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The Colt Cowboy

In 1999 the Cowboy action shooting sport was really taking off. People wanted “cowboy” guns and several companies sprang up to fill that demand. Didn’t stop people from wanting to use a Colt though. But Colt’s SAA model P was still an expensive custom shop piece.


Buyers whined and complained about the price so much and and asked why couldn’t Colt make something like the Ruger? Why, if Colt would only do that, they would sell millions!

So Colt did. They came out with the Colt Cowboy version of the Model P.

I recall them costing about 550 new. It came with a modern transfer bar safety so you could carry 6 rounds with the hammer down safely. It was half the price of a Model P and was comparable to the knock offs then out.

What happened after is completely predictable now in retrospect.

People who said they wanted exactly what the cow boy is, didn’t buy them. People complained it wasn’t” as good as the original Model P !” Or that it was still too much, or it was too different. They wanted the four clicks and the hand craft that went into the Peacemaker but they wanted it at ruger and heritage arms prices. Basically the same thing you hear from a lot of people about the new python.

The gun never did sell well and made it until around 2003 before being discontinued.

15 thoughts on “The Colt Cowboy”

    • Dang shame, because I rather like my midlength CCU upper. I think it’s reasonably well thought-out and still decently relevant even though Colt was behind the curve somewhat on getting it out to market.

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    • Colt sat on the monolithic guns for far too long and could have made a mint if they started selling them when they were introduced instead of waiting time going after .gov exclusively.

      The Cowboy has the opposite problem. It was on of the rare times Colt did what people asked and they didnt buy it because it wasn’t a “real” Colt. It is kinda the same as the SSR. GM made the thing that people wanted, screwed up by putting the 5.3L in it at first, and sold very few. Everyone wanted it, nobody bought it. The latest T Bird was similar

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  1. I could go on an epic rant that would light up the city of Chicago, but I’ll be more constructive on your blog.

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  2. The thing about marketing decisions… Sometimes, you have to watch what the customer actually does, as opposed to what they say. People have all kinds of aspirational things they tell the manufacturers and craftsmen, but when it comes time to actually pull out their f**king wallets? Maybe ninety percent or higher are lying bastards.

    You run into this in contracting, all the damn time: Client tells you that they want the best, most durable product, and that they’re willing to pay for it. You work up the bid, they see the cost, and then the chiseling starts. You start out premium grade, and by the end of the process, the rat bastards wind up selecting the economy grade version of everything, and then have the balls to tell people how your product is sh*t and you do poor work. Uhmmm… Hello? Do you remember opting out of solid surface and then choosing a “granite-like” laminate countertop?

    Same thing, here–People talk trash about wanting SIG to bring in an actual SIG 550, an StG90 lookalike, but will they actually buy them? Oh, hell no…

    If I were a decision-maker in the firearms industry, I’d never spend a f**king dime on “market research”. Instead, I’d carefully watch what actually, y’know, sells. The schmucks may say they’d buy the hell out of your product “if only”, but the reality is, they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do, and you can’t tell for sure ahead of time what that’s going to be. The whole thing is just f**king weird–You get all these “smart” people like Hudson with their new pistol going in, mucking it up, and then you have Vltor with their revival of the Bren Ten. As entertainment, it’s like a really bad, poorly plotted soap opera, because a lot of the customers are just as f**ked up as the manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. You can’t fix it, either… It just is what it is, and it’s a uniquely nutty industry in some ways.

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  3. With your indulgence then, I’ll say a couple of things about these sorts of marketing/product development decisions and experiences in the firearms industry. Mind you, much of this is my perspective from taking apart, repairing or making new parts for firearms that were made in the last oh, 120+ years. I think the earliest cartridge firearm that’s been across my bench was a Sharps 1863 carbine in .50-70 Government. If I lined out the right guns, I could show people how American gun companies have been on a quest since WWII to make ever-declining quality crap in guns, and how it accelerated after 1960 and the infection of the modern mass-marketing specialist into gun companies.

    Why do quality firearms cost money? First, firearms are made from tangible materials. ie, these are not software products. The price of steel, wood/composite, etc goes up as the value of the dollar goes down. Then cost of labor to create firearms goes up, and not just due to wages going up. The cost of employing an employee in the US has gone up substantially over the last 120 years – unemployment insurance, workman’s comp, FICA, etc, etc. If we were to inflation-adjust the consumer cost of a plain, unembellished American SxS shotgun of 100+ years ago to today, we’d see that $25 around WWI is now worth over $600. But you can’t compare labor costs from then to now, so we need to add in those burdened costs – and now we see that a SxS shotgun really couldn’t be sold for less than perhaps $1K to $1500, depending on labor costs, if that labor is in the US.

