Uberti Remington 1858 New Model Army
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- Last updated: 14/12/2016
When it comes to firearms, function has invariably taken precedence over form, for obvious reasons. Thus, around 1861, when Remington began production of their first commercially available .44 calibre revolver, they chose not to follow the graceful lines of the then market leader, the Colt 1860, but produced a pistol with a top strap that was inherently much stronger than its main rival but, in my eyes at least, not quite as graceful. In its later form, from around 1863 to 1875, as the Remington New Model Army (NMA) revolver, it went on to be, the second most popular pistol used in the American Civil War, after the Colt 1860, and had the war lasted a little longer, would undoubtedly have overtaken the Colt.
Beauty At A Price
Since the mid-1950’s Italian gun makers have been producing replicas of nineteenth century American percussion revolvers which have provided modern shooters and collectors with examples of the most popular weapons available from 1850 to the early 1870’s. Leading the way in this market have been Uberti and Pietta. While Pietta have “invented” a great number of pistols in this category, principally their brass-framed models, Uberti have hitherto stuck to making accurate and historically correct copies of the guns involved. With the pistol reviewed here they have chosen, cosmetically at least, to break with tradition and produce something which was not an original Remington offering. The 19th century Remington NMA revolvers were made with a full blue barrel, cylinder and frame (Uberti still offer this option) and not the case-hardened finish as on the frame here. The charcoal blue on the test revolver is often said to be closer to the nineteenth century blue finishes than the present day almost black appearance found on the majority of guns. Whether this is true or not, the combination of this blue and a case-hardened finish to the frame provides what is to me a true Italian beauty. Coming from a self-confessed Colt fanatic, it is somewhat hard for me to say that this is the most attractive out-of-the-box handgun I have ever seen. Purists might decry this pistol but for me it is a winner, albeit at a premium price, which is a whopping £50 above the standard model.
In its class this revolver is, for me, as close as you are going to get to perfection. Surprisingly, despite the plaudits which I accord it for its good looks, its minor downfalls are in the cosmetic department. The metal-to-metal and wood-to-metal fit is almost perfect with only the tiniest hint of the grips being oversized on the front strap. The metal has been very well polished giving a high gloss to the blue surfaces and the case colours are vivid without being garish, the combination being complimented by the brass trigger guard. The screw heads and the trigger are for some reason all black. Why they are not done in the charcoal blue is probably down to cost. Charcoal pistols are in the minority and it is obviously much easier to pull these screws out of the standard parts bins rather than go to the bother of producing a small number in the special finish. Having said that, the front sight is charcoal blue. Strange.
For a long time now Uberti have used the same grade of walnut and the same red/brown varnish (hand rubbed oil finish is an optional extra) on all of their firearms, handguns or rifles, and you either hate it or love it. More than a few buyers have opted to remove this high gloss coating and refinish the wood to their own liking. In the case of this revolver the grips are two-piece, held together by a screw with brass escutcheons in the wood. The varnish was obviously applied to the grips after the escutcheons were fitted, leaving a red/brown coating on the brass. A very minor detail I agree, but one which, along with the black parts mentioned above, goes toward keeping this pistol from being cosmetically 100% perfect.
Not Just a Pretty Face
As good as the fit and finish is, it is matched by the super mechanical operation of the pistol. The timing is first class, with the cylinder locking bolt rising to position at precisely the moment that the hammer reaches full cock. The hammer spur is slightly lower than the Colt 1860, and together with a not-too-heavy mainspring, cocking with one hand is relatively easy. Cylinder lock-up is excellent with absolutely no fore and aft movement (the cylinder to barrel gap is a shade over .001”) and the minimal of lateral play. The pistol is fitted with a nice wide, smooth trigger (chequering would be an advantage) which broke cleanly at around five pounds. A little polishing of the internals would doubtless improve this.
Shooting was done with a load of 25 grains of Henry Krank’s black powder, a lubricated fibre wad and a Buffalo Bullet Company .454” lead ball. Ignition was by Remington No. 11 percussion caps, although size 10 may have been better for this example. The sights are rudimentary by modern standards, consisting of a post-and-base front, dovetailed into the top flat of the barrel, with the back sight being a groove along the top strap, culminating in a v-notch at the rear. Not ideal for bull’s-eye target work but more than adequate for the short distances at which these pistols will be primarily used in Cowboy Action Shooting. Shooting single-handedly there was no problem controlling the recoil with this load. I have heard shooters complain that the grip on this model is a little on the short side, particularly if they have large hands. Had Uberti chosen to reproduce the original Remington 1861 model of this pistol that would not be the case as it had a grip frame which was 3/16” longer, very much like the Colt 1860.
Finally a little tip on removing and replacing the cylinder in the NMA revolver. As will be seen from the photograph, the hand which turns the cylinder protrudes a fair way into the cylinder gap in the frame when the cylinder is removed. By far the easiest method is to remove the cylinder from the left side of the frame (looking from the rear) and replace it into the right side. Place the pistol on half-cock and withdraw the cylinder pin. As you push the cylinder out, rotate it in a clockwise direction with your thumb and fore finger and it has the effect of pushing the hand against its spring and back into its slot in the frame. If you follow the same procedure when replacing the cylinder it should pop straight in.
PRICE: £280 approximately