I doubt few would argue the notion that the Colt Single Action Army is one of the most coveted and collectible American handguns ever made. In production pretty much continuously since 1873 (with a few cessations along the way for things like war, marketing predictions, redesign and retooling) in all its variations, somewhere in the neighborhood of 620,000 Model P’s have been assembled to date. It was the sidearm Custer’s troops carried into the Battle of the Little Big Horn, the gun that “Bat” Masterson ordered direct from Colt, short-barreled, silver-plated and light on the trigger, and the armament of just about every cowboy movie and television actor of note, including the likes of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and John Wayne. It has graced the holsters of lawmen and the lawless alike and was a favored sidearm of the Texas Rangers well into the 20th century, even after much more modern designs and action types became available. Early examples of this iconic pistol—and those with identifiable provenance to the famous and infamous—have, for the most part, proven themselves a better investment than anything Wall Street can or has had to offer.
Primarily of fixed-sighted design, Colt has on a couple of occasions offered a target model of this revolver with sights adjustable to some degree or another, allowing its point-of-aim to be more precisely coordinated with its point-of-impact with a given load at a given range. In my experience, a standard SAA that shoots where it looks right from its box is a rare bird, indeed.
The first of these Single Actions to wear an adjustable sight was known as the Standard Frame Target or Flat-top Model. From its inception in 1888 to around 1895, it was the revolver of choice for many of the world’s top competitive pistol shooters. This model had a flat-top frame into which a dovetail rear sight was fitted, allowing it to be adjusted for windage by drifting it to one side or the other. Elevation was introduced by means of the flat-top’s front sight assembly that had a moveable blade secured by a screw that could be moved up or down or alternately replaced with a blade of different height. A Bisley-gripped Model Target was introduced by Colt in 1894 and soon proved more popular than the Standard Frame Model.
The production of these pre-war target model Single Actions (a.k.a. First Gen-eration) ceased around 1913, and it would be close to 50 years before Colt again offered another adjustable-sighted Model P to the shooting public.
The New Frontier
The year was 1961 and Colt named their new target-sighted Single Action the New Frontier. Released in its own serial number range, beginning with number 3000NF, the New Frontier was a classy revolver, indeed. Built on the same chassis as their Single Action Army, its frame was flat-topped to accommodate a fully adjustable “Accro” rear sight assembly that was paired to a stylish ramped and serrated front blade, a combo that provided a true target-quality sight picture capable of being dialed in with a multitude of loadings. It was catalogued in three barrel lengths—7½, 5½ and 4¾ inches (with the latter two lengths being rare), and some 72 guns left the factory in Buntline form with 12-inch barrels. Calibers offered during this Second Generation production period included .357 Mag (most popular), .45 Colt (second most popular), .44 Special and .38 Special (quite rare).
Its frame was beautifully color-casehardened, while the rest of its exterior wore Colt’s Royal Blue — a deep, dark, luxurious bluing obtained through extensive polishing prior to application.
Grips were well-fitted walnut with silver Colt medallions. During this Model P’s Second Generation production run (1956-1975) roughly 4,200 New Frontiers were produced. With some minor production modifications, Colt reintroduced the Single Action Army in 1976 and with these changes the Third Generation of this prestigious revolver was born. A New Frontier incorporating these Third Generation modifications was released in 1978. Barrel lengths, sights, grips, and finish remained the same and calibers produced during this run of guns included the .357 Mag, .44-40, .44 Special and .45 Colt. Some full nickel-plated pistols and a Buntline-barreled model were also offered. By 1981 Colt had produced around 15,582 Third Generation New Frontiers when this model was deleted from the line.
The New Frontier never achieved the im-mense popularity of its cousin, the slick-topped, fixed-sighted Single Act-ion Army, even though in the opinion of this author—and many others—it was a superior firearm. Although infinitely more capable of precisely delivering its payload to point-of-aim, those who parted with their hard-earned cash for this model pistol routinely preferred and purchased the more “Cowboy” version.