Why are most "modern" single-action revolvers variants of the 1873 Colt?

I’m not talking about modern reproductions of guns from the Old West (like the stuff Uberti makes, for example), but rather “modern” single-action revolvers like the Ruger Blackhawk, all of which appear to be simply modernised Colt 1873 Single Action Army revolvers.

Now, I realise the design is a classic and is also proven, solid, and reliable, but even so, you’d think there’d be some innovation in the field beyond modern materials and safety features (transfer bars etc)- anyway, given the popularity of Single Action Shooting sports, it surprises me that no-one’s tried to design a brand-new, not-based-on-the-Peacemaker single-action revolver to cater to modern sporting shooters.

Any other shooters out there got any thoughts?

Wiki has a good summary.

I’ll presume the 1873 Colt was one of the better designs.

Yeah, I figured that- but I mean, there were others (The Schofield/S&W No. 3 and the cartridge-firing Remington revolvers, for example) and it just surprised me that someone hasn’t said “You know what? Let’s make a modern single-action revolver for target shooters and make it an original, new design”.

Not that I’ve got anything particularly against the Colt Peacemaker, but there are modern blackpowder muzzleloading rifles that are more or less indistinguishable from a Remington/Winchester/Weatherby/Browning bolt-action rifle to the casual observer, and it seems odd that there’s an unwritten rule that all single action revolvers have to look like the Colt Peacemaker.

Moved from Cafe Society to General Questions


What would a modern single-action revolver look like? ISTM that you need a stock, a cylinder, a barrel, and a trigger. How would they be arranged to be significantly different from the classic? If you look at modern DA revolvers, they are all pretty similar. Sure, you can tell a Cold from a Ruger from a S&W, but the basic architecture is the same.

While a new SA revolver can certainly be made, it also has to sell. IMO the people who buy SA revolvers want a Peacemaker or something that looks like a Peacemaker (or a Remington, or a Schofield, or…). If they didn’t, they could get any number of DA revolvers and just shoot them SA.

It could be one of those instances where free-market capitalism is stifling innovation. If manufacturers perceive (via their “bottom line”) that current designs are popular/attractive with consumers, why spend the R&D $$$ and market research $$$ to reinvent the wheel? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” as the saying goes.

And then, as Johnny points out, function is largely going to dictate form, and a SA revolver is pretty simple as machines go. Not a lot of room for innovation in the basic design. Each manufacturer has, to some degree, their own “look and feel” to their brand, but beyond that, SA is SA is SA. It’s a largely obsolete standard (it’s still considered by some to be safer than DA) that lingers for nostalgia purposes, as DA can do anything SA can do, and better.

But I have a couple of SA revolvers myself sitting in my gun safe. As well as 2 SA 1911-pattern semiautos.

In the gun-buying public’s mind, the 1873 is the design where everything “clicked;” looks, performance, reliability, and an indelible association with a part of history, all combine to make it “the SA revolver.”

And manufacturers are catering to this, at the expense ( or rather, lack of expense) of innovating their own modern SA designs.

We see these modern day 'Imitation" Muzzle loading rifles because of the large number of people that use them for sporting purpose and are not interested in the history of the arm. I for one would not own what is called an “In Line” modern muzzle loader. I shoot mostly flintlock rifles with original black powder.
My 1st year hunting the Muzzle Loader season in Colorado I bought a new flintlock rifle and my hunting partner was trying to influence me into buying one of those fake things only to find that Colorado changed its regulations outlawing modern in line guns that year. (Then surrendered to the whinners the next) He had to get a traditional rifle, and then after using it he liked it better. Of course they are heavy and that is a whine to many.:wink:
What I am trying to say is, If not for the allowance in law for hunting those fake guns would not be.

What? No love for the Nagant 1895, or the La Mat or Webley-Fosbery Self-Cocking Automatic Revolver, or the Mateba Model 6 Unica?

What problem would a fresh design be aimed at solving? Would the market support the development cost?

