Without a doubt, one of the most recognized and romanticized handguns in the world is the Colt Single Action Army. No wonder its 1873 design is still popular today.
The problem is, being basically a hand-fitted gun, modern production costs have now pushed the price of an original SAA into the stratosphere. But because the various patents on this handgun’s design have long since expired, the field is wide open for replicas of this single action, which have been made as far back as the 1950s.
In spite of what some others have written, not all of them were “spittin’ images” of the real deal. Most of the problems centered around the curvature of the back strap, shape of the trigger guard, hammer profile and location of the manufacturer’s proof marks and other stampings, thus diluting the appearance and feel of what many consider to be the world’s most ergonomically designed revolver.
Fit and finish were other hiccups that occasionally marred the function and classic Victorian lines of this handsome sixgun.
Aldo Uberti of Gardone Val Trompia, Italy (now a part of Benelli USA) was one of the first to replicate the Single Action Army, but like others who entered the replica arms race, even his factory had a learning curve to overcome. But that goal has been more than achieved with its New Model line of Cattleman single actions–specifically the Frisco.
With its iridescent charcoal blued barrel, cylinder trigger guard and backstrap, color case hardened hammer and frame and one-piece pearl grips, this six-shooter would have definitely commanded attention had it been in the firearms showcase of the F.C. Zimmerman Hardware Store in Dodge City during the 1890s.
I don’t care what George Patton is alleged to have said; pearl grips look great on this blued and case hardened single action.
Of course, with a suggested retail price of $789, the Frisco’s grips could not possibly be real pearl, but the faux pearl used on this replica looks so genuine, I had to take a closer look to be sure this grip material did not come from the ocean. And being less fragile than authentic pearl, these grips are not prone to chipping.
Like all guns in the Cattleman line, the Frisco is chambered for .45 Colt and is available with a 4.75-, 5.5- or 7.5-inch barrel. My test gun sported a 5.5-inch barrel, and its heft and balance was exactly like my first- and second-generation Colts in this same configuration.
Even the backstrap, trigger guard, and hammer profile approximated my first generation guns. The cylinder base pin is spring-loaded, as found on all “smokeless powder” frames made from 1896 onwards.
This is actually a much more practical method for removing the cylinder base pin than the earlier screw, as it doesn’t require a screwdriver, which must be used on the pre-1896 “black powder” frames.
Unlike many earlier replicas, the Italian proof marks on the Frisco are small and discreetly stamped on the right side of the barrel, next to the frame, where they remain unobtrusive. And like the originals, this replica bears the same two-line patent number on the frame’s left side.
Having shot replicas for decades, what impressed me most was the action–it was polished and smooth, locking up tightly, with the trigger breaking crisply at 3.75 pounds, although I detected just the slightest amount of creep.
At the range, the Frisco performed better than expected. Normally, fixed-sight Colts and their clones shoot low and to the left. But the windage and elevation position of the front sight blade was perfect and, aided by the lighter-than-ordinary trigger pull, the Frisco consistently punched out 2.5-inch groups at 25 yards with Winchester 225-grain Silvertip ammo.
(It should be noted that because the Frisco features a prototypical hammer and fixed firing pin, the gun should be carried with only five rounds in the cylinder, with the hammer resting on the empty sixth chamber, just as the old-timers did.)
Afterwards, breaking the gun down for cleaning was standard: place the hammer on half-cock and open the loading gate; depress the spring-loaded push pin and withdraw the cylinder base pin; then simply roll the cylinder out of the frame.
When reassembling the gun, be sure to cock the hammer all the way back before lowering it, otherwise the bolt will rise up from the frame ahead of schedule and you risk marring the beautiful charcoal-blued finish of the cylinder.
It should be noted that this early-style bluing will begin to show holster wear around the muzzle and cylinder walls much more readily than a gun that has been hot blued. But then, that just adds character to a six-shooter that already shows a lot of individuality.
In fact, this is exactly the type of single action that would have made a trail boss, flush with the proceeds from a cattle drive, shake out the contents of his money belt in Frederick Zimmerman’s store. And considering the Frisco’s action and accuracy, that cowboy would not have regretted his decision.