By John Taffin
Those of us who have a little, or a lot, of gray in our beards well remember the poor quality of both Spaghetti Westerns and Italian replica sixguns of 50 years ago. It took two men, Clint Eastwood and Mike Harvey, to improve both. The movies themselves steadily improved as Eastwood took over the production control and moved the shooting location out of Italy. Improvements in the Spaghetti Westerns continued until they reached the apex, and one of my favorite movies, The Outlaw Josie Wales.
At the same time replica firearms also began taking a giant leap forward in both quality and authenticity with much of the credit going to Mike Harvey of Cimarron Firearms. Harvey started small more than 30 years ago, purchasing a little import business, Allen Firearms. The business was renamed Cimarron Firearms (CFA) and not only has it expanded tremendously, we now have quality replicas of almost every Colt, Smith & Wesson and Remington single-action sixgun, both percussion and cartridge firing, as well as exceptionally well-made Winchester-style leverguns.
Colt Single Action replicas in my time go back to the mid-1950’s. Colt had dropped the Single Action prior to World War II and said they would never bring it back. As they say, never say never. Colt could not foresee the coming of television and the popularity of Westerns on the little screen and how they would create a demand for Colt Single Actions. In 1954, Great Western of Los Angeles began offering copies of the Colt Single Action Army and eventually got the quality sorted out. By 1956 Colt was producing the Single Action again.
The 31/2″ .45 Colt stainless steel Thunderstorm handled
SIG’s new .45 Colt load perfectly.
Stainless steel CFA Model P’s with grips by Buffalo Brothers.
The European Connection
Meanwhile over in Europe, and mostly in Italy, the replica industry started first with percussion sixgun copies and then cartridge firing duplicates. These early copies were lacking in authenticity and they were easy to spot in the Spaghetti Westerns, as many of the Colt Single Action copies had something never offered by Colt — brass grip frames. The bluing was also substandard and the case coloring followed the same pattern.
Mike Harvey worked exceptionally hard to convince the Italians to turn out quality firearms. He has definitely succeeded, as over the years the bluing, the case coloring, the quality of steel, the fitting and the dimensions have all improved to the point at first glance, it’s difficult to tell Cimarron Firearms offerings from the originals.
Harvey didn’t stop there. The next step was offering authentic looking replicas appearing to have a finish looking a century old while the action, cylinder, and barrel remain in pristine condition on the inside. Many of the actual Colt Single Actions found with a well-worn finish will often have a cylinder and barrel which have been pitted with much use from black powder and improper cleaning. Cimarron’s replicas of well-used Colts have a very authentic looking antique finish which they call “Original” — while being brand-new in all other aspects.
Cimarron went one more step and now offers stainless steel Single Actions as well as blued/case colored and Original finishes. The stainless version is especially appreciated by those who prefer to carry a traditionally-styled sixgun on a daily basis in all kinds of weather. Cimarron’s offerings today are so extensive it would take several chapters in a large book to cover all of them. We’ll just take a peek at a couple of their latest offerings as well as some of those I’ve been shooting for several decades.
The CFA stainless steel Model P .45 Colt shoots quite accurately and
only needed a slight tweaking of the barrel to get windage correct.
CFA offers Remington-style sixguns in percussion, cartridge conversion
and cartridge style. Note the “Original” grey worn finish on the top gun.
I’ve often wondered why the 1860 grip frame was not offered as an option on the Colt Single Action Army. With the coming of replicas and so many variations being offered I started adding 1860 Army grip frames to several 71/2″ replicas including .44-40 and .45 Colt Model P’s from Cimarron and a USPFA .44 Special. When I found an extremely reasonably priced ($200) Uberti Single Action which had a Colt .357 Magnum cylinder matched up with a 51/2″ Colt .357 Magnum barrel I also fitted it with an 1860 Army grip frame. I definitely like the way it looks, feels, and especially the way it handles full-house .357 Magnum loads.
To come up with 1860 Army grip frames I either had to do a swap with a replica 1860 Army percussion sixgun or order grip frames from a parts company. The replica industry soon caught up with me and began offering special versions with the 1860 Army grip frame, and the latest from Cimarron Firearms, is produced by Pietta in Italy.
