Production of the Belgian Colt, aka Centaure, aka Centennial Army, aka “1960 NEW MODEL ARMY”

 

Centaure C&B Revolvers 1959 through 1973: The guns were made in LiŹge, Belgium, by the firm then owned and managed by cousins Albert (Administration) and Paul (Operations) Hanquet. Paul is the great-grandson of Jean Baptiste Hanquet who in 1853 signed a letter from Sam Colt to the LiŹge Gun Trade stating the conditions under which they might manufacture revolvers according to his 1849 Belgian patent. These “conditions” specified high quality and payment of a royalty of 10 francs (worth about $ 2 gold in those days, as compared to about 20 cents today).

 

Centaure Production: William B. Edwards selected FAUL for the Centaure project because he got to know them as one of the premier Belgian gun makers and from a previous deal about musket replicas. Edwards supplied FAUL with 2 Colt Army 1860s from the Civil War period as model guns. Their parts gave details for finishing, type of polishing, color of blue etc. One of the pistols had been dropped on concrete resulting in a slightly bent trigger guard but was otherwise perfect. As an expression of faithfulness with which the Belgians wished to execute the demands of Edwards they copied the guns including the dent. Thousands of guards were cast up with egg-shaped bows. Fortunately this was discovered early enough and corrected before the first shipment left for the USA.

 

Centaure pistols sport rather shallow regular rifling with constant twist, made by the button rifling process. The caliber is a “real” .44 nominal of .441/.442 adapted to .451 round ball.

 

The first gun, unnumbered, was kept by Paul Hanquet. The second gun stamped MODEL was given to the then-president of Colt’s. Edwards engraved it on the barrel, ADDRESS FRED ROFF, HARTFORD, CT.

 

Centaure Manufacturing Technology: As usual with the LiŹge gun makers work was outsourced to regional subcontractors and then put together at FAUL’s using their old machinery at the beginning. State of the art modern machinery was in place but was occupied at the time, for modern gun production and to manufacture selected spare parts for Colt’s in Hartford. Contrary to stories published in a number of gun magazines FAUL was never assigned the status of an official spare parts manufacturer for Colt.

 

The barrels for these C&B pistols were made by a barrel maker who supplied the forged, drilled, reamed and rifled blanks to Roncarati, a machine shop in LiŹge. Roncarati machined the barrels to shape, color case hardened the loading levers, and machined the frames from solid forging, whereas cylinders were lathed from stock. Early back-straps are constructed in three pieces, welded together, thus avoiding use of special machinery. This is in contrast to the way it was done at Colt’s for their 1st generation where it is one piece. Later cast back-straps are used.

 

Guns fitted and assembled “in the white” were marked with their serials before being disassembled for bluing and case hardening. In line with test firing regulations finished guns were assembled and proof tested at the Banc d’Epreuves de LiŹge (LiŹge Proof House). This testing was performed with a heavy charge of lead shot over a heavy, wadded charge of black powder. Each pistol bears the famous “ELG Oval” which is the mark of the LiŹge Proof House, and the distinctive “Perron de LiŹge”, the arrow shaped mark that is a stylized rendition of a famous water trough surmounted by a water tower in the center of LiŹge.

 
Quality Issues – Potatoes at the Beginning and Flaws in the End: As usual when starting production of a new gun there were the bugs in the production process. Edwards reports an incidence with the electro-brazing of the loading lever lug to the barrel. This produced a problem that was not solved for some time. It was noticed that slightly spotty rust would form about 2 inches from the muzzle, marring the otherwise brilliantly burnished button rifling. Repeated attempts were made to find the cause of this, including instructions of the proof house about oiling after cleaning. Still, light rust persisted. Then the same kind of rust was noticed in a rack of barrels not yet sent to the proof house. When this was brought to the attention of the works manager he explained that to keep the heat from spoiling the bore the workman stuck a piece of raw potato in the muzzle while brazing the lug….”No more raw potatoes!” While the regular production process for the Centaures was established around late 1960 one could still find a gun thereafter with minor flaws e. g. bolt hole in the frame opened up too far by a subcontractor or the like. This did not affect FAUL’s reputation as the premium manufacturer of newly made Colt Army 1860s and the high quality level was maintained into the early 1970s.
 
All gun production (not just C&B revolvers) at FAUL was concluded in 1976 after tough price competition from Italian and Spanish manufacturers forced management to take a hard look at costs. Manufacturing of the NMA was already finished during 1973. Customers were no longer prepared to pay a premium price for a Belgian pistol when our average Joe Shooter could have the same model MADE IN ITALY at significantly lower prices. He was no longer willing to spend 2,5 times more for better steel, smoother action and better rifling.
 
Particularly the European muzzleloader community dropped FAUL as the high quality revolver manufacturer, after a number of unfavorable reports from unhappy shooters regarding broken triggers and bolts, hand and bolt springs and also faulty rifling and non centric bores during the later years of production. Ca. 1971/72 FAUL had attempted to increase production to meet the growing market demand but was combating cost at the same time using new but badly trained workmen. The outcome of this approach was predictable: output of pistols increased but so did the rate of product complaints.
 