    Today, a plain, field-grade American (LC Smith, Parker Bros, Fox, etc) shotgun that cost $25 100+ years ago that is in good condition today is worth every bit of $800 on up – so the guns have more than kept up with the rate of inflation.

    Look at how Colt Pythons have climbed in value. OK, maybe some of that is due to a TV show. Look at the value of nice S&W revolvers that only real gun guys know about. Look at the valuation attached to M1 Carbines, Garands, etc. Look at the valuation of Winchester Model 70’s, 21’s, 52’s, 75’s, etc. They’re tracking well above inflation-adjusted values. Savage 99’s, which used to be a working man’s lever gun: They’ve gone up substantially in value, because the early 99’s look like a quality gun in today’s market. On and on and on.

    I’m going to riff off what Kirk said above: “Instead, I’d carefully watch what actually, y’know, sells.

    Well, let’s look at what is selling at these elevated prices: Quality. A level of quality that is increasingly difficult to find in the market. Kirk mentioned some of Sig’s decisions. I’ll riff off that too. Sig has brought out a “cheaper” version of the P210 recently, with target sights it’s about $1500 (vs. $4K for an original P210), but in today’s market that is still a rather spendy pistol.

    So what’s happened? The local dealer(s) cannot keep them in stock. How the heck is that?

    Well, there are gun guys older than I am around here have a regular kaffeeklatsch meeting, and one day a few months back, one of these old boys mentioned to the other duffers he just bought a new P210. The old guys thought “yea, ok, that’s nice” – but then they all went to the range, and put their mitts on it. Ooooh. Walnut and steel. They ran a few mags of 9mm ball through it. And suddenly, one after another, they went out and bought one each. Why? It is a quality handgun. It looks good, it has an excellent trigger, there’s no plastic on it, and sights are adjustable and crisp.

    In short, the P210 product is the sort of firearm they’ve been looking for in the modern market – quality – with wood and blued steel in a sea of product introductions that are all seeking to emulate Glock: Plastic and black coated steel. These duffers don’t quibble about the price of the piece. They’re sometimes trading in two or three ‘modern’ pistols and a wad of cash to buy the P210. I’ve now got multiple customers telling me “You’ve GOT to go get a P210!” and telling me how much, which salesgal to talk to at which store, etc. You cannot buy marketing like that. Cannot. That comes as a result of a product which causes people to believe they’ve gotten quality at a reasonable price. No customer of mine has ever told me “You’ve got to get this plastic pistol.” When they get one they say “Yea, I got one of these…” as if they just bought a commodity hammer at the hardware store. No enthusiasm.

    When I mentioned I recently bought a P365 as a carry piece, some of my friends chided me “You do know that’s plastic, right?” Yep, it is, but it is a piece of plastic well-designed for the CCW purpose. It also carries a very reasonable price – it’s a piece of plastic with night sights from the factory, unlike a Glock. If it were a Glock, I’d have to pay more for the gun, and then $100 besides for the night sights, and then I’d have to mount them. Sig figured out what CCW gun buyers want/pay for, then they made it.

    Both of those are an example of Sig looking at what people buy. There’s a cohort in the gun market who buy quality, and they will pay for it – if you actually deliver it. This is what killed Winchester in 1964. When they went to aluminum magazine/trigger guards on the post-64 Model 70’s, the customers who pursued quality and loved the quality of the Model 70 looked at it and yelled “this is crap!” back at Winchester. It wasn’t the conversion from claw-extractor to push-feed that killed Winchester’s Model 70 sales. It was the aluminum in the bottom metal. It was crap. It broke if you dropped the rifle. The anodizing scratched off. What they did to the Model 94 also killed their reputation. Then they started to discontinue quality rifles they deemed “too expensive.”

    From that point on, Winchester lost their rep as the quality rifle maker in the US. When you look back at Winchester’s gun catalogs of 100+ years ago, you can see how Winchester got that rep. You could specify a great number of embellishments, wood and configuration options.

    Same deal with Colt in the mid-late 1980’s. By the late 1990’s, when they were bringing out the aforementioned SAA knock-off, the quality was atrocious. I mean wretched. Colt is a premium name in firearms – a premium name should never, ever, ever bring out a piece of cheap crap, and the aforementioned SAA knock-off wasn’t the only piece of cheap crap Colt brought out in that timeframe.

    But the firearms industry in the US has been overrun with the sorts of clowns in marketing that Kirk and I rip upon. They’re relentless in their quest to keep bringing out new bolt-action rifles that retail under $500. They want to bring out one POS plastic pistol after another, all equally forgettable and disposable – damn the consequences that will come to their marque by so doing.

    Colt and Winchester both gutted brands/marques that took a century to build up and reinforce in the customer base’s estimation. They threw it all away with their pursuit of the bottom end of the market. Imagine if BMW came out with a Trabant with a BMW badge on it… that’s what these companies have done here.

