The Colt 1911 is the original and still arguably the best. It’s certainly the greatest handgun of the 20th Century.
You might argue that Colt doesn’t make self-loading pistols like they used to in terms of durability. And there’s a sliver of truth to that as the manufacturer has embraced the mass market.
But that means most gun enthusiasts can afford one. That’s good.
1911 Has Made Slow Progress, Until Recently
Colt has also bought just the occasional update to John Moses Browning’s original designs to give us new calibers, faster cycling, bigger mags and lightweight carry guns.
Progress has been glacial, but the M1911A1 came with a shorter trigger and cutouts for easier shooting. The biggest design changes have resulted from the civilian market, though, and good old fashioned capitalism.
In the last 20 years, after the military largely abandoned the Colt 1911 pistol, the guns have got smaller, smarter and better engineered. The end result are guns that people trust with their life each and every day, with or without a military seal of approval.
We’ve come a long way from the Colt 1911 pistol that was one of the United States’ stars in the First World War. That’s for sure.
So what are the best Colt 1911 pistols for sale in 2020? Here are our picks…
1. Colt Combat Unit Rail Gun
- Price: $1,499.90
- Caliber: 45 ACP/ 9mm Luger
- Barrel: 5 inch
- Total Length: 8.6 inch
- Capacity: 8/ 9
The Colt Combat Unit Rail Gun is the tactical pistol and carry gun that is the right option for 90% of you. Yes, for almost everyone, this is the Colt 1911 pistol starter kit.
US Special Forces trainers had significant input into a gun that still turned out remarkably like a big slab of traditional 45 ACP Colt.
But the Talo magwell, low drag Novak sights front and rear and the Picatinny rail mean this is a flexible weapon. With a Decobond coat, it’s the official service pistol of the US Marines. That gun gets a separate mention elsewhere on this list.
It’s the practical big Colt Model 1911 for the real world that shoots straight and true and should inhabit this Earth as long as you do. Maybe longer…
Perfect All-Round Tactical 1911
There’s no specialty vibe to this gun and that means there are sexier firearms on this list. That’s just how it works. But if we were actually putting our own money down for a Colt Model 1911 pistol right now then this would be the one.
If you’re only going to own one Colt, it kind of has to be this one. Well, it will be your first. We’ll get to your next guns in a moment…
In this 45 ACP vs 9mm War, 45 ACP Wins
But this is the best 45 ACP Colt service 1911 starter pack. Or you can take the 9mm pistol caliber version that was once seen as a perversion. Now it’s increasingly popular as 9mm Luger closes the gap. Still, you only get one more round of 9mm.
With that equation I’d be tempted to go for the heavier bullet weight and, dare we utter the words, stopping power…
Combat Rail vs Rivals
The Springfield Armory TRP and Kimber TLE II are the natural competition and we think the Kimber just edges it between those two. The Springfield Armory is relatively mass market, while the Kimber goes through the custom shop.
While the Kimber has the measure of the Springfield Armory, though, can it match up to the Colt? It’s close and spec dependent, but if you get the right deal then yes.
Check out how a Kimber beat the Colt in our 1911s under $2000 post here.
2 Colt Gold Cup Trophy
- Price: $1,699
- Caliber: 45 ACP Auto/ 9mm Luger
- Barrel: 5 inch
- Total Length: 8.5 inch
- Weight: 2.38lb
- Capacity: 8+1 / 9+1
The Colt Gold Cup Trophy is an exceptional gun that is aimed at shooting sports. But each and every one of the modifications make this gun a mighty appealing nightstand pistol or home defense tool.
We’re not going to lie, the Colt Gold Cup was our winner for a good long while, until we decided to listen to the crowd and go with the Rail Gun. Trust us, the Gold Cup is an exceptional sidearm in almost all conditions.
The night sights are useful for fast target acquisition in dim light and the Talo magwell helps fast and easy reloads. A lowered and flared ejection port gives you faster recycling and the competition G10 grips are lightweight and consistent.
Lightweight, Match Grade 1911? Shut Up and Take My Money
The Colt Gold Cup is a tighter, lighter version of the 1911 that was built to survive a World War, with a Series 70 firing mechanism and spur-style hammer. We love the brushed steel finish on this gun, too, and would take it each and every day over the eccentric brown options.
