In Part 1 of this gun feature, you’ll get to meet the USMC’s new sidearm. Go inside Colt’s Facility to Build and Shoot the USMC’s Next-Generation 1911: the Colt M45 CQBP. Be sure to stay tuned for the second part of the story!
When it comes to equipping their fighting men and women with proven, state of the art weaponry, the USMC has a history of following its own path. In July of 2012, that trend continued when it formally adopted the Colt M45 CQBP (close quarter battle pistol) as the new official .45ACP sidearm of front line Marines. According to Colt’s Director of Product Engineering, Greg Rozum, a solicitation to bid for the design of a single stack .45ACP auto-loading 1911, 7+ round magazine and a front lower Picatinny rail was received in late 2010 and Colt submitted some prototypes of its next-gen model 1911 to the USMC in December 2011. The new design borrowed heavily from their popular Colt rail gun’s basic layout, but they tweaked it from there to comply with some of the Marine Corps’ stipulated reliability and torture test requirements.
After six months of evaluations, Colt was awarded the contract to produce an initial order of 4,000 of the new M45 CQBPs, with an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract worth $22,500,000 for a total of up to 12,000 pistols. That equates to $1,875 per M45, but also includes logistical support and spare parts, so the net unit cost is probably a few hundred dollars less.
Production of the Marine M45s started in September 2012 and according to Greg Rozum, will total approximately 400 pistols per month, produced in batches of 200 per run. Since it takes about two weeks to manufacture an M45 from scratch, that’s two runs of 200 pistols per month to reach the target goal. As a respectful gesture to Colt’s outgoing CEO, retired USMC Lt. General William M. Keys, who rescued Colt from the brink back in the 1980s, they included a three-star roll mark on the M45 slide’s port side, situated between Colt and USMC.
MEET THE USMC M45 CQBP
To best understand how this new 1911 is something truly special, and a truly Marine Corps –adapted sidearm, let’s take a look at it side by side with one of Colt’s popular civilian-market rail guns. Right from the get-go, the M45 CQBP has striking good looks with its handsome desert tan Cerakote finish and its snakeskin-like G10 composite grips. To the untrained eye, other than a stainless steel or blued carbon finish for the Colt rail gun versus the Cerakote finish for the USMC M45, these 1911s look remarkably similar. But appearances can be deceiving…and therein lies so much of the M45 CQBP’s story.
According to Colt’s Sales & Marketing Supervisor RJ Contorno, there are significant differences between the two weapons, both externally and internally. To make his point, RJ opened a case of 1911s that had just arrived back from the recent Shot Show in Las Vegas and took them both apart to explain the differences.
Although the Colt O1070RG (S/S) and O1980RG (Black Cerakote) rail guns both sport a four-space rail that’s built into the forward part of the receiver forging, this is a “Weaver” design, with scalloped lugs and a shallow-V side groove pattern. In contrast, the M45 sports a true MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rail, with full-width lugs and a deep groove pattern on the sides. These nuances are more than cosmetic…the USMC M45 is the heaviest pony in the Colt 1911 stables—it weighs in at a solid 40 ounces, compared to 36 ounces for the lighter rail guns. And more weight forward usually translates to less muzzle flip when sending rapidly fired rounds downrange against a hostile enemy.
Other conspicuous differences between the rail guns are the slide serrations. While both feature slanted serrations at the forward and aft ends on either side of the slide, the commercial rail guns’ are more tightly spaced with nine forward and 11 aft, compared to the M45’s five forward grooves and six aft. And the reason? RJ put on a pair of heavy milspec gloves and showed that it was much easier to grab and cock the M45’s slide with wider serrations with his gloved hand than it was on the commercial rail guns.
Another cosmetic difference between the cousins is the lanyard loop on the CQBP, situated just below the mainspring housing. This is a dead giveaway that it’s a military weapon…you don’t want to drop it on the ground or have someone take it away when you really need it! The M45 features a solid aluminum “long” trigger (versus the skeletonized 3-hole version on the rail guns). The flat mainspring housing on the M45 is made of stainless steel with serrations for improved purchase. The desert tan Cerakote finish is actually performed by a local subcontractor and averages about a mil in thickness (0.001 inches), covering all external metal parts…even the M45’s oversized grip screws.
The G10 carbon fiber and epoxy grips on the USMC M45 are way cool and appear to emulate a layered snakeskin pattern. To prevent them from coming loose, the backside of the grips are recessed for a rubber O-ring insert that keeps the extra large stock screws tight during the heat of battle and through the abuse that front line service puts on weapons. The left side grip is also relieved in the area of the mag release button, a neat feature that makes changing out an empty mag just a little bit quicker in times of stress or when wearing heavy gloves.
The M45 also features a set of Novak Night Sights armed with Trijicon tritium inserts that save precious time when lining up on your enemy in low light conditions. On the inside, the biggest difference between the commercial and USMC rail guns is the M45’s dual recoil spring setup, which is similar to the 10mm Delta Elite model’s design.
This new 1911 had to pass an extreme USMC torture test of firing 8,000 rounds with minimal loss of recoil spring tension and the dual spring design was the way to make that happen. Since the Marines spend a lot of time in and around saltwater, any parts that are not Cerakoted are either stainless steel or nickel plated (like the barrel link) for durability in harsh conditions. So when you really look at them with an eye for detail, the rail guns and the USMC M45 are definitely distant cousins, but certainly not sisters.
QUALITY CONTROL GAUNTLET
Colt really does have the 1911 design, development, manufacturing, and assembly process down to a proven and precise science. And they perform this magic on a combination of modern CNC hardware mixed with some manual machining processes that simply cannot be improved, like shaving the receiver to accept the trigger shoe on a vintage machine that’s been doing it since day one, starting 102 years ago. The building of every Colt model 1911 involves dozens of steps that harmonize traditional technology with new wave computerized equipment.
Every step in the manufacturing process, from grinding the forged steel blanks to a consistent thickness, to machining the barrels, to drilling holes in the receiver for the slide stop and magazine release, is micrometer gauged and checked for precise tolerances.
If anything doesn’t measure up, for whatever reason, that part is rejected and goes back to the forge for meltdown…now that’s backing up the marketing hype with real money.
I undertook a 10 hour factory tour of the production and assembly lines, and from what I could see, only a handful of pistol parts from many thousands on the assembly line had any minor hiccups…and they were found immediately. This dedication to precision insures that all major Colt 1911 component parts are interchangeable. Every machined stainless steel pistol barrel is proofed with a high-pressure load that is 50% over the recommended SAAMI spec…and then it’s magnafluxed to insure that there are no cracks or imperfections in the metal before moving on down the assembly line.
Unlike other manufacturers that sport different quality levels for different models, Colt has only one level of quality: top shelf. Each 1911 firearm, from the base O1991 Government model (suggested retail of $928 with tax), to the USMC M45 (roughly $1,875), starts off with the same “special blend” steel forgings, which are produced to Colt’s specs just down the road from their factory in West Hartford, CT. No matter which of the standard or Custom Shop 1911s you favor, they all go though the same production and assembly line process that takes about two weeks to complete. The added costs for the “special” models are strictly for the different parts, machining, time, and fitting that’s involved. One level of quality for everything…I like it!
Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC
545 New Park Avenue
West Hartford, CT 06111
Stay tuned for Part 2 which includes range testing the Colt M45 CQBP!
Story and Photos by John N. Raguso