To be honest, I have been on more than my fair share of factory tours/events. And, although they are always interesting, they can blend together sometimes. However, when the opportunity to visit Colt’s Manufacturing Company in West Hartford, Connecticut, presented itself, I jumped at the chance. The trip represented an effort by Colt to give us a chance to not only see how Colt firearms are made, but also get to know the people behind the guns.
The day started with a detailed tour of the company’s manufacturing plant by Greg Rozum, Colt’s design engineer. A recurring theme throughout the tour was the combination of ultra-modern manufacturing techniques with old-fashioned attention to detail. In fact, even the machinery we saw captured this spirit, with modern CNC machines sitting next to pieces of tooling from the 1930s—all working together to make guns.
Another key point was what they described to us as a “file to fit” approach to manufacturing, representing the human element in their products. “You can make very precise parts with CNC machinery, but for the final fitting, we have our employees clean up and fit the parts by hand,” Greg said.
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To follow up on that theme, Mike Guerra, Colt’s manager of marketing and product management, told us that with the production of the Single Action Army revolvers, the cylinders are left in the white until the very last moment. This allows them to verify and the check the revolver to make sure it is manufactured properly, and then finish the cylinder and assemble the gun without having a score mark on it. “The customer gets an uncocked gun,” he told me with a smile.
In fact, just at that point, we ended up at the polishing stations in the factory. I looked up and saw a banner that captured the whole point of what I felt they were trying to tell us.
As the tour progressed, the fact they use forgings extensively in their manufacturing was also pointed out. “Using these makes our parts stronger, and makes them have a much longer service life, which is a benefit to the customer,” Rozum told us.
Rozum then went on to explain that the company was investing heavily in supporting the commercial/consumer side of its business. “For example, we are putting a $10 million capital investment into 1911 production alone, to make us even more adept and agile at giving the customers what they want and when they want it,” he said.
And this has resulted in very appealing offerings geared toward what the many Colt enthusiasts out there actually want to buy. Examples of this approach include the Gold Cup National Match 1911, the New Frontier revolver, the .380 Mustang Pocketlite and a dramatic expansion of its semi-automatic rifle offerings to nearly 30 models (with more to come).
After a brief lunch, we headed out to the Hartford Gun Club to go hands on with a selection of Colt’s guns, ranging from revolvers to 1911s to several of the company’s rifle variants. We were able to try out an IDPA-style firing course with Colt’s Mark Redl, a renowned competitive shooter. We also had a chance to try out a short course with Clint Upchurch, Colt’s 3-Gun shooter. In addition, we were given the chance to try out many of Colt’s new rifles on the rifle range.
There were several interesting variants there, ranging from piston guns to Talo Distributor’s exclusives to the multi-caliber LE901. The latter of those was my particular favorite. We had a chance to try it out as a 7.62mm rifle, and then quickly convert it over to 5.56mm and run a magazine or two through it. Its chambering conversion system is devilishly simple, yet ingenious for that very reason. Keep an eye out for a full review of it in the November 2012 issue of Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement magazine.
All in all, I considered the entire trip to be a huge success. Not only did I get to see the guns from this revered gunmaker, but also to pick the brains of the minds behind them. However, if I were to take one thing away from this event, it is this: Colt is planning on being the true heavyweight in the civilian market it deserves to be. It is going to accomplish this by talking to the customers, learning what they want and providing them the best quality products possible at the best prices. Sounds like a winning combination to me! For more information, visit coltsmfg.com or call 800-962-2658.