This newly produced Belgian Colt Army M 1860 or “1960 NEW MODEL ARMY” (NMA) as termed by some was manufactured by Fabriques d’Armes Unies de Liège (FAUL) in Liège, Belgium. It is the first mass produced clone of the venerable Colt M 1860 Army of Civil War fame. Only ca. 16,000 specimens were made between 1959 through 1973. In the 20th century FAUL was the corporation succeeding the famous Belgium consortium of 7 gun makers around Jean Baptiste Hanquet with the April 1853 license to manufacture Samuel Colt’s C&B revolvers (other sources say 1852: COLT BREVETE). This license was never terminated. The Hanquet family behind the company has a proud gun history back to 1796.
Steel and Brass
FAUL used high quality forged carbon steel of particular hardness for barrels, cylinders, frames, back-straps, loading presses, etc. Their steel is harder than the steel alloy used for the making of Italian C&B clones! Only during the later years of production a few guns were made from stainless steel. This stainless steel alloy is of the magnetic kind.
Trigger-guards of the Belgian were made of brass, as were the originals.
Back-straps were welded together from three separate parts in the early years but were cast during the later years.
The bores of the Belgian Colts have constant twist, shallow rifling and usually 7 grooves and lands. A number of early production pistols with 6 grooves and lands are known. During the later years of production FAUL installed 8 groove & land barrels as found in many RNMAs and Marshals of 1972/73 manufacture. They also experimented with 12 grooves and lands! Barrel groove diameter is .445/.446.
Chamber Sizes – Diameter
The diameter of the chambers of the Centaures are adjusted the same as the barrel groove diameter, i. e. .445/.446. This important aspect sets them apart from all modern made cap & ballers made during the 20th centaury and almost all made after the turn of the 21st century. This determines the good accuracy of the Belgians.
The recommended ball size is .451 diameter round ball.
Chamber Size – Interior Depth
Do you note any differences here? Take a closer look: It is the interior depth of the chambers. They do not only seem to have different lengths or depths rather, they do actually have as our pard Lucasia FROCS #18 recently discovered!
Chamber sizes (left to right): deep RNMAs #87, #676, #925; mid-size RNMA #4612; small RNMA #11477
To qualify and quantify Lucasia’s observations chambers of all different Centaure models, variations and also a few sub-variations over a wide range of serial numbers/years of production were measured, thanks to the pards all around the globe. Measurements taken were
a. distance from the rim of the chamber to the bottom/base of the nipple
b. distance from the rim of the chamber to the shoulder/step above the base of the nipple.
Most pards used the extension pin of a (digital) calliper for their measurements. “Suspect” or apparently “off” measurements due to different types of nipples installed (3 threads early type, 4 threads “regular” type, 5 threads replacement nipples), obvious tolerances in production, not properly calibrated digital callipers (not “zeroed”) and other erroneous data were excluded from the final math.
It should be noted that the Centaure chambers have this pronounced shoulder or step mentioned before. However, the Belgians used drills with differently shaped tips, from relatively pointed to quite flat, to cut these shoulders.
Give or take the fraction of a mite of a millimeter or an inch here are the surprising results:
# Distance from rim to base of the nipples is about the same in all models and over all serial numbers, averaging at ca. 33,24 mm/1.309 in.
# Distance of rim to shoulder, however, is a different story altogether. Depending on the depths of the shoulder this determines the volume of the chamber, the charge that can be loaded. Three groups of significantly different lengths (volumes) of the chambers were found and categorized. They can be related to serial numbers and/or year of production.
Large chambers: in early production (1959) Regular New Model Armies (RNMAs) to #2851 (1963) for sure but possibly as high as into the low 3000s. This includes the rare Civilians, 1st variation Cavalry Models and Pocket Armies.
The distance from the rim of the chamber to the shoulder averages 30,06 mm/1.183 in (range from 29,08 mm/1.144 in of #C752 to 30,99 mm/1.220 in in #87).
The chambers of these early cylinders have the largest capacity of all Centaure pistols.
· Mid-size chambers: slightly smaller than the early chambers and from RNMA #3128 (1964) to ca. #6969 (1967). The change from the large chambers was probably made sometime in the period 1963/64, between #2851 and #3128.
