Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Centennial Past

This article is attributed to Massad Ayoob. It was originally published in the Oct. 2003 issue of GUNS magazine.
The hundred-year anniversary of the .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) cartridge approaches. Trivia quiz:

The .45 ACP was conceived in what year? A: 1911. B: 1905. C: 1904.

Many would answer A, but they would have confused the cartridge with the most popular pistol for which it was chambered. The more deeply schooled handgun historian would answer B, the year Colt produced the first semiautomatic pistol designed by John Browning for the "caliber .45 rimless smokeless cartridge."

However, that would be an incorrect answer as well. The right answer is C. Remember, the question was, in what year was the .45 ACP conceived.

In his superbly detailed book Colt Automatic Pistols, Donald B. Bady wrote, "Colt's developed a .45 inch caliber automatic pistol because of the demand for that bullet diameter. When U.S. Government field trials with small quantities of .38 automatic pistols demonstrated that that caliber was insufficient, the importance of preparing a .45 was increased. Work started on this project in 1904, presumably arising from the .41 inch caliber program just concluded. By early 1905, Colt's had successfully fired a .45 bullet from an enlarged version of the Military Model 1902 style pistol. By mid-1905, the Colt .45 automatic pistol was in limited production."

The famous Thompson-LaGarde tests to determine the US military's new handgun had begun in 1904, and the .45 ACP came along in time to not only participate but win. Interestingly, it was not in the form of today's 230-grain hardball round at 820 to 880 feet per second.

Writing in his classic Cartridges of the World, authority Frank C. Barnes noted that the .45 ACP load of the Thompson-LaGarde tests was actually a 200-grain bullet at 900 foot-seconds velocity, developing 405 foot-pounds of energy. That energy is equaled by the 230-grain bullet at 855 foot-seconds, which later became the "standard" bullet weight for the cartridge.

Note that in the beginning, the .45 ACP superseded a ".41 ACP" that died a-borning. More than 85 years before the introduction of today's stupendously popular .40 S&W cartridge, Colt's had been working on the concept, along with a 9.8mm round.

The latter, also stillborn, had been intended largely for the European market. What made the .40 S&W work was modern bullet design: it was the first semiautomatic pistol cartridge designed from the ground up to work with a hollow point bullet. What made the .45 ACP so famous was that, with its great bullet mass, it got the job done even with a full metal jacket, round nose projectile.

Fast Forward

Today, the .45 ACP is better and more versatile than ever. Conventional-style bullet weights range from 117 grains (Aguila) to 230 grains (everybody). Sub-100 grain .45 ACP slugs are available as exotic pre-fragmented projectiles, and I've seen swaged bullets up to 260 grains handloaded for tasks like shooting bowling pins. The original 200-grain weight is hugely popular among reloaders, particularly with the Hensley & Gibbs No. 68 lead semi-wadcutter, and is still loaded by CCI in a famously effective wide-mouth Gold Dot JHP. At a standard velocity of 975 fps it churns up 421 foot-pounds, and is available as an even hotter +P running at 1,050 foot-seconds.

Numerous 185-grain JHP rounds at a +P velocity of 1,140 fps, including one loaded by Olin for U.S. Special Forces, deliver 535 foot-pounds, energy comparable to a full power 10mm Auto.

In the traditional 230-grain weight, we have the most dynamically expanding JHP bullets ever, enhancing the .45 ACP's already legendary stopping power. These include CCI's Gold Dot, Federal's Hydra-shok, PMC's StarFire, Remington's Golden Saber, and Winchester's SXT/Ranger series. Specifically engineered to open at low velocities, these rounds make particularly good sense in today's breed of three-inch barrel concealed carry .45 ACPs.

Recent events have again shown our nation's military the dramatic superiority of .45 hardball over 9mm in the same configuration, a simple fact of physics written in the blood of combat since before World War I. In addition to a resurgence of military interest, the .45 ACP enjoys the greatest popularity ever among both the police establishment and the armed citizenry in this country.

2004 will mark an even hundred years since the conception of this great cartridge. The all-American .45 ACP is more potent, more versatile, and altogether better than ever today.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Publishers' Development Corporation

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group