Smith & Wesson’s .45 Colt Classic Model 25
By John Taffin
Not by any stretch of the imagination would anyone ever consider me a connoisseur of music but I do have some of the best; namely about two dozen cassettes and CDs by Johnny Cash, Charlie Daniels, Don Edwards, Tennessee Ernie, Frankie Laine, Bob Wills, and of course Marty Robbins. And these same few artists are played over and over and over. Gunfighter Ballads is in a cassette in the 4x4 pick-up and on a CD in the house; the strains of "Big Iron", "El Paso", and "They’re Hanging Me Tonight” are heard the most and now I know how Marty Robbins felt as he saw his “pretty Flo” run off with the handsome young stranger.
My Flo and I had been together for years and I thought we had an understanding but when I went to pick her up for our weekly date I was instead greeted by her big sister. She gave me the news my Flo had indeed gone off with a handsome young stranger. “He is younger than you, a world traveler, much better looking, and I think she was quite smitten with his Hawaiian shirt." I just stood there crushed, filled with grief and anger and thought about following them until I recalled the words of Marty Robbins after he caught up with them, “They’ll bury Flo tomorrow but they’re hanging me tonight.”
Then for the first time I took a look at big sister. She appeared to have a few miles on her and definitely more experience than my Flo; she was taller and a bit heavier, and actually appeared to be, as some would say, very well put together and well endowed. I forgot all about my Flo for the moment as I said, “Say Darlin’, are you doing anything tonight?” What a time we had! She was almost more than I could keep up with and I forgot all about my Flo. Almost.
The story is a parable and some may have already discovered its meaning. My Flo is the .44 Special, big sister is the .45 Colt, and the handsome young stranger is my “friend” Mike Venturino. When Smith & Wesson announced the line of Classic sixguns this year editor Jeff John thought it would be a neat idea if Mike and I did an article together on the .44 Special and .45 Colt editions. But who was to get what? Mike got there first and jumped on the .44 Special; young guys are like that! I was willing to let him have first choice; old guys are like that. Actually Mike and I are good friends, both of us consider the .44 Special, well, special, we help each other find .44 Specials, and I just recently bought a 5” Model 1926 from him. (If he was a REAL friend he would lend his professional photographer Yvonne to me for photos!)
In reality the .45 Colt is also a special favorite of mine just slightly behind the .44 Special. Currently my meager (as in, I have way more than I need but certainly not as many as I want) collection of sixguns is slightly tilted in favor of the .45 Colt by about the same margin as the last two presidential elections. I currently have two custom .44 Special sixguns being built by Alan Harton and Jack Huntington and I just found a .45 Colt Bisley Model back east so the race will become even tighter. Also in reality I have said several times I could easily live out the rest of my life shooting nothing but the .44 Special when it comes to big bore sixguns; the same thing could be said about the .45 Colt. All this brings us to the Smith & Wesson Classic .45 Colt.
While Mike is enjoying the reincarnation of the .44 Special 1950 Target/Model 24, my Classic never really existed and is actually a hybrid. It has the longer cylinder of the later .45 Colt Model 25-5 matched up with the slim barrel profile of the .45 Auto Rim/.45 ACP in the 1950 Target/Model 26. Wherever it came from it is definitely welcomed. Back when the original classic N-frame sixguns were being made they had 6-1/2” barrels. This was true from the original Triple-Lock through the next three .44 Hand Ejectors, as well as the .38/44 Outdoorsman, the .357 Magnum, and the original .44 Magnum. This barrel length is to the double action Smith & Wesson sixgun what the 7-1/2” length is to the single action; perfect in looks, at least to my eyes, and perfect in balance, again at least in my hands. For some unknown reason when the .41 Magnum was introduced the barrel was 6” and then in 1979 this was standardized and then came the heavy underlugged barrels on nearly every S&W sixgun; bad moves! Sometime after this in the 1980s the round butt button was found on the machinery, locked on, and suddenly all N-frames lost the square butt configuration; another very bad move. If anything these should have all been offered as options not standard equipment. The non-heavy underlugged 6-1/2” length came back with the .44 Magnum 50th Anniversary Model and to whoever decided to put it and the square butt back on all the Classic Models I say a hearty Thank You!
The .44 and the .45 have followed two somewhat parallel paths with very little crossover. Smith & Wesson started it all in late 1869 with the introduction of the first Model #3 American which also happened to be the first big-bore cartridge-firing revolver. The Russians were a major market for the Model #3 and had Smith & Wesson change it from the .44 S&W American with its heeled bullet to the .44 Russian with a bullet of uniform size. Smith & Wesson would go on to produce the .44 Russian in the Model #3 Russian, New Model #3, and their double action top breaks. In 1907 Smith & Wesson lengthened the .44 Russian to the .44 Special and chambered it in the Triple-Lock, or First Model Hand Ejector. There would be three more Hand Ejector Model .44s prior to the introduction of the .44 Magnum. More than 45,000 were produced in total with less than two dozen .45 Colts found among the Triple-Locks and about 725 in the Second Model HE series. When Smith & Wesson brought out the 1950 Target in .45 it was in Auto Rim/ACP with the .45 Colt being found very rarely.