    “But, but, but…” I hear American gun owners say. “We can’t afford that much to pay for a gun!” Well, yes, you can – you just don’t want to. The money that Winchester or Colt charged for guns 100 years ago wasn’t chump change to those gun buyers back then. It was a whackin’ large amount of money for most people.

    Further, I’ll note this about American gun buyers and their complaints of price: There are a dozen Italian gun companies making O/U shotguns and fine semi-auto shotguns for export to the US. None of these guns are cheap. They all make quite a tidy markup and profit off US gun buyers – because there is no US gun maker making a quality double or O/U gun in the $2500 to $5000 range. I’m talking about Beretta, Caesar Guerini, Zoli, etc. Browning’s Citori starts in the low $2K range and goes up – and comes from Japan. Merkel’s shotguns from Germany start in the $4 to 5K range and go up to the sky from there. There’s a boatload of money leaving the US to buy high-end shotguns.

    So why hasn’t someone started a high-end line of guns here in the US to capture some of that money? Oh, but we did in the past. But because American gun companies are run by morons, we turned our back on this high-end market. I’ll give everyone a prime example of the moronic thinking.

    People here might know of the Krieghoff K-80 shotgun. If you don’t, please go look that up. The K-80 is often used by serious trap/skeet/etc shotgun competitors because they’re very rugged guns that can take 10’s of thousands of rounds every season, and not have any downtime. The K-80 is one of the “standard” guns of the high-level shotgun competitor in the US. Perazzi is the other “standard” gun among high-end competitors.

    Where did the Germans get that O/U design?

    From Remington, who used to make a gun called the “Model 32.” Remington started selling this gun in 1932. It was Remington’s answer to the Winchester Model 21, which was a high-quality SxS shotgun. If you ever get a chance to pick up a Remington 32, do so. They’re a quality gun, and in the used market, they sell for a reasonable price. They came in seven different grades, so there are some nicely embellished ones out there. Interestingly, the 32 sells for less than the Winchester 21, which is considered by modern shooters to be far too heavy a gun for sport shooting.

    Anyway, Remington had a very good, and I mean very good O/U gun here. The 32 swings well, handles well, it has a fast lock time, you name it. It is a very, very good shotgun for shotgun sports.

    So what happened?

    Remington sold the design to Krieghoff, who increased the price and then sold it here in the US as the K-32. Some of the earliest K-32 guns actually used Remington receivers. The K-32 design evolved into the K-80 design you see today – which can sell for up to $100K in some configurations, but starts around $10K to $12K for plain-sided versions. Let’s bottom line this: Gun buyers today are paying big money for a design that is an improvement of a gun Remington had created and had in their hands – but which Remington decided was too much trouble for their mass-production/mass-marketing corporate morons. Remington, a financially troubled company, could have been charging big, big money for high-end 32’s… but they want to make ever-cheaper 870’s and even cheaper bolt guns than the Remington 700.

    Hell, look at what Remington did with their ill-fated R51. All they needed to do was re-spin the Model 51 in 9×19, and it would have sold. Why? Go handle an original Model 51. They point like a laser. They’re an incredible CCW gun, with both a manual safety and grip safety. You could leave the manual safety off and carry with only the grip safety. If you offered me a PPK/S or a Model 51, I’d take the 51 in a flash. They’re an incredibly nice, quality piece. The .45 ACP version of the Model 51 (known as the Model 53) was examined to replace the 1911 as the US military standard sidearm. It was considered superior to the 1911 in lower parts count, ease of use, etc – but the military had already sent in a big order for 1911’s post-WWI, so we stuck with the 1911.

    All Remington had to do was adjust the design for the 9×19, and they could have had a winner. Instead, they sought to make it cheap. The rest is history.

    There are lots of people in the US gun market who are paying high[er] prices for quality guns. But American gun companies seem to want to chase after profits of $10/gun more than they want to cater to people willing to pay thousands of dollars for quality. Why?

    Morons. American gun companies employ morons in their management and marketing roles. Plain and simple.

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    • “Yep, [the P365] is, but it is a piece of plastic well-designed for the CCW purpose.”

      I have a hunch that I’d like to bounce off of you, DG, since you have forgotten more about gun design than I’ve ever known.

      I have a hunch that part of the reason why Sig was able to jam 10 rounds of 9mm where S&W and Glock and many others have only been able to get 6-7 rounds is because the other manufacturers tried to make pistols that would work in both 9 and .40, whereas Sig abandoned .40 for the P365. Thoughts?

      When Beretta introduced the Nano several years back, they said they would come out with one in .40, but that was almost at the exact moment that .40’s popularity took a sharp bend downwards and AFAIK, they never brought out a .40 version. I believe S&W offers/offered a Shield in .40, and I suspect that Glock engineered the 43 to stand up to .40 sizes and pressures. It seems like engineering a pistol the size of the P365 around the 9mm would help to expand the quantity of rounds you can for in the mag/grip, as well as holding overall slide and barrel mass to a minimum.

