I am relatively new to owning revolvers, though my experience of collecting, researching, and maintaining autopistols dates back over 30 years. In .357 Magnum I have three prewar S&W revolvers, two registered and one non-registered; a 1937 Colt Shooting Master and a 1957 Python; and three MR73 Manurhins, with many more coming from Germany. I also have two Colt Bankers Specials in .22LR. In am not interested in Rugers or any other oversized cast guns. Over the past two years, I have taught myself to work on my Colt, Manurhin, and Smith & Wesson revolvers. Here are my observations.
- Colts are much better made and more precisely fitted, of finer and stronger materials, than Smith & Wessons. I base this statement on the personally observed differences in working internal parts with a diamond file, and wear and peening in contact surfaces with comparable round counts.
- The Smith & Wesson single stage lockup is not nearly as precise as, but much more durable than, the Colt double stage lockup. The Smith & Wesson bolt is softer but less stressed than the Colt bolt. The S&W action is much easier to work on than the Colt action.
- The Manurhin MR73 is a significantly improved S&W K-frame Combat Magnum derivative that combines the quality and precision of the Colts with the ruggedness of the Smith & Wessons, and ease of tuning unavailable in any other service revolver.
Based on my experience, the quality ratio of Colt to S&W is proportional to that of S&W to H&R. The MR73 is designed as a crucially improved S&W and manufactured to the quality standards of 1950s Colts. I have tried the current S&W revolvers. There is no comparison. In a nutshell, an early Python is a better revolver than a Registered Magnum, in the same sense whereby a Ferrari 330 P3/4 is a better car than a Ford GT40. But the MR73 is the only revolver I would take in harm’s way, in the way I would choose the Citroën ZX over the Ferrari and the Ford for entry in the Paris-Dakar rally.
The problem with S&W is not design, but quality. Their basic action layout is capable of uncompromising performance, as witness this Manurhin chambered in .32 S&W Long, beating match guns by S&W, SAKO, and Walther. But in order to get a current production S&W to perform like that, you would have to rebarrel it and replace its MIM lockwork with increasingly unobtainable forged parts. And even then, it will not approach the quality of Manurhin’s hammer-forged frame, barrel, and cylinder.
The basic features of Colt double action revolvers are well summarized by Grant Cunningham:
|Colt revolvers have actions which are very refined. Their operating surfaces are very small, and are precisely adjusted to make the guns work properly. Setting them up properly is not a job for someone who isn’t intimately familiar with their workings, and the gunsmith who works on them had better be accustomed to working at narrow tolerances, on small parts, under magnification.|
On the other hand, by referring to a copy of Kuhnhausen’s shop manual, I was able to fit a new bolt to one of my Bankers Specials using NSk calipers, S&W screwdrivers, the diamond-coated file of a Leatherman Charge TTi, and a wooden shaft. So I agree that Colt actions are highly refined. I also agree that they require working at narrow tolerances, on small parts, under magnification. But much of that is within the reach of a hobbyist equipped with a $30 manual and $200 worth of hand tools.
Since you are in Norway, the Manurhin MR73 makes more sense than either the Colt Python or any S&W. It is as strong as a Ruger, as lively and easy to work on as a K-frame S&W, and much smoother and more precise than either of them. You can find them with barrels measuring 2½", 3", 4", 5¼", 6", 8", 9", and 10¾", though 4" and 6" are the most common variants. Some of my current and incoming revolvers are shown here. The 6" target model is nimble enough to be used for self-defense, while its sight radius is adequate for target shooting. I get my Manurhins on Egun.de for a fraction of the new retail price. Many of the sellers can be talked into exporting, but if you have a problem getting them to ship to Norway, contact me via email for assistance.