Colt is a part of America. It has meaning and value to individuals, militaries, and national histories. It’s also lagging. Last year the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, following a series of losses that don’t reflect the quality of their products.
If anything, from a production standpoint, Colt is at the top of their game. Their 1911s are well-built and gorgeous and so are their rifles. But there’s more to it than just making a good product because there is no shortage of other companies who know how to make a good product in the American small arms market.
Colt is losing because they’re stagnating. If Colt was a person, that person stopped going to the gym a long time ago. It’s a new year and it’s time for Colt to make some resolutions and get back in shape. Six resolutions. They are, in no particular order:
1. Continue the Hunt for Government Contracts
This should be a pretty obvious goal for Colt; military contracts were for years the backbone of Colt’s business and the foundation for their entire reputation–to the point where some gun owners criticized Colt as not having a serious interest in catering to consumers.
Arguably Colt had its “bad years” where it seemed like the company’s interest in serving the consumer market had flagged but today that’s just not the case. Their 1911s are some of the best values on the market in terms of fit and finish and anyone looking to spend a little more to get a very well-made 1911 doesn’t have to look much further than Colt.
On top of that, they’ve got a small but solid set of concealed-carry pistols designed specifically for men and women looking for a pocketable handgun for everyday carry. Colt is doing a good job of making quality firearms for sale to the general public. Which is why they shouldn’t be faulted for pursuing new government contracts, large and small.
While companies like Glock and Smith & Wesson do fight for large military and national police contracts, it’s the thousands and thousands of local government contracts that provide consistent income alongside commercial sales.
There is one problem with this. Colt’s catalog is…outdated.
2. Update the AR-15 Lineup
The Colt LE6900 series has made such an impact on the AR world that today the Colt LE6920 remains one of the most recommended, go-to AR-15 carbines and it will continue to be for many years. The thing is, it shouldn’t be.
Let’s be clear: no one is saying that there’s anything short of the best that goes into the manufacturing of these guns. Colt knows how to make guns and it shows. But they’ve fallen behind when it comes to really critical details like barrel profiles, barrel finishes, gas system lengths and handguard systems.
When the last big update to the LE6920 was to upgrade from Magpul MOE furniture to Magpul MOE SL accessories it’s safe to say Colt is no longer innovating when it comes to a product they essentially invented. Even Colt Canada can see this.
Colt Canada recently announced two dead-sexy modern AR-15s with semi-monolithic upper receivers, modular free-floating handguards and M-Lok mounting slots for miles. These are the sort of rifles Colt should have as their flagships in the U.S.
It would be dumb for Colt to stop making the LE6920 because people will continue to buy them for as long as they stay in production. But the LE6900 series, in general, should take a back seat for a new brand of Colt ARs.
3. Develop (a Real) .308 AR Lineup
And that brand should include AR-10-style rifles. These big bore older brothers to the AR-15 are the new hotness, and it’s safe to say that the MARC 901 series is not one of them. Too much non-standard stuff and the price, even down from where it used to be, isn’t competitive. It had promise, but never quite made a hit.
The nice thing about this is that it means that Colt essentially doesn’t have a .308 series to hold them back; they can start with a clean slate on a standard series.
For that matter, they have the opportunity to come up with a completely new lineup that includes both modern AR-15- and AR-10-style rifles into a married Colt rifle series, with a new brand and a fresh appeal.
Basically, a reboot. Colt has the clout for this and is in a decent spot to do it right, with matching configurations and modular features regardless of cartridge. Something along the lines of LEAR-56 for 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington rifles and LEAR-76 for 7.62 NATO/.308 Winchester and so on.
There are a few companies already putting similar plans into the works; if Colt puts some effort into thinking about what tomorrow’s shooters want, they can stay ahead of the game for years to come.
4. Develop a Service Pistol Series
The name Colt is downright synonymous with the most iconic American service pistol in history, and yet today the company hardly makes service pistols at all. Sure, they make a fine Rail Gun, but for all the love of 1911s, when it comes to self-defense at home or in the line of duty, most people will choose a non-single-action double-stack pistol. That’s what it means to be a service pistol today.
There are three ways for Colt to get back into the service pistol game. The first might not make people super happy but it would be fast and straightforward: just import them from a foreign manufacturer.
Find a company that makes a solid product, pay for some new tooling to re-brand the guns, and work hard with the American aftermarket, and invent a “Colt.” It will sell. It would have to be the right foreign company, and the CZ ship has probably sailed, but it’s a guaranteed profit and shouldn’t be dismissed.
The second method is a half measure between importing and manufacturing, and that’s to find a smaller American firm, work out a deal, and have them build Colt pistols. This is something Colt already does with Colt Competition and the U.S. Armament Corp. It wouldn’t be super controversial and by re-investing in the smaller company it could be scaled up to match the demand for a 21st century Colt service pistol.
That leaves in-house manufacturing as the third option. It may not be the best or most viable idea, it probably has the highest initial cost and Colt probably doesn’t have a lot of money to throw at new products, but the profits would all stay at home and they could do whatever they wanted in terms of design.
As far as what sort of service pistol they need to make, that’s probably the least important. Polymer-framed and striker-fired? People will say it’s about time. Metal-framed and DA/SA? Good for Colt for making something different.
All that matters is that they’re available in 9mm Luger and .40 S&W—Colt already makes great .45s—in three configurations, a full-size longslide for open-carry and competition, a mid-size compact for general use and occasional concealed-carry, and a single-stack or subcompact for backup and everyday-carry.
5. Bring Back DA Revolvers
The world wants snake guns. Buyers are willing to spend money to get them.
People say that the gunsmiths who know how to make Pythons and Cobras are all retired or dead, or that there is no financially-viable way to hand-make these revolvers…neither of these things can possibly be true.
Chiefly, with 3D CNC milling machines and wire EDM and laser cutters there’s no way we lack the technology to make pretty wheelguns anymore. And people have proven, again and again, they will pay well over sane market prices to get double-action Colt revolvers, so if Colt has to charge more to deliver that’s fine. The market is willing.
No excuses here, Colt should be making new snake guns. And here’s the deal: Colt just needs to make revolvers that look like their old classics. They don’t have to be the same on the inside.
There are three good reasons for Colt not to copy the original designs. First are today’s manufacturing techniques–if it’s possible to fabricate the components inexpensively, as long as they look and function as well as the originals, they should be used. Old drawings can be thrown out.
Even if a new Python is better in every way down to the quality of the finish and function of the trigger compared to an original, some people will never accept any new Colt Pythons. It’s not necessary to court the old guard—the real market is with new gun owners and buyers who never had the chance to buy a snake gun when they last were in production. That perfect profile is what matters.
Finally, if Colt changes the design people won’t get new-production revolvers mixed with older guns, which will help collectors and prevent potential buyers from getting duped. It’s a safe way to protect the value of the original revolvers.
But it is critical that any new-production double-action Colt revolvers have the same external appearance of their archetypal predecessors, and that they have good factory triggers. Any internal changes are irrelevant–just make them.
6. Push the Colt Custom Shop
To wrap things up here’s something fast and easy for Colt. Coming up with new brands, making new products, that adds up, but there is one thing that Colt can do right now that will barely touch their bottom line, and that’s to put the Colt Custom Shop in the spotlight.
Colt has a great custom shop and with a little website work, Colt could start selling factory-custom guns to-order with little to no overhead costs to a potentially huge buyer’s market. The only hurdle will be to keep up with demand.
People know that Colt means quality. Colt needs to make their quality shine. If Colt can commit to some or all of these resolutions, with a real multi-year goal, not just a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach, they’ll be relevant for many years to come.