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Showcase cover image for A look back at the Colt Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range semi-automatic pistol (Part#1)

General Information

Make
COLT'S PT. F.A. MFG. CO. HARTFORD. CONN. U.S.A.
Year
1960-1973
Model
Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range (Model O5450)
Caliber
.38 Special (Full Wadcutter only)
Barrel
5" barrel without locking lugs (Blow-back operated)
Sight/Scope
Front Patridge, Rear Colt-Accro then changed to Colt-Elliason
Colt’s Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range semi-automatic pistol


I really wanted to title this look back at the history of the Colt Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range semi-automatic pistols as “Colt’s Mysterious Mid Range”. I became interested in these pistols in 2014 when I purchased mine (6477-MR). As most owners with a new firearm, I was interested in knowing some of the history of this model and also finding out how old mine was, and in particular when it was produced and hopefully when it was shipped from the factory. This is where the mysteries began. I quickly found out that there wasn’t very much factual information available on the internet. Referring to a couple of publications I have, I found that the serial# suffix of -MR was incorrectly identified, that production numbers were incorrect and production years were incorrect. As I delved more deeply into learning about this model I was able to find out that published and internet mis-information was nothing compared to the several twists and turns that occurred during Colt’s production of this model.


(Over-view of Production History)



-Colt Model# O5450

-Chambered in .38 Special (Full Wadcutter only)

-Magazine capacity of 5 rounds

-In production from November 1960 to November 1973

-Serial numbered 100-MR to 9409-MR for a total production of 9310 pistols produced

-First pistol shipped on December 12th, 1960 (338-MR)

-Last pistol shipped on March 3rd, 1974 (9409-MR)

-Last catalogued by Colt in 1974



(Production History)



The Colt Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range semi-automatic pistol was introduced in December 1960 designed to shoot the .38 Special full wadcutter cartridge. These pistols were designed to equip the civilian target shooter with a out of the box competitive centre fire target pistol. The Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range pistols were produced in tandem with the Gold Cup National Match .45ACP pistols. Both pistols were catalogued together during the production run of the Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range. Both pistols are virtually identical in appearance with the only option available between the two being a arched serrated mainspring housing.

During production there were 3 main variations of the pistol. Later on during production there was a rear sight change. The exterior appearance of all 3 pistol variations are almost identical. The main difference is the barrel hood marking and barrel bushing/recoil spring plug on the 1st variation which is the same as found on the Gold Cup National Match .45ACP pistols. The 3 variations are identified by barrel hood markings. Features common to all 3 variations are adjustable rear sight with a 1/8” Patridge front sight, skeletonized and ribbed slide, slanted rear slide serrations, barrel return spring, long-wide-grooved adjustable trigger, serrated flat mainspring housing (arched optional), serrated front grip strap, hammer half cock modification and checkered walnut stocks with gold Rampant Colt medallions. Pistols were finished in a high polish Colt Royal Blue. Pistols were first furnished with the Colt-Accro rear adjustable sight. In 1964 a production order came changing the rear sight to the Colt-Elliason adjustable sight which became standard until the end of production.



After the pistol was released immediate sales were brisk but problems soon began to plague the pistol. The first barrel design can be identified with the barrel hood marking of:



COLT .38 SPEC. N.M.

This barrel featured the cartridge seating on the barrels narrow extractor rim. This proved to be unreliable with function. Accuracy concerns were also encountered by customers and Colt determined that with the blow back design, the slide was moving the the rear while the bullet was still travelling down the barrel hurting accuracy. The original magazine design also proved to be unreliable because the cartridge had difficulty clearing the opening between the follower and the front of the magazine body. The hammer had a tendency to follow forward into the safety notch with the slide being released into battery by releasing the slide stop. Colt decided that a quick fix was in order to satisfy customer complaints and quickly redesigned the barrel and magazine while sales of the 1st variation pistol continued.



The 2nd barrel design was quickly pressed into production. This barrel can be identified by the barrel hood marking of:

COLT .38 SPEC. N.M.
* * MK. II * *

This redesign consisted of a barrel with a head space shoulder at the front of the barrel chamber to support the cartridge. The conical recoil spring plug/matched barrel bushing was changed to the standard Government Model style but the bushing was hand fit. The magazine mouth was slightly enlarged to provide more clearance for the cartridge to feed reliably. With this 2nd barrel design, Colt failed to address the accuracy concerns. This redesign quickly failed to meet expectations and Colt decided that a complete barrel re-design was in order. The MK.II barrels are seldom encountered, but some of the ones observed had their chamber threaded similar to the MK.III barrel redesign. It's widely believed that Colt would not throw out any useable parts and I believe that Colt threaded the chamber of some of the barrels (left over production barrels?) after production of the barrels was cancelled in order to use them up and installed them in production pistols. (Many thanks to Forum member "Celse" for this information! Thanks John!)



