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Old 10-12-2012, 11:41 PM
beetledude beetledude is offline
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 136
A Photo Essay of the National Match .45 1911s

Note - Instead of working like I should have I ended up goofing off today taking pics and writing about my favorite subject - 1911s! I wrote this up for another forum where there is less specialized knowledge of 1911s. The idea was to share some of the unique history of the National Match pistols and hopefully hook a few more converts to the world of Colts and 1911s

I have no doubt that many on this forum have way more complete collections than what I present here. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy seeing my small collection of National Match pistols.

"Before you buy guns .... buy books!". This is a saying from wise collectors who have been in this hobby for a long time. Fortunately there are a number of great books that are invaluable to anyone interested in collecting 1911s. In fact, there are books dedicated to specific categories of 1911s. What I am about to write and share is simply a consolidation of data found from the sources below. All credit goes to the authors of the following references:

"A Short History of The National Trophy Individual Pistol Match" by Hap Rocketto
"Amerian Beauty - The Prewar Colt National Match Pistol" by Timothy Mulin
"The Model 1911 and Model 1911A1 Military and Commercial Pistols" by Joe Poyer
and of course the bible of commerical 1911 collectors ....
"Colt .45 Government Models (Commerical Series) by Charles Clawson

Part I - A "Splendid Little War" leads to the National Matches
In 1898 America entered into a relatively short 10 week war with Spain over the independence of Cuba. Teddy Roosevelt was attributed as saying that it was a "splendid little war" as the outcome was quick and positive for the United States. As a result of the war, the U.S. got almost all of spain's colonies including the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

However, Teddy Roosevelt observed first hand the dismal state of rifle and pistol skills of the american soldiers. Since the United States only kept a small standing army, it relied upon civilians to augment the army in times of war. Roosevelt felt that well trained civilians were necessary for the defense of the country. So when he became president he established a "National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice" (NBPRP). The National Matches were established in 1903 to create a competitive event to test team and individual skills and create interest around marskmanship.

In 1904 the charter was expanded to include pistol marksmanship. Since the idea was to train civilians to be prepared in times of war, the matches focused on service weapons -- in other words, rifles and pistols that were the same or similar to what the army was using. Originally the pistol requirement was the .38 service revolver -- either Smith and Wesson or Colt. Wtih the adoption of the 1911, the rules were modified to allow for 1911 automatic pistols (what they called it back then).

Only one problem with that -- at that time Colt had it's hands full just trying to fulfill the government orders. In 1912 Colt delivered about 17,000 pistols to the government, and just under 2000 for the commercial market. With just 2000 pistols for civilians it was very difficult to buy a 1911 to participate in the national matches.

Since the government wanted to encourage civilian pistol marksmanship, it worked with the NRA to establish a program where government pistols would be made available for purchase by NRA lifetime members. The program was run by the government arsenal at Springfield. There was an economic benefit as well, as pistols could be bought for $16.00 vs the $22.00 a Colt would retail for. Since the program was run by Springfield, the majority of these pistols are actually Springfield 1911s, made by Springfield from 1914-1917. While there is no definite documentation it was assumed that pistols were carefully selected for accuracy from the government inventory. These NRA marked pistols represent the first of the "match" 1911s.


The guns were stamped "N.R.A." to show that they were purchased through the NRA program and no longer US Government Property. It is estimated that only 100-300 guns were sold this way, making NRA marked 1911s valuable. But it seems simple to stamp three letters into a frame, how can you tell if it is authentic?

For collectors that is always the top question. How do you tell if something is authentic? In some instances it's easy -- there are factory records. But unfortunately that is not the case for NRA pistols. Either Springfield never kept track, or the records have been lost in time. In this scenario we have to revert back to comparing it to known good examples to make a judgement. Collectors spend a lot of time looking a "forensic" pictures trying to determine if something is real or fake.

For Springfield 1911s, a huge part of the value will be in the small parts. Springfield manufactured all of the parts on the gun and marked them with the letter "S". Collectors will want to verify that all of the small parts are properly marked -- that the gun is all springfield and not a mixmaster.

thumb safety, slide stop marked with "S"

Here is why I think my example is an authentic NRA pistol. Picture on the left is a close up of the NRA marking from a Springfield 1911 on display at the NRA museum. Picture on the right is a close up of the NRA marking on my pistol. Notice the similarities -- funny looking loop on the "R", low crossbeam on the "A" and the periods between letters increasing in size and depth. I'm convinced that these markings were made with the same stamp.