Meanwhile over at Colt they also started with a .44 in both their 1871-72 Open-Top and even the original Single Action Army. However, the United States Army sent Colt back to the drawing board with a request for a larger caliber and the result was the now legendary .45 Colt of 1873. From that time until the eve of World War II Colt would produce over 357,000 Single Actions with just over 500 of them being .44 Russian and/or .44 Special. Approximately half of those Single Actions were in .45 Colt and as late as 1955 Elmer Keith said if confined to factory sixgun loads only he would go with the .45 Colt.
Smith & Wesson eventually chambered their 1955 Target in .45 Colt and it is a buyer beware situation as several of these had over-sized cylinder chambers; some ran as large as .456” or even more. In the late 1980s Smith & Wesson got serious about producing quality .45 Colt sixguns beginning with the Model 625 stainless steel heavy barrel. These were followed by blued examples and also the Mountain Gun. Every one of these I have examined adhere to tight tolerances with properly sized chamber throats. The latest .45 Colt from Smith & Wesson is the Model 25 Classic and they really did it right on this one with all six chamber throats being a uniform .452 inches.
The chamber throats are not all they got right on this modern Classic. The cylinder locks up tight, the barrel/cylinder gap is set at .004”, and the trigger is smooth and creep free, although a little heavy at six pounds for the single action pull. The finish is a Bright Blue reminiscent of the finish from the 1950s, the upper sideplate screw is back, both the trigger and hammer are the target type, and the latter is an improved profile over the target hammers of 50 years ago. Lettering on the frame and barrel are sharp and clear with the left side of the barrel being marked “.45 COLT CTG.”
Sights are a fully adjustable square notch rear sight matched up with a Patridge front sight and both are blue as all iron sights should be. The front sight is pinned in allowing it to be changed if a different height or type is required, and removal of the rear sight assembly reveals the top strap is drilled and tapped for scope mounting. Stocks are a slim profile, hand-pleasing, target-style of nicely grained walnut with the old-style diamond around the screw holes and enough checkering for security without causing pain when shooting. I normally fit my personal sixguns with custom stocks, however I see no real need to do that with this .45 Smith & Wesson. One very small but pleasant detail is the attractiveness of the Smith & Wesson medallions set in each great grip panel; they have a very nice antique brass look to them. If there is anything wrong with the looks of this big bore sixgun I can't find it! Remember we don't get in a snit over the lock which is a 21st-century reality; anyone who does misses out on some grand sixguns.
The only thing left to do was to see how this Model 25 actually shoots; and it does shoot! Complete test results are in the accompanying chart but note both the factory Remington 255 LSWC at 877 fps and my handloads of Lyman/Thompson #452490GC over 14.0 grains of Blue Dot at 1,011 fps put five shots into 7/8” at 20 yards. With proper tolerances .45 Colt S&Ws will definitely shoot.
Mike may have gotten away with “my Flo”, however I outfoxed them both. I now have a flashier “Flo”; I had Smith & Wesson send me a nickel-plated .44 Special Model 24 Classic. It is the first brand-new nickel-plated .44 Special I have ever purchased and no handsome young stranger will ever get his hands on it!
Test-Fire Smith & Wesson Model 25 Classic .45 Colt 6-1/2”
Load MV 5 Shots/20 Yards
Black Hills 250 RNFP 755 fps 1-5/8”
Buffalo Bore 255 Keith 1,035 fps 1-3/4”
Federal 225 LSWC-HP 907 fps 1-1/4”
Remington 255 LSWC 877 fps 7/8”
Lyman #452490GC/14.0 gr. Blue Dot 1,011 fps 7/8”
Lyman #454424/8.0 gr. Unique 895 fps 1-5/8”
Oregon Trail 240 SWC/9.5 HS-6 780 fps 1-1/2”
NWCP 260 LVJHP/8.0 gr. Unique 829 fps 1-3/4”
NWCP 260 ManStopper/8.5 gr. Unique 912 fps 2-1/2”
RCBS #45-255KT/8.0 gr. Unique 880 fps 1-3/4”
Sierra 240 JHC/14.0 gr. Blue Dot 893 fps 1-3/8”
Speer 250 LSWC/7.8 gr. Unique 819 fps 1-1/4”