Colt's "New" New Frontier

It Was Nice To Have It Back For Awhile
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The new .44 Special New Frontier (right) with a pair of 3rd Generation sixguns. John feels
the newest generation has the best finish!

How does one improve on perfection? The original Colt Single Action Army was a study in perfect pistol perfection when it arrived in 1873. It balanced perfectly, pointed naturally, and was chambered in a powerful cartridge, the .45 Colt. It would be 1935, with the arrival of the .357 Magnum, before the .45 Colt load was shaded, and there were many of the time who would tell you the .45 Colt was still the best when it came to a fighting cartridge.

As good as it was way back in the frontier times, Colt still set about to improve it. By the late 1890s, the West had been pretty well tamed and shooters were using sixguns for something besides fighting and self-defense, namely target shooting. Colt did two things to try to make the SAA better suited for punching holes in paper. The frame was flattopped and fitted with very crude adjustable sights, then it was turned into the Bisley Model in 1896, with a wide hammer and trigger and a ladle-shaped grip frame, better suited for target shooting.

Neither one of these Flat-Top Target Models lasted very long and, in fact, shooters asked that the Bisley Model be made into a regular Single Action by keeping the grip frame, wide hammer and trigger but going back to the standard hog-wallow trough rear sight found on all Single Action Armies. The improvements just didn’t go over very well.

Targets shot with the 5½" .44 Special Colt New Frontier showed the new Colt could shoot!

A New Frontier

It would be nearly 70 years before Colt tried to improve the Single Action again, and this time they did it perfectly. In fact, the Perfect Single Action Army became even more perfect, if such a thing is possible. In 1960, John Kennedy was elected president and it looked like a new era had arrived, and in fact, people called that time the “New Frontier.” To celebrate this new era of good feeling and looking toward the future, Colt decided to upgrade the Single Action Army and call it the New Frontier. The mainframe was given a heavy flattop and fitted with an adjustable rear sight, matched up with a ramp front sight. The frame, including the new flattop, was beautifully case colored as only Colt could do, and the balance was finished in what Colt called Royal Blue at the time. I thought it was just about the most beautiful sixgun I had ever seen. However, I was in college and working to support the young lady who would eventually be known as Diamond Dot and our three young babies. There would be no New Frontier for me. But I could hope.

The original New Frontiers, now known as 2nd Generation sixguns, were offered in .45 Colt, .357 Magnum, .44 Special (rare), and even more rare, .38 Special. Barrel lengths were 4¾”, 5½” and 7½”, though not offered in all chamberings. All of the 2nd Generation Single Actions were removed from production in the early 1970s and came back a few years later as the 3rd Generation run. This time the New Frontiers were offered in the first three chamberings mentioned plus .44-40. They lasted until the early 1980s — and then they were gone.

The 7½" .45 Colt New Frontier was a jewel but John found the .44 Special out-shot it by a tad.

Never?

Twenty-plus years ago friend and fellow writer Wiley Clapp and I were at a Colt media meeting and we asked two questions about when the .44 Special and the New Frontier would be returned to production. The answer was, basically, never. However, this is an example of never saying never as not only is the New Frontier back, it’s even chambered in .44 Special. As this is written, the only examples, which have been produced thus far are a 7½” .45 Colt and a .44 Special with a 5½” barrel. However, we have promises of all three standard barrel lengths in the near future in both of these chamberings, as well as .357 Magnum. It’s just a matter of time.

Colt has been around for a long time, and in fact, 2011 marked the 175th Anniversary of Colt Single Actions, going all the way back to the first one, the percussion Paterson of 1836. To help celebrate this momentous anniversary, all New Frontiers produced thus far have special anniversary marking on the barrel consisting of “1836 – 175th Anniversary – 2011” and serial numbers beginning at 20000NF. Once they were announced I immediately ordered up all three barrel lengths and all three chamberings. The 7½” .45 Colt was received first and was followed within two weeks by the 5½” .44 Special. My hope of the 1960s eventually became reality. I now have a long acquaintance with New Frontiers, both 2nd and 3rd Generation versions including all three barrel lengths and chamberings of .45 Colt, .44 Special, .357 Magnum, and .44-40. All of these are very nice sixguns, however, the new versions are even nicer.

Best Ever

These two new New Frontiers are the most beautifully finished factory produced Colt Single Actions I have ever experienced. Not only as to finish, consisting of case hardened frame as only Colt can do it, matched up with a blue which rivals the old classic Royal Blue, but they are also exceptionally well-fitted with no sharp edges. Grip frame to mainframe fit is as it should be, and running a finger over the seams shows a nice smooth transition. Lock-up is tight, trigger pulls, while not perfect, are certainly more than adequate.

