Tag Archives: handguns

An original Colt MK IV Series 70

Next week I begin another travel series — 54 days at sea on a trip that took us on two transatlantic crossings and a tour of both the Mediterranean and Black Seas. But for this week I’m returning to the subject that garners my highest audience, firearms.

An original Colt MK IV Series 70

It’s not often you come across a 36-year-old firearm in this condition. And according to the previous owner, the original Colt MK IV Series 70 has less than 100 rounds through it.

Colt MK IV Series 70 circa 1982

There are a few flaws in the original Colt satin blue finish, but I’d rate this pistol at around 98%. The wood grips also had some minor dings, as well, but also very minor.

Colt MK IV Series 70 original grip with Colt medallion

If you read my previous blog article on the new MK IV Series 70 (see: A Look at the Colt MK IV Series 70), then you know that the originals differed from the original in more than just the trigger. The original run from 1970 to 1983 also included a fingered “collet” bushing over a barrel with a widened muzzle end. This change was incorporated to improve the barrel-to-bushing fit in order to improve accuracy.

Series 70 collet bushing and wide-end barrel

The collet bushing held over into the Series 80 line until the late 1980s, but reports of bushing failures led Colt to revert back to the solid bushing which carries over to the reintroduced Series 70 pistols of today.

An original Colt MK IV Series 70 disassembled

The example here has a 70B prefixed serial number. That places this 1911 at the very end of the original MK IV Series 70 run, as the 70B serial number began in 1981 and ran through the end of production in 1983. The rest of the serial number leads me to believe that the actual year of production was probably 1982.

Colt 70B serial number places manufacture between 1981 and 1983

In my second article on the current Series 70 (see: Colt’s Series 70 Trigger Put to the Test — Series 70 vs. Series 80) I noted that the trigger was not all it was cracked up to be my Colt 1911 enthusiasts. I’ve since repeated my experiment (see video below) on side-by-side comparisons between probably half a dozen new Series 70 Colts and the current line of Series 80. Results were always the same. Out of the box, the current Colt Series 80 routinely beats the current Series 70 on every gun I’ve tried.

So, what about the original MK IV Series 70? Not so in this case. This truly the trigger I’ve seen praised. That’s not to say that the current Series 70 trigger is bad, as no Colt 1911/1991A1 trigger can be described as such from my experience, it’s just that the new Series 70 has more creep after take up and displays a degree of grittiness that simply doesn’t exist in any other Series 80 Colt I’ve tried.

Colt MK IV Series 70 slide stamp


Sights on the original Series 70 match the current crop. They’re nothing about which to write home. I much prefer the three-dot sights Colt uses on the current Series 80.

Colt MK IV Series 70 rear sight

Colt MK IV Series 70 front sight

Here’s a comparison between a new Series 70 and a Series 80 M1991A1 to illistrate what I mean:

New MK IV Series 70 left; new M1991A1 Series 80 right

Fortunately, both the original and previous owners of this pistol did something that far too few people do; they retained the original box and owner’s manual.

Colt MK IV Series 70 box and owner’s manual ©1981

Here is this original Mk IV Series 70 posing with the box it came in:

Colt MK IV Series 70 with original box

But the box has definitely seen better days, and the Styrofoam insert inside was partially melted away from gun lubricant. Fortunately, that didn’t mar the finish on the pistol.

Colt MK IV Series 70 box

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Filed under Firearms, R. Doug Wicker

Interesting Collectables: “Old” 1st issue Ruger Bearcats

Rare unmodified Ruger “Alpha Cat” Bearcat

Until recently the Ruger Bearcat wasn’t even on my radar, as the new production models are pricey (MSRP $639 blued; $689 stainless) and older models seldom come up in the market. So, when the above pictured Bearcat showed up at my favorite local gun store (Collector’s Gun Exchange) for what looked to be a relatively so-so price, I took a chance. The only reason I did was because this particular example had not been modified with the Ruger transfer bar system. Thus, cocking the four-stage hammer gave me that very satisfying, nostalgic, Old West quadruple C-O-L-T click. The bore was clean, the rifling intact, the cylinder lock-up good. Several of those beautiful cocking sounds later I asked the salesman to stuff it behind the counter while I looked around the shop and thought it over.

