Old School Cool

You Can't Afford Not To Afford It

The King Colt SAA .357 Magnum rests on a picture of the detail of the short action
hammer as found in the book Home Gunsmithing The Colt Single Action.

Coolness is definitely in the eye of the beholder. There are many firearms that have been labeled cool, however it all depends on individual taste. I have seen a few really cool sixguns in my 60+ years of shooting, however I recently came onto the “coolest” sixgun I’ve ever seen, or at least I have ever experienced personally, and it is not only cool — it’s Old School Cool.

One of my best friends works in the local Cabela’s Gun Library and I’ve come up with some very cool sixguns over the years just by stopping in to visit once in a while. One trip netted me a Colt New Service .38 Special, which is right up there on the coolness factor. However my recent trip uncovered what may rightly be over the top of the cool column. As we were visiting my friend said I have something here you probably would like to see. Talk about the understatement of the year.

He brought out a pre-War Colt Single Action Army, making it an already cool sixgun. However, this was not just any ordinary SAA but a very special custom version. I told him I was definitely interested but he had to tell me someone else already had spoken for it. I was disappointed, of course, however I at least got to see it.

I ran a few errands and when I got home a couple hours later I got a call from my friend. “The fellow who was interested said he could not afford it. It’s yours if you want it.” At those words my sixgunnin’ heart soared high and then was immediately dashed to the deepest depths when he told me the price. I could immediately understand why the first fella said he could not afford it. However, as I thought about it I felt I really could not afford to not afford it, if that makes sense! I took some of the advice I often give in situations like this which is a year from now you won’t miss the money. Well that was two months ago as this is written and I did buy it and I already don’t miss the money. So it appears my advice to others and to myself is sound.

Note the wide checkered trigger and adjustable rear sight on the King Custom Colt.

King featured a full-length rib on this Colt .357 Magnum. Note the “cockeyed” hammer spur.

Custom Work

Checking the serial number I found this was a Colt Single Action manufactured in 1921. It was chambered in .357 Magnum, which did not arrive until 1935. So some time between 1935 and the beginning of WWII it was sent back to Colt to be converted to the then relatively new .357 Magnum, with a 5″ barrel. But this was only the beginning. It was then turned over to the King Gun Sight Company for extensive custom work.

D.W. King was a rifle marksman who was not satisfied with the sights generally available, so decided to make his own. This was in the late 1920s, and he formed the King Gun Sight Co. King not only provided rifle sights, he did a brisk business applying custom sights to sixguns, especially for target shooters. A look at some pictures of his custom work will show his ideas were later incorporated into factory guns.

In addition to the sights, he did custom work such as cockeyed hammers and wide triggers, both set up for a short action. Elmer Keith had his 71/2″ .44 Special Colt Single Action worked over by King. In addition to ivory stocks Keith had this .44 Special fitted with a barrel band front sight, a fully adjustable rear sight and a King short action. The King Gun Sight Co. could not survive after the death of the founder and disappeared in the early 1950s. For a delightful trip down memory lane, reprinted catalogs are available from Cornell Publications (www.cornellpubs.com). I have both the 1931 and 1939 copies and it’s easy to see from these the influence King had on the industry.

On my King Colt the old hard-to-see front sight and hog wallow trough rear sight were replaced by a full-length rib on the barrel featuring a fully adjustable rear sight mated with a post front sight having a reddish-orange insert. At the base of the sight we find the little mirror designed to reflect light onto the back of the rear sight. The hammer is totally different from anything Colt ever made and has been worked over to provide a short action. The full-cocked hammer position now is normally where half-cock is on a standard Colt Single Action.

The hammer has also been lightened, having holes drilled on the side to remove weight and provide a faster lock time. For easy cocking the hammer is the King Cockeyed Hammer with a wide hammer spur and extra width on the left hand side of the hammer spur to serve a right-handed shooter. Mated with the King Hammer is a special wide trigger, checkered as many target triggers were in those days.

The King short action hammer is shown at full cocked position.

Used, Not Abused

The action remains tight however it’s obvious this sixgun has seen a lot of use as the finish is well worn. The left side of the barrel is marked “COLT SINGLE ACTION ARMY .357 MAGNUM” with the first two words not quite as visible as the rest of the inscription, telling me it’s been in and out of a holster often. When this sixgun was put together by someone who really appreciated a quality Perfect Packin’ Pistol, the .357 Magnum was the most powerful cartridge available. From the wear on the finish I can at least imagine this Old School Cool sixgun saw a lot of use and probably took a lot of small game and possibly even deer, and maybe a cougar or black bear. It certainly exudes this type of coolness.

As beautiful as this sixgun is I have to say it’s absolutely the most exasperating sixgun I’ve encountered in over 60 years of shooting. Many sixguns will shoot anything well that will fit in the cylinder. Not so this gun. The first load I tried resulted in an Ah-Oh moment. The group was well over 3″ at 20 yards. To date I have test-fired two dozen handloads along with one factory .357 Magnum and one factory .38 Special load. Just about the time I thought I had it figured out and started to get decent groups it would turn around and go the other way.

Colt .357 Magnum barrels are usually quite tight so I tried both .357 Magnum and 9mm bullets and also cast bullets sized to .358″ and .356″ to see how much difference it would make. With some loads the smaller diameter work well, with one notable example being the Keith #358429 bullet sized to the smaller diameter and loaded over 11.0 grains of #2400 in .357 Magnum brass. Muzzle velocity was right at 1,050 fps and a group just over 1″. I thought I had found the secret, but it was only with this particular bullet.

Two loads at totally opposite ends of the spectrum gave the best accuracy. These loads were the Black Hills 100-gr. ARX bulleted Honey Badger .38 Special load and a handload consisting of a 200-gr. NEI #200.358GC bullet in .357 Magnum cases loaded over 12.5 grains of IMR 4227. The Honey badger clocked out at just over 1,000 fps, while the heavy bullet load was right at 960 fps. The Honey Badger grouped into 11/8″ while the 200-gr. cast bullet gave me the best accuracy, with five shots into 7/8″. This isn’t an extremely powerful load however it will certainly do as an everyday carry load.

John’s starting to get the King Custom SAA to shoot but more work is needed to find “just” the right load.

John’s Dilemma

I did experience some misfires mainly due to the fact I did nothing to this sixgun before initial firings. It performed much better after having a total stripping and cleaning of decades of crud removed from all internal parts, and the application of a quality lube. I also installed a new full-power Colt mainspring that definitely solved the problem of misfires. Since this is a short action sixgun the normally long travel of the hammer when the trigger is pulled has been changed to only about half the distance. With the new mainspring I’ve not experienced any misfires.

Now I find myself in somewhat of a dilemma — to refinish or not? Normally I would not consider refinishing a First Generation Colt Single Action, however this is not a factory original sixgun. I can see it beautifully re-blued with a case-hardened frame and hammer and fitted with ivory stocks. However, on the other hand would I be removing some true sixgun history in the process? For now I will simply enjoy it as it is. Drop Roy a note at [email protected] and let him know your thoughts. We’ll all figure it out together!

For more info: www.colt.com

, Ph: (800) 962-2658

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