There’s a reason why USSOCOM’s elite forces use the 1911 in .45 ACP: It works, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter that the design is over 100 years old. When the Marines called for bids on a new .45 ACP pistol, naturally they gravitated to the 1911 platform. And despite the range of manufacturers offering a slew of 1911s today, they chose Colt, the original. Call it poetic justice.
The Marines’ new M45 CQBP (Close-Quarters Battle Pistol) is based on Colt’s Rail Gun, and in the words of retired Lieutenant General William M. Keys, Colt’s president and CEO, it is a “highly enhanced version of an already excellent combat weapon.” The team at Colt was eager to have the new M45 “exercised” and was gracious enough to make one available. With the exception to its roll marks, the early prototype I tested was built nearly to military specifications. The Farmington, Connecticut, police granted us access to their range, and the boys from Colt were loading magazines as fast as I could empty them.
Compared to the last Colt pistol contracted by the military, the 1911A1, the new M45 is vastly different. But in some respects, the M45 more closely resembles the first 1911 issued prior to World War I. The M45, however, is by no means your great-granddaddy’s 1911.
At first glance, the M45 looks like a Colt Rail Gun, except it has a desert tan Cerakote finish instead of being all-black. The M45 starts out like all Colt 1911s, from chunks of stainless steel forged into a receiver, slide, slide stop and barrel. Non-stainless models are forged from carbon steel. The forging process actually makes the steel stronger and allows tolerances to be more closely held. It also makes the receiver tough. The .45 ACP round has an average a chamber pressure of 21,000 pounds per square inch (psi), but the Colt receiver can easily stand high chamber pressures like those from .38 Super and 10mm cartridges, which have average pressures of 36,500 and 37,500 psi respectively. Not all 1911s in the market are manufactured from forgings—Colt builds theirs to last. The framework of the Colt is designed for strength. Having a forged slide stop is extremely important because it is the one piece that holds the slide, barrel and receiver together.
The pistol features a smooth, long, solid trigger with a flat mainspring housing. This is where the M45 is more like the circa-WWI 1911s. The WWII-era 1911A1 changed the setup with a short trigger and arched mainspring housing in an effort to help GIs shoot higher. Shooting styles have changed over the years but come full-circle with the M45—long and flat is the setup most shooters prefer today.
Per military specifications, the M45 also has a lanyard loop in the mainspring housing, but that’s where the similarities with your great-grandfather’s pistol end. The M45 has features that today’s shooters demand and expect in a 1911-style pistol: an upswept beavertail grip safety with a hefty bump, an extended ambidextrous safety, a lightweight, enhanced hammer, beveled magazine well, lowered and flared ejection port, front and rear slide serrations, and a real Mil-Std-1913 accessory rail. The Marines specified this rail because it has more surface area for an accessory to grasp onto than, say, a Weaver-style rail. The extra area makes it more reliable in extreme environments.
In the hand, the M45 felt comfortable. The ambidextrous safety worked crisply when I used either shooting hand. The centerline of the bore was low due to the upswept beavertail grip safety and it protected the web of my hand. The hammer serrations provided enough grasp to easily cock the hammer. The sides of the hammer were easy to grasp and hold while I pulled the trigger to lower it. I also like the more contemporary slide serrations. The 1911A1’s slide serrations are fine but can collect gunk and get slippery with wet or sweaty hands. The serrations allowed for a good purchase barehanded, and I assume it will work just as well with gloves.
The trigger has a specified 5-pound pull weight, perfect for its intended purpose, though I did not have the time to measure the exact pull weight. If I used the M45 for a carry gun, I personally wouldn’t mess with the trigger. It does utilize the Series 80 trigger system, which many traditionalists feel mucks up the trigger pull, but Colt has had years to perfect the Series 80—since 1983 in fact—and I could not tell the difference between it and a Series 70. The Series 80 has an internal firing pin safety that is actuated via the trigger; a Series 70 does not have a firing pin safety system. That firing pin safety was a requirement for the M45 replacement.
The G10 grips on the M45 are gritty without being too sharp or raspy, and they are slightly thicker than the flatter, double-diamond checkered walnut or plastic grips of 1911A1s. Including the grip panels, the grip’s actual width is 1.3 inches. My hand is of average size, so smaller-handed users may feel a bit of girth, but operators will probably modify the grip panels to their liking anyway. The G10 grips and only two other components (Novak tritium three-dot night sights and a Wilson Combat seven-round magazine) are the only non-Colt-manufactured parts on the M45.
Most 1911s today have an eight-round magazine, but the envelope for the 1911 pistol magazine was originally designed for seven rounds. Seven-round magazines have proven reliable in battle, and that was good enough for the Marines—so the Wilson Combat magazine went into the M45’s specifications. The seven-round Wilson magazine has a nylon follower that is self-lubricating and does not corrode, unlike some magazines with metal followers. The polymer basepad gave the magazine just enough length so that I didn’t jab my palm on the lanyard loop when I slammed it home, and the beveled edges of the magazine well allowed me to reload magazines quickly.
The M45’s Novak tritium night sights, in the three-dot arrangement, are simple and fast for acquiring targets. They’re also great for targeting at night with their three glowing green dots. The sights are snag-free, unlike standard GI sights, which catch on anything near them. The Novak sights are also rugged and provide a good sight picture.
Having limited time with the M45, I was only able to fire one type of ammo: Federal Gold Metal Match 230-grain FMJ rounds. This load has a stated muzzle velocity of 860 feet per second (fps), while mil-spec .45 ACP ammo runs at 855 fps. While the boys from Colt were busting their thumbs to load magazines for me, the M45 produced groups that usually had holes touching each other with an occasional flyer.
Military specifications require the M45 to hold a five-shot group within a 4-by-4-inch area at 25 yards when fired from a rest, but I was only able to test the M45 off-hand. I used a two-handed hold and placed the front sight on the target at 15 yards. It was easy to achieve the mil-spec group—something I didn’t expect from the weapon. Thought my time with the M45 was short, I felt as if I’d been shooting the pistol for years. The Colt M45 worked flawlessly. Align the front sight, press the trigger, bang, repeat. And repeat I did, until I was standing in a puddle of empty cases.
We expect our government to purchase equipment that works, and the M45 does just that. And it doesn’t dent your empties like the former military 1911s. Would I change anything on the M45? While 1911s beg to be customized, I would carry this weapon as is. Uncle Sam has made a wise purchase. It should also be noted that the Colt team said a civilian version would be available after they fill the government order. For more information, visit colt.com or call 800-241-2485.