A Nurse with a Gun

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Colt Sistema

Newcomers to the 1911 scene are sometimes surprised to learn that fully functional M1911A1 pistols were often sold cheaply to the public as government surplus back in the 1970s. Click to enlargeThat cornucopia of 45s came to an abrupt end during the Clinton administration, as thousands of M1911A1s were destroyed rather than being sold. The prices of the old war horses skyrocketed as they became collector's items rather than surplus ordnance.

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. Rearsenaled Colt Sistema, Click to enlargeThe 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. Original Finish Colt Sistema, Click to enlarge"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. Original Finish Colt Sistema, Click to enlarge

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.

Original Finish Colt Sistema, Click to enlargeI 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
Original Finish Colt Sistema, Click to enlarge1948 - 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

Labels:

34 Comments:

Blogger Joker23 said...

I hate you.

And by "I hate you" I mean "I'm very jealous".

I had pre-ordered one of the "Lipsey's Sistemas" based on a conversation with a sales person and posts their salespeople were leaving on gun boards. You know how that turned out...

G

9:44 AM  
Anonymous cranky said...

Shouldn't you have made him promise to buy a better rifle than a Kel-Tec? :-)

10:56 AM  
Blogger Truthsayer said...

Congratulations are in order, then. She's a looker.

12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man! You are a great writer. I never thought reading about buying a gun could be almost as intriguing as buying one myself. haha that was awesome. I hope you keep writing for a long time, and maybe publish a book?

-Dan

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Sistema Kid said...

Go to gunbroker to see one for $980!

2:02 PM  
Blogger DouginSalcha said...

Xavier,

What does 'rearsenaled' mean? I tried 'Googling' it and I find a lot of referenced articles (including this one) but no 'definitions' to tell me what it means...

4:31 PM  
Blogger Baba55 said...

You tried. More than once. I'll give you that. Ah, to be young and dumb. I'm sure his Dad is looking down and smiling wistfully, shaking his head a little bit.
Looks like your latest has the JLD import mark stamp behind the mag release, yes/no? (or some markings at any rate).
Third times the charm, tho' I loved reading about your first two and Cussin Bob's sleeper. I've given serious thought to doing the same treatment to my soap bar'd rearsenal '57 JLD, keeping the original parts (just in case they ever become, you know, collectible or something in the future)
Great story X. Keep 'em coming.

7:27 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Slightly off topic, I don't mean to have this attached to this story necessarily, but I wanted to ask you...

Xavier, after reading a load of articles here regarding the 1911's, I've become more interested in buying one.

I'm not going for the history of the gun, I'm too young to remember them being service pistols, and nobody in my family has military experience. I just want a good shooter with loads of aftermarket support. I'm sure the appreciation for the gun's history will soon follow.

I went to Cabela's today, didn't have time to make it to the lil gun shop before it closed. They had a few new models, various brands and only one used Colt which was worse for wear and had an $800 price tag. I had no idea what I was looking for and decided to check back to your blog.

I couldn't find anything after searching, have you written or could you recommend a piece regarding how to choose a 1911?

And I wanted to say I love your blog, read it at least every other day. I found it accidentally while searching for something unrelated and bookmarked it. I have frequented the page since then. I'm not an RN yet, one year to go but I work in surgery as a nurse extern in Gary Indiana so your words have echoed my thoughts many times. It amazes me that you have the time to do all that you do.

8:40 PM  
Blogger be603 said...

Passed on a nicely upgraded 1927 recently. Almost did the deal -- then I got a close look at the frame rails. Ah well, have to settle for my Norc 45.

8:44 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Doug,
Rearsenaled means the pistolwas sent back to a military arsenal to be rebuilt. The pistols were almost always refinished after rebuilding. At US arsenals they often had slides and barrels swapped around. In other words, they were no longer in original condition, but were still in the military inventory.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Baba,

Here is a pic of the latest. There is a bit of discoloration around the mag release, but no importer's mark.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Tmagnum62 said...

I have one marked Marina de Guerra, I picked up for 4 bills. It is a green parkerized, serial number dates it around 1958. It is all matching and has a lanyard. I really didn't expect too much at the range. It really surprised me, 2" or less group at 15 yards. I passed one up a few weeks ago. I wish I didn't now. It was in better shape that the one i have now.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Daniel,

I actually wrote a piece just to answer that question. The ultimate answer is within yourself. Read the article and see what I mean.