A National Match grade barrel is always a good thing. You also get a wide competition trigger with the fashionable three holes. The slide is also super smooth and rounded, which could help it turn into a mildly awkward carry gun.
The Match barrel and other custom parts are all choice mods that you might consider making to a base Colt Model 1911. And it would not be cheap. So as a package, the Colt Gold Cup 1911 is really not a bad deal.
Custom Gun Without the Cost and Work
So if you buy the Colt Gold Cup Trophy, you could save time and money. Your gun will also be modded and tuned by the in-house engineers at Colt. That’s worth something too.
This isn’t just a target shooter. It’s a complete 1911 pistol with some awesome aftermarket parts. They turn it into a next-level nightstand pistol and defensive handgun, and one of the best Colt 1911 pistols on the market.
You can also get a Colt Gold Cup National Match, a cheaper gun. But it really isn’t the one you want. When it comes to the pistol caliber, too, again we’d go for the 45 ACP if you can handle the well-contained recoil.
Colt vs The Competition
The Kimber Rapide is a real step forward in competition spec handguns and looks like a custom gun. Springfield Armory can try its best with the Range Officer, but the real competition comes from Smith & Wesson.
The S&W Performance Center handguns are real potent firearms and offer a wilder look too. Check out the S&W Performance Center SW1911 here.
3 Colt Defender Lightweight
- Price: $879.90
- Caliber: 45 ACP/ 9mm Luger
- Barrel: 3 inch
- Total Length: 7 inch
- Weight: 1.6lb
- Capacity: 7/ 9
The Colt Defender is the best sort of subcompact 1911 in the world. That’s pretty much agreed…
The copmpany ran into problems when it shortened the 5 inch slide Colt Government model to create the compact Commander 1911 in the 50s for concealed carry. It fixed them, but then the US Army adopted its own precursor to the Defender model in 1972.
Forced to Produce a Concealed 1911
Rock Island Arsenal produced the successor to the Colt 1903. The Army General Officer’s Pistol seemed to work, but with certain ammo, for occasional use. It wasn’t the daily shooter it really needed to be for the mass market. The Swenson Bobcat followed and Colt was really painted into a corner.
Defender Caused Issues For Colt
America’s favorite handgun manufacturer had to respond and spent years straightening out the problem child that was the Defender. It was worth it.
Now this is the default choice for a concealed 1911 carry pistol and there is a massive line of finishes that take the cost from around $800 to $1,300 and up. And these are off the peg guns.
You can order a custom Colt Defender from the custom shop if you want, or the Colt Defender Combat Elite that is tailored for concealment. But the basics remain the same.
One More Bullet or Double the Bullet Weight?
So that’s a 7+1 round magazine capacity with 45 ACP Auto, or a 9mm capacity of 8+1. It’s a single stack mag, and again I don’t think you ‘win enough’ to give up the additional impact of the 230gr hollowpoints.
Some people just prefer the controlled recoil and the terminal ballistics of the 9mm personal defense rounds that have come on in leaps and bounds. But if you’re going for the added capacity of the 9mm, it’s like one bullet more…
Basic Equipment, But Solid Foundations
Other options will make a bigger difference, but the lightweight model is a pretty basic Colt Defender in terms of the equipment. It comes with 3-Dot sights and the finish isn’t in the same league as the more expensive guns. But then that’s the point, it saves weight and money.
The lightweight isn’t really that much lighter than the stock semi-autmatic pistol. It couldn’t be to be honest. It still comes with the trademark Colt Upswept Beavertail grip safety, Novak sights for a fast draw and a dual recoil spring. Those are the things that count.
Most importantly, you get a reliable subcompact 1911 you can properly conceal. And they are rarer than you think…
4 Colt Wiley Clapp LW Commander
- Price: $1,322.22
- Caliber: 45 ACP
- Barrel: 4.25 inch
- Total Length: 7.75 inch
- Weight: 1.7lb
- Capacity: 8+1
The whole Wiley Clapp thing is largely overdone. He was a solid writer with some decent ideas for a battle pistol, but the basic Talo magwell design isn’t the exciting part here.
