In the Comments to an earlier post, Reader JoeInPNG said: “…I’m often surprised and pleased how accurate my Colt 1903 and 1908 are.”

And I was immediately reminded of the time I got to shoot one of the aforementioned, a Colt 1903 in its native chambering of .32 ACP (7.65mm Browning). The owner had had the gun re-blued in Colt’s Royal Blue, and it was so beautiful a gun that I swear I had larcenous / covetous thoughts about a gun for the first time since the Colt Python Episode of 2003. Here’s an un-refinished example, courtesy of Collector’s Firearms in Houston:

…and let me tell you right now, were it not sinfully expensive (well over $1,500), I’d be reporting it as mine.

A parallel thought occurs to me about the .32 ACP –and let me remind everyone, “ACP” stands for “Automatic Colt Pistol” — which by today’s standards is woefully underpowered as a self-defense cartridge.

I don’t care. If I had a 1903, I’d buy as much .32 ACP as I could afford — Visa and Mastercard executives would be booking their Bermuda vacations by now — and I would probably shoot out the 1903’s barrel in about six months. Yes, it’s that much fun to shoot.

The Colt 1908 (.380 ACP) is about the same size as the the 1903, despite being chambered for the larger cartridge:

In its label description the 1903 is called the “Pocket” model, while the 1908 is called the “Vest Pocket” model. Both guns are lovely — can a John Moses Browning design ever be called ugly? — and they would make a fine addition to the collection of anyone who loves craftsmanship and beauty.

The shooting fun, of course, is the joyful bonus.


  1. Read somewhere long ago that you can convert the .32 to a .380 by merely changing the barrel and magazine..

    1. I think you can convert the .380 to .32 by changing barrel, recoil spring and magazine, but not the other way around; the mag well of the .32 would have to be milled out to allow a .380 mag to fit.

  2. They are fun to shoot– my mother has had one as a nightstand gun since my earliest memories. That magazine release, however– it’s not hard to see where Ruger got their inspiration for the similar torture device found on the MkII.

  3. I was invited to my brother’s friend’s home to evaluate a box full of old pistols she had in a closet.
    Among the usual H&R revolvers was a pristine, like new 1903 Colt pocket pistol. It had been fired at some time in its past life, but surely, not often or very much. No nicks no worn blue and that blue, deep rich & highly polished. I was really worried that my drooling over it would damage it. She was informed about its history, value and collectibility.
    Well, that beautiful pistol still is in a box at the brother’s friends home. That is unless some unscrupulous sleaze has managed to talk her out of it. I still ask about it, hoping that I might be first in line.

  4. U.S. Army generals were issued these pistols for a number of years and a lot were allowed to keep them but after 1956 they had to buy them from the government when they retired. The big ticket for their pistols was $27.50 and there was no charge for the special belt and holster. They were issued in both calibers, I think after 1941 it was .380 and Colt quit production in 1945 however they had enough parts to continue to build them out until 1970. How’s that for a bit of trivia?

  5. Your going to hate me for this. My 1903 was about $350 when I got it in 2012. Not the best finish, but mechanically sound.
    I spent the past few years looking for a 1908 in similar condition and price, searching gunshops on a regular basis, and found one this summer for $300. Reblued, but not a bad job.

      1. Then I suppose you don’t want to hear about my mechanically perfect 1903 with a good reblue that I bought for $200 even in a Cheyenne gunshop?

        Seriously, Kim, shop around. Reblued old .32s aren’t that expensive. Just kinda hard to find.

  6. So it goes for all the marginal calibres.

    I would totally enjoy shooting a 9mm in a vintage Luger or one of those Mauser broomhandle guns.

    1. Broomhandles are a pain to shoot because that broom handle grip is round, and the gun twists in your hand like an actress trying to escape being groped by Harvey Weinstein.

  7. $1500? Have they gone up that much? I bought mine, not refurbished but in good condition, about five years ago for $200….

  8. “…can a John Moses Browning design ever be called ugly” No, next question? My fave of his designs is still the M2 HB Cal. 50 MG. Bet my fat 4th point of contact on it for 20yrs and here I be 40+ mumblesomethingth years later.

    1. I don’t recall where I first saw the comment about Ma Deuce but I’ve always remembered it – “If you can see it, you can kill it.”

  9. I’ll be the heretic, and hope to find a serviceable yet ugly 1908, and perform some modifications and modernizations on it.

    First, I’d add a good bit of weld to the trigger face, then finish it down to stock contours, but resulting in a trigger face about 1/4″ further forward than the existing unit.

    Then affix a Novak fixed rear sight, with a matching front blade, each with it’s dovetail perfectly blended into the contour of the slide’s upper surface.

    Very slightly open up the ejection port, with a great emphasis on deburring and very slightly rounding all edges in the port, and then polishing same to perfection.

    Have a top-flight ‘smith do most of the usual 1911 things, such as bushing, barrel to slide fit, frame rails, trigger, etc. And Wolff Springs all around, for good measure.

    Fit a beautiful set of oiled cocobolo grip panels with genuine Colt medallions properly inletted therein.

    Finally, given that Colt wouldn’t Royal Blue such an example, either send it out to Turnbull for his version of the same, or if any extant pitting is too great to be conquered, then opt for a state-of-the-art Glock type Tennifer (or equivalent) process.

    Oh, and then make up two or three different handmade leather holster options, each suited for unique attire or performance needs.

    All in all, I’m thinking of a 1908 with the features of a serious fighting gun, more or less up to today’s standards.

    And that, to me, IS a shining tribute of respect for what Mr. Browning hath wrought. One does NOT bother with such for outdated or otherwise inferior designs. Which the 1908 is neither, but rather, a timeless classic of a chassis.

    Would that I could say the same ’bout my own creaking and decrepit frame. *sigh*

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  10. I purchased a refinished 1903 several years ago. Mostly in a deep silky black, with the trigger, safety, mag release, extractor, and rear sight replated in gold. It’s very tasteful. I have no idea the name of the smith, but it’s clearly a labor of love.

    Texans have their Barbecue guns; this is my Opera gun.

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