2010 must have been the "year of the .41" for me. A Colt New Navy in .41 Long Colt came my way in early January of 2010. A Smith & Wesson Model 57 .41 Magnum came along later in the year and on the second to the last day of 2010 this Colt Army Special in .41 Long Colt showed up. It was one of those "sorta" accidental, unanticipated purchases but is a revolver and cartridge I've long wanted to play with.
This revolver was produced in 1925 just before the Army Special was replaced by the Official Police in the Colt catalog. The .41 Long Colt was nearing the end of its run too. Never a common chambering in the Army Special, the old .41 only soldiered on until 1930 in a bare smattering of Official Police revolvers (have read claims that Official Police revolvers could be had in .41 Long Colt until 1938) before being dropped. The Army Special .41 is not often seen but the Official Police .41 is scarce!
The folks who study such things over on Colt Forum claim that the Army Special in .41 Long Colt is uncommonly found and .41 Army Specials with 4-inch barrels are even more uncommon, most being supplied with 5-inch or 6-inch barrels.
If the Army Special looks like the Official Police that filled so many holsters of America's lawmen in bygone years it is because the Army Special and Official Police are the same design, being built on what is termed as Colt's I-Frame. The Army Special came out in 1908. Perhaps Colt envisioned selling them to the Army. It never happened but the model did become popular with law enforcement agencies so the Army Special was renamed the Official Police in 1927. The Official Police continued with the same serial number sequence used for the Army Special. This particular Army Special is serial numbered higher than the beginning serial number for the Official Police series so some Army Special frames were used to make the first of the Official Police revolvers. The overlap in serial numbers shows in the Wilson Colt reference book, the last Army Specials bearing serial numbers as high as 540000 while the first Official Police wore serial number 513216.
The only difference between the two that I can discern is that the Official Police has a superior rear sight notch, square and visible with a correspondingly thicker front sight blade while the Army Special has a shallower "U" notch rear sight with a thin front blade.
This Army Special has a decent amount of remaining factory blue finish, softened by honest holster wear. The action is so very fine. It is very smooth with good tight lock-up and timing. The single action trigger is very crisp and only slightly heavier than the Python. The double action trigger is the very best Colt double action I've ever handled, beating out even my Python. The Python is a derivative of the Army Special design. The frames are the same size and internal parts are the same. Grips (stocks) are interchangeable as well. The Python has a frame-mounted firing pin while the Army Special's firing pin is mounted on the hammer. The Python is said to receive special attention in assembly to make it the ultimate in smoothness but the craftsmen at Colt in the 1920s did a outstanding job of fitting out this revolver.
Army Special revolvers are slightly larger than the revolver that was the main competitor, the Smith & Wesson Military & Police. Army Specials have a frame size similar to the Smith & Wesson L-Frame.
Either an "A" or a "T" may be observed on vintage Colt revolvers upon swinging out the cylinder and looking on the inside of the frame beneath the serial number. "A" stands for "aligned" and "T" stands for "targeted." My revolver has an "A." It has usable accuracy but does shoot a bit to the left, about 2-inches at 10 yards. I could wish that it shot closer to point of aim but if one "thinks to the right" as he sights and squeezes then good hits may be obtained at reasonable handgun distances.
This is the second Colt I've owned that didn't shoot precisely to point of aim. Fixed sight Smith & Wesson revolvers have always happened to shoot to point of aim for me, no matter which era in which they were manufactured. May be just luck.
The .41 Long Colt cartridge has a reputation for really bad inaccuracy but I'm just not finding this to be the case with either the guns or the old ammunition I've scrounged up. Even out to 25 yards I obtained a 3-inch group, carefully shooting from a rest when I combined chronographing with an accuracy effort in order to conserve limited supplies of ammunition.
Best effort at six rounds fired single action, two-handed at 10 yards
I rapidly ripped through a cylinder-full double action at 7-yards and was pleased with the results. I've never really cared for the feel of a Colt fired double action but the revolver acquitted itself well for me.
Last summer I chronographed some .41 Long Colt ammunition from the 3 different boxes I have on hand. I repeated the test with the same 3 boxes using this revolver. The loads were a little slower in the Army Special than they were in the New Navy. Could have been any combination of things working in concert with each other. The New Navy has a 4 1/2-inch barrel while the Army Special has a 4-inch barrel, dimensional differences were noted between the two, and the temperature was in the mid-50s rather than the high 90s.
Here are the chronograph tests of the Army Special.
Remington 195 Grain Lead Round nose
662 fps: Muzzle Velocity
195 ft./lbs: Muzzle Energy
26 fps: Extreme Spread
9 fps: Standard Deviation
Winchester Western "White Box" 200 Grain Lubaloy Round Nose
671 fps: Muzzle Velocity
200 ft./lbs.: Muzzle Energy
50 fps: Extreme Spread
22 fps: Standard Deviation
Western "Yellow Box" 200 Grain Lubaloy Round Nose
679 fps: Muzzle Velocity
204 ft./lbs.: Muzzle Energy
27 fps: Extreme Spread
9 fps: Standard Deviation
Here's the data obtained last summer when firing this ammunition from the .41 Colt New Navy.
Remington 195 Grain Lead Round Nose
692 fps: muzzle velocity
207 ft./lbs.: muzzle energy
48 fps: extreme spread
18 fps: standard deviation
Winchester Western "white box" 200 Grain Lubaloy Round Nose
709 fps: muzzle velocity
223 ft./lbs.: muzzle energy
107 fps: extreme spread
46 fps: standard deviation
Western "Yellow Box" 200 Grain Lubaloy Round Nose
720 fps: muzzle velocity:
230 ft./lbs.: muzzle energy
16 fps: extreme spread
6 fps: standard deviation
Yep, the .41 Long Colt just plods along, at least in factory guise. I'm intending to address this using new Starline cases and trying some different styles of component bullets.
Factory loads were suppose to give 750 fps or so. I'm intending to fiddle with handloading the round to see if I can come up with a general purpose load that honestly achieves 750 fps with a 200 grain lead bullet from this revolver. As it is a tight, late vintage Army Special, I also intend to explore modern powders and carefully and judiciously attempt to develop a "self-defense" load, hoping to attain perhaps 850 fps with a 200 grain bullet. This would be for educational purposes only and once developed wouldn't be generally used in the old revolver. The older Ideal manuals show 900 fps as possible with their published maximum charge of Unique for instance.
It is easy to see why the .38 Special supplanted the ancient .41 Long Colt. There would be little performance difference in the .41 Long Colt factory load and the old .38 Special "Super Police" load with a 200 grain round nose lead bullet. The .41 Long Colt just serves up its 200 grain bullet in a little larger diameter, that's all. A good +P .38 Special load ought to have it all over a factory .41 Long Colt load.
However, while there is no real reason for the .41 Long Colt in modern times, there "ain't no flies on" a blunt nosed 200 grain .40 bullet traveling 800 to 900 fps. A .40 S&W in a revolver so to speak. The old round would still serve extremely well, even if it is redundant.
A nickel plated .41 Army Special seen in a pawn shop many years ago fired my imagination and curiosity. I let that one get away. This revolver is more what I had in mind for playing with the old obsolete round than the New Navy obtained a year ago.
A Glock could have been had for about the same price as this Army Special but I will enjoy having this one so much more. Still need to come up with a Colt Government Model though.