We were on one of our rare vacations, albeit a working one, traveling down to the Freedom Arms factory. We, being my wife and I, had spent the night in Jackson Wyoming before going through Yellowstone Park and then up through Montana to visit fast draw expert Bob Munden and his lovely wife Becky.
Standing in line for breakfast my wife suggested "Why don't you go over to the gunstore and look around while I keep our place. I'll get the table and I know what you will order anyway." Across the street to the Bitter Root Trading Company I went to spend my waiting time looking through the racks of old Winchesters, Marlins, and Sharps rifles and carbines. Then over to the pistol case to look at the Colt Single Action Armies and Bisleys.
By the time I got to the end of the showcase, a sixgun on the bottom shelf caught my eye. It also caught my checkbook. When I returned to my wife at the breakfast table, I had a small package under my arm. It contained a beautiful 7 1/2" Colt New Frontier .44 Special.
It was the beginning of a new era. A breath of fresh air. We had a new president. A young president to replace the grandfatherly Ike. Little did we realize what lay ahead in the 1960's. To honor the new president and new optimism, one firearms company decided to bring out a new sixgun. In late 1961 (only two were made in this year), Colt brought forth the New Frontier in honor of John F. Kennedy's New Frontier. Within two years, rifle shots would ring out in Dallas, Camelot would be gone, and the specially engraved New Frontier would never be presented.
Our country's innocence was gone never to return again, but the Colt New Frontier would remain in production for the next twenty plus years. As did Ruger seven years earlier, Colt flat-topped the frame of an existing model, added an adjustable rear sight mated with a radically sloping ramp-style front sight, and brought forth one of the most beautiful sixguns ever. Just as with the Colt Single Action Army that gave birth to the New Frontier, the new sixgun carried a deep blue finish on its barrel, cylinder, and grip frame topped off with beautifully mottled colors on its case hardened main frame.
In the production of the First Generation Colt Single Action Army sixguns from 1873 to 1941, a few target models, both Single Action Army and Bisley, were produced consisting of a slightly flat-topped frame, a windage adjustable rear sight by drifting and locking in place, and a front sight that could be adjusted up and down. During the 1920's, Elmer Keith tried to interest Colt in modernizing the Colt by flat-topping the frame and adding fully adjustable sights. He even offered the loan of his custom sixguns including his famous #5SA but Colt would not listen. Had they been open-minded, Ruger may never have materialized. Keith's Keith's #5SA was built in the mid-1920's. It was a 5 1/2" Single Action chambered in the cartridge of time, at least for reloaders, the .44 Special. The grip was created by mating a Bisley backstrap with a Single Action trigger guard. Its influence today can be seen in the Freedom Arms and Ruger Bisley revolvers. The frame was flat-topped and carried a fully adjustable rear sight mated with a post front sight with a bead. The gun magazine of the day, THE AMERICAN RIFLEMAN carried Keith's article on the #5SA entitled The Last Word. The #5SA was definitely the last word in single actions in the 1920's.
In 1962, a Colt Single Action Army cost, gulp, $125. The New Frontier, was even higher at an unreachable $140. This at the same time that .357 and .44 Magnum Ruger Blackhawks were going for less than $100 and the superbly crafted and blued Super Blackhawk in .44 Magnum was selling for $116. Our local store had a New Frontier .44 Special that I drooled over quite often but with college tuition, three hungry kids, and a wife who stayed home with them, there was no way. Had I been able to look into the future, I would somehow have borrowed the money and bought the Colt. Today it would be worth no less than ten times the original price. I keep reminding myself: ALWAYS REMEMBER, COLT SINGLE ACTIONS DO NOT GO DOWN IN VALUE!
The Colt New Frontier began with serial number 3000NF, which stayed in the Colt plant. The last of the Second Generation New Frontiers was in the 72XXNF serial number range, which gives us a total of slightly over 4,000 New Frontiers from 1961 to 1974. Four calibers were made in this first run of Colt Flat-Top Target sixguns. These were in chamberings of .45 Colt,.38 Special, .357 Magnum, and .44 Special.
According to Colt expert Don Wilkerson, the .38 Special is the rarest followed by the .44 Special. Wilkerson gives the following production figures for the Second Generation New Frontiers. Less than 100 .45 New Frontier Buntlines were also produced.
