Beyond the SAA and 1911 — 5 Failed Colt Pistols

Have you ever noticed how Colt basically just makes the M1911 and various AR-15s? Even as the world moved into the modern age, it seems like Colt never moved passed Browning’s classic pistol. In the semi-auto pistol front, Colt has seemingly stuck to the 1911. Only recently did they bring back the famed snake guns. With that said, today, we are going to examine a number of failed Colt pistols.

vietnam soldier with Colt M1911
Colt is known for the SAA and M1911, but they made a number of pistols no one remembers.

1. Colt Model 1971

Of all of the failed Colt pistols, the 1971 is one that could be objectively called ahead of the curve. Colt had the 1911, and by 1971 it had been in service for six decades. Colt looked to the future and wanted to develop the next great service pistol, which led to the Colt Model 1971. Colt might not have changed their naming convention, but they changed their pistol design.

The Model 1971 featured a DA/SA action, which was only just starting to become a popular option with pistols. The weapon featured a double stack magazine and was supposed to be primarily offered in 9mm.

Colt Model 1971
The Model 1971 is the most promising Colt and it went nowhere.

The weapon held 15 rounds of 9mm, making it competitive with the S&W Model 59 and giving it a very modern magazine capacity.

The gun looks a lot like the 1911 and features a similar manual of arms. Gone were the grip safety and frame safety. In its palace was a combination slide-mounted decocker and safety. Colt experimented with a salvo design with the Model 1971 that would fire three projectiles per one cartridge, but it never took off. Colt submitted the pistol to the Army but failed to attract a contract. They then shelved the pistol and never offered it for civilian sales.

It’s sad because this pistol could have been very successful and sat with guns like the CZ-75, Beretta 92, and Sig P226.

2. Colt Double Eagle

In the mid-1980s, the DA/SA pistol ruled the market. Beretta was the hot thing, and Sig’s own P22X series were growing in popularity. CZ 75 clones poured in from Italy. Colt wanted some of that marketplace. This brought us the Colt Double Eagle. Double coming from the fact that it was a DA/SA gun, Eagle…well, I guess because it was American in a field of Europeans. Even so, Nationalism could stop these from becoming failed pistols.

The Colt Double Eagle looked and functioned in a similar way to a standard 1911. Colt ditched the frame and grip safety and the gun came with a decocker only. The decocker took cues from Sig and sat on the frame, right in front of the grip.

Colt Double Eagle
The Double Eagle seemed like a cool idea, but was too little, too late, for too much money.

The Double Eagle was even part of the series 90 1911s. While Colt went DA/SA, they stuck with the single stack magazine, which was clearly a mistake because by the mid-80s, we were learning capacity is king.

On top of that, the gun had an odd and finicky construction. Removing the grip panels exposed the guts of the gun and springs, and small parts could pop out. They fixed this with the Mk2 model, but the people didn’t want it. S&W made better DA/SA guns and made them cheaper, leaving the Double Eagle without a nest. (Why they didn’t bring the Model 1971 back is a mystery to me.)

3. Colt 2000

Eugene Stoner and Reed Knight once teamed up to produce a handgun, and with those two monstrous names, you’d think it’d be the next hot thing. Yet, somehow Colt managed to turn it into one of their many failed pistols. The Colt 2000 or Colt All American aimed to put Colt back on the map and help them regain police and military contracts.

The weapon featured an aluminum or polymer frame, held 15 rounds, and used a rather uncommon locked breech design with a rotating bolt.

Colt 2000
Oooh boy, it’s ugly and doesn’t work. That’s tough.

Knight and Stoner’s design was solid, but after selling it to Colt, the two men weren’t consulted on a number of changes. Colt added a twelve-pound trigger and extended what was meant to be a compact pistol into a full-sized duty gun.

The gun was plagued with reliability and accuracy issues. It was also butt ugly. The All American proved to be a bit of an embarrassment, and Colt only produced the gun for two years.

4. Colt Z40

After Colt failed with the Double Eagle and All American and then perpetually ignored the Model 1971, they decided they needed to look elsewhere for their pistol designs. They were cash-strapped, and developing a new pistol can be expensive. This leads them to start a partnership with CZ. They wanted a modern double pistol chambered in 40 S&W that looked like a 1911.

CZ was nowhere near as popular then as they are now, and this could’ve been an awesome opportunity for the Czech company.

Colt Z40
The Colt Z40 is a combination of Colt’s idea with Czechnology.

CZ would design and produce the pistol, and Colt would import it as the Colt Z40. The pistol CZ came up with had a very 1911-like frame but used a standard CZ 75 slide.

Colt imported 800 of these pistols before ending the deal with CZ. Why? Well, Colt was experimenting with ‘smart gun’ tech and used the Z40 to demonstrate this tech. Gun owners then, and now, don’t like the idea of smart guns, and they let Colt know. The Z40 became associated with smart guns, and Colt killed the project. In an odd series of events, CZ now owns Colt, so the Z40 could make a retro return…but I doubt it.

5. Colt SCAMP

The last of failed Colt pistols is the one I understand. The SCAMP was an interesting design, but one the world wasn’t ready for. We might not even be ready for it now. SCAMP stood for Small Caliber Machine Pistol. It chambered a round called the .22 SCAMP, which was a 5.56x29mm. This was an early example of a PDW-style round.

The SCAMP was all kinds of cool.

The SCAMP aimed to replace the M1911 in 1971. The weapon is worthy of Robocop in size and aimed to offer an extreme increase in firepower. This select fire, gas-operated weapon had a magazine of 27 rounds and an effective range of about 150 feet. It was massive with a nine-and-some-change-inch-long barrel and an overall length of 11.41 inches.

Machine pistols are very niche weapons and are not very handy in the traditional soldier’s holster. This thing was huge, and while it was ahead of its time and innovative, it was somewhat doomed to fail. Add a stock, and you’d have an interesting SMG, but as a pistol, it was a bit of a failure. A damn cool failure.

Failed Colt Pistols

Colt might not have done it right, but I will say they tried to adapt to the times. Sadly their ideas never seemed to land just right. I’d go as far as to say that Colt tried hard, but sometimes trying isn’t enough.

There was a time when Colt was the name in handgun development. From guns like the Dragoon and the Single Action Army up to the 1911, they developed firearms that changed the game. Now that CZ has acquired Colt, they might raise to the occasion, and maybe Colt’s next handgun will be a big success.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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