Rare unmodified Ruger “Alpha Cat” Bearcat

After completing my rounds I headed back to that Ruger Bearcat and cocked it a few more times. By this time another collector whom I know had walked into the shop and told me if I didn’t take it, he would. So, it followed me home, whereupon I started doing research and found I’d inadvertently struck pay dirt. The shop thought this particular Bearcat was from 1971. It wasn’t. It was from 1960, the third year of a fourteen-year production (1958-1971) before the alloy frame was changed to steel (1971-1974). Not only that, this particular example was a rare “Alpha Cat”, which used a letter at the beginning of the serial number (A001 through Z999 excluding the letter “O” for obvious reasons). Additionally, this was a very late “Alpha Cat” on which the front sight had been reduced in height ¼-inch to improve aim. This modification probably started around serial number X165 and ran through Z999, continuing on through later numbering schemes until the end of “1st issue” production. Thus, at most, only 2,382 “Alpha Cats” were produced with that lowered sight.

Y293 — “Alpha Cats” X165 through Z999 had reduced height front sights

Where did I get all this wonderful Bearcat 1st issue information? From an article written by noted Ruger collector Bill Hamm and posted online at GunBlast.com. Here’s a link to that article: Ruger Bearcat 1958 to 1970. Thanks, Bill!

Reading up on values, I was pleased to see what I thought was only a so-so deal turned out to be $200 to the good on my side. Add another $75 if the darned thing had come with the original box and owner’s manual, which it didn’t. But then a funny thing happened exactly two weeks to the day later, same gun store, when I ran into another 1st issue Bearcat.

1964 Ruger Bearcat with lightly stamped “Ruger Eagle” on walnut grips

At first I thought this one had non-original grips, because these grips were oiled walnut instead of the shiny rosin-impregnated rosewood grips on the earlier Bearcat.

1964 Ruger Bearcat — early oiled-walnut grip variant

This post-Alpha Cat example was also unmodified, and so still had that wonderful Single Action quadruple click. But in this case it wasn’t the gun I was after, even though it was a beauty despite the shiny drag mark around the circumference of the cylinder. So, what was I really after? This:

Original Ruger Bearcat box and owner’s manual

Considering that the box and manual added about $75 to the value of the “Alpha Cat”, I figure I got are really good deal on this later oiled walnut Ruger with the “aftermarket” grips. Well, it turns out those oiled-walnut grips are factory, and that this particular example is one of the first ones to come out of the factory that way. Oiled walnut grips were used starting at serial number 35000 through the end of 1st issue production. This Bearcat is number 35623, meaning only 623 Bearcats with oiled walnut grips preceded it out of the Ruger factory door. It’s also one of only about 15,000 Bearcats in the 35000-to-114000 serial number range that retained the original steel ejector housing before Ruger switched to aluminum. Yes, I checked that with a magnet. It’s steel.

35623 makes this the 623rd Bearcat to come with oiled walnut grips

So, while the original Ruger box and manual came with this 1964 Bearcat, they are now paired with the “Alpha Cat”.

1964 Bearcat in its original box

Here is a comparison of the rosin-impregnated rosewood grips originally used on the early Bearcat next to the oiled walnut grips with lightly stamped Ruger Eagle medallion that first appeared in 1964:

Rare 1960 “Alpha Cat” (top); very early (1964) oiled-walnut Bearcat

1964 oiled-walnut Bearcat (top); 1960 rosin-impregnated Bearcat

The Bearcat is a smaller cousin to Ruger’s very popular Single Six (see: Six Shooter Week — Ruger Single-Six Convertible). In my previous article on the Single-Six I displayed a new engraved example next to a two-screw example from 1976. What wasn’t pictured is an unmodified (no transfer bar) three-screw example from 1971 that I acquired after that article was written. Because the three-screw is unmodified, it also comes with that nostalgia-inducing C-O-L-T click when cocked. The all-steel Single Six is big, though, and heavier than the original alloy frame Bearcat, as you can see here:

Size comparison — Ruger Single Six (top); Ruger Bearcat

Indeed, the Single Six is nearly as big as a full-size copy of Colt’s original 1873 Single Action Army pistol. Here is a comparison beneath a USFA Rodeo (see: U.S. Fire Arms Mfg. Co. — A Look at the Premier “Colt” Model 1873 Single Action) standing in for a Colt:

USFA Single Action Army; unmodified 3-screw Ruger Single Six; 1960 Ruger Bearcat

The “Alpha Cat” is now retired, reunited with an original Bearcat box and owner’s manual and potentially becoming too valuable to keep shooting. The 1964 Bearcat is well used, and will continue to see time at the range. Look for a firing review on that pistol, along with a direct comparison to its three-screw Single Six cousin, in a future article. For now, I’ll just close with observations about the pistol and how it handles. The original alloy frame Bearcat is light, well-balanced, and comfortable in the hand, more so on all counts than the Single Six. The trigger is a real gem—fairly light (not as light as an El Patron Competition, but lighter than the USFA Rodeo), and with a very crisp break with absolutely no play whatsoever. It should be a great shooter.

