the time. They usually sold for $450 or so. I kept one pistol original, only swapping out the checkered walnut grips that came on it for USGI grips. The other one I converted into a custom carry gun. During that conversion, I installed an Ed Brown beavertail grip safety. I had installed the same grip safety on other, more modern pistols, and I can attest that the frame horns of the Sistema are of softer steel than modern Colts. The front of the slides and the area of the frame around the slide stop are hardened in the same manner as a US M1911A1, however.
Since 2006, after the infamous Lipsey's shipment of low quality specimens, Colt Sistemas have been absent from the US surplus gun market. Most collectors agree that the Lipsey guns represented the last of the remaining Colt Sistemas. Today, original finish Sistemas sell for $600-$750, with some sellers asking even more. Rearsenaled Sistemas compete with the Springfield GI45 in the marketplace among shooters who want an inexpensive but authentic appearing GI 1911 pistol. Although made in Argentina, the Colt Sistema is an authentic military 1911. All parts are interchangeable with other 1911s, and it bears the Colt name, if not the Colt pony.
Still, I wanted a Colt Sistema with sharp lines and an original blue finish. I had all but given up when one day my telephone rang. "Xavier, would you be interested in a 1927 Colt?"
"Possibly, what is it?"
"Well, it's kind of like the one I sold you, but it's chambered in 11.25mm," said Ralph. "A dude I know wants to buy a black rifle and needs money."
"Well, I already have one I think, but tell him to bring it to the range and let me have a look."
At the range, Ralph introduced me to a young man who carried a brown cardboard box. "Is that the gun?" I asked after we had introduced ourselves.
"Yeah. It's not much, I inherited it from my dad when he died," said the young man as he opened the box to reveal a blued Sistema. I glanced at Ralph. He nodded.
"You shouldn't sell it then," I told him.
"Well he left me other guns. This one he just kept on a shelf. Never used it," the young man informed me. "I can't find ammunition for it anywhere."
I locked the slide back. The weapon was empty. "Well, I just happen to have some here with me. It's a 45," I told him. "Want to shoot it?"
"Naw, I just want to sell it," he said. The lines of the pistol were still crisp, although the bluing was revealing silver along the edges. The rear sight was still square. The serial numbers matched, including the magazine.
"Mind if I have a look inside?"
"Can you put it back together?"
"Yep, it won't take but a minute or two," I told him.
I field stripped the pistol, and found the rails to have very little wear. The recesses of the gun were caked with crusty hard cosmoline. A spot of rust was on the outside of the chamber, but the barrel still had sharp rifling. I reassembled the pistol and dry fired it. The trigger must have been seven or eight pounds. That could have been due to the coating of dried out cosmoline, the newness of the lockwork, or possibly a combination of both. The thumb safety likewise required more pressure than normal to snick on and off.
"You really ought to sell something else," I told the lad.
"I'm keeping a Glock," he replied. "I just need some cash to get a cool rifle. I don't want this one."
I was young and made this kind of deal at one time. "OK, how much do you want?" I asked.
"I don't know."
"What do you need for it?" I asked.
"How about four hundred?" came the reply.
I locked the slide back and dropped the magazine. "How's four fifty?" I asked.
The young man looked at me as though I had a quesadilla for a hat. I guess he thought I was the most ignorant bargainer he had ever met. "You're going to need some ammo for that rifle," I told him. "What are you going to get?"
"A Kel-Tec Sub-2000, nine millimeter" he replied proudly.
"I hear those are some pretty cool rifles," I said. "Will you let me run a few rounds through it when you get it?"
"Sure!" he replied.
I took four hundred and fifty dollars from my billfold and handed it over. We shook hands, the young man thanked me and then excused himself to go to the gun store. One of the range officers wandered over. "Did you just buy another 1911?" he asked.
"Yep, I sure did."
"Why the heck do you need another one?" asked Jack.
"I don't reckon I need it," I told him, "but that young man needs a black rifle."
"Don't we all?" laughed Jack.
So now, I am the proud owner of three Colt Sistema 1911s. One is a custom carry gun, one is rearsenaled, and the last is an original finish Sistema.
Colt Sistemas were built from 1945 to 1966. The unique serial numbers are found on the frame, on the slide, on the barrel hood, on the magazine baseplate, and on the receiver underneath the mainspring housing. Below are the serial numbers listed by year, along with the production numbers.
1945 - 6,000 - #24,001 - #30,000
1946 - 7,628 - #30,001 - #37,628
1947 - 5,000 - #37,629 - #42,628
1948 - 7,000 - #42,629 - #49,628
1949 - 5,000 - #49,629 - #54,628
1950 - 8,000 - #54,629 - #62,628
1951 - 8,011 - #62,629 - #70,639
1952 - 7,016 - #70,640 - #77,655
1953 - 2,500 - #77,656 - #80,155
1954 - 5,000 - #80,156 - #85,155
1955 - 2,500 - #85,156 - #87,655
1956 - 2,500 - #87,656 - #90,155
1957 - 5,626 - #90,156 - #95,781
1958 - 5,547 - #95,782 - #101,328
1959 - 5,000 - #101,329 - #106,328
1960 - 2,066 - #106,329 - #108,394
1961 - 1,000 - #108,395 - #109,394
1962 - 0
1963 - 600 - #109395 - #109,994
1964 - 750 - #109,995 - #110,744
1965 - 1,250 - #110,745 - #111,994
1966 - 500 - #111,995 - #112,494
Slide inscriptions and crests:
DGFM-(FMAP) - Direccion General de Fabricaciones Militares-Fabrica Militar de Armas Portatiles
Ejercito Argentino - Argentine Army
Aeronautica Argentina - Argentine Air Force
Marina de Guerra, Armada Nacional, Armada Argentina, Marina Argentina - Argentine Navy during different periods
Gendarmeria Nacional - Border Patrol
Ministerio Del Interior - Ministry of the Interior
Policia De Los Territorios Nacional, Policia De La Provencia De Buenos Aires, Policia De La Provencia De Santa Fe, C.F.S. - Federal Internal Security