Known as the “Eliminator” this is a most attractive single action with deep blue finish, case hardened frame, low wide case hardened hammer, 43/4″ octagon barrel, and of course an 1860 Army grip frame. To really set off the one-piece walnut stocks they are checkered in a modified fleur-de-lis pattern. After these sixguns are imported they are given a Cowboy Comp action job in the United States and the hammer is also short-stroked.
Sights are the traditional single action style, however they are very easy to see with a wide untapered front sight matched up with a square notch rear. For my eyes and hands the barrel needs to be adjusted as it shoots to the left by a couple inches and it also shoots low. This is an easy fix by turning the barrel, and there is plenty of front sight provided so it can be filed to bring the groups up to point of aim. For fast operation the wide, low riding hammer is nicely checkered and easy to operate. The 1860 Army grips are also nicely checkered in a somewhat modified fleur-de-lis pattern and fit my hand very nicely.
As one might expect, shooting standard 800–900 fps .45 Colt loads in a heavy barreled single action sixgun with a larger than standard grip frame is quite pleasant. The Eliminator also proved to be quite accurate with the Federal 225-grain lead SWHP factory load at 825 fps and one of my most used .45 Colt handloads these days consisting of the Lyman/Keith #452424 over 8.0 grains of Unique. This bullet weighs right at 255 grains with my alloy and clocks out at 850 fps with the same accuracy as the Federal factory load, five shots in 7/8″ at 20 yards.
Smith & Wesson Schofields haven’t been ignored
by CFA. These grips are by Buffalo Brothers.
The second new offering from Cimarron, which is also from Pietta, is the Thunderstorm. This is about as nice as a single-action sixgun to be used for carrying defensively can get. Chambered in .45 Colt, it’s all stainless steel with a 31/2″ barrel, low wide hammer, action job as well as the “short action” provided by companies such as King Gunsight Co. between the two world wars. The standard grip is 1-piece just as on the Eliminator with the same checkering pattern. It handles as nicely as any short-barreled single action I have ever experienced.
Just about the time this sixgun arrived for testing I also received some of the new Sig Sauer .45 Colt Elite Ammunition using a 230-grain JHP rated at 850 fps. In the short-barreled Thunderstorm it clocks out at 768 fps, shoots very accurately, and is dead on for windage. It shoots low, however there is plenty of front sight blade provided which can easily be filed down to bring groups right to point of aim.
The longer base pin “safety” (also in the Eliminator) became somewhat of a problem in the Thunderstorm. With the shorter ejector rod the longer head of the base pin prevents the ejecting of empty brass very easily. Two things are recommended to make this much simpler. First, I would shorten the back of the base pin until it is the same size as a regular Colt Single Action base pin. This allows more room for the ejector rod to move. A further modification which is also helpful is to shorten the head of the base pin until there is just enough left to machine in a groove around the pin just short of the front end which will allow the use of a base pin puller. With these two modifications ejection of spent cartridges becomes much easier.
This is a gun which packs very easily, and being stainless steel you don’t have to worry about the weather. With the short barrel it can ride high on the belt out of the way and always be easily accessible. But is it a viable self-defense gun? I would not recommend a single-action sixgun as my first choice or even a second choice for self-defense, however it is a choice. A good double-action sixgun or semi-automatic would be a better choice, but it can be made to work if one is willing to really learn how to handle one.
CFA Eliminator and stainless steel Thunderstorm.
Cimarron offers excellent copies of both the 1875 and 1890 Remington sixguns as well as the top-break Smith & Wesson single actions. I especially like their Model P crafted of stainless steel. I purchased a 71/2″ pair mainly for using with black powder as the stainless steel cleans up much easier. However, I found them to be excellent shooters with smokeless powder as well.
In fact when they first came out my friend, Texan Bob Baer, who is quite a gunsmith in his own right, recommended them as he felt they were the finest sixguns he had seen in a long time. I followed his recommendation and was not disappointed. Loaded with the 260-gr. hard cast Keith bullet over 20.0 grains of #4227, muzzle velocities are just under 1,000 fps with groups just over 1″ at 20 yards. For a traditionally styled single-action sixgun I don’t think I need to ask any more than this.
I have been shooting replica single actions now for nearly 60 years. The early ones needed a lot of improvement. They have not only been exceptionally improved, I have yet to find one, after experiencing a couple hundred, that would not shoot exceptionally well. Thanks, Mike!
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