While we already know that not all 1911s are the same, there are a few differences that stand out. The biggest questions come in the form of “What is the difference between series 70 and series 80?”
First a small bit of history. While the 1911 has been around for ages and was officially adopted by the US military in 1911, it stayed pretty much unchanged until the 70s. In the 70’s Colt got rid of the lanyard loop on the main spring housing and increased the size of the shelf for the thumb safety. The solid barrel bushing was changed to a collet bushing. Guns made before 1970 would be called Pre-Series 70.
In 1983 Colt introduced the Series 80. The collet bushing was replaced with the solid bushing and the phase out was completed around 1988. The biggest change in the series 80 is the firing pin block. Some claim that this addition makes for a heavier trigger pull. Since trigger pull can be adjusted by any well trained gunsmith, this shouldn’t sway anyone’s decision between series 70 or 80. Not all manufactures of series 80 clones use the trigger to release the firing pin block. Some use the grip safety. When it’s the grip safety it is often called a Swartz Safety. Smith & Wesson as well as Kimber both use this Swartz Safety while Para Ordnance uses the Colt series 80 system with the trigger releasing the firing pin block. Colt did use a Swartz Safety in the 30’s but quickly changed away from it making it difficult to find Colts equipped with the Swartz Safety as few were made.
One of the other changes was in the hammer. The series 70 hammer had a half cock notch or hook whereas the series 80 has a shelf. This change was to prevent the eventual wear and breakage of the hook allowing the hammer to fall. Here at HGW, we still believe that the series 70 style hammer is best as it captivates the sear rather than allowing it to possibly slide off.
The mainspring housing was also changed out. In the series 70 it was arched and in the series 80 it’s flat. Now, this change is really only relevant to the Colt manufactured 1911. Other manufacturers have their own styles of mainspring housing with varying arch and there are plenty of after market mainspring housings in many designs with features such as smooth, serrated, checkered… you get the idea.
In addition, there are other changes that Colt made when they changed from the series 70 to 80. These changes are much more minor and not reproduced across the clones as often. Below are a summary of some of the changes.
- Sights changed from black to 3 dot
- Trigger changed from short to long
- Magazine well was beveled in series 80
- GI style small ejection port changed to lowered ejection port
- Barrel chamber hood changed from wide GI style to narrow Gold Cup style
Present day you can get reproduction series 70 (without the collet bushing) as well as series 80. Colt fans will argue that series 70 and 80 only apply to Colt and any other manufacture claiming series 80 are really just stating it has a firing pin block and mechanism, Colt clones retain many of the differences that are seen in a series 70 vs 80 Colt 1911. By describing non Colt 1911 handguns as series 70 or 80, it makes it easier to determine parts differences and solve problems.