No, the big deal with the Colt Wiley Clapp LW Commander is the Lightweight Commander part. That’s lightweight, and it really is. The figures claim this stainless steel frame and slide gives a gun that’s weighs in at 1.7lb.
You can also get a stock Colt Lightweight Commander without a national match grade barrel for much less money. Around $500 less in fact, if you buy the gun that’s just come in here.
It isn’t as pretty, but, well, nice things cost money. It’s a cruel world etc, but you still get the same semi-automatic pistol under that less elegant skin…
This Series 70 has no firing pin safety and the payoff for that is the smoothest trigger pull in the Colt family. Before you get to the major custom stuff anyway…
Check These Details, They Do Make a Difference
The attention to detail is cool, including the 25 LPI checkering on the front strap lining up with the Tactical Oval grips.
They’re only checkered where your fingers should be and the grips are actually thinner at the front than the back. These wedged grips help you find the right grip position. Basically, the gun helps your shooting technique.
Different Sights With Brass, Not Tritium
The Novak sites come with a brass bead, rather than a fiber-optic front sight. I mean a fiber optic is still basically better, and you’re buying into the narrative with this. But that’s not a real crime. If you like the brass bead, go for it…
Other neat touches include the flat mainspring housing and a relatively long pull on the trigger. There’s a clean break, but it definitely loads up.
Now this Colt is about as good as a Commander 45 ACP carry gun gets. It does go into competition with its own sibling, the Combat Elite line.
I get the feeling the Wiley Clapp Commander will appeal to the mature Colt buyer, while the Combat Elite is a designer gun with a bolder look for the younger crowd.
But what do we know? We’re not fashion consultants…
5. Colt Delta Elite 10mm
- Price: $1169.99
- Caliber: 10mm
- Barrel: 5″
- Total Length: 8.5″
- Weight: 2.19lb
- Capacity: 8+1 rounds
10mm Auto really is the Spinal Tap of the firearms industry. Whatever you’ve got, 10mm is that little bit louder and stronger. So it’s better right?
Well that’s what the FBI decided after an ill-fated shootout in Dade County, when 9mm ammo just didn’t stop the suspects.
A massive switch to 10mm Auto handguns cost untold millions, and now the Law Enforcement Agencies have pretty much all reverted to the much-improved 9mm Luger. But that still leaves this curiosity of a semi-automatic pistol that alot of people will tell you is their favorite Colt 1911 pistol.
I can see why.
Lightweight 1911 For Special Agents
Essentially this is a battle pistol and carry gun for suited law enforcement agents first and foremost. So it’s seriously light for a full-size 1911 at 2.18lb. The shorter grip and Novak sights help you draw from a concealed carry holster or even a shoulder holster.
It’s a smart design and proves you don’t always need a carry contour on the heel to make a practical 1911.
Modified, Lighter, Custom 1911 Handgun
This is a Series 80 that has been with since the late 80s and it has evolved slightly, but not much. The lowered and flared ejection port, composite grips and classic upswet beavertail grip safety were all good.
Lightweight Parts Look Great Too
The wide triple port trigger and skeletonized hammer look the part too. We like it all to be honest, and we love the fact that this combat pistol with an eye towards concealed carry still gets serious love to this day.
As a tactical pistol, it works in competitive 10mm ammo classes. As a carry gun, it gives you an added kick over 9mm, 45 ACP and anything short of a 44 Magnum revolver.
Purist Handgun Hunters Like the Colt
Even though it’s lacking a Picatinny rail and some other finery, some handgun hunters prefer the Colt Delta Elite 10mm simply because it’s so clean and such a lightweight 1911 pistol.
It’s a purist’s 10mm handgun. You can see plenty more of the best 10mm pistols for sale on this list, but this gun still stands tall.
6. Colt Combat Elite Commander Model
- Price: $1,399.99
- Caliber: 9mm
- Barrel: 4.25″
- Total Length: 7.75″
- Weight: 2.06lb
- Capacity: 8+1 rounds
The Commander Model might just be my favorite of this newly returned Colt pistols line, as a carry gun and just as the sweet spot of this particular semi-automatic pistol.