The 3rd barrel design resulted in a completely redesigned barrel with a threaded chamber. This barrel can be identified by the barrel hood marking of:


COLT .38 SPEC. N.M.
* * MK. III * *

With this barrel, Colt finally addressed the accuracy concerns from the first 2 barrels. A shoulder was provided at the front of the barrel but the barrel chamber wall was coarsely threaded. The threaded chamber causes friction between the cartridge case and the chamber wall. This delays the cartridge leaving the chamber until the bullet has exited the barrel. A new standard production recoil spring plug and a hand fit barrel bushing to provide a tight fit on the barrel and also the slide was adopted. To address hammer follow through, a redesigned depressor with a depressor spring was installed on the sear. The magazine body was redesigned with “split” feed lips and a newly designed magazine follower was designed to accommodate the feed lips.

With these design changes Colt finally got it right. This combination is used until the end of production. Owners who were unhappy with the performance of their 1st variation and MK.II barrel pistols could send their pistols back to Colt under Colt’s Warranty, where they were sent to Colt’s Service Department for a upgrade to the latest MK.III configuration. Pistols were then proofed (test fired) and returned to the customer with a included Colt Service Department test target. As a side note to collectors, it would not be out of the realm of possibility to find a pistol with 2 test targets. One supplied with the pistol when new and one from Colt’s Service Department.



(Observations of viewed pistols, collected production and shipping dates, test targets and dates)



-Colt did not assemble or ship pistols in serial# order. One example of this is pistol serial# 389-MR that shipped on September 23rd, 1966. There are several instances of low serial#’s shipping much later in production and consecutive serial#s shipping 2-3 years apart.

-1st variation barrels still observed on pistols in the 3800-MR serial# range.

-Earliest MK.II barrel observed on 274-MR.

-Earliest MK.III barrel observed on 218-MR.

-The change over to the Colt-Elliason rear sight was a gradual production transition spanning several thousand pistols. The earliest observed Colt-Elliason rear sight is on 1560-MR.

-The last 3 digits of the frame serial# is stamped on top of the slide under the rear sight.

-3 different styles of shipping boxes were used over the course of production with the 1st version box having 2 different styles of box end labels because of errors in printing.

-Over the 13 years of production, Colt used 7 different styles of box test targets.

-Colt did not ink stamp the date on test targets included with early pistols. The first observed example of a dated test target is with 3077-MR and is from May 13th, 1963.



(Incorrect information about the Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range pistol in print)



-Serial# suffix of -NMR

-Total production of 7000 pistols

-In production from 1961 to 1970

-Pistol is called the MKIII National Match

-Magazines hold 10 rounds



(Incorrect information about the Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range pistol in Colt factory literature and on shipping box end labels)



-Early shipping boxes with the yellow box end label identified the calibre of the pistol as .38 SUPER AUTO.

-The 1974 Colt Catalogue identifies the cartridge capacity of the magazine as being 9 rounds.



As you can see by the viewed pistols, shipping dates and “odd” shipping practices, as to why I wanted to call this article the ‘Mysterious Mid Range”. It’s widely known that Colt did not ship pistols in serial# order but with these early .38 Special Mid Range pistols it seems to defy logic. Its also widely known that Colt did not throw serviceable parts away. I believe that these pistols were initially hot sellers and Colt scrambled to assemble and ship pistols with what ever parts they had on hand despite the problems that were encountered. I believe the attitude at Colt at the time was lets get these out the door and we’ll deal with the issues later. Once production of the pistol was established with the MK.III variation of parts installed did pistol serial# VS shipping dates level off to a somewhat “normal” state that one would expect to see. This seems to be in the 1964-65 time frame.



Acknowledgements:

Production information from:

- “Colt .45 Government Models (Commercial Series)” 1912 through 1970 by Charles Clawson (Second Edition)

-“U.S. Military Match and Marksmanship Automatic Pistols” by Bill Jenkins

-Colt Forum member "Celse" for his willingness to share his knowledge and extensive collection plus the encouragement to produce this article.



Photo credits:

-Many thanks to fellow Forum member “Celse” who provided many pictures from his extensive collection.

-Thank you to Forum member "MrColt45ACP" for providing the pic's of Serial# 338-MR

-Pictures of my own pistol serial# 6477-MR

-A variety of pictures harvested off various websites on the World Wide Web.

Disclaimer:

-I've been compiling information on these pistols for several years. I'm NOT an expert. I've tried to provide factual information and corresponding photos that show the many design changes that occurred during production. If you believe I have posted incorrect information, please contact me.
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-1961 Colt print add detailing the new Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range pistol. (Note the gold 125th Anniversary medallion pictured at the bottom of the grip frame. (This Colt's 125th Anniversary medallion was included with all firearms produced in 1961)

Colt N.M. MR print ad 1961.jpg



-1974 Colt Catalogue page for the Gold Cup National Match pistols. This is the last year that the Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range pistol was catalogued. (Note the magazine capacity of "9 Rounds"!! This is another case of poor printing quality control)

1974 Colt Catalogue National Match pistols.jpg


-Early production pistol field stripped. (Note the barrel has no locking lugs and is operated by blow-back only)

COLT-National-Match-38-Special-Mid-Range-1st-Model-c-1960_100827277_75493_74CB3EBD9C55A8FE.JPG


-The first Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range pistol shipped by Colt. Serial# 338-MR shipped December 12th, 1960 to Mr Pete Kulhoff Killingsworth, writer for Argosy Magazine

GCNM .38 Mid Range 338-MR.JPG

GCNM .38 Mid Range 338-MR #2.JPG


-The last Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range pistol shipped by Colt. Serial# 9409-MR shipped on March 3rd, 1974.

