Of the various percussion sidearms produced by Colt during the mid-1800s, two of the most popular and prodigious were the 1851 Navy and 1860 Army. Only the Model 1849 Pocket revolver manufactured from 1850 through 1873 saw greater production. Although the 1851 and 1860 were similar-sized pistols, among their differences were the shape of their grips, with the Navy’s being, among other things, shorter in length by roughly one-third of an inch. When Colt produced its first revolver designed from the ground up to fire the then-relatively new self-contained metallic cartridge, the Model 1871/72 Open Top, it was offered with both the grip profile of the 1851 Navy as well as that of the 1860 Army because, apparently, both had their followings. Curiously, Colt chose the smaller grip shape of the 1851 Navy for use on what would become its most famous pistol, the Model 1873 Single Action Army, and the rest, they say, is history. To my knowledge, Colt has never offered the SAA fitted with a grip having the longer, more svelte dimensions of the 1860 Army.
When Ruger brought out his Single Six revolver in 1953, followed shortly thereafter by the Blackhawk in 1955, he wisely chose to put handles on them that mirrored the contour of the revered 1873. What the shooting public was beginning to discover, however, was that the Navy’s 1851 grip profile worked great until recoil reached a certain level, and then things got a little tight behind the triggerguard and that pinky finger curled up below the bottom of the grip strap got rapped a little harder than one expected. It was the abuse that the Colt-shaped alloy grip frame on the original 1957-released .44 Mag Blackhawk dealt out to new would-be “Magnumites” that eventually led Ruger to alter the grip shape on his revolvers to better accommodate this new level of recoil. Although this new grip style was admittedly more comfortable to shoot with hotter loads, most single-action aficionados lamented the passing of the Colt-shaped grip frame from the Ruger revolver line. So much so, in fact, that Ruger brought it back for us in 2004 in the form of their very Colt-like New Vaquero and subsequent reintroduction of their flat-topped .357 and .44 Mags, all sporting that original, coveted, Navy/SAA grip.
Still, even though the Colt has a cult-like following, there are those who, if given a choice between an 1851 Navy and 1860 Army, would choose the Army just because it felt better in the hand. Admittedly, Cowboy Action shooters today don’t have to deal with a great amount of recoil, but there are those who, because of their large paws or maybe just personal preference, would like to have a longer gripped Colt or Colt clone. I’ve run across more than one single-action whose grip straps have been swapped out with those cannibalized from an 1860 Army. Well, such drastic modifications are no longer necessary, thanks to EMF.
Several years ago EMF, in collaboration with F. LLI Pietta of Italy, set about to produce a “true-to-the-original” 1873 Colt clone. With attention to cosmetics and original contours, Pietta produced a clone that not only looked like an original 1st and/or 2nd Generation Colt, but whose parts would interchange with one as well. They called it the Great Western II. Custom models of the Great Western IIs can be had in three barrel lengths (4.75, 5.5 and 7.5 inches), and three calibers (.45 LC, .357 Mag and .44-40), and finished in either deep blue with genuine bone case hardening or in deluxe nickel, both wearing one-piece Ultra Ivory grips. An all-stainless steel model fitted with ultra ivory grips is also available.
A more moderately priced version called the “Californian” can also be had, having all the mechanical integrity of the custom guns but having a lesser grade of bluing and casehardening. This model comes wearing smooth one-piece walnut grips. The Californian is offered in all three barrel lengths and chamberings.