Volume: 58 | Back to issueSubscribe Now
column By: Mike Venturino - Photos by Yvonne Venturino | April, 23
First, there was the standard .45 Colt as devised by the U.S. Army’s Ordnance Department in collaboration with Colt’s engineers. It was the introductory cartridge for the U.S. Army’s new Colt “Strap Pistol.” Strap meaning it had a top strap connecting the front and rear of the revolver’s frame. It should be noted however that Colt’s early prototypes submitted to ordnance officers were chambered for Smith & Wesson’s (S&W) .44 American and then .44 S&W Russian. Wisely, the Ordnance Department rejected those rounds and instead opted for .45 Colt.
Regardless, Colt eventually changed frame construction to steel and commercially made .45 Colt factory loads, which varied through the years as to powder charge with old catalogs mentioning 34 to 40 grains. Plus, that extra 5 grains of bullet weight was added by one or another ammunition manufacturer. From my research and hands-on experience, I can say that velocity collectively of those powder charges would be in the 750 to 900 feet per second (fps) range depending upon quality of powder and barrel length of revolver. Dimensions of .45 Colt were a case length of 1.285 inches and measuring rounds in my own collection, rim diameters were .502 to .504 inch. That means the rim extending around the case was small – very small. That meager rim was the cause of the third variation of .45 Colt, which will be covered shortly.
The second version of .45 Colt, which is said far and wide to never have existed, is shorter than the first. Its case length is 1.10 inches and usually said to contain 30 grains of powder under 250-grain bullets. Now please understand that this short, .45 Colt WAS NOT for Smith & Wesson’s Number 3 .45 “Schofield” revolvers. That’s because it has the same rim diameter as the standard .45 Colt and would not reliably extract from chambers with the Number 3’s star extractor. Actual .45 S&W cartridges have a rim diameter of .520-522 inch as measured again by original commercial and military cartridges in my collection. I can say this because for many years I owned a U.S.-marked “Schofield” revolver and some of the short .45 cartridges. Furthermore, these cartridges are not headstamped .45 S&W but “.45 Colt.” As far as I can determine, all these “short,” .45 Colt rounds bear the headstamp of REM-UMC.
In the beginning, I wrote that one version of the three Colt .45s was not perfect for all revolvers. That was the Model 1909s .45 rounds in Colt Single Action Army revolvers (formerly Colt’s New Strap Pistol). Because of rim diameter, these 1909 rounds will not fit in Colt SAA chambers consecutively. In other words, every other chamber of .45 Colt cylinders had to be left empty in order to shoot the ’09 cartridges. If that ever happened in combat, it must have been in a dire emergency. Recently, I read on the internet someone writing that ’09 .45s would not fit through Colt SAA loading gate troughs. Not so. They perhaps won’t fit in that part of
Ruger .45 Colt single-action revolvers but they will slide through Colt SAA troughs. If the Model 1909 version of .45 Colt with those .534-inch rim diameters were made commercially I’ve never found reference to it. By the way, official nominal .45 Colt rim diameter today is .512 inch.
A few years ago, a gentleman whose name I unfortunately cannot remember, sent me samples of an even different .45 Colt case as special ordered from Starline. They are .45 Colt case bodies with .45 S&W rims and are headstamped “GA ARMS .45 DA-Colt.” The rim diameter is .519 inch. The idea is to make a case with certain extraction in both single actions and double-action star extractors. In my opinion, it’s a great idea if a shooter has both SA and DA .45 Colt revolvers.