A number of National Matches were cancelled in the period between 1914 and 1918 due to WWI. The matches resumed in 1919 and started to become a popular spectator sport.

Last edited by guy sajer; 08-12-2018 at 10:13 AM.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:41 PM
beetledude beetledude is offline
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Part II - From the depths of the depression comes a stunning new Colt

Throughout the 1920s the National Matches continued to gain in popularity, with state militia, police departments, and even colleges fielding teams. The demand for more accurate models increased, and Colt investigated different ways to increase accuracy. Colt records show that in 1921 the first match barrel was shipped. It was specially marked with a "MB" in a circle, meaning "Match Barrel".

In 1929 the stock market crashed, triggering the Great Depression. Due to the depressed economic conditions, the Colt factory was producing a very small number of pistols. Thus the factory had a highly skilled workforce who had made guns all throughout WWI with very little demands on their time. It was into this environment that Colt decided to launch a hand-fitted premium grade version of the Colt goverment model. The idea was to make it suitable for competition use right out of the box, thus it was called the "National Match" to go with the National Matches.

The gun was launched with very little fanfare -- a simple one page advertisement in the NRA's American Rifleman.

The reaction to the new gun was lukewarm at first. The National Match retailed for $40, or almost double a standard government model. Dont forget it was also the middle of the depression. However, as word got out about the National Match, demand started to grow. Demand was never huge, but it was steady. The pistol was bought by both the competitor as well as "gifts" from well-to-do customers. If you were going to present a gun to someone, the best that you could buy was the Colt National Match.

Collectors now refer to this generation of pistols as the "Pre-War National Match". (pre-war meaning pre-ww2). Depression era Colts are the some of the most finely fit and finished pistols out there. You had a highly skilled workforce with not too many orders demanding their time. As a result every gun was finished extremely fine. Pre-War National Matches had the following work done to them:

* hand-honed action
* hand-polished trigger
* hand-polished sear & disconnector
* hand-polished strut, firing pin retainer, and underside of the slide
* hand-fitted match barrel
* internally polished trigger parts. trigger pull was adjusted based on customer request, with default being 4 1/2 lbs.

As with all Colts of this era, the slide was serialized under the firing pin retainer. This slide matches the frame serial number.

and of course a big part of the accuracy is the "MB" barrel.

In 1935 colt introduced an adjustable sight version of the National Match. However, the rules of the National Matches prohibited the use of adjustable sights. So the adjustable sight version was purely for non-competitive shooters -- the "gift" crowd. Today the adjustable sight version is worth about $700-$1000 more.

the last of the National Matches were made in 1940. Britain was in dire straights and purchased everything they could get their hands on. Colt records indicate that 46 National match pistols were shipped to England in December 1940. The common understanding is that Colt "cleared their shelves" of everything available for Britain as it doesn't make a lot of sense for them to send over high priced matched pistols if the situation was not critical.

WW2 put an end to the Pre-War National Match pistol as Colt had it's hands full producing service weapons.

The total number of Pre-War National Match pistols is unknown. Charles Clawson has estimated it to be in the 5,000 range, while Mullin believes the number to be far fewer than that. Mullin goes on to state that the number of unaltered pistols in prime collectible condition to be very small, perhaps fewer than 1,000. Today the Pre-War National Match is a highly desirable pistol by collectors, bringing between $7000-$10,000 for high condition examples. Pistols with box and paperwork are worth even more and can approach the $15,000 mark.

Last edited by beetledude; 10-13-2012 at 11:24 AM.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:42 PM
beetledude beetledude is offline
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Part III - Government Armorers Show Us Their Stuff!

The National Matches were again suspended from 1943-1945 due to WW2. when it returned, the rules were modified to specify the M1911A1. With Colt stopping production of the Pre-War National Match in 1940, there was a lack of match grade pistols for service and civilian competitors.

Similar to the early NRA program, the Government again stepped up to make pistols available to service teams as well as civilians. Government armorers got a chance to show their stuff by modifying ww2 service pistols. The accurizing program took place at Springfield Armory.

A ww2 USGI receiver was picked at random to which specially made national match parts were fitted. A hardened slide manufactured by either Drake Industries or Colt was mated to the receiver. A match barrel was also installed and stamped with the matching serial number of the gun. In addition, a hand fitted barrel bushing was also installed. By this time, the rules were modified to allow for adjustable sights. Depending on the year, a variety of adjustable sights were used by the government armorers. The interesting thing is that they were marked "U.S." - this is one of the things a collector looks for.