A word of warning about acquiring any early unmodified Ruger single-action revolver: These pistols do not have a trigger-activated transfer bar between the hammer and frame-mounted firing pin. As such, it is not safe to carry such “six shooters” with all six cylinder chambers loaded. For safety, the hammer must rest over an empty chamber. Failure to do this can result in an unintended discharge if the weapon is dropped or otherwise forcefully impacted in any manner. Bad things happen with unintended discharges, including damage to property, nearby people, or even the shooter.

Proper (safe) loading sequence for any Single Action Army-type pistol or unmodified (no transfer bar) Ruger single action revolver:

  1. Count out and place five (for a six-round weapon) bullets before you
  2. Five rounds only!
  3. Put the rest of the ammunition out of reach
  4. Thumb back the hammer two clicks, to the half-cock position; this frees the cylinder for rotation by hand
  5. Open the loading gate
  6. Visually inspect all cylinder chambers, making certain no bullets are loaded, by rotating the cylinder while peering down through the open loading gate
  7. After verifying all chambers are empty, place one round in the chamber exposed through the open loading gate (we’ll call this “Chamber 5”)
  8. Rotate the cylinder, bypassing the next empty chamber (Chamber 6) and proceeding to the second empty chamber (Chamber 1—why the skip will become evident in a moment); load one bullet into Chamber 1
  9. Continue loading the next three chambers in order (Chambers 2, 3, and 4)
  10. Close the loading gate
  11. Loaded Chamber 5 is next in line for the barrel, a.k.a., firing position
  12. Thumb back the hammer to the fully cocked position; doing this rotates loaded Chamber 5 away from the barrel
  13. Empty Chamber 6 is now in the firing position
  14. Holding the hammer back with your thumb, squeeze the trigger until the hammer releases
  15. Keeping the trigger pulled, gently lowering the hammer all the way to the frame with your thumb; failure to keep pulling the trigger will result in the hammer stopping at the half-cock loading position, which is not safe

You’re done. Your “six shooter” is now properly loaded with five bullets, and if you followed these directions the hammer is safely resting over an empty chamber and the weapon is safe to carry.


Filed under Firearms, R. Doug Wicker

Fun Firearms Friday — Pocket Pistol Shootout: Colt Mustang vs. Beretta Tomcat

Left to right: Walther PPK, Beretta Tomcat, PPK/S, Colt Mustang

I hope you’ve enjoyed Pocket Pistol Week here at the blog, but now it’s time to determine a winner. The 9mm P99c AS by Walther remains my primary concealed carry weapon, and it will continue in that role. But sometimes you simply need something just slightly more compact than the (in my opinion) best concealed carry weapon ever made, and for years my go-to choices for this were the Walther .380 ACP PPK/S for winter and the .32 ACP PPK for summer. Let’s look at the relevant numbers:

Walther PPK/S:

  • Length: 6.1 inches/155mm
  • Width: .98 inches/25mm
  • Height: 4.3 inches/109mm
  • Weight with empty 7-round .380 ACP magazine/9mm kurz: 23.6 ounces/669 grams

Walther PPK same as PPK/S above except:

  • Height: 3.8 inches/97mm
  • Weight with empty 7-round .32 ACP magazine: 22.1 ounces/627 grams

Colt Mustang Lite:

  • Length: 5.5 inches/140 millimeters
  • Width: 1.06 inches/27 mm
  • Height with flat-based 6-round magazine: 3.9 inches/99 mm
  • Weight with empty 6-round .380 ACP/9mm kurz magazine: 12.58 ounces/357 grams

Beretta 3032 Tomcat:

  • Length: 4.92 inches/125 millimeters
  • Width: 1.1 inches/28 mm
  • Height: 3.7 inches/94 mm
  • Weight with empty 7-round .32 ACP/7.65mm magazine:
    • Early thin-slide Tomcat 14.38 ounces/408 grams
    • Later wide-slide Tomcat 15.72 ounces/446 grams

Mustang vs. Tomcat

As you can see, the Walther pocket pistols are noticeably larger and much heavier than the competition in today’s article, almost to the point that calling either a “pocket pistol” is really a misnomer by today’s standards. Between the Mustang and the Beretta measurements get a bit tighter, with the Colt coming out ahead in the weight category, and the Beretta clearly winning in length and height. The two pistols are virtually tied in overall width, but the much narrower slide of the Mustang makes it feel substantially thinner compared to the Tomcat.

