In July 2012, the United States Marine Corps System Command announced that Colt Defense LLC of Hartford, Connecticut, was the winner of the new CQBP pistol contract. This announcement no doubt delighted the tried-and-true 1911 supporters in the military. Under the new contract, Colt was to deliver 4,000 samples initially and up to 12,000 samples in following years. The contract was said to be worth $22.5M to Colt. The Marine Colt pistol was designated the M45A1.
Three versions of M45A1 were made. The first version is one that went to the military, stamped USMC on the slide and delivered in a cardboard box with two Wilson 7-round magazines. An identical version coming off the same assembly line was sold to the civilian market. The only difference between this one and the one sold to the Marines was the USMC roll mark which did not exist on the civilian model which was delivered in a blue plastic Colt case. The third version was the Colt Custom Shop edition, also known as the “Civilian” version. It is hand fit, hand tooled and came with a snazzy green Pelican case and cleaning kit. All three versions have serial numbers ending in the “EGA” serial suffix (for the Corps’ iconic eagle, globe and anchor insignia), the “U.S.” markings, and the small set of numbers and “CQBP” denoting the official description of “Close Quarters Battle Pistol.”
Originally the Colt Custom Shop pistols had the Marine USMC roll marks on the slide, but the United States Marine Corps filed a cease & desist letter with Colt Manufacturing regarding the use of USMC on pistols not actually going to the Marines. About that time, the Custom Shop was downsized and no more of the Custom Shop M45A1s were made.
The Decommissioned Pistols
Some of the early Marine pistols began showing excess wear and 1,000 of these pistols (470 used and 530 unissued) were traded by the Marine Corps under warranty back to Colt in exchange for newer Ionbond finished replacements. Colt released these original Marine Corps pistols to the public. These pistols are the first U.S.G.I. pistols to be offered on the civilian market since the Director of Civilian Marksmanship (DCM) stopped handgun sales over 50 years ago. The included factory letter affirms that this is a genuine U.S.M.C. purchased pistol for combat use by its Special Operations units, including Force Recon. The letter also confirms the features including Desert Tan Cerakote finish, under barrel accessory rail, National Match grade barrel, forward and rear cocking serrations on the slide, long solid aluminum trigger, extended ambidextrous thumb safety, extended beavertail grip safety, flat serrated mainspring housing with a lanyard loop, Novak 3-dot night sights, and desert camouflage G10 composite grips. The slide is correctly roll marked with the “USMC” marking that has been factory stuck with an “X” to signify it as being decommissioned from the U.S.M.C.
The End of an Era
Just four short years after the M45A1s were initially issued to the Marines, on September 30th, 2016, the USMC announced that all 1911 type pistols still used by its special operation units would be replaced by the Glock 19. How about that? That short resurrection of the M45A1 as the primary sidearm for U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) Marine Raiders and the Corps’ Force Reconnaissance Marines resulted in some fine hardware becoming available to those of us who appreciate fine shooting gear and others who have the resources and desire to collect unusual and limited issue guns.
What’s it Like?
The M45A1 has a dual recoil spring assembly which seems to dampen recoil somewhat. Colt added this spring assembly to the M45A1 and some of its commercial models with the intent to decrease the battering the pistol takes on recoil. This is important in a gun meant to endure nearly as many rounds in the weeks-long Marine Raider training regimen as the original M1911 was intended to see throughout its entire service life.
The coarse checkering on the multi-colored G10 panels assists in anchoring the handgun, as does an undercut trigger guard which allows a high hand hold. The Colt incorporates a slightly beveled magazine well to facilitate reloads. The thumb safeties are ambidextrous and slightly larger than the original 1911 thumb safeties. The M45A1 has the traditional military lanyard loop in the flat, serrated mainspring housing. In addition to the desert tan color, the forward slide serrations and the section of M1913 Picatinny accessory rail immediately stand out and separate the pistol from the typical service M1911.
One thing that makes this particular pistol so much more than a normal Colt Rail Gun or similarly railed 1911 is the absence of MIM (or Metal Injection Molding) parts anywhere in the gun. In an effort to make guns that are traditionally built with steel more affordable, gun manufacturers have created a process to mold low impact gun parts rather than forge or mill each one. Builders of 1911s like Rock Island, Springfield, Kimber and Colt use MIM parts extensively in order to produce a competitively priced product. Springfield and Colt have done a great job in making these MIM parts extremely strong, thus increasing the durability and reliability of MIM-equipped firearms. Glocks uses MIM parts and a polymer frame yet are widely considered to be among the most reliable and durable firearms ever created. MIM parts are widely accepted as the standard in the industry. The Marine Corps is aware of this yet opted for steel, so consequently the CQBP does not use any MIM parts. Every piece of steel in the M45A1 is machined to specific tolerances and tested to the specifications put forth by the United States Marine Corps. This makes for an incredibly well-constructed pistol.
The M45A1 feels heavy compared to other full-size 1911s. That’s because at 40 oz., it is heavy. The Picatinny rail on the bottom of the frame is a full-size Mil Standard 1913 rail which holds accessories nice and tight as compared to its competitors with smaller lower rails. This full-size lower rail adds some of the noticeable heft to the gun, but that heft seems to balance out the pistol so that the gun doesn’t feel nose heavy. The front slide serrations are perfectly placed and have a noticeably deep depth and width, so much so that you can easily feel them while wearing gloves.
The finish on the pistol is a brown Decobond™ designed to hold up through hard use. The early finish problems encountered by the Marines were all fixed by the time the first 1,000 units had been issued. The finish is a bit slick which is offset by the rather deep cocking serrations both front and rear on the slide. This pistol utilizes the Series 80 fire control system which means it has an internal firing pin safety. Colt decided to employ a National Match barrel in the M45A1 instead of their normal barrel option. The quality and engineering on the National Match barrels is exceptional. The ejection port was modified by widening it and flaring it out. The feed ramp on the M45A1 is polished and coated to make the surface extremely smooth. The dual springs have a noticeable slap-back during firing, and the flared and lowered ejection port help to eject spent shells out and to the right of the pistol and not back into your face.
Shooting the M45A1 feels different than shooting other 1911s. First, there is the additional weight already mentioned. This added weight, in addition to the dual spring “slap back,” provide for noticeably less recoil. The trigger is smooth even by series 80 standards and breaks cleanly at 5 lbs. It would be hard to improve on this trigger with any kind of upgrade. My M45A1 has had hundreds of rounds put through it, both ball and JHP, and has not experienced any type of failure. The only thing I would change about it would be to checker the front strap. I have other Colt 1911s with smooth front straps, so I guess it’s just not something that’s in Colt’s playbook for their stock pistols. The Custom Shop price list indicates they’ll checker the front strap at either 20 or 25 lpi for $260. I’m thinking having that done would make my pistol less valuable as a collector item, plus it’s not a gun I’ll shoot very often so my front strap will remain smooth.
My pistol is the commercial, non-custom shop version and I wouldn’t own it had I not been a gun shop owner who could buy wholesale when these became available. When I sat down to write this story, I did my best to research the quantities of each type of pistol made and to get an idea of what might be available. Colt has not published the quantities of the EGA suffix pistols that were issued, at least not in any list I’ve been able to find. The decommissioned pistols and the custom shop pistols all appear to be in the hands of collectors. At any given time, one or two may show up on Gunbroker.com with prices that would only appeal to collectors. The civilian M45A1 is not currently in the Colt catalog, but there’s a good chance it will be offered again as Colt tends to rotate model numbers in and out of production from time to time. Should you buy one? If you’re interested in a unique, firearm with a military history at around $1600, go for it. I suspect it will only be worth more as time marches on.