In the mid 1920s J.Henry Fitzgerald worked at the Colt factory. He modified a 4″ Police Positive for use as a concealment revolver and a legend was born. Several actually- the Detective Special was born out of his work, and the appearance of the S&W Chief’s Special was probably not a coincidence
What John Henry did was to cut the barrel to 2″ and remount the front sight, round the corners of the butt, bob the hammer spur and cut away the front of the trigger guard to ease access to the trigger while wearing heavy gloves. In the years before World War 2 he applied this treatment to a pair of New Service .45s. In the years that followed he modified a number of guns for Colt’s customers. These were popular guns with law enforcement officers and soldiers, and became quite well known to gun enthusiasts.
Since WW2 both Colt and S&W revolvers have been modified by other gunsmiths, and now any revolver with the trigger-guard cut away is called a ‘Fitz.’ The original guns are far outside my price range of course, but as my amateur gunsmithing progressed I thought it would be cool to do a Fitz. I just could’t see doing this treatment on anything but a Colt, so for the last year or so I’ve had my eye out for a gun that possessed the right combination of mechanical function, trashed cosmetics and price, and I finally found it-
This is a Colt Army Special .38 made in 1924, and chambered in .38 Special. It had about 50% blue, a missing ejector finial, some light pitting and freckling. The front sight was damaged as well. When I first saw the gun there was dirt in the cylinder and bore. I mean actual dirt, like you would grow a plant in. Still, it locks up tight, there’s no end-play and the trigger was decent, so it seemed to fit the bill.
The first order of business was a thorough cleaning, then it was off with the side-plate to have a look. Um… Ew. More actual dirt and decades of accumulated crud.
All right, everybody out! I detail stripped the frame and cleaned the heck out of it. Not surprisingly this improved the trigger quite a lot. While things were apart I took the time to clean up and bob the hammer.
I also cut the barrel at 1-3/4″. refaced and re-crowned it. I rounded the corners of the handle, mounted the grips and rounded everything nicely- the grip actually fits my hand better than the stock one did. It’s interesting to me because the D-Frame grips don’t fit me ideally without a T-grip adapter, but this somewhat larger frame works just fine.
I had studied the way the trigger-guard should be cut and frame modified, but making myself take the plunge and actually do it was harder than expected. I finally too a deep breath and applied the bandsaw, then ground the leading edge under the trigger and contoured the frame under the crane.
I used a cut-off wheel to make a slot in the top of the barrel, then mounted and silver soldered the original front sight in place. It was far too tall of course, so I shortened it by cutting a ramp at the back, as Fitz himself often did to adjust the POI on these guns. I carefully ground the cylinder to remove the worst of the corrosion and polished the barrel and sight a bit, then applied Van’s Instant Blue. After that was done I touched up the bluing here and there, particularly on the frame of the gun. At that point the gun was basically finished.
I’m really happy with the way it has come out. I loaded up some Fitz-appropriate loads for it- 173gr. LSWCs- that I’ll try out at the range over the next couple of days. If I load this for defensive use I’ll use the Buffalo Bore 158gr. LSWCHPs formulated for short barrels. This gun is actually quite stout; I doubt it would have any difficulty handling +P loads, but I don’t really see any need to go there.
I’m a little mixed about using this gun as a carry piece. I know these were designed for that purpose, and a fair number of people did use them for exactly that for many years. I have a bit of trouble wrapping my head around the missing trigger-guard. but extending the trigger-finger along the side of the frame it does allow excellent access to the trigger. The real concern is holstering the gun- this needs to be done carefully so as not to catch the trigger. I suspect I can get used to it.
Even though I am fully aware that I finished this gun yesterday just holding it feels like a connection to a bygone era, to history. That of course is why we bother with old and old-fashioned guns- that sense of connection and tradition. I can easily picture slipping this into an overcoat pocket- and I may well do exactly that.
Now where can I get me a nice fedora…?
Michael Tinker Peacre, 4 March 2018
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