      Thoughts, if you have time?

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      • The main thing is that the .40 is not doing so well, marketing-wise. They rightly chose not to go down that avenue, and unless something changes, I think that .40 is going to die on the vine.

        Frankly, it was a terrible idea in the first place. The fact is that when you start making caliber changes will he, nil he on recoil-operated guns, things often don’t quite work out due to differences in recoil, pressure curves along which that recoil develops, and a whole host of other factors that probably include things that even some of the engineers miss due to how esoteric the differences between cartridges are. I’m told by someone who worked for Glock at one time that there was a change in the polymer between the development frames used to work up the initial batch of .40 pistols and what was used in production. In theory, it shouldn’t have made any difference, but something about the specific characteristics of that first batch of .40 pistols enabled the design to work well in .40, but when they changed to production plastic, something about it created problems they never satisfactorily tracked down–Something about the production plastic having different plasticity characteristics that did slightly different things at slightly different times in the pistol’s operating cycle, and that made the production guns do things that they hadn’t seen in the prototypes. Supposedly, none of these differences made any difference to the 9mm or the other calibers that Glock produced–Just the short, sharp recoil of the .40.

        Gun design is supposedly a well-understood engineering issue, but despite that, there’s still stuff that has to be worked out empirically during design, using iterative trial-and-error. Sometimes, you just can’t explain why a specific change has the effect it does, you just have to acknowledge that it does, and go with it. We’re getting better at it all, but the reality is that there are still things out there that are beyond the ken of mortal man. My take on a lot of the issues that people had with the .40 is that the multiple issues unique to that cartridge have served to make it a very difficult one to just slap into a 9mm frame and call it good. You really need to start from the ground up, design the gun around the .40, and work with it from there. The easy conversion that Smith & Wesson claimed for it is basically a lie.

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        • The whole reason for the .40 existing at all is because the FBI down-loaded the 10mm to allow their agents, most of whom are only marginally competent with a gun, to handle the 10mm S&W pistols of the time.

          S&W looked at the down-loaded 10mm, and looked at the other problem the FBI was having (ie, female agents with smaller hands couldn’t quite wrap their hand around a 10mm frame), and S&W thought “if we reduce the size of the 10mm case for the load the FBI is using, we can shorten up the case length, which will allow us to make a smaller frame grip, which will solve the other problem.”

          The net result was a “10mm short.” That’s really what the .40 is. Well, “10mm short” doesn’t sound all that impressive, any more than “.22 Short” does, so “.40 S&W” it was. The error, IMO, was not down-sizing the 10mm frames, but up-sizing (or just stuffing) the .40 into 9mm frames.

          Today, the 10mm is enjoying something of a resurgence, and the new 9mm ammo has started to eclipse the performance of the .40. So here we are.

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        • Yeah, the .40 never brought a whole lot of beer to the party, IMHO. It was always a compromise, and like most compromises, it’s kind of a shrug.

          I think .40 makes a pretty decent dual-use woods/city gun for our southern climes. It’s not so large that it’s hard to conceal in town, and it packs enough punch for feral hogs, pumas and the smaller black bears of the border states, especially with high-pressure cast loads.

          But you can’t stretch the top end of .40 for actively hunting stuff as well as you can for 10mm or .357, so I think .40 is probably bound for niche status. There’s such a huge base of quality police surp pistols out there that it will probably be more popular than .41 Mag for generations, but I’d guess that where .41 Mag is now is a good comparison for where .40 is in 30-40 years. .41 Mag got stuck between .357 and .44, and .40 is jammed between 10mm, .45 and 9mm, to a resounding chorus of shrugs all around.

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      • I think you’re correct here. A large part of the P365’s success is that it is optimized in terms of grip length/width to make it hold 10 rounds, but still have a slim grip. The wall thickness on the grip is pretty thin, the magazines are made from sheet steel, so their wall thickness is thin. This still leaves room in a thin gun to double-stack 9×19 rounds, but you’d barely get .40’s to double-stack in the magazine. There is no way .40 rounds could come up through the top taper on the 9mm’s magazine. Looking at the magazine, I’d wager you might only get seven rounds of .40 in that volume.

        When I look at the P365, I think the designers had only one job: fit 10 rounds of 9×19 ammo into the default configuration of a highly concealable pistol. That was it. They had no ideas for fitting 10 rounds of .40 S&W in there, or 10 rounds of anything else. There is no option for adjustable sights. The only option is the manual safety and a 12 or 15 round magazine. The 12 round makes it a perfect size for my hands. This is why I think this was designed specifically and only for CCW with a 9×19 round.

        Reply

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