CALIBER PRODUCTION BY BARREL LENGTH
|4 3/4"||5 1/2"||7 1/2"|
In 1978, The New Frontier went back into production with the Third Generation Colt Single Action Army. Serial Numbers began at 01001NF, using five digits instead of four. In the last, and according to Colt, final run of New Frontiers, calibers were .45 Colt, .357 Magnum, .44 Special, and .44-40. All of the Second Generation New Frontiers were standardized with a finish of bright blue except for the case hardened frame. Third Generation New Frontiers can be found in full blue and nickel finishes also including nickel plated Buntline New Frontiers in .45 Colt, .44 Special, and .44-40. The .44-40 was available in the short barrel length of 4 3/4" but I do not believe any .44 Specials were offered in this length.
Take a very close look at any Third Generation New Frontier before buying. Some of the later ones were hastily thrown together and will require some expert gunsmithing to bring them up to standard.
My "Breakfast Special", the New Frontier .44 Special purchased before bacon, toast, and hashbrowns in Jackson was dropped off at Munden Enterprises before ever being fired. Bob Munden performed his action magic replacing springs and smoothing the action, then it was off to his gripmaker, Mike Wallace. I asked to be surprised as to choice of wood, and I certainly was breathtakingly so. When the .44 Special arrived back here in Idaho it wore heart-stopping one piece grips of burl maple that fit my hand perfectly. Wallace joins the select group of Charles Able, Tedd Adamovich, Roy Fishpaw, and Bob Lescovec as men who understand what single action grip-making is all about.
The Colt New Frontiers maintain the beautiful looks, feel, and balance of the Colt Single Action Army with the added advantage of adjustable sights. It is a rare fixed sighted sixgun that shoots to point of aim and when it does it is normally for only one load. The New Frontier's sights allows any reasonable load to be dialed in.
Until the advent of the Colt Anaconda in both .44 Magnum and .45 Colt, the New Frontier remained the finest hunting sixgun ever offered by Hartford. Especially in the 7 1/2" barrel length and in calibers .44 Special and .45 Colt, the New Frontier will get the job done up close on deer and black bear sized game. They are not Magnums, but the .45 Colt will easily handle loads using 260 grain Keith style bullets at 1000- 1150 feet per second, while the .44 Special uses the same style bullets of 250 grains of 1200-1250 feet per second.
Jacketed bullets are normally an expensive and unnecessary option with the .45 Colt and .44 Special at these muzzle velocities, however Speer still catalogs their original 'jacketed' .44 bullets which consist of a copper cup with a lead core. These are offered in both 225 grain hollow points and 240 grain flat points with the former getting the nod for .44 Special use at 1100 feet per second. I would like to see the same design offered in .45 caliber.
The short barreled New Frontiers in both .44 and .45 caliber make excellent packin' pistols that are easy to carry and relatively lightweight when compared to .454 Casulls and Ruger .44 Magnums. With heavy .44 Special and .45 Colt loads, one can handle anything up close except the big bears.
I can only think of two improvements to the New Frontier. First, as with almost all sixguns, they cry for custom grips. The only other change I would make is the use of a flat black post front sight instead of the glare gathering sloping ramp front sight. Colt has provided a high front sight that goes well with one of my favorite sixgun shooting pastimes, namely long range shooting at small rocks on yonder hill. The secret to this style of long range shooting is not holding over as one does with a scope sighted rifle or pistol, but simply holding up enough front sight with the intended target perched on top. This is only for shooting at inanimate objects not for hunting. Misses don't count on the former, they can be really messy on the latter.
Loading for the Colt New Frontier for this sixgunner is pretty traditional. I see no advantage, actually a disadvantage in using jacketed bullets in the non-Magnum big bore New Frontiers except for the above mentioned .44 225 grain hollow point by Speer. I say this as pressures with jacketed bullets are higher than I care for to obtain the desired velocities. The .44 Special and .45 Colt literally beg for cast bullets and are at their best with hard cast, Keith-style or semi- wadcutter bullets.
Today, Third Generation Single Action Armies are once again available from the Colt in .45 Colt, .44-40, and .38-40. However, New Frontiers are gone forever. Also gone is the .44 Special in the Single Action. Don't count either out. The Colt is a survivor and let's hope both the New Frontiers and the .44 Special comes back.
For now, New Frontiers seem to be readily available at gun shows and the really good news is that they are not regarded as highly by collectors as the Single Action Army so prices are usually quite a bit lower. Several hundred dollars lower in my area. I just looked in the want ads of the local paper and there is one for sale, unfired,. 45 Colt with a 7 1/2" barrel. The price is well under what a Single Action Army would be going for.
There is no reason why Colt could not 'modernize' the New Frontier with coil springs and bring it back out for all of us single action sixgunners. The frame and cylinder size is too small for a .44 Magnum, however it would make a dandy .41 Magnum.