Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind
What is a Centaure Anyway
This ain’t no Colt Army you are shooting, pard, no naval scene on the cylinder. What kind of a pistol is it?” demanded yours truly from the shooter at the Hofheim Shooting range early Summer 1974. After careful aiming and hitting another bulls eye he said.
“Well, that’s a .44 caliber Centaure C&B revolver from Belgium the most accurate and most expensive Colt Army clone money can buy”
My first exposure to the famous Belgian Colt but I didn’t care less because then I did not know the difference and was totally happy with my Uberti Army 1860.
Some 20 years later it is a completely different story. My interest in guns had shifted from merely pistol shooting to the historical aspects of firearms as well, some affinity to cowboy action style shooting but more importantly gun collecting was the thrill and still is. In April 1993, at the International Stuttgart gun show, I was looking for a replica of a Colt 1860 as a shooter, ideally in stainless steel. And there she was at one of the sales desks in all her shiny silverish beauty.
#14219 with 8” barrel and fluted cylinder – at DM 400,00 my first Centaure revolver and a steal. As I learned later she had the stainless look all right but it was not stainless steel at all. It was the high gloss polish/”in the white” finish of later Centaure production. One of my many mistakes was to trade her two years later to my shooting buddy Elwoody who is #1 a genius in reloading – see .44 Colt ammo in other chapters – and #2 still teases me about that deal.
I stumbled over my next Centaure checking the deals of Egun the German Internet auction house (http://www.egun.de/) in October 2005. One Centaure offered looked like an ordinary blued and case colored Army Model with the typical rebated plain cylinder but in addition with a second cylinder featuring some sort of naval scene resembling the Colt engraving.
#4079 was a pistol assembled relatively early during the 1960s I had learned in the meantime. Some demanding previous owner had a knowledgeable gunsmith apply traditional Colt bluing and case colors to the gun, a job beautifully executed. Never shot her with the Holy Black, but in 2008 had her converted from Austrian Master Karl Nedbal into a Richards in .44 Colt cal. to become my first Centaure conversion see CONVERSION page, section titled WHAT WE GONNA DO NOW, BUTCH OR THE MAKING OF THE NEDBAL RICHARDS CONVERSION. She is getting her regular diet of smokeless behind 200 grainers now and is pictured next to the index up left on this page.
Another long barreled Centaure with fluted cylinder had my name written all over her at Egun again in summer 2006. #12307 turned out to be one of the few revolvers made by the Belgian factory from stainless steel. I shot her only once. She was printing approx. 15 cm/6 in high at 25 meters (too light a .36 load!) and a mite to the left. Attempts to correct POI with my little file by adjusting the rear sight notch failed. For the first time I noted the extraordinarily hard steel of these Belgian Colt Armies. The file would not bite, file marks barely visible. I retired the pistol into my cowboy gun collection until a few years later and deep into the Centaure research program FROCS #30 Lederstrumpf aka Socks talked me out of her. He had recently liberated #12305, another stainless steel Centaure, and wished to use that pair in CAS competitions.
During that time I began to follow discussions in various Internet forums dealing with cowboy guns, particularly the US ones and found a number of inquiries about “Belgian Colts” or “1860s Made in Belgium” or “Centennial Armies”
My last acquisition in December 2007 was a short-barrelled Marshal Model #12067. The price was very good although the previous owner had ruined the lock-work and the front sight had gone missing. She needed some waynerizing – waynerizing is a secret process known to a few initiates of the gunsmith trade. It brings back to shape run-down C&B pistols to function like the proverbial Swiss watch again – plus elbow grease and some polishing with steel wool for better looks. But that’s why we have our knowledgeable gunsmith friends.
“I am too Old to Go Soldiering any more, too Stiff in the Joints to Ride Point and too Damn Fat to Wrestle Drunks” (Dutchie O’Dark 2008)
Discussions in the CAS-City (http://www.cascity.com/) STORM forum during Spring and Summer of 2007 regarding the merits and history of the Belgian Colt Armies aka Centennial Armies aka “1960 New Model Armies” aka Centaures stirred my curiosity to what extent their reputed superiority over Italian 1860 Army clones with and without connections to Colt in Hartford could be qualified. But there was one other issue. The rich and fascinating body of rumor and myth, beginning with the story that these Centaures were made by the same outfit in Belgium with whom Colonel Colt himself had signed a contract in the 1850s for the manufacturing of his pistols. Once this research project was kicked-off it became obvious that it was necessary to measure each point of the popular “story” against what can be shown through documentation of the characteristics and features of specific examples of the pistols: The sequencing of serial numbers, the appearance and disappearance of variant models over time, and the reported fall-off of quality until production of the “1960 NEW MODEL ARMY” at Fabriques d’Armes Unies de Liège (FAUL) finally ceased in the 1970s.
There are different Ways to Skin a Cat
The challenge was and still is to reach the owners of Belgian made Colts 1860 Model pattern pistols out there, to motivate them to get hold of the questionnaire as a download from this website, or by mail, as fax or letter, and to return it completed with the specifics of their pistol and possibly (digital) pictures. Gun magazines like the Cowboy Chronicle, DWJ Deutsches Waffenjournal, Schweizer Waffenmagazin, THE SHOOTIST, VISIER and the Waffenfreund reported about my study.
Thanks to a couple of pards in the USA who “advertised” my activities quite a number of questionnaires where returned. I still run regular Internet searches on the subject, approach every identified Centaure owner I find in the various discussion forums and ask him to submit the data of his pistol for the survey. So the news is spreading and completed questionnaires continue to come in.
While the use of Internet, email and digital cameras made the task a straightforward one once the structure was fine-tuned I am fully aware of flaws in my method to approach this research. But this is not supposed to be a scientific study with the objective to satisfy a handful of collectors. Regarding the cheaters out there I accept the data of the pards & pardettes “as submitted” particularly if supported by pictorial proof. If there appears to be need of further clarification I go back to the respective owner to double-check. If a question mark remains the specific pistol will not be included in the survey. Until now this was not necessary which I attribute to our cowboy code. Consequently physical inspection of individual guns is the exception rather than the rule.
And finally: this website is a construction site rather and always will be because new information is added as it becomes available.