The distance from the rim to the shoulder averages 27,35 mm/1.076 in with a range of 25,91/1.020 in in pistol #5652 to 28,50 mm/1.122 in of #4601.
Looking at it from the shooter’s angle these chambers have 89 % of the volume of the above early ones! If you need knock-down power in your shooting like for some CAS stages a Belgian with a cylinder sporting the early or mid-sized chambers is the way to go.
· Small chambers: from ca. RNMA #7201 (1968) to the end of the production (1973). The change from the mid-size to the small chamber was probably implemented sometime during the second half of 1967, between #6969 and #7201.
The average distance from the rim of the chamber to the shoulder is only 22,75 mm/.896 in. Distances range from as small as 21,30 mm/0.839of #F11117 to as “big” as 23,37 mm/0.920 in of #9934.
All models, variations and sub-variations made during this period have these small chambers, no matter if the
# steel is of the carbon or stainless alloy kind,
# cylinder is rebated or fluted,
# barrel length is 8” or 5,5”,
# finish is of the blued/CCH or stainless look/”in the white” variety.
These small size chambers accommodate only 70 % of the powder of the early large ones.
If bull’s eye shooting is your sport or fast CAS stages with light to medium loads under round balls for best accuracy and/or light recoil a Centaure equipped with a cylinder with such small chambers is the ticket.
Having established these 3 different chamber sizes the question here is about the WHY?
Why did FAUL reduce the depth of the chambers? And why in 2 steps? Has the position of the bolt notch anything to do with these changes? The deepest points of the 6 bolt notches are positioned ca. 32.75 mm/1.289 in from the rim of the cylinder towards the nipples, on the exterior of the smaller, rear portion of the cylinder. But their square cuts begin already ca. 29,55 mm/1.163 in and end ca. 35,95/1.415 in from the rim. That would place part of the notches over the rear portion of the early large chambers, would weaken the chamber walls there. Through the change to the mid-size and later to the small chambers these bolt notches were now safely behind the chambers.
And there is something else. Above measurements compared to chambers of a 1st gen. Colt Army #4553 provide another perspective. Disregarding the fact that Colt Army .44 cal. chambers might have a greater diameter than the Centaures in our specimen from the Civil War era the distance from the rim to the piston base is 33,60 mm/1.323 in. This is close to what you find in your Centaure (33,24 mm/1.309 in). But here the similarity ends because the Colt does not have a shoulder like the Centaure, just a small radius which begins ca. 2 mm/.079 in above the base of the chamber! In other words this Colt Army has an even bigger chamber volume than the early Centaures … and 6 weak spots in the rear portion of their chamber walls!
So, one could speculate that the smaller Centaure chambers compared to the 1st gen. Colt Armies were a safety measure introduced by the Belgians to offset advances in 20th century black powder technology?!
“If you measure this distance on the exterior of the cylinder starting at the rim and going toward the nipple, you will find that the distance from the rim to be beginning of the rebate shoulder is exactly the same as the interior depth of the chamber from the rim to the shoulder” notes Chain-Fire FROCS #14 and continues:
Therefore, it is my assumption and belief that this chamber design was developed to strengthen the rebated portion of the cylinder – thus preventing burst cylinders in this area. This feature may have proven particularly beneficial for fluted cylinder chambers which have especially thin chamber walls in this area.”
Position of Ratchet Teeth
It was changed during the production life of the Belgians for reasons unknown today.
· In later production models the ratchet teeth usually line up centered on each nipple. This is observed from ca. #3000 or around 1964, whereas
· they were rotated clockwise a good amount in early RNMAs, Civilian Models (C-prefix), 1st variation Cavalry Models (F-prefix) and Pocket Armies.
Ratchet teeth: early type of RNMA #1790 (left), later type of RNMA #11327 (right)
Notch on the Butt
Regular New Model Armies (RNMAs) revolvers sport 8“ barrels, the so-called 3-screw frame with recoil shield with two notches for the attachment of a shoulder stock. Most pistols share these general characteristics, plus back-straps with a notch. Quite a few, however, are found without this notch. I believe these back-straps sans notches are left-over parts from the early 1960 Civilian Model and the special order Pocket Army project that were later fed into the production of the RNMAs.
