Gratuitous Gun Pic: Colt 1903 (.32 ACP)

Of all the countless handguns I’ve ever fired, the Colt 1903 probably ranks in the top 3 in the “Most Pleasant To Shoot” category.

There are a couple of things that gunnies may sniff at:  the “European”-style mag release (which John Moses Browning, the 1903’s designer, would rectify with the 1911), and of course the poodleshooter .32 ACP cartridge it fired.  Here’s a close-up of the mag release mechanism:

None of this matters.  I’ve probably fired half a dozen of these beauties, in varying conditions of use / neglect, but each one was silky-smooth where it mattered:  in the action thereof.

I remember firing one in particular at one of Combat Controller’s schutzenfests  down in Austin many years ago.  The owner — whose name I’ve forgotten, sorry — had had it professionally reblued in Colt’s “Royal Blue” finish. The gun was so beautiful and shot so beautifully that I nearly fainted.  Had I not been a guest, and the owner not a fellow member of the Nation of Riflemen, I would have stolen it.  I offered to buy it from him on the spot at any price he cared to name, and he just laughed at me.  Can’t say I blame him, but I still pine for it like I pine for very few other guns.

It’s probably for the better.  I beat up my handguns pretty badly because I shoot them so often and for so long at each range session, and it would break my heart to destroy a 1903, even though the shooting, while it lasted, would be as fine as the caress of a pretty girl’s hand.

Which brings me to the next point.  I think that the 1903 — poodleshooter cartridge notwithstanding — would be a fine choice for a lady’s concealed piece:  it’s light, reliable, easy to conceal and gentle to shoot.

I’ve also fired the later-model 1908 which is chambered in .380 ACP, but as I recall, it wasn’t as much fun to shoot as the smaller chambering.  (The two models are to all extents and purposes identical but for the cartridge.)

Predictably, these fine guns are spendy, costing well over a thousand bucks (cheaper, and they’re probably not going to be reliable and/or beaten up.)  Magazines, when you can find them, cost more than Pirelli Cinturatos.

To my mind, though, if you have your existing shooting needs taken care of (e.g. with serious guns shooting manstopper cartridges), you could do far, far  worse than to add one of these lovely little guns to your collection.  Here’s an excellent write-up of its history.

(Pics courtesy of Collector’s Firearms, probably my favorite gun store of all.)


  1. I keep looking at these because having a French made German pistol in 7.65 amuses the snot out of me.

    That said, I wouldn’t want to use it to defend myself during the Zombie Apocalypse, use it to go after an active shooter or four, or jump out of an airplane over ShitCanistan with it as my secondary, but at ATM robbery distances where I can meat-and-metal their face?

    “I’ll take a .32 to the face” said no one ever. Especially not twice.

    1. Nuttsy,
      I see that ALL the Reissue Model 1903s are out of stock. That’s Colt for ya.

      1. Colt management:

        “Let’s bring back an old favorite.”

        “Wow. We’re selling a crap-ton of these.”

        “Let’s quit making them again.”

  2. I have a refinished 1903 that sounds similar to the one you shot, Kim, but even nicer. I would love to meet the smith who did the work; it’s a clean glossy black, with the trigger, extractor, safety, and magazine plated in gold. It’s the most elegant gun I’ve ever seen. Texans talk about “Barbecue” guns. This is an “Opera” gun, and would be as fitting a gun as was ever tucked into formal evening wear.

    The 1903 has sensual lines, fits the hand like no other, is utterly reliable, and as accurate as a laser. The smith seems to have refinished the insides too, as it feeds hollowpoints and other unusuals without a hitch.

    I’ll send you pictures, Kim. IT IS NOT FOR SALE.

  3. Collector’s is a wonderful place to visit and browse. If you make it down to Houston sometime, I’d love to meet you there. If there’s time to hit a range after, I might let you shoot my Satin nickel Colt Combat Commander.

  4. my father so loved my mother that he bought one of these little beauties for her.

    mom could drive tacks with it.

    in my 10 year old hands it just felt right and was fun to disassemble and reassemble.

    an elegant little gun for an elegant ladies purse.

  5. I have one in great condition, was looking to do the Colt Auto collection, 24, 32, 380, 45, got half way there when Dad passed (my dealer) and I don’t have the $$$ to get the 380 and 25 now. In reality a collector should have at least one or two Browning design guns as they tend to be best in class, especially since they are all over 100 years old now and still some of the best pieces made.

  6. A few years ago, I was asked by my brother to examine, clean & advise on three handguns owned by his neighbor. One was a Ruger snubby revolver in 9mm of no particular merit aside from being a modern weapon. One was a Harrington & Richards .32 S&W revolver in pieces, actually two halves of two different but similar revolvers. No parts available to complete either one.
    Finally, an immaculate 1903 Colt pistol. Not a scratch, gouge, chip to be seen, no wear evident, not even on or in the frame rails. Beautiful Colt deep blue. Not reconditioned, not reblued, just like new. It had been fired but surely not much. I carefully cleaned it, put preservative in the barrel and other internal parts & returned it to her with a standing offer of purchase. (I did wipe off the result of my drooling over the pistol.) Never heard about it again.
    Kim’s post today brought it back to whats left of my mind.

  7. I have the commie, unlicensed-copy version of this pistol. The TT33.

    As far as my guns go its the most comfortable and the most fun to shoot. I simply love it.

    If the .gov idiots hadn’t forced the importers to drill a hole in at and fit a thumb safety (which doesn’t work and looks like a hemorrhoid) it would be nearly perfect.

    Except for the commie part.

  8. Ah, yes, the ’03 – the pistol that Bogart used to take out Eddie G. on his(Bogie’s) boat in “Key Largo”. I have one that has seen better days(Got it from an engraver-friend for $350.). Another friend of mine who does really serious engraving is talking about polishing it out and doing an old Colt pattern on it. Then we’ll send to Ford’s Plating up in Crystal River for their Royal Blue finish. Perfect gun for dress-up occasions.

  9. Seeing that Colt declines to produce enough 1903 Reissues, if you want an excellent lady’s gun, my recommendation would be the S&W M&P 380 EZ. Granted, it’s modern art ugly compared to the beauty of a Colt 1903, but I’ve shot one, and S&W got it absolutely right. Easy to load, easy to rack, and easy to fire. The grip safety allows you to forego the manual safety, making it “grab, point, squeeze,” and the bad guy has a change of heart. And the 380 Auto is marginally more effective than the 32 ACP. The Missus is not enchanted with my Shield 9mm and Airweight 38 but looooooooves my M&P22 (did you guess I’m a S&W-phile?), and that 380 EZ might be the ticket to convince her to get her CCW.

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