9409-MR pics.jpg

9409-MR pic 2.jpg


-First variation barrel hood marking. This barrel came with a conical recoil spring plug with a matched mated surface on the barrel bushing. This combination was only shipped from Colt with this 1st variation barrel.

Type 1 barrel hood marking.jpg


-First variation barrel conical recoil spring plug with matched mated barrel bushing. Only shipped by Colt with the 1st variation barrel.

Mid Range MKI barrel bushing.jpg


-2nd variation barrel hood marking. Colt identified this barrel by adding the roll stamping ** MK. II ** to the barrels hood.

MKII Barrel hood marking.jpg


-2nd variation recoil spring plug and barrel bushing. Colt eliminated the conical recoil spring plug and mated matched barrel bushing used on the 1st variation barrel and replaced them with a standard style Government Model recoil spring plug but a special fitted barrel bushing that was fitted to the slide and barrel.

MKII Barrel bushing:Recoil spring plug.jpg


-3rd variation barrel hood marking. Colt identified this barrel by adding the roll stamping ** MK. III ** to the barrels hood. This variation barrel was used for the balance of Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range pistol production. The standard Government Model style recoil spring plug but with a special fitted barrel bushing was continued as with the previous ** MK. II ** barrel.

IMG_1985.jpg


-Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range pistols first shipped equipped with the Colt-Accro rear sight as shown on the left. In about 1964 Colt changed to the Colt-Elliason rear sight as shown on the right and continued with this sight until the end of production.

Colt-Accro: Colt-Elliason rear sight.jpg


-Although there were 4 versions of magazines, the collector or shooter will generally only encounter 3. All magazines will only hold 5 rounds. The 1st version magazine (Type I) as shown on the left had problems with the front of the magazine body coming into contact with the bullet case as it was being chambered. The Type II magazine as shown on the right was it's replacement.

IMG_5967.JPG


-Note the difference in the radius cut at the top-front of the magazine body between the pictured magazines, Type I on the left Type II on the right. The Type II magazine addressed the feeding issues by Colt opening up and lowering the radius cut. This redesign cured the feeding issues from the magazine.

IMG_5966.JPG


-The 3rd version of magazines equipped with the Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range pistols were redesigned with a new magazine body and new magazine follower. The magazine body now had "Split" feed lips as shown on the right. This design is noted for it's improved feeding characteristics. This version of Split Lip magazine was included with pistols for the balance of pistol production.

IMG_0837.jpg


-The 3 version of magazine with the redesigned "Split" feed lips magazine body as shown on the right, also had a redesigned magazine follower to work with the "Split" feed lips. Type II magazine shown on the left.

IMG_2039.jpg


-Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range pistol magazine floor plate markings did not change during magazine redesigns. The Type I, Type II, and "Split" feed lip magazine floor plates are shown here (top to bottom). There was a 4th version of magazine that is rarely encountered. This 4th version magazine was produced for the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit. It features a blued finish and has the "Split" feed lips. The magazine floor plate is roll marked "COLT 38SPL". The letter roll marking is read opposite of the other magazines in a way that it must be read with the right side of the magazine body facing up. The right side bottom of the magazine body is also roll marked "USARMY-AMU". As a student of these pistols I have yet to observe a U.S. Army AMU magazine.

IMG_2521.jpg


-There were 3 versions of shipping boxes used during Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range pistol production. The box shown is the 1st version. It's a 2 piece "faux" woodgrain cardboard upper and lower with a green interior with a yellow end label on the upper lid. The pistol serial# is written in black marker on the end of the bottom outside face.

GCNM box pic3.jpg


-Very early version of the yellow end label as shown on the box for pistol serial# 588-MR. Note on the upper right corner of the yellow end label, the pistol is described as being chambered in .38 SUPER AUTO. !!! Another printing quality control issue!

Early MR box end label (588-MR).jpg


-This is the quickly re-designed yellow end label that replaced the one shown above on pistol serial #588-MR. This new yellow end label correctly identifies the pistol as being chambered in .38 SPEC. MID RANGE WAD CUTTER.

Re-Designed MR box end label.jpg

Re-Designed early MR box end label.jpg


-This is the 2nd version of shipping box for the Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range pistol. It's a 2 piece cardboard box with a white cardboard inner partition and a lower red coloured cardboard interior cut out for the pistol to sit in. This box is described by collectors as the "Picture" box. This box is also equipped with a blank white cardboard outer sleeve. The serial# of the pistol is written in black marker on the top end of the outer sleeve. Box contents (test target/brochure/warranty card/NRA mailer/manila envelope) are included under the lower red interior cut out.

Colt National Match .38 Mid Range box.jpg

Box pic#4.jpg

Box pic#2.jpg


A look back at the Colt Gold Cup National Match .38 Special Mid Range semi-automatic pistol continues in Part#2...................
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