The Colt Model 1903 .32

After 50 years of hundreds of guns passing through my hands by buying, trading and even having them given as presents, I’ve tended to develop the attitude there’s not much I haven’t tried. Still there was a little autoloader that always intrigued me even though I had never even fired one until 2010 — Colt’s little Model 1903 .32 Auto Pocket Pistol.

Why the attraction to an obsolete pistol chambered for a dinky little cartridge? Because anyone who looks at a Colt Model 1903 has to see it was ages ahead of its time. In fact, in regards to pocket pistols, it’s still ahead of its time, except for the dinky little .32 Auto chambering. And John M. Browning and Colt addressed that issue in 1908 by making another version chambered for .380 Auto.

Why do I think the Colt Model 1903 was ahead of its time? Look at the photos: no exposed hammer, a grip safety, very thin and not a sharp edge anywhere on it. Today gunsmiths get paid actual money to “melt” the edges of autoloaders. That means make them curved and smooth. The Colt Model 1903 came right from the factory already “melted.” And show me a modern “pocket pistol” as thin as an ’03 Colt. The gun itself is only .80″ wide but the grips make it 1.10″. Look at pocket pistols designed much later than the little Colt and you will see exposed hammers. Examples would be Walther’s famous PPs and PPKs which appeared in the late 1920s. Certainly Walther’s designers recognized the problem with exposed hammers on pocket pistols because those handguns got burrs instead of spurs to help prevent snagging on clothing. Better yet to not have one showing at all.

Right now someone is saying, “Yeah but those Walther pistols had double-action triggers and the old Colt was single action only.” So what? The Colt 1903 had a grip safety and a thumb safety meaning it could be carried with a round chambered. There’s no way the thing can go off until a hand firmly grasps it, which incidentally is when the thumb lays right on the safety. I’ve shot DA pocket pistols and I think the Colt ’03 can be put into action just as fast as any double-action pocket pistol.

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10 thoughts on “The Colt Model 1903 .32


    I own a 1903 with 4 number serial number,I have it as a passed down heirloom in family possesion since almost new.IT is as good today as when MR.BROWNING DESIGNED IT,NOT A KNOCKDOWN GUN,but small,slim,and a carry item you can count on without fail.A small well trained pitbull in your pocket,no one can get away without leaving something behind.

  2. KMacK

    People look down on this pistol because it’s “only a .32acp” calibre. Simple fact: you do NOT want to get shot with “only a .32acp” calibre bullet any more than you do with a .50 S&W Mag bullet.
    The big difference between these two rounds is recoil. The .32 has less recoil, and less recoil means people are more likely to practice, and more practice means they are more likely to hit what they are aiming at.
    They may wish for a bigger bullet, but they will take less recoil every day of the week, and Mr Browning knew this.
    This is true today, and it was true 109 years ago when the pistol first appeared.
    People don’t change much, do they?

    1. Warhwkbb

      I just picked up a 32 Pocket Model from a gunshow last weekend. I shot it for the first time yesterday. What a great shooter! Even with the microscopic sights, i was able to put a magazine full into the size of a quarter at 10 yards. It darn well outshot my Les Bauer 45 at the same distance.
      Mine was built in 1921 and while it has been refinished, it is the new jewel in my Colt collection.

  3. The Carpathian

    My 1903 was made in 1827 — and the original purchaser was Frank Nitti, enforcer of the Capone Mob, as part of a shipment of 12.

    He gave it to my grandfather for protection when he was the manager of a Cicero, Illinois speakeasy (my grandmother was the house dealer). It passed throug a few hands and at least one tour of duty over Europe with my 8th Air Force B-24 waist gunner father.

    Its been refinished at the factory, and is in pristine condition. I shoot it regularly and carry it as my concealment weapon (no, I don’t live in Illinois, so don’t comment telling me I can’t do it legally). It shoots like a dream and at 15 yards keeps everything in the A-Zone of the USPSA man target. Feeds Silvertips like if was made for them.

    I just bought one for my wife at a gun show two weeks back and it will be refinished. My wife likes mine so much she told me to either get her one or she’ll confiscate it!

    Just a .32? Not when you can pur all your 8 silvertips into 2″ as fast as you can overcome the minimal kick and get back on target.

    If it was good enough to be the carry gun of Patton, Dillinger, various police detectives and a few others who knew their weapons, I don’t thing there’s anything wrong with them.

    1. Marc

      Do you have the colt factory in Hartford do the refinishing of your gun and what is the cost. I too have a 1903 built in 1926 and would like to restore it for use.

      Many Thanks,


      1. Kristy

        Are you sure of the date because I do not believe the 1903 colt was being made in 1827.

  4. Mark Freburg

    Mike, as usual you’re right. Perhaps one of the most telling confirmations is the existence of the Kimber Solo, which is-in many ways-a modern rendition of the old Colts. Small, pocket-able, curved and smooth as you put it. They made it a single-action and gave it thumb safeties. The barrel is too short, but few guns are perfect. I don’t know if the intent of the Solo was to publicly pay homage to the Colt M models but if not, there is not denying they did so anyway.

  5. Eric

    Like everyone else here I to love the little 03 and the 08 as I own both.
    I reciently mad a modifacation to the pistole that it should have come with from day one. I did the R&D on installing a colt mustang mag catch to a colt 1903.I contacted Kent Singletary of KSCUSTOMS out of AZ and had him take my R&D and a spare frame I had and perform the modifaction. Well it works and 100% possible, no more fumbling with the heal mounted mag catch. Now just like its big brother i push a button and the mag drops out. I recomend doing this to shooters only, in no way would i ruin a collector grade 03/08. mBut one that has seen better days, no finish, pitting I say why not! If you want to see the orignal prototype of the Kruger 03mag catch mod go to Kents web site.

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