Colt M1911 machine pistols

Back in the 1930s Colt developed a few experimental fully automatic M1911 pistols. It is hard to believe that anyone thought that a .45 ACP machine pistol was a practical idea!

Note the Thompson Submachine Gun forgrip

The most famous fully automatic 1911 would have been John Dillinger’s which was chambered in .38 Super. His was a standard 1911 which he had modified so that it would be fully automatic.

Dillinger’s full-auto converted .38 Super. UPDATE: Some commenters have questioned if this photo is in fact of Dillinger’s gun.

More full auto .45′s over at Casatic.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Hellhound

    Still KICK ASS after all these years

  • DaveP.

    I’ve also seen one in one of the pilot photos in the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum, in Georgia. One of the pilots had an armorer make one up fior him so that he’d have something a little more enthusiastic if he go shot down over Occupied Europe.
    Sadly, that’s ALL I remember on the topic. Still, any excuse to send people to the Mighty 8th Museum is a good one. Don’t miss the stained glass in the cathedral…

  • Justin H

    I can only imagine the trouble one would have controlling a 1911 on full-auto, esp a .45. I love 1911’s myself, but without some recoil reduction I have hard time seeing it being very accurate, even with the foregrip and stock.

    • raygunraven

      Actually,those cuts on the top of the extended barrel are a compensator of sorts,directing the gas flow up to control recoil

  • Sian

    crazy-long single-stack 25rd magazine is crazy-long!

    Gotta wonder why they didn’t use a coffin-style magazine or something with that.

  • SpudGun

    From what I understand, these early machine pistol conversions were plagued with issues, from weak magazine springs to the usual feed problems associated with the 1911. They were notorious as jam-o-matics and I can’t even guess what the recoil would have been like.

    From a practical stand point, having a magazine the size of a hockey stick and a forward grip bigger then the pistol kind of negates the concealed carry advantages. 🙂

    Still, like all machine pistols of this type – Mauser M30 Schnellfeuer, Beretta 93R, HK VP70, Glock 33 – they may not be the most practical platforms but they are super cool.

  • scurvy

    Wouldn’t the original MAC-10 qualify as a full auto .45 ACP machine pistol? It sold like hotcakes!

    Granted, the bundled supressor slowed down muzzle velocity, but I wouldn’t say the idea of a full auto .45 is a bad one.

    • I had a standard 1911 RIA fs. I modified mine mi self, recoil is awesome. Lift you’re. Hand up if not carefully u shoot ire self leaves to big still nit find a proper grip for it to cover the conversion.

  • Vak

    The PDWs of the 30s !

    funny to see the concept hasn’t evolved much.

  • Redchrome

    If I was shot down in enemy territory, I think I’d rather conserve my ammo… or better yet, have a silencer so as to make my getaway quietly.

  • zach

    It may not be practical, but it sure looks fun as hell!

  • Thoroughly impractical and ridiculous. I’ll have to put that on the SMC projects list. It will be pretty far down and likely we’ll never get to it but you never know.

    Project next is reactivating a 1914 Savage manufacture Colt-Browning M1895 “Potato Digger”…a gorgeous gun which was never registered and had to have it’s receiver mutilated even though it is legal for us to now rebuild it. Insanity!! The gun weighs almost 40 pounds unloaded and with the tripod (brass and steel, a work of art really) is just under 100 pounds…not exactly the dream weapon of the modern criminal…especially since the mechanism makes it virtually impossible to shoot offhand (it would be true “offhand” shooting though, as whatever hand you used to grip to fore end would likely be off the end of your arm when you pulled the trigger!)

    Hmmm, looks like insane, off-topic rambling is my MO today. Better get off the internets before it spreads.

  • jake

    For the longest time, I’ve had a set of plans on my computer of how to convert an M1911 to full auto, and the end result looks just like these photos.

    • David/Sharpie

      Could you send a link to the site you got them?

  • Carl

    I don’t think machine pistols are as impractical as they are often made out to be.
    Here is a review of the Glock 18. Even without a ported barrel it seems it was controllable for a person just trying it out for the first time. Without foregrip, no less.

    What is impractical though is that huge wooden stock. It defeats the whole purpose of the machine pistol. The same probably applies, but to a lesser extent, for the long ported barrel and the foregrip. Just use a regular two-handed pistol grip and practice a lot and you’ll do fine