I have only limited experience with SA revolvers, but when I have fired them, nothing stood out as “this makes no sense” except for having to load/unload one round at a time, and fixing that would require a a cylinder crane, (or Webley style break frame)and you’d lose all the strength and simplicity of a SA. Might as well have a DA and thumb the hammer.

And really, the Blackhawk and many other modern SAs ARE quite different mechanically, even if the style is similar. A transfer bar or other system to allow safe carry with a full cylinder is nothing to sneeze at, and using guided coil springs instead of leaf springs is a huge change to the guts, even if it doesn’t show when the grips are on.

The real answer, though, is that nostalgia is a huge part of the appeal of a revolver, and especially a SA in the first place. No market for a SA that would look at home on Buck Rodgers’ hip. Ruger is taking a pretty big gamble with their LCR, and that is a DA. If it works out for them, expect to see more inovative revolver designs, but don’t bet on it working out. People who want light, compact and plastic (GASP!) guns mostly want autoloaders.

I’m… not sure what any of those guns have to do with my OP, most of them being either over a century old or not single-action.

And interestingly, there was a cartridge-firing version of the LeMat (and a couple of other revolvers in the early 20th century using the same concept- imagine a .22 calibre Iver Johnson Safety Revolver with a .32 calibre secondary barrel sort of thing).

The point I’m trying to make is that several people make Colt SAA copies in various calibres, and there are people like Uberti making copies of Remington New Model Army and S&W No. 3 revolver. But there are also people making guns that are basically Colt SAAs, but they’re being marketed as “New” guns (eg the Ruger Blackhawk) and not “Reproductions” (like the Uberti guns).

What I was trying to work out what why you’ve got both reproductions and modern versions of one particular gun comprising a significant proportion of the market. For example, there are both reproductions and modern M1911 pistols on the market- but there are also lots and lots and lots of other semi-automatic handguns (Glock, Beretta, Sig-Sauer, etc) on the market as well.

But if you want a “Modern” Single-Action revolver, then your options are limited to a Colt SAA clone. Which seems unusual to me given the huge number of guns on the market- you’d think someone would have designed an “Original” modern Single Action revolver- maybe for target shooting or something like that. But it hasn’t happened for some reason.

A single-action revolver is limited in its usage. The design has been eclipsed by DA/SA revolvers and automatics. It’s akin to a Model T compared to a 2010 sedan. The only thing a single action revolver has over a more contemporary design is nostalgia, thus the market for reproductions of the more famous single-action revolvers.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re interesting pieces. But handguns have three primary purposes- hunting, self-defense, and target shooting. Single-actions are singularly unsuited to self-defense, so they don’t appeal to that market. If a SA/DA revolver can cover all the bases, there is no real market outside of those of us that admire guns that “won the West”, of which the Peacemaker is the most famous.

Let me ask you this: if there were a market for such a weapon, wouldn’t the arms manufacturers have jumped on it? That they haven’t answers your question better than any other explanation you could get.

Normally I’d say you’re right, but I wouldn’t have thought there was a market for so many M1911 clones either- it seems that almost every handgun manufacturer in the world makes an M1911 pistol. Surely the market can’t support them all? Especially when almost every time I open a shooting magazine there’s some new gun company I’ve never heard of before coming onto the market with… an M1911 clone.

As a target shooter, I almost never use the DA mode in revolvers anyway. And whislt, in theory, the industry would be all over it if there was a market, I’m of the opinion that when it comes to firearms the usual economic rules of supply and demand cease to apply.

Actually, the market can support all the makers of 1911-type handguns. They come in many different variations and at many different pricepoints, which eliminates a lot of the barriers to entry that used to exist when it was Colt or nothing.

You could make the same statement about single action revolvers as well, that if they made more of them people would buy them up, especially if you could do it at a good price. I still disagree, for the reasons I stated above. Single action handguns of any stripe are novelty items that people will buy after they’ve purchased more practical weapons. Items of this type are not typically sold at high enough volumes to support a lower pricepoint.

That’s certainly true in the US, but there are international manufacturers- Norinco spring to mind- who could certainly do it if they wanted to.