Mustang vs. Tomcat length

Ergonomically the Mustang wins by a landslide. The button slide release on the Colt is where any experienced shooter expects, directly behind the trigger. And when pressed, the magazine falls freely from the grip magazine well. The Tomcat button release is much farther down the grip and located to the rear, making thumb manipulation with the shooting hand (for right-handers) very awkward. It’s actually easier to use the off hand to press the release, and when released the magazine stops dropping after just over a third of an inch of travel, about 10mm.  The Mustang also comes out on top with an ambidextrous safety and a slide that locks back on the last shot. The Tomcat’s only real win here is the ease of breech loading that marvelous tip-barrel rather than having to rack the slide. Further working in the Beretta’s favor here is the location of the barrel release lever above and slightly behind the trigger; its location is perfect for thumb activation with the shooting hand.

Mustang vs. Tomcat height

Triggers are pretty much a wash. The Mustang’s single-action only trigger is much stiffer than what one normally encounters in a 1911-type design. I’d estimate it at over seven pounds, probably approaching eight.  Reset is shorter, at about a sixteenth of an inch/1.6mm compared to three sixteenths/4.8mm for the Tomcat.  The Tomcat single-action trigger feels lighter than the Colt’s, but not appreciably so; probably around six pounds if I must guess (I really need to invest in a trigger gauge at some point for these articles).  As for the Tomcat’s double-action trigger, it’s better than the above cited Walthers, but it’s not very smooth and you can both feel and hear when the hammer passes the half-cock position. Despite its flaws, the Tomcat’s double-action trigger is more than adequate at self-defense ranges, and the Beretta has the added advantage of a cocked-and-locked option.

Mustang with 7+1 magazine vs. Tomcat height

I’m going to grant a tie in the shootability between the Mustang and the Tomcat. Both have atrocious sights. Both are very mild in the recoil department, the Mustang being surprisingly so considering the more powerful .380 ACP in a lighter package. Because of their light recoil characteristics, both are extremely quick at reacquiring the target for follow up shots, or would be if the sights were actually up to that task. With factory magazines the Tomcat comes out ahead for two reasons.  First, the Tomcat is 7+1 versus 6+1 for the Mustang, although there are 7+1 magazines available for the latter at the expense of an extra inch of height.  Second, the Beretta’s factory magazine actually worked. The Colt’s did not, as the rounds nose-dived into the feed ramp so badly I couldn’t even get a round chambered until I switched to the three after-market Metalform seven-rounders I’d brought with me to the range.

Targets — Colt vs. Beretta

Both the Tomcat and the Mustang are quality pistols at comparable pricing.  Indeed, the Mustang would be my choice for a mini-1911 pistol in .380 ACP when compared to higher priced offerings from SIG (P238) and Kimber (Micro 380). The Mustang is lighter and less expensive than either, although I do like the SIG’s night sight option.

Walther PPK over Beretta Tomcat; PPK/S over Colt Mustang

Tomcat overlying PPK; Mustang atop PPK/S

So, bottom line, which weapon wins in the battle to replace the PPK and PPK/S as an alternate carry to the Walther P99c AS? Surprisingly to most having read this, I’m going with the Beretta Tomcat for several reasons:

  • I like being able to safely decock the weapon without having to clear the chamber
  • I’m more accustomed to double-action/single-action, and feel safer with the added resistance necessary to pull the trigger in double-action mode
  • For accuracy shots at beyond 21 feet, the hammer can still be thumbed back to place the weapon in single-action
  • The Tomcat still provides me with single-action cocked-and-locked capability if I so choose, whereas the Mustang only gives me that one method of carry

On a cold winter day, I’ll probably consider going with the Mustang for better penetration of heavier clothing, but in those cases the 9mm, 10+1 P99c AS is going to be easy to conceal anyway so the need to carry a smaller weapon is less likely to arise.

The Overall Winner in the occasional deep-concealment carry sweepstakes — Beretta’s .32 ACP 3032 Tomcat.


Filed under Firearms, R. Doug Wicker