As far as I know, Colt never offered a true hard chrome finish on a standard production gun.
They offered the old bright nickel, and a satin electroless nickel, which was later called "Colt Guard".
They did offer hard chrome as a Custom Shop option, but the plating was done by outside contractors.
As for after-market hard chrome on Colt's, there are a number of finishes that MAY be as good, but NONE are better.
Hard chrome has many advantages.
It's HARD. Hard chrome is actually harder than a fine Swiss file.
It's VERY rust and corrosion resistant. Years ago, one of the first to provide hard chrome to the gun public, was Metaloy of Fort Worth Texas.
In their brochure they had a gun writer's test of a S&W Model 36 that had been plated.
In one test, he took a nail that had been plated on one end. He put it in warm acid for a day or so. The plated end was untouched. The unplated end was just GONE.
Another test was to put the gun on a table and cover it with damp salt. After a week, no rust.
A swipe with a file left a shiny mark on the finish, but dulled the edge of the file.
The final test was to carry the gun in a pants pocket for a month with a pocket full of coins, knife, keys, etc. Doing this will strip the finish off a blued gun.
After a month, no finish wear.
Hard chrome can't crack, chip, or peel like standard nickel or decorative chrome can.
Ordinary platings like nickel or standard chrome are built up in layers.
First, the parts are plated with copper, then the finish is plated over that.
Look at this like paint on a surface. It lays on the surface in layers.
Like paint, moisture can work it's way between the metal and the platings and cause peeling and rust.
This is why you see old nickel guns and car bumpers with the plating bubbling up, flaking, peeling off and rust underneath.
Hard chrome is applied directly to the base steel and actually "soaks" into the steel, bonding directly to it.
This is somewhat like stain on wood. It isn't on the surface, it's actually IN the metal slightly.
Unlike decorative platings, moisture can't get between the plating and the steel, since there IS no "in between".
For this reason, hard chrome can't peel, chip, or crack.
Since it's bonded to the steel, it can be flexed a fair amount before it can crack at all.
Hard chrome is so hard and slippery, it actually operates without as much lube, and improves the trigger pull.
Dirt and fouling doesn't stick to it very well, it's easy to see fouling when cleaning, and the fouling comes off much easier.
In appearance, you can get hard chrome from a fairly bright satin finish to a very dull, slightly rough finish. The Metaloy has a flat pearl-gray finish, others look very much like stainless steel.
There are a few "watch-outs" with hard chrome.
First, like most platings, it does build up slightly on sharp edges, so I recommend very lightly breaking the edges before plating.
On revolvers, the plater has to watch when plating the cylinder and ejector. Any build up can cause problem with head-space or extraction.
Once a new plater failed to check his work on a Detective Special I'd sent in, and the plating caused a slight build up on the sharp edges of the ejector.
This caused fired rounds to stick in the chamber.
A slight turn of a ceramic rod broke the sharp edges of the plating and fixed the problem without damaging the plating.
Another problem is to insure the plater understands what you want plated and what you don't.
Over the years I had platers fail to plate under the ejector and the rear face of the cylinder.
Another failed to disassemble the locking bolt from the frame, and I had corroded bare steel under it.
Another time, the plater plated the ENTIRE rear sight assembly, base, leaf and all.
One problem in the early days, was "acid leech". This was a problem with poor plating procedure which caused dark gray spots or splotches to appear sometime after plating.
This was apparently a failure of the plater to adequately clean off all the acid used in the cleaning process.
This leeched out after plating causing the gray spots.
This could take weeks to happen, or it could happen immediately.
Most of these potential problems are now well-recognized by the established platers, and there are few problems reported today.
The bottom line is, hard chrome has a good many benefits, and very few negatives.
It's a true life-time gun finish, that's about as durable as any finish can be.
A big advantage is, unlike many other finishes, it can be applied to just about everything but the springs.
Some platers even plate the chambers and bore of the barrel.
If you like "white" finishes like stainless, I highly recommend hard chrome, and prefer it over anything but stainless steel.
If you want to have a Colt plated, here's my recommendations for procedure.
First, pick a well established plater who's been in business a while.
Make SURE both you and the plater fully understand just what is to be plated, and what's not.
Do any work you want BEFORE plating. This means if you want to tune the action or alter something, do it first.
Prep the gun. Use a fine stone to very lightly break as many exposed sharp edges as you think necessary. It doesn't take much, just enough to reduce the edge or sharp corner, not so much as you actually see it rounded off.
If possible, remove sights or other parts you don't want plated.
Some platers offer discounts if you strip the gun yourself, but better to let experts do disassembly than do possible damage if you don't feel qualified.
Also, if the plater does it, he has to re-assemble it, and make sure it's functioning properly.
Demand the plater DOES NOT engrave any parts control numbers on your gun.
I once had a very angry customer after a plater electo-penciled control numbers on the inside of all the parts of a Colt Commander.
After you get the gun back, field strip it as far as you feel comfortable, and look everything over carefully.
Look for any build up on edges or corners that might cause problems, look for areas not plated that should be, look for flaws in the plating.
Remember, hard chrome is VERY thin.
Like most platings, any burrs, machine marks, scratches, or other flaws in the base metal will show through the plating.
They'll be plated over, but they'll be there.
Don't mistake these for a bad plating job.
[This message has been edited by dfariswheel (edited 08-19-2004).]
There are some platers that offer what they call "flaw removal" that is done before plating to prevent a build up to change any tolerances. Hard chrome over stainless steel is excellent as it prevents galling and siezing plus gives an extra layer of corrosion resistance to stainless steel which can still rust.