Other upgrades include front strap checkering and depending on the year internal upgrades as well.

A firearms journal tested one of these government national matches against the best from a variety of well known gunsmiths of the time. Only Elliason could match the accuracy of the government match pistols of the time.

Here you can see the "SA" stamp meaning that this pistol was worked on at Springfield Arsenal. The "T" near the magazine release mechanism means "Targeted". You can also make out the "NM" on the trigger guard.

You can see that the match barrel has marked with the serial # of the gun.

National Match Barrel Bushing

As stated before the government also made these available to the public. The one shown above was purchased in 1962 at a cost of $103.00 and is in pristine shape. I have the original paperwork and shipping box for it as well. Today these government national match pistols start at around $2000 and can go up to about $4000 for a perfect example.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:42 PM
beetledude beetledude is offline
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Part IV - The Return of the King

The National Match pistol was re-introduced by Colt in 1957 as the "Gold Cup National Match". Like it's pre-ww2 predecessor, it had a hand-fitted action and wide grooved trigger. Because of the change in rules it also had an adjustable Eliason sight as standard. Unlike the pre-war National Match, it had a flat mainspring housing. While the fit and finish is still impressive, it is not as nice as the Pre-War model.

For this model Colt lightened the slide as much as possible by internal maching to allow it to function well with wadcutter ammo. You can see where Colt machined the slide to take material out.

The result is a few ounces difference.
60s National Match slide

Series 70 slide

Because of the weakened slide this gun got a reputation as a wadcutter only pistol. When Colt introduced the Series 70 pistols they went back to the heavier slide.

Today the 60s era National Match is worth $1500-$2500 depending on condition.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:43 PM
beetledude beetledude is offline
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Part V - Let your Fingers do the talking -- introduction of the collet bushing

The original Pre-War National Match can be thought of as the first of the National Match pistols, or Mk I.
The 1960s version of the National Match is therefore Mk II.

Colt thinks of the Mk III pistol as a variant of the Mk II, except chambered in .38 special wadcutter.

In 1970 Colt introduced what it considered to be Mk IV, the Series 70 Gold Cup National Match. This was also the first time that the Gold Cup name was stamped onto the gun (previously only National Match was stamped).

The biggest change with the Series 70 was the use of a collet bushing. Colt (and gunsmiths) had learned that two important factors played in the accuracy of the gun. The first is of course the barrel. However, the barrel fit to the barrel bushing was just as critical. That is why on the military version the barrel bushing was replaced with a NM model. However, hand fitting the barrel to the bushing was a time consuming process.

To speed production (and perhaps cut costs), Colt introduced a new type of bushing, the collet bushing. This bushing uses spring tension to center the barrel. Here you can see the difference between the bushings. On the left is the solid bushing used in earlier guns (and modern day guns), and on the right is the collet bushing.

Series 70 National Matches still exhibit a medium level of polish and finish. Because Colt manufactured them in large numbers you'll find a mix of shooters as well as new-in-box collectors out there. Opinions are mixed on the collet bushing. Many agree that it does help make for a very accurate gun. But the problem was that the fingers tended to break. when this happened the gun often got jammed. It is said that many gunsmiths got the un-enviable job of freeing the gun by pounding it with a rubber mallet while there was still a live round in the chamber. No surprise that the first thing gunsmiths recommended was switching back to the solid bushing.

Today the series 70 gold cup national match can be found at a range of prices. Everything from $600 for a banged up, mixed up shooter to $2000 for a new-in-box version.

Last edited by beetledude; 10-13-2012 at 11:24 AM.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:43 PM
beetledude beetledude is offline
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Part VI - The Dreaded Series 80 Firing Pin Safety

Curiously, Colt started using the Mk terminology with the Series 70. But in 1983 when they introduced a new version they did not increment the model. Instead they went with the term "Series 80". So this line of pistols is still called MkIV, but with the surname of Series 80. Confusing.

This is my series 80 that I put ivory grips on.

Anyways, it is uncertain why Colt decided to make a change. Many suspect it was the lawyers convincing the company to do so. The issue they were trying to address was accidental discharge when the gun was dropped. Colt had known that it was possible for the gun to fire if it was dropped hard enough on the muzzle end. Throughout the wars there was a few documented cases of this happening. When dropped at high speed towards a hard surface, enough momentum might be generated for the firing pin to fly forward and ignite the primer on the round.