Here is an unfortunate but typical report of a German Centaure owner exemplifying the quality of many but certainly not all of the Belgians Colts made during that period: “I own my 2nd Centaure since mid 1972. They were from Bärbel Harlos in Bavaria. On the range with the first one the mainspring broke after the 3rd round. Installed new mainspring. After the 5th round the handspring broke. Installed new hand. After the 10th round the bolt stop broke. Installation of a new bolt stop. After the 3rd round the arbor dropped out of the frame. Thanks God not during firing.”
“The pistol was returned to the dealer. I got S/N 12106 in exchange.”
“Experience with S/N 12106? Same maladies with mainspring, hand, waggling arbor, bolt stop, broken trigger. – Being the engineer that I am what did I do? I repaired the parts myself. Made a couple of handsprings. Fixed the arbor to the frame, installed a new trigger taken from a HS 121 blank cartridge revolver. Since the case colored frame showed already signs of rust I blued that part. From BP residue the brass trigger guard had developed some black spots so I had it nickel plated. So much about the quality of these Super-Colts”.
 
Therefore, we have to assume that the combination of high production cost but also spotty quality forced FAUL’s first out of revolver production 1973 and completely out of gun making in 1976!
 

Compatibility of Parts, Quality of Materials and Workmanship – Comparison with 1st Generation Colts & Italian Replicas: thanks to the work of Rifle and Herr Nedbal we have some current day evaluations as well.

Material used is 2 to 3 times better than Italians: frame, parts, screws are properly hardened. The barrel is very well heat treated. Modern rifling.

Measurements and dimensions: similar to original Colts except for curves of the rear end of the barrel and the bullet loading slot.

Barrel: pins and the depths of the hole for the arbor in the barrel are different. The distinct line on the side of the barrel is “sharper” but also lesser, flatter curved on the Centaure compared to 1st generation Colts.

Outside finishing: is good but not as exact as described. Better than Italians of current production in a number of areas, however.

Shape and measurements: are not more exact than today’s Italians. Possibly the Italians copied the Belgians.

Screws: very similar to originals and almost fit. A bit smaller: Centaure 4 mm vs. 1st generation 4,2 mm. Thread similar, smaller heads. Not properly fitted and too short.

Internal Quality: tolerances identical to slightly worse as compared to current but better than contemporary production Italians.

Frame recess: too generous, hammer wobbly (too small, frame recess too big). Mechanical dimensions of hammer notches including safety notch are different.

Hammers & hands: 1st generation Colts have “fatter” hammer with more pronounced “S” shape of spur, see pictures below.

“Fat” hammers of Uberti (left) & Colt (right) with“S” shaped spur. Centaure spur is steep and narrow. Longer hand of Centaure (center).

Colt top, Centaure bottom

Hand: measurements different, smaller pin, narrower, i. e. not compatible with original. Well heat treated.

Cam area: surface rough.

Bolt: can be made to fit original, Well heat treated.

Bolt/trigger spring: different (too long, too thick) but can be made to fit original. Well heat treated.

Wedge: not numbered as original. Thinner than 1st generation but can be used for original. Well heat treated.

Trigger: hole not exact, quality comparable to Italians. Curve does not correspond to original.

Grip: good fit to metal, good wood quality. Back-strap fits original but workmanship does not meet standard set by 1st generation.

Trigger guard: fits original but workmanship leaves something to be desired.

Arbor: sloppy fit with a pin from above through the treads. Hole for wedge not cut exactly (too much heat treatment?). Dimensions similar to original but sloppy, similar threads. Many early pistols have the square ended bottomed arbor like the original but most later ones feature tapered arbor end fitting (unlike today’s Italian replicas).

Cylinder: smaller diameter at the rear end, locking notches deeper and wider, ratchets similar

Frame-to-barrel: sloppy fit.

Bullet loading slot: differently shaped on the 1st generation Colts (below left). While the frame-barrel transition of both the 1st and 2nd generation Colts is a continuous line the Belgian has the distinct “Centaure Step” (below right).

 

2nd Generation Colt vs. Centaure – Differences in the Details? To assess differences a fluted cylinder Centaure S/N 12307 (top: regular

NMA 7th variation, 1972 production), rebated roll-engraved cylinder Centaures C418 (center: Civilian Model, 1960 production) and fluted cylinder 2nd generation Colt Army 1860 S/N 207514 (bottom: F1203 production 1980)

were disassembled. Measurements in mm/in unless otherwise stated.

