What Happened to the Colt Double Eagle? By: Travis Pike

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Plenty of people like to joke that creativity at Colt died with John Moses Browning, but that’s not exactly true.

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The Double Eagle is an interesting peek at a period that many consider the steep decline of Colt. (Photo: Forgotten Weapons)

The creativity didn’t die, but the skilled design and production certainly seemed to.

Colt tried a number of different concepts, including the All American 2000 and the subject of today’s article — the Colt Double Eagle.

Table of Contents


Why Innovate?

It was the late 80s and early 90s. The tactical market had moved past revolvers a generation ago and was lining up to trade their single-action 1911s and Hi-Powers in for those seemingly new-fangled DA/SA guns.

Although their reigns were long, the age of the 1911 and the Hi-Power were evident by the 1970s. (Photo: Real Guns)

In reality, the DA/SA design had been around for a very long time, but it was widely ignored until the 1980s and 90s.

Colt wanted to get in on the action. They undoubtedly saw Beretta, Smith and Wesson, and CZ moving pistols left and right.

Beretta 92FS and USMC Kit
The Beretta 92 was not only popular by the mid-80s — it replaced the 1911 as the standard sidearm of the U.S. military.

Their old 1911 warhorse was being produced by numerous other companies by that point, and they needed something new.

Rock Island 1911
Well over 100 companies have produced 1911s throughout the years. Colt had long lost its corner on the market.

What they came up with was the Double Eagle.

What is a Double Eagle?

Colt already had the 1911 they were so famous for, and they also knew the current market wanted DA/SA guns.

The Double Eagle is both strikingly similar externally to the 1911, yet jarring when compared side by side. (Photo: Northwest Firearms)

With this, they saw a simple solution — turn the 1911 into a DA/SA gun.

It should be noted that this had been done before. A man named Louis Seecamp had already produced a conversion kit to convert 1911s into DA/SA guns.

Double-action 1911s were not a new idea. The Seecamp conversion show above predates the Double Eagle. (Photo: American Handgunner)

Colt didn’t do much different when they approached the development of the Double Eagle. They made it a fair bit more complicated, but that was arguably necessary to make it current with the market trend of modern DA/SA guns.

Some of that complication came from installing a modern decocker that sat below the slide and slide release. Colt eliminated the old grip safety and manual safety, instead relying on the heavy double-action pull to act as a pseudo-safety.

The decocker on the Double Eagle (left), is located in roughly the same place as the Sig 226 (right). However, the decocker on the Colt is harder to depress due to the slide stop being located right above it.

Why name it the Double Eagle? The Double makes sense due to the DA/SA nature, but the Eagle part seems silly. They also billed it as the Series 90, which followed the 1911 naming convention of Series 70 and Series 80 guns. 

Oddly, Colt decided to produce the Double Eagle as a single-stack gun at a time when double-stack pistols were becoming prevalent. The capacity was 8 or 9 rounds, depending on the caliber.

A cutaway render of the Double Eagle. The swinging barrel link and magazine are among the most obvious holdovers from the 1911 design. (Credit: Gérard Henrotin)

Production started in 1989, and the first Double Eagles were in hands in 1990. Colt produced the gun in .45 ACP, 10mm, 9mm, 40 S&W, and .38 Super.

The .45 ACP and 10mm are the most common, followed by 9mm, and then the somewhat rare .40 S&W and .38 super variants.

10mm Round
The 10mm round gained popularity in the late 80s and early 90s after its adoption by the FBI and presence in mainstream media.

Borrowing again from the 1911 naming conventions, Colt also produced commander and officer models of the gun for those looking for something more compact.

A Colt Double Eagle shown in the “officer” compact configuration. (Photo: TFB)

When the FBI began testing new guns in 10mm in the wake of the Miami-Dade shootout, they did test the Double Eagle. Obviously, it didn’t make the cut.

What Went Wrong

It turns out converting a 1911 to DA/SA isn’t a clean operation. It would have been better to create an original pistol, but in all fairness, Colt later would with the All American, and they mucked that up too.

Much of the Double Eagle’s operating mechanisms were exposed when the grips were removed. (Photo: AllOutdoor)

When you removed the grip panels, you exposed tiny parts that could easily fall out. One spring can leap out of the decocker when you remove the left side grip. This meant users had to be very careful in its disassembly.

Also, if your plastic grips broke, your gun could be disabled until you can repair them.

Apart from being exposed, many of the springs and retainers were thin and fragile. (Photo: AllOutdoor)

Aside from the wonky conversion, the pistol was reasonably solid. Colt even produced a Mark II model that fixed most of these issues.

However, even with those issues rectified, the Double Eagle didn’t exactly stand out.

An advertisement for the updated MKII Double Eagle. It is clear Colt was trying to ride their legacy more than the merits of the pistol.

Guns like the Beretta 92FS held almost double the capacity of Colt’s single-stack design.

In addition, guns like the Smith and Wesson 4506 were very similar to the Double Eagle. The 4506 was cheaper and was arguably a better gun.

Smith and Wesson saw the trend early and began developing semi-automatic pistols in the 50s. Guns like their 4506 pictured above had the benefit of decades of development and refinement. (Photo: Jason Steiner)

This stiff competition made selling the Double Eagle difficult, and in 1997, production halted. Everything else was better and cheaper. What did Colt expect?

Final Thoughts

The Double Eagle is a cautionary tale in firearms manufacturing. No matter how old or stout your reputation is, the market will leave you behind if you fail to innovate.

The Double Eagle is what happens when you try and finish your homework at the last second, and you don’t even bother to copy off of your smart friend who has straight A’s.

Colt has brought their Snake revolvers back, and their recent acquisition by CZ might breathe some life into the old company. However, I don’t see the Double Eagle making a comeback anytime soon.

Do you have any experience with the Double Eagle? Let us know in the comments below! Interested in other stories of major companies being late to the party? Then check out our article, “What Happened to the Remington R51?”