The New Frontier: Colt’s Classic Single Action

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Can you say Perfection Plus? 2nd Generation New Frontier
43/4" .45 Colt with factory ivory stocks.

We were on one of our rare vacations, albeit a working one, traveling down to the Freedom Arms factory. My wife and I had spent the night in Jackson, Wyo., before going through Yellowstone Park and then up through Montana to visit fast-draw expert Bob Munden and his lovely bride, Becky. Standing in line for breakfast, my wife suggested, “Why don’t you go over to the gun store and look around while I keep our place? I’ll get the table and know what you will order anyway.”

Across the street, to the Bitter Root Trading Company I went to spend my waiting time looking through the racks of old Winchesters, Marlins and Sharps rifles and carbines. Then over to the pistol case to look at the Colt Single Action Armys and Bisleys. When I got to the end of the showcase, a sixgun on the bottom shelf caught my eye. It also caught my checkbook. When I returned to my wife at the breakfast table, I had a small package under my arm. It contained a beautiful 71/2″ Colt New Frontier .44 Special.

The standard barrel lengths of the Colt SAA were carried over to the
New Frontier, 43/4", 51/2" and 71/2".

Can you say Perfection? The 3rd Generation New Frontier 51/2"
.44 Special with stag grips.

A New Frontier

It was the beginning of a new era — a breath of fresh air. We had a new president. A young president to replace the grandfatherly Ike. Little did we realize what lay ahead in the 1960s. To honor the new president and new optimism, one firearms company decided to bring out a new sixgun. In late 1961 (only two were made in this year), Colt brought forth the New Frontier in honor of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier. Within two years, rifle shots would ring out in Dallas, Camelot would be gone and the specially engraved New Frontier would never be presented.

Our country’s innocence was gone, never to return, but the Colt New Frontier would remain in production for the next 20+ years. As did Ruger seven years earlier, Colt flat-topped the frame of an existing model, added an adjustable rear sight mated with a radically sloping ramp-style front sight and brought forth one of the most beautiful sixguns ever. Just as with the Colt Single Action Army that gave birth to the New Frontier, the new sixgun carried a deep blue finish on its barrel, cylinder and grip frame topped off with beautifully mottled colors on its case-hardened main frame.

In the production of the 1st Generation Colt Single Action Army sixguns from 1873 to 1941, a few target models, both Single Action Army and Bisley, were produced consisting of a slightly flat-topped frame, a windage adjustable rear sight by drifting and locking in place and a front sight that could be adjusted up and down.

During the 1920s, Elmer Keith tried to interest Colt in modernizing the Colt by flat-topping the frame and adding fully adjustable sights. He even offered the loan of his custom sixguns, including his famous #5SA, but Colt would not listen. Had they been open-minded, Ruger may never have materialized.

Keith’s #5SA was built in the mid-1920s. It was a 51/2″ Single Action chambered in the cartridge of time, at least for reloaders, the .44 Special. The grip was created by mating a Bisley backstrap with a Single Action trigger guard, and its influence today can be seen in the Freedom Arms and Ruger Bisley revolvers. The frame was flat-topped and carried a fully adjustable rear sight mated with a post front sight with a bead. The gun magazine of the day, The American Rifleman, carried Keith’s article on the #5SA entitled “The Last Word.” The #5SA was definitely the last word in single actions in the 1920s.

It really doesn’t get much better than this! The 71/2" 2nd Generation
Colt New Frontiers in .44 Special and .45 Colt.

Premium Pricing

In 1962, a Colt Single Action Army cost, gulp, $125. The New Frontier was even higher at an unreachable $140. This was at the same time .357 and .44 Magnum Ruger Blackhawks were going for less than $100, and the superbly crafted and blued Super Blackhawk in .44 Magnum was selling for $116. Our local store had a New Frontier .44 Special I drooled over quite often, but with college tuition, three hungry kids and a wife who stayed home with them, there was no way. Had I been able to look into the future, I would somehow have borrowed the money and bought the Colt. Today it would be worth no less than 10 times the original price. I keep reminding myself: Always remember, Colt Single Actions do not go down in value!

Excellent examples of hunting sixguns, Colt 2nd and 3rd
Generation 71/2" New Frontiers chambered in .44 Special.

Two beautiful examples of near-perfect Pistol Packin’ Perfection — 2nd
Generation Colt New Frontiers. Both are 43/4" .45 Colts. Leather is
El Paso Saddlery’s Austin.