 

 

Barrels                                 Co S/N 207514        Ce S/NC418             Ce S/N 12307

OAL incl cone                      220,0/8.0                  220,0/8.0                  210,0/7.93   

Diameter at muzzle                         16,7/.655                  17,2/.675                  17,4/.686   

Muzzle                                   flat                              crowned/flat             rowned/rounded

Rifling groove diameter    .458                           .448                           .445

Rifling                                               PC/deep                   modern/shallow     modern/shallow

Nr of grooves                      7                                 6                                 8

Front sight - height

Š       over barrel                         3,3/.128                   3,5/.136                    4,7/.185

Š       over centreline of bore              11,7/.460                  12,1/.476                 13,4/.528

Wedge L x W x T                 27,1x13,4/12,3x3,4 27,1x14,1/12,1x3,4 27,3x14,1/12,2x3,2

                                               1.074x.527/.484x.132     1.066x.554/.478x.134     1.073x.553/.480x.127

 

Muzzles

Wedges

Wedges

Frame & Grip                      Co S/N 207514        Ce S/N C418                        Ce S/N 12307

Nr of srews                          4                                 3                                 3

Cut for shoulder stock       yes                             no                              yes

Back-strap                           forged 1 piece         forged, welded        cast

                                                                                  from 3 pieces         

Bolts & bolt screws: see different lengths and angles

Triggers & trigger screws

Bolt/trigger springs

Heavy duty Centaure mainsprings vs Colt’s

 

Back-straps

Hammers & hands

 

Cylinder, Arbor & Nipples           Co S/N 207514        Ce S/N C418                        Ce S/N 12307

Cylinder

Š      shape                             fluted                         rebated                     fluted

Š      OAL incl ratchets            49,3/1.942                49,5/1.948                49,7/1.955

Š      OAL without ratchets     46,5/1.830                46,3/1.821                46,3/1.824

Š      diameter front                 40,7/1.603                40,6/1.599                40,9/1.609

Š       diameter rear end          38,8/1.525                38,5/1.514                38,8/1.526

Š      diameter chamber       .448                           .444                           .443

Arbor

Š      schape                           cylindrical                             cylindrical                 end tapered            

Š      diameter                          10,7/.420                  10,7/.420                  11,0/.432

Š      end                                  square (PC)                        square (PC)             conical

Š      separate grease groove    yes                                        yes                             no

Nipples                    

Š      OAL                                   11,3/.446                  11,1/.435                  12,6/.495

Š      length cone                       4,6/.179                    4,9/,192                    5,0/.195

Š      diameter cone at base               4,3/.170                    4,1/.164                    4,1/,160

Š      diameter shoulder           7,5/.295                    7,4/.290                    7,4/.293

Š      length threads                  4,4/.172                    3,5/.139                    4,7/.185

Š      diameter threads             5,3/.208                    5,6/.220                    5,5/.218

Š      nr of threads                  4                                 3                                 4

 

Cylinders & nipples

Nipples: Colt, Centaures C418 & 12307

 

Point of Impact vs. Point of Aim: the Belgian makers were concerned about the guns being able to hit what a person was aiming at. They shoot low or to point of aim, whereas the 2nd generation Colts and Italian clones always shoot high. The reasons? Because the front sights of the Centaures are higher. We can also assume that their shallow rifling provides for better gas sealing, i. e. higher velocities and flatter trajectories of the bullets.

 

Differences are in the Details indeed: As already pointed out by Bill Edwards in his 1962 book I believe that these subtle differences to the real pistols were intended at that time to discourage easy fakery. Likewise the legend ENGAGED 16 MAY 1843 on cylinders with the Centaure proprietary naval engagement scene was discontinued in the Civilian Model after the first 490 were made at the suggestion of the Ohio Gun Collectors Association.

On the other hand this same legend ENGAGED 16 MAY 1843 is on all NMAs with the Colt-type naval scene (regular NMAs 3rd variation). This variation was manufactured from around 1962 to the end of production in 1973. In addition the marking COLTS PATENT No combined with the serial of the pistol is to be found on the cylinders of a couple of early pistols with this type of naval scene.

It is noteworthy that none of the Centaure cylinders roll engraved with any of the 2 naval scenes discovered so far bears the patent mark PAT. SEPT 10th 1850. This random logic is barely understandable if considered in isolation. However, if we throw in the new Italian competition we have a completely different ball game from April 1963 when Uberti launched their version of the Colt 1860. Up to that date the Centaure was the only game in town but this Uberti clone did not only feature the Colt-type naval scene on their cylinders but in addition the legend ENGAGED 16 MAY 1843 and the patent mark PAT. SEPT. 10th 1850!

 

MYTHBUSTER

Š       The Centaure pistols were produced on 19th century machinery from Colt’s? MYTH BUSTED!

Š       Old blueprints from Colt’s were used to manufacture the “1960 NEW MODEL ARMY”? MYTH BUSTED!

Š       FAUL official spare parts manufacturer of Colt's? MYTH BUSTED!

Š       Quality of steel used? MYTH CONFIRMED!

Š       Interchangeability of parts? For the most part MYTH CONFIRMED!

Š       Fall-off of quality during later production? MYTH CONFIRMED!

Š       Quality of workmanship? If pistols of later production were excluded quality is better than contemporary Italian repros. MYTH OPEN FOR DISCUSSION!

 

WDN/September 4, 2008

© 2007 Wolf D. Niederastroth

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