As early as the 1930s Colt experimented with the "Swartz" safety which was invented by a Colt engineer. The Swartz safety worked by blocking the firing pin. When the grip safety was engaged, it would release the firing pin making it ready to fire. In fact there were a small number of Pre-War National Matches (Mk I) equipped with Swartz safeties. These are very rare and command a high premium today. Colt did away with the Swartz safety and did not carry them forward in the 1940s. Interestingly enough Kimber continues to use the Swartz safety.

Anyways, back to the story. Lawyers probably convinced mgmt that a firing pin safety was needed. Instead of going with the Swartz safety, Colt designed a new system altogether. This new safety was activated by the trigger. When the trigger is pulled, a lever is raised which releases the firing pin block.

It should be noted that this new safety system was installed not just on the Gold Cup National Match, but all 1911s made by Colt. Wtih this move to the Series 80, Colt went back to a solid barrel bushing and eliminated the Collet.

In terms of fit and finish, the Series 80s are where Colt started to take shortcus. The general Series 80 Gold Cup National Matches are not finished as nicely as previous models. Colt eliminated a polishing step after the roll mark was applied. This leaves raised metal around the roll marks. However the model I show as the representative example is a special case. This was a special run of 2000 made for Talo and finished in Colt's Custom Shop using the "Royal Blue" process. In this particular case fit and finish is excellent, as you can see in the pic above.

The series 80 has been criticized by many. Gunsmiths did not like the new system as it added complexity to the trigger. It supposedly made it harder to get a good trigger job. Purists hate it because it's not the original JMB design. Others will say it's a solution to a problem that doesn't exist (only a handfull of accidental discharges were ever recorded). In any event, on a collectibility level the series 80 guns trail the series 70s.

Value again is all over the map, but the top end is around $1400 for a new-in-box specimen. Maybe a couple of hundred more for the special runs like my Talo above.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:44 PM
beetledude beetledude is offline
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Part VII - Modern Day

In 1997 Colt dropped the whole Mk and Series 80 naming altogether. For the new gun they renamed it from Gold Cup National Match to Gold Cup Trophy. It was meant to be an updated version of the competitors target gun.

In the pic above you can see some of the finishing shortcuts I mentioned earlier. If you look closely you can see that the lettering is not smooth like in previous versions. The metal is raised up around the edges of the letters. Also you can see that the gun is a lot less polished than before, having a bit of a dull finish.

With the Gold Cup Trophy, Colt tried to modernize some aspects of the gun. For example a "duckbill" tang was introduced to replace the old grip safety tang. A commander hammer replaced the spur hammer. Finally wrap around rubber grips (which was probably a cost saving decision). Unfortunately all of these changes went against the rules of the National Matches.

Colt found itself in the embarssing situation that it's target gun could not be used in the National Matches without modification. This from the company that was specifically named in the National Match rulebook as the example acceptable pistol.

Perhaps Colt was hoping the rules would change, but they did not. It took the company until 2011 to re-introduce a pistol mostly compatible with the National Matches. Announced at SHOT 2011, Colt brought back the Series 80 Mk IV Gold Cup National Match. Cosmetically it is very similar to the Gold Cup Trophy but with the right parts needed to meet National Match rules.

You can see that the commander hammer has been switched back to the spur hammer. The duckbill tang is gone. Curiously the wrap around rubber grips are still used even though this is prohibited by the rulebook. Perhaps Colt has a lot of them, or they figure that it's easy enough for a competitor to switch out.

One thing that irks me on this latest Gold Cup National Match is the elimination of the flat top slide which has been in use since the 1960s (Mk II) version. Without the flat top the gun just looses that "custom feel" to it, that you were buying the top of the line Colt.

Both the Trophy and Gold Cup National Match continued to be made. Today if you want it in stainless, it HAS to be the trophy. If you want one in blue, it HAS to be the National Match. Retail value is around $1200 for a new one.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:44 PM
beetledude beetledude is offline
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There you have it, 8 generations of National Match pistols spanning the years 1915 to present. In terms of the Colts, while there are more expensive models, the National Match pistols continue to be their marquee model. If I were to pick one current production model that might appreciate in value, it would have to be the National Match.

As I said in the introduction this is a bit of a milestone for me. The addition of the pre-war National match "completes" my collection of National Match pistols. I now have one representative example frome each of the major genres. I'm done for now..... or at least until I start collecting match pistols of different calibers. .38 special, .38 super, the Super Match......

Last but not least, a family pic.