This is considered good housekeeping practice in line with old Colt’s fashion to use available parts from the inventory. I consider them a sub-variation of the Regular New Model Army.
Notch on butt for shoulder stock: RNMA #925 (left), no notch on butt of RNMA #8563 (right)
Evolution of the Arbor
The majority of the Centaures studied have their arbor fixed in the frame by a horizontal, a few only by a vertical lock pin. Yon can see the end of the pin when you cock the hammer.
1st version arbor: most of the early production RNMAs, the Civilians, 1st variation Cavalry Models and Pocket Armies feature an arbor with a separate deep grease groove close to the slot for the barrel wedge. This feature is very rare on later pistols. In addition they have the historically correct square ended bottomed arbour, tight in the hole” like 1st and 2nd generation Colts, see left picture below of #C418.
Arbors: 1st version square ended arbour with separate deep grease groove (left), 2nd version shallow separate grease groove (right)
2nd version arbor: next in the development from around 1963 was a slightly tapered ended arbor with a separate shallow grease groove, see picture on the right above of #4601.
3rd version arbour: the factory altered this feature later to the tapered ended arbor without separate grease groove, see picture of #8940 below on left side. If these evolutionary steps to the tapered arbor were done to please demanding competition shooters is not known but many of the Belgian Colts were successfully used by target shooters due to their inherent accuracy.
Arbors: 3rd version without separate grease groove but tapered ended arbor (left), 4th without separate grease groove but square ended arbor (right)
4th version arbors: during the late production we find some Centaures with square ended arbors, see picture above right.
Contrary to 2nd and 3rd gen. Colt Armies the Centaures were furbished with a crowned muzzle. This muzzle crown was modified during the life of the Belgian from a flat muzzle crown during the first production runs like original Colt 1860 Army revolvers, as exemplified by Civilian #C418 from 1960 below left , to a rounded one of stainless steel RNMA #12307 from 1972 below right.
At the same time the diameter of the barrel at the muzzle was increased from 17,2 mm/.675 in (#C418) to 17,4 mm/.686 in (#12307).
Except for the special production Pocket Armies FAUL installed low profile period correct front sights of blade type in early production revolvers Armies. These blades were later increased in height at the expense of historical accuracy, to enhance shooting to point of aim.
Front sights: low profile period correct 1960 production of Civilian #C320 (left) vs. tall sight from 1971 of Cavalry #F11117 (right)
Competition shooters in general but bull’s eye shooters in particular have their very own ideas about what is best in the front sight department see examples below.
Custom front sights: crescent shape of Cavalry #F82 top compared to 1st gen Colt bottom (left); crescent shaped sight dovetailed on barrel of RNMA #4601 (right)
Dovetailed custom front sight of RNMA #6150 (left), small scale regular production bead on Marshal 1st variation, 1st sub-variation #11327 (right)
First owner of RNMA #2722 liked it tall (left) but current collector-owner prefers the factory size and removed the custom front sight (right)
The usual finish was a bluing process resulting in a deep gray-black luster applied to barrel, cylinder and back-strap whereas frame, arbor, hammer and loading press received a color case hardening using a cyanide process.
Ca. 1967 FAUL started trial production of Regular New Model Armies in high gloss polish/”in the white” finish what was dubbed stainless looklater in German catalogs. The surface was specially heat treated. RNMAs and Marshals with this glossy finish were regularly available from 1971.
From 1972 RNMAs in stainless steel were added to the line.
The wooden grips are of the period correct one-piece kind. Most came with an oiled finish under a layer of protective shellac, whereas most Civilians and Pocket Armies had varnished grips.
From 1971 a few regular production RNMAs and Marshals were assembled with a silverish Centaure logo medallion inlaid in the upper end of both grip panels. This enhancement is more often found in factory engraved specimens in de Luxe and Super de Luxe style like in RNMA #11851 pictured below left. RNMAs engraved at the factory in Presentation style had ivory grips.
Grips: oiled of RNMA #11851, centaur medallion in both grip panels (left), varnished of Cavalry #F85, custom inlaid Colt medallions & carving (right)