For a reliable, durable gun with fantastic factory support, I recommend a Springfield Armory. The GI45 if you want a traditional gun, the Mil-Spec if you are the tinkerer type, or a Loaded if you want to get a gun with gee gaws.

I'm a Colt guy, but without knowing more, it's hard to say whether the Colt you saw was a fair deal. Go here to learn how to check out a used 1911.

Xavier

9:51 PM  
Blogger Old NFO said...

Congrats- those are beautiful!

WV- bonusses

11:30 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

I recently picked up a Sistema with a born on date of approximately 1956. Its a decent weapon. It does have an import marking but is all original as far as the numbered parts. It was 4 bones. The problem, for me, is that I am spoiled by my Kimber Warrior. Its the .45 I compare all others to. And they usually lose. I have gotten rid of a springfield, a glock and a Kimber subcompact and will probably part with this too. The gun runs fine. Its a little stiff but I attribute that to the digital camo poly coating that the guy I bought it from put on it as a finish. I really have been jonesing for a "Colt" .45 but this Sistema doesn't fit the bill...and who knows...I may be disappointed when I fondle that Colt eventually.

Josh
Tampa

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Sara said...

I've got a 1911 buried away in a safe. It was my Dad's, and my grandfather's service weapon before that. While I'd like to have a big black rifle, I would _never_ sell that gun. Too bad this guy didn't realize what he's selling.

5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yow, Xavier. That was a terrific history lesson on the Sistema. I, too, heard about the Sistema way too late to buy one, but I'm glad that you bought one at a reasonable price. Have a happy day.
DC Handgun Info

9:30 PM  
Blogger Mark Horning said...

Very nice writeup, I think the only diference you missed between the Sistema and the GI 1911A1 was that the Sistema also has a slightly different hammer (wider spur, and I think different checkering).

My sistema is one of the mid 90's SOG imports, rearsenaled with a parkerized finish. As is typical, the thumb safety and slide stop were left blued. All matching, including the magazine. I've never even tried using the mag, the fedlips were so bad.

Sistemas in the blue are very rare. The kid's a fool, but you did right by him.

4:56 PM  
Blogger geordie said...

What an honest man you are. It was good of you to offer the youngster fair advice, many would not, I guess you are the sort that tells someone when they drop money... as I do. One thing I eventually learned was to listen when someone tells me I am making a mistake. It is a shame he did not recognize his father's treasure for what it is.

But when all's said and done, congratulations on the fairly obtained 45.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Jarubla said...

Masterful storytelling, thank you for sharing!

Ahh, youth...so exuberant.

2:14 AM  
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2:40 AM  
Anonymous SyberTiger said...

Nice writeup and nice blog. A job well done! I have one of the arsenal refinished JLD Enterprises imports. From my records it looks like I picked it up in 2003 from SOG using my C&R license. Cost was around $340. I would consider this 1956 model in very good condition. From what I recall I bought it just for the hell of it just to have a M1911 in my collection even though I wasn't really into them or knew much about them. I learned quite a bit about my Sistema and it's history from your writeups. Thanks for that!

6:34 PM  
Blogger William said...

Great write up! Thank you for all the Sistema information!

-Bill

10:22 PM  
Anonymous Dan D said...

Hi Xavier,

I enjoyed your article on the Colt Sistema very much. You also saved me from selling an original blued one. I have two one original with a few scrapes on the right side of the slide and a rearsenaled one. A friend of mine wants to sell me an Air Force issue and even though its rearsenaled, It is all matching and in excellent shape. It has to be the nicest Colt Sistema I have ever seen. He is asking quite a bit ($750), but I guess its worth it. What do you think? Thanks for the great info and the great article. Keep up the good work, in all respects.

Dan D.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Dan,

It's worth it if you can find a ready buyer easily. While nice original finish Sistemas are listed at $700-750 in the books, finding a ready buyer at that price is a bit difficult. At least that has been my experience.

If it's worth $750 to you, buy it. $750 in cash has different values to different people. Some can replace that amount quickly, others can not.

Will the pistol continue to increase in value if it is original? Yes.

6:23 PM  
Blogger doug57 said...

Great story. Great info. I have for sale a 1927, mfg. 1947 original blue I think, all matching numbers. Looks to have seen very little use. 3 mags with matching numbers and although a bit rough the original box numbered to the gun. New blue book puts a 95% gun at $1200 + 20% for original finish. What do you think.