I mean, not all that long ago people said “Why the hell would anyone want a lever-action shotgun when there are perfectly good, cheap pump-actions on the market?” but there are now at least two companies (Norinco and Chiappa) making reproductions of the Winchester M1887.

Obviously a single-action revolver is going to be a “specialist” item- like a Thompson Contender, for example- but given some of the odd things the gun industry comes up with (like newer and more exotic calibres that really are starting to seem a bit pointless) I really am surprised that absolutely no-one has sat down since playing the real-life version of Risk was acceptable Government Policy and said “Look, I’m sure we can do something with the idea of a single-action revolver and market it as a target shooting or Metallic Silhouette gun”.

Even in 1901, when the revolver design itself was thought to have gone as far as was possible, someone still said “Hey, let’s combine a Webley revolver with one of those newfangled automatic pistols that are just coming out and see what happens!” The result (the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver) was a surprisingly good one, and one which Mateba tried (unsuccessfully) a century later.

But that’s just it. The United States IS the market for handguns. A company could tool up for a production run and try to sell them elsewhere, but where’s the market? Here I can have as many as I can afford. Elsewhere, if I’m lucky, the government will graciously consent to allowing me to have one or two.

That’s not a reflection on other countries (I don’t particularly care what laws they have passed regarding weapons), it’s more a reflection on the reality of the situation. If they can’t sell them in the United States they cannot make enough to make manufacture worthwhile. The US market has long since decided that single-action revolvers are niche items.

To tell you the truth, I have no idea why they still make lever actions. It might be the historical novelty of it. But even so, as a rifle they are not constrained by practical size limits. They are more or less the same size as any other rifle.

They do make specialist items, which is why we’re having this discussion. Your particular question, though, is why they only reproduce a few specific weapons.

As far as exotic calibers go, most of them fail commercially. Take the .41 Magnum as an example. Not more than 15 years ago the .41 Magnum was considered the hot new cartridge. Where is it now? It’s at best a niche cartridge that costs a fortune for anybody who shoots it because there is no economy of scale.

As a general rule a cartridge will fail if at least one police organization in the United States does not adopt it or it has no advantage in hunting applications (like the .460 and .500 S&W Magnums).

The Webley-Fosbury is frequently called “the answer to a question that nobody asked”. And they’re right. Great engineering, interesting design, but what for? If you have to ask that about a weapon it’s already in danger of failing.

But it wasn’t popular enough to be a commercial success and they discontinued it (and took many years to shift the remaining stock)

They were still trying to sell them off on the eve of WWII, something like a 15 yearsafter they stopped making them. I realise it wasn’t a commercially successful design (although they were used for Olympic target shooting at the 1908 and 1912 games), but I was just using it as an example of something completely impractical that still managed to get built by a major company anyway. Of course, things were different in those days…

I see its as a bit like building a ‘improved’ manual transmission automobile. There just aren’t that many Americans who would want to buy one that would justify the investment, even if what you came up with was a engineering leap forward.

Actually there have been improvements – automatic hydraulic clutches that let you shift from paddles on the steering wheel for example. Formula 1 style.

But sticking with the tradition manual clutch, you’ve pretty much defined it in such a way that it defies improvement. It is what it is. It does everything it needs to do.

As a newbie to pistol ownership, a fan of the “old west”, and someone who recently moved to Montana, I was drawn to the SA because “it’s what they used back then”. I ended up purchasing a used Ruger Blackhawk. I don’t use it for competitive shooting, hunting or self-defense, I use it because it’s fun to shoot, and more importantly I now understand some of the challenges of engaging in a long, drawn out gun fight using a gun such as this (imagine having to reload it while someone is shooting at you).

When I started looking for a SA I was actually looking for a Colt Peacemaker, but they are so costly that I settled on a “modernized and safer reproduction” instead. So far I haven’t had any trouble with it, but I can tell you for sure that my next handgun will not be a SA revolver. I’m actually looking at getting an M1911 if I can find one at a good price.