COLT’S SAA 2nd Generation

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A 2nd Generation Colt .45 Buntline with 12" barrel (top) and
4¾". A .45 with custom-made fancy walnut grips (bottom).

In the last issue (Nov/Dec 2023), we discussed the 1st Generation Colt SAAs. Now, let’s move on to the 2nd Generation models.

Colt never envisioned bringing the SAA back post-World War II, although some were assembled from parts and sold in the late 1940s. What resurrected the SAA was television. So many Western programs appeared that by the mid-1950s, Colt realized the big single action would be profitable once again. Consider this: In 1939, the suggested retail price of a stock SAA was $39.50. When the 2nd Generation ones appeared in 1956, the price was $125 and Colt was backordered by the huge demand.

In Colt’s 2nd Generation of production, serial numbers contained an SA suffix. (The SA suffix continued in the 3rd Generation starting at 80000SA and continuing to 99999SA.)

What’s New?

Not too much changed between the 1st and 2nd Generation. Barrel length and finish options remained basically the same as did interchangeability for most parts. Many early 2nd Generation SAAs were fitted with leftover 1st Generation hammers on which cone-shaped firing pins were solidly fixed. When those ran out, new hammers had bottle-shaped firing pins with some looseness. Except for special orders, grips were checkered hard rubber.

For the first time starting in 1957, a 12″ barrel length was cataloged as the Buntline. Furthermore, a total of 503 Sheriff’s Model .45s wore 3″ barrels. In 1956, introductory calibers were .38 Special and .45 Colt. In 1958, the .44 Special was added, and in 1960 so was the .357 Magnum. By 1963, the .38 Special was dropped. The .44 Special got the ax in 1966. These are interesting facts; no .44 Specials came with 4¾” barrels, and all 12″ Buntlines and Sheriff’s Models were .45 Colt.

According to the book Colt’s SAA Post War Models by George Garton, during 2nd Generation production, a total of 10,951 SAAs were chambered for .38 Special, 15,821 for .357 Magnum, only 2,073 for .44 Special and 38,794 .45 Colts were made.

Among 2nd Generation production, there were two genres of single actions made different from stock SAAs. One will be slightly touched upon here, and another not at all. The latter are target-sighted New Frontiers, which deserve a work devoted solely to them. The first genre is commemoratives. Colt put out a passel of those in the 1960s and early 1970s, and in general, they fell flat. Mostly, they were considered too gaudy by serious Colt fans.

The exceptions for me are the 1873-1973 PEACEMAKER CENTENNIALS, which actually didn’t make it to dealers until about 1975. These SAAs were built precisely as the ones made in the 1870s. Those chambered as .45s duplicated the military version, but .44-40s were fully nickel-plated. That was right down to very thin sights, fixed firing pins on hammers, one-piece wood grips on .45s and hard rubber eagle type on .44-40s. Their only commemorative feature was the 1873-1973 PEACEMAKER CENTENNIAL logo on the left sides of .45 barrels and right sides of .44 barrels. The .44s even had the acid-etched COLT FRONTIER SIX SHOOTER on the left side of the barrel and tiny “.44 C.F.” on the rear of the trigger guard. Only 2,002 of each caliber were made. I have a pair of each, and for traditionalists, they are some of the finest SAAs.

Colt’s 2nd Generation standard production was made in only
four chamberings. From left, the .357 Magnum, .38 Special,
.44 Special and .45 Colt.

End Of The Era

Production of 2nd Generation SAAs ceased in 1974, but this time, Colt meant to return the gun again after retooling and also making some engineering changes to lower manufacturing costs. So, let’s settle some confusion about serial numbers. In the 1st Generation, only numbers were used starting with #1. To differentiate between 1st and 2nd Generation when the SAA returned in 1956, serial numbers started over but had four digits followed by an SA suffix. The 2nd Generation ended numbers at about 74000SA. (Exact numbers are hard to pin down, considering commemoratives had their own serial numbers.)

My first Colt of the 2nd Generation came in 1968. It was a .45. My second came in 1970 and was a .357 Magnum, and my third was purchased in 1971. It was a .38 Special. Now get this: I didn’t manage to land a 2nd Generation .44 Special until 2018. Of the several dozen Colts I’ve owned made between 1956 and 1974, there has not yet been one of questionable quality. Evidently, I’m not the only one who feels that way because today’s prices for good quality 2nd Generation SAAs start at about 15 to 20 times their 1956 price. And they go up from there based on factors including the rarity of chambering or special lots like Buntlines and Sheriff’s Models.

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