The earlier 3rd Generation New Frontiers did away with the full-length cylinder bushing going instead to a button in the front end. Two improvements have been made to this latest run, namely the full-length bushing is back, and more importantly, the rear sight has been changed. The original adjustable rear sight was certainly adequate and acceptable, however Colt has now gone to the excellent Elliason rear sight. Adjustments are more precise, and the back of the rear sight is totally flat and serrated to block glare, matched up with a ramp front sight, with both the ramp and the front blade also being serrated; an excellent package all around.

Grip panels are nicely fitted to the grip frame, and shaped to fit my hand perfectly. The only downside is the fact the grips are made out of the plainest walnut one is ever likely to encounter. Proper fitting and shape is certainly more important than fanciness, however I definitely intend to purchase both of these New Frontiers so they will soon be fitted with custom grips to match the beauty of the metal finish. All Colt Single Actions, including the New Frontiers, have the traditional action with no transfer bar. This means they must be carried with only five rounds loaded, and the hammer down on an empty chamber. No exceptions.

All New Frontiers are to be loaded only with five rounds, and an empty chamber under the hammer. Always!

Loads

Bullet casting is normally touted as a great way to do a lot of shooting for the least amount of money, and it is, however that’s not the number one advantage, which is being able to custom-tailor bullet diameters to fit each particular sixgun. There’s a lot of variation found in the chamber throats of both .45 Colt and .44 Special sixguns. Best accuracy is normally achieved from bullets, which match the chamber throats of each sixgun. I keep a set of 250 pin gauges, round cylindrical rods in increments of .001″ from .250″ to .500″, for this task. The .45 New Frontier gave me a uniform reading of .455″ for all six chambers. I keep a generous supply of reloads on-hand with both .452″ and .454″ diameter bullets, so for the most part, I chose the latter. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find the smaller bullets also shot well, as did factory ammunition.

Most of the Colt 3rd Generation .44 Specials I have encountered have been in the .433″ category, while earlier guns from the 2nd Generation run were normally tighter. This latest .44 Special has chamber throats which measure a uniform .429″. Reloads were used with both .429″ and .430″ cast bullets and results show this is the most accurate Colt Single Action I have ever encountered in 55 years of shooting sixguns. Several loads were under 1” for five shots at 20 yards with one of my favorites, the RCBS Keith bullet #44-250 dropped from a mold I had set up to do hollowpoints over 17.5 grains of H4227. This placed five shots in an astounding .5″! I cannot (normally) shoot this well!

My everyday standard working load for the .44 Special consists of 7.5 grains of Unique or Universal under a 250-gr. Keith bullet. No matter which Keith bullet I chose (H&G, Lyman, NEI, or RCBS) results were excellent, with most coming in at 1″ or less for five shots at 20 yards. Muzzle velocity is normally around 950 fps for these loads.

Switching to Hornady or Speer 240 JHPs lowers the muzzle velocity to around 880 fps, but accuracy is even better, with loads hovering at 7/8″. When I get behind on my casting I shoot a lot of Oregon Trail Laser Cast 240 SWCs. These bevel-based bullets over 6.0 grains of Unique clock out at 830 fps and also group under 1″. I don’t think we can ask much more than this from any single-action sixgun.

.45 Colt Loads

Switching to the .45 Colt and sizing my cast bullets to .454″ also resulted in excellent accuracy, just a shade above that encountered from the .44 Special. One of my all time favorite Single Action Army level heavy loads is the Lyman #454424 Keith bullet over 20.0 grains of H4227 for right at 1,000 fps. This load groups in 13/8″. Switching to Oregon Trail Laser Cast bullets for the .45 results in their 250-gr. RNFP over 8.0 grains of Unique clocking out at over 900 fps and grouping in 11/8″.

Colt’s “New” New Frontiers in .45 Colt and .44 Special. That great leather is by El Paso Saddlery.

Simply Nice Sixguns

The Colt Single Actions chambered in .45 Colt and .44 Special were user friendly even before anyone even knew what that term meant. Everyday Working Loads in the 800-1,000 fps range are exceptionally pleasant to shoot, with felt recoil at a minimum. Recoil is more like a gentle nudge. It may feel macho to shoot the heavier Magnum sixguns, however most of us have to admit the Colt Single Action grip frame, matched up with these loads, is certainly a lot more pleasurable. And those loads will also do most jobs we want done with a sixgun. If for some reason we need heavier hunting handloads, we can use 250- to 260-gr. cast Keith bullets at 1,100 fps in the .45 Colt, and sneaking up close to 1,200 fps in the .44 Special in the New Frontier. There is nothing residing anywhere I’m likely to roam these days that can’t be handled with one of these loads.

NOTE: Future availability of the Colt New Frontier Revolver is unknown as it is not currently listed on Colt.com.

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Taffin Tests Colt New Frontier Loads