Production History

The Colt New Frontier began with serial number 3000NF, which stayed in the Colt plant. The last of the 2nd Generation New Frontiers was in the 72XXNF serial number range, giving us slightly over 4,000 New Frontiers from 1961 to 1974. Four calibers were made in this first run of Colt Flat-Top Target sixguns. These were in chamberings of .45 Colt, .38 Special, .357 Magnum and .44 Special. According to Colt expert Don Wilkerson, the .38 Special is the rarest, followed by the .44 Special. Less than 100 .45 New Frontier Buntlines were also produced.

In 1978, The New Frontier went back into production with the 3rd Generation Colt Single Action Army. Serial numbers began at 01001NF, using five digits instead of four. In the last, and according to Colt, final run of New Frontiers, calibers were .45 Colt, .357 Magnum, .44 Special and .44-40. All the 2nd Generation New Frontiers were standardized with a finish of bright blue except for the case-hardened frame. The 3rd Generation New Frontiers can be found in full blue and nickel finishes, including nickel-plated Buntline New Frontiers in .45 Colt, .44 Special and .44-40. The .44-40 was available in the short barrel length of 43/4″, but I do not believe any .44 Specials were offered in this length.

Heartstopper #1: 2nd Generation 43/4" Colt New Frontier .45 fitted with stag grips.

Heartstopper #2: 2nd Generation 43/4" Colt New Frontier .45 fitted with ivory stocks.

New Frontier Facelift

Take a very close look at any 3rd Generation New Frontier before buying. Some of the later ones were hastily thrown together and will require some expert gunsmithing to bring them up to standard. My “Breakfast Special,” the New Frontier .44 Special purchased before bacon, toast and hashbrowns in Jackson, was dropped off at Munden Enterprises before ever being fired. Bob Munden performed his action magic, replacing springs and smoothing the action, then it was off to his grip maker, Mike Wallace. I asked to be surprised with the choice of wood, and I certainly was — breathtakingly so. When the .44 Special arrived back here in Idaho, it wore heartstopping one-piece grips of burl maple that fit my hand perfectly. Wallace joins the select group of Charles Able, Tedd Adamovich, Larry Caudill, Roy Fishpaw, Bob Leskovec and Paul Pesinger as men who understand what single-action grip-making is all about.

The 3rd Generation Packin’ Pistols New Frontier style, 51/2" versions in .45 Colt and .44 Special.

The “Breakfast Special” .44 Special New Frontier tuned by
Bob Munden and stocked by Mike Wallace.

Flexible Sighting

The Colt New Frontiers maintain the beautiful looks, feel and balance of the Colt Single Action Army with the added advantage of adjustable sights. It is a rare fixed-sighted sixgun that shoots to point of aim, and when it does, it is normally for only one load. The New Frontier’s sights allow any reasonable load to be dialed in.

Until the advent of the Colt Anaconda in both .44 Magnum and .45 Colt, the New Frontier remained the finest hunting sixgun ever offered by Hartford. Especially in the 71/2″ barrel length and in calibers .44 Special and .45 Colt, the New Frontier will get the job done up close on deer and black bear-sized game. They are not Magnums, but the .45 Colt will easily handle loads using 260-grain Keith-style bullets at 1,000 to 1,150 fps., while the .44 Special uses the same style bullets of 250 grains of 1,200 to 1,250 fps.

Perfect Packin’ Frontiers

The short-barreled New Frontiers in both .44 and .45 caliber make excellent Perfect Packin’ Pistols that are easy to carry and relatively lightweight compared to .454 Casulls and Ruger .44 Magnums. With heavy .44 Special and .45 Colt loads, one can handle anything up close except the big bears. I can only think of two improvements to the New Frontier.

First, as with almost all sixguns, they cry for custom grips. The only other change I would make is the use of a flat black post front sight instead of the glare-gathering sloping ramp front sight. Colt has provided a high front sight that goes well with one of my favorite sixgun shooting pastimes, namely long-range shooting at small rocks on yonder hill. The secret to this style of long-range shooting is not holding over as one does with a scope-sighted rifle or pistol, but simply holding up enough front sight with the intended target perched on top. Of course, this is only for shooting at inanimate objects, not for hunting.

New Frontiers are gone forever. Also gone is the .44 Special in the Single Action. Don’t count either out. The Single Action is a survivor, and let’s hope the New Frontiers return. For now, New Frontiers seem to be readily available at gun shows, and the really good news is they are not regarded as highly by collectors as the Single Action Army. Hence, prices are usually quite a bit lower.

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