9:40 PM  
Blogger deputyvaughn said...

I really enjoyed the article. I recently acquired an Argentine myself and found it while researching what I have. Mine seems to be a 1953 and all original except for the magazine.

Two questions arose from the article. You said the rear sight was "still square". Can you elaborate. Mine has a rounded top of the rear sight, I'm not sure if I understand what you mean by square.

Second, I've never been very good at recognizing a refinished pistol. Mine has a deep blue 95% or better finish. I think it's factory, but I don't know what to look for as tell-tale signs of refinish. Can you give some hints for that?

Thanks,
Scott

10:17 AM  
Blogger jason said...

i have a ejercito argentino but it has brown handles with diamonds at screws and on the other side of slide it says colt's ptf.a.mfg.co.hartford,ct.usa with mathing numbers on slide and barrel no.4378 mag is 32419 know any thing to help thanks

4:52 PM  
Anonymous Ted said...

I bought one about 22 years ago in a gun shop. I've keep it in my safe all of these years. It is in very nice original condition. The finish is glossy with a little wear on the sharp edges. I paid $250.00 for it if I remember correctly. Looking at the serial number (240XX) looks like it was made in the very first batch in 1945. All numbers match. I was thinking of doing some custom work on it but now have second thoughts. Is the value more since it one of the earliest made? Markings on left side: D.G.F.M. (F.M.A.P.). Right side: Argentine Crest and EJERCITO ARGENTINO COLT CAL.45 MOD. 1927

2:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Sistema was made in 1954. I had a lousy blue finish and a corroded barrel. $225. I had a trigger job, Colt Commander hammer and grip safety installed, better sights, then a bead blasted and blued finish that looks Parkerized. It is still one of my favorite guns. Great G.I. shooter. The gunsmith said it was some of the hardest steel he ever worked on, which is not the usual observation. It is a great $450 carry piece...that gets carried.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Jamie said...

Not sure if you can help me I have a gun I think a Colt 1911 but it has serial number 79185 and Policia de la provincia de buenos aires on the right side. Under that Davidson's Greensboro NC. All serial numbers match and I am sure it is not the original mag but it is a COLT 45 AUTO stamped on the bottom. Mine is more brown and I think in pretty good shape I am just trying to find out information on it. There is no C before serial numbers which I have read the Colts had and on the left side it does have the D.G.F.M.-*F.M.A.P.) It would be nice to know if it is a Colt and what model and approximate value as of 2013, I am interested in selling it possibly.

9:11 PM  
Blogger Jamie said...

I have what I believe to be a Colt 1911. If you could help me verify that would be great. It has on the right side Policia De La Provincia De Buenos Aires under that Davidson's Greensboro NC serial number 79185 all numbers match over gun. On the left side it does have d.g.f.m.-(f.m.a.p.) What I am confused about is that I have read that the Colts say they should have a C in front of the serial number mind does not, and it has no other markings on it identifying it as a Colt. It does have a Colt 45 Magazine and shoots like a charm. I would like to find out if it is a Colt and what aprox value is on one in 2013 because I am thinking about selling it, or if I don't then for insurance purposes. Thanks and by the way you really do write very well.

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Tom Gilbert said...

Hi Xavier, I just found your blog and it really interested me because I'm a big bore wingnut. Love the 1911/1911A1. I have two Argentine 1911A1's, one manuf. in 1945 and the other in 1958. Everything I read about these indicates that originally the finish on these were the Rosario blue. The 1911A1 manuf. in 1945 seems to have a park finish on it but has no import marks and is in great condition. The one manuf. in 1958 has a black park finish with the trigger,hammer and mag release blued, it does have a very tiny import mark on the lip of the mag well which is KASC GBORO NC. Everything matches except the magazine, just 5 numbers off. What I'm wondering is if you've ever read or heard of any of these guns being parkerized. My 1958 has a barrel that looks like it's brand new which may have only been test fired because it is so shiny inside. My 1945 I paid 720.00 in 2011 and my 1958 I paid 820.00. I would really appreciate any additional info on the finishes they used.

Thanks,
Tom

8:28 PM  
Anonymous Jason said...

I am hoping you can help me with the pistol that I own I believe it to be a early sistema but am unsure it has a serial number of R0009 on barrel,slide and frame and has all of the colt markings and the argentine crest with the lanyard loop. I hope you can help identify this 1911 it has been a mystery to all I have shown it to.

1:29 AM  

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