Top Row (left to right): 1915 Springfield NRA, Pre-War National Match, WW2 Military National Match
Middle Row: 1960s National Match, Series 70 Mark IV Gold Cup National Match, Series 80 Mkv IV Gold Cup National Match
Bottom Row: Gold Cup Trophy, Series 80 Gold Cup National Match (2011)

I hope you enjoyed this little essay on National Match pistols. we have some true experts on the board -- if I have made a mistake please feel free to jump in and join the conversation. Have a great weekend folks!

Last edited by beetledude; 10-13-2012 at 12:17 AM.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:50 PM
ejr10mm ejr10mm is online now
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That's a lot of typing...my 70 series gold cup has a lightened slide. Its an earlier one though from 71'.
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Old 10-12-2012, 11:57 PM
rhinokrk rhinokrk is offline
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Very nice post, thank you
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Old 10-13-2012, 12:13 AM
maddmaxxx maddmaxxx is offline
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-GREAT 'STICKY' MATERIAL if ive ever seen one

-thankyou for all your time !!!
-Don't Ban Me Bro
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Old 10-13-2012, 12:16 AM
OIF2 OIF2 is online now
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Lots of work went into that. Thank you. Oh, and the photos were awesome too!
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Old 10-13-2012, 02:36 AM
squid8286 squid8286 is offline
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Thanks for sharing that. I hope to own a Pre-War National Match one day, but the way they are appreciating, I kind of doubt it!
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Old 10-13-2012, 07:31 AM
Joe KY Joe KY is offline
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Well done! Thanks.

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Old 10-13-2012, 07:55 AM
CIB CIB is offline
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Awesomely informative post. Thank you so much. Definite sticky post.
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Old 10-13-2012, 08:17 AM
hodds hodds is offline
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Very nice write up and very nice guns. Love that pre war!! Looks like it did the day it left the factory!! Must of cost $$$$$$$. Thanks for the informative post.
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Old 10-13-2012, 08:36 AM
pmclaine pmclaine is offline
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When fit/finish are mentioned on Colts and its stated new does not match old, the best example of this claim is shown just by looking at the frame at the mag release button.

Even your mil spec NM pistol evidences nice smooth radius lines as the frame encicrles the mag button, it gets slightly sloppy at the finger relief cut. All prior commercial examples are almost flawless. The 1911, without relief cuts is usually perfect in its finish of the radius in this area.

All the later pistols show a stop/start cut on the arc in this area.

It drives me batty. My 70's Vintage Commander isnt bad but if I were to ever send it in to become the dream gun I imagine, Id want those lines trued up like the old masters did back in the day.

Last edited by pmclaine; 10-13-2012 at 08:42 AM.
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Old 10-13-2012, 08:39 AM
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Wonderfull thread and posts; on (ones that I OWN)treasured 1911's. A gunsmith years ago found a great specimen 70 series N.M. I passed it up, and bought a brandee new 80 series instead . WHEN I SHOULD HAVE BOUGHT BOTH CRIPES I had the means , being single , at that time Dino ..... from Pittsburgh
My Rifle, my Pony, and Me... 8" Nickle Python; original & Hogue Grips.. Series 80 Colt Gold Cup ..National Match /SIG P227 / FNH. SCAR 17s black``with.. 14 mags./ KDF (Voere Titan) in .270 Win./
Custom 1909 Argentine Mauser ...30.06
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Old 10-13-2012, 09:24 AM
Doc18d Doc18d is offline
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Wow, great write up. Thanks for the crib version. You just had to show us your complete colection.
Great pictures, and congratultions on your complete set.
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Old 10-13-2012, 09:42 AM
Trikegodtroll Trikegodtroll is offline
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Thank you for sharing your Essay and pictures. Great thread!.................................. Troll
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Old 10-13-2012, 11:06 AM
Calibre 45 Calibre 45 is offline
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Hey DSK this should be a sticky, very informative.
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Old 10-13-2012, 11:09 AM
SDMC530 SDMC530 is offline
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This is exellent work!
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but the urge to serve others, at whatever cost.” -A. Ashe
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Old 10-13-2012, 11:20 AM
Dangerous Dangerous is offline
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Well done sir. Thank you.
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Old 10-13-2012, 02:10 PM
pony45 pony45 is offline
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Thank you for this historical write up
together with awesome photos.
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Old 10-13-2012, 03:07 PM
taskotzke taskotzke is offline
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Originally Posted by pony45 View Post
Thank you for this historical write up
together with awesome photos.
+1 this is the finest post on National Match Pistols on this forum I have ever read. Thank You.
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