Yes the Combat Elite is a carry gun, but the Defender is still relatively compromised. The Combat Elite treatment results in a $1,399.99 subcompact 1911 with a 3 inch barrel and that’s a hard to swallow pill.
Colt Pricing Gives More Gun For The Same Money
This gun costs exactly the same, but it’s a compact with a 4 inch barrel. That makes it more flexible, and it makes the weight savings more pronounced. The Commander frame is maybe just a more convincing package for the Colt Elite treatment.
You might take or leave the Defender, but admit it, you want this gun. We get that. There’s a gunporn element to this weapon and the Colt Government model with the 5 inch barrel costs exactly the same too.
Concealed Carry Features Abound
The Novak Low Mount Carry Night Sight on the rear and Tritium fiber optic on the front give you a clear sight picture. You get a Series 80- firing pin safety for added security, a dual spring recoil system to contain those 9mm rounds and more. A national match grade barrel is in there too.
The lightweight construction is seriously good. single stack 1911 chambered in 9mm, although you can get the 45 ACP version too. With a gun this tailored to concealed carry, 9mm just felt right.
But you might disagree, vehemently, with 9mm Colt pistols generally so here’s your .45 version. Sorry about that…
Colt Elite Rivals
This is a seriously expensive gun, and even in Commander form it has to justify the cost. Let’s face it, a Springfield Range Officer Champion is much less money, and a Kimber Gold Combat II can be had for this kind of cash if you shop around.
So the Combat Elite is going into a warzone. But that’s what it’s built for, sales are buoyant and it looks like the general public can cope with the price.
Custom 1911 Pistol Design Cues
The brushed steel and contrasting matte black coating work wonders. Look close and you’ll see that black PVD covers every contour, curve and exposed edge.
This is a custom 1911, or Colt M1991 if we’re being pedantic. The price works when it’s this much pistol and this is a great carry gun. Perhaps even better than the legendary Defender.
7. Colt CMC Marine
- Price: $1,824.99
- Caliber: 45 ACP
- Barrel Length: 5 inch
- Total Length: 8.5 inch
- Weight: 2.2lb
- Capacity: 8+1
The US Marine Corps is kind of picky about the official sidearm it chooses and this, the ultimate incarnation of the Combat Unit Rail Gun, is the gun they trust.
Not all of them take this heavy lump of single-action metal into special operations. But it does go with their dress uniforms and fatigues when they’re on show. That’s still cool.
Custom Combat Unit Rail Gun, But That Color…
It really is a rail gun with a Cerakote type coating in what Colt calls Desert Sand. A less charitable person might say it’s hearing aid beige and Colt pistols could do with some work on the color charts.
The Colt Close Quarters Battle pistol is a custom workshop gun, but it looks like my grandma’s living room. Not a Colt pistol, at all.
The Colt’s Manufacturing Company Marine gets Novak sights, the custom shop goes over the gun and it is the best of the best in terms of engineering. The Combat Unit Rail is 90% of the gun for a lot less money.
But this is the Colt pistol the US Marines carry and one of the great post war 1911s because of that fact. To some of you, that’s always going to be worth the premium. And we kinda get it.
Where to Buy Colt Handgun, Pistol Parts & Accessories
Colt handguns, pistols and revolvers are an institution and you can buy a ton of official and third party parts and accessories. Upgrade your handgun, pistol or whatever you’ve got there.
- Colt Pistols, parts & accessories for your Colt Model 1911a1 and more.
- Colt pistols, 1911 grips, parts & upgrades here.
- Get Colt company firearms, handguns, pistols, rifles, revolvers at Guns.com.
That Time a Sewing Machine Company Made a Better Colt
One sort of embarassing moment for Colt’s Manufacturing came all the way back in the 1930s, just before the Second World War.
In World War I, the Army faced a pistols shortage and drafted in other companies. That worked so well that on the eve of World War II, the US government asked the Singer Sewing Machine Company to produce some sample 1911s.
They were so good, that the US government drafted Singer into the war effort with more advanced manufacturing. And Colt, Springfield Armory and the Union Switch and Signal railroad company made self-loading pistols and gun parts for the troops.
Colt’s Manufacturing Company Firearms weren’t quite so desirable. but they did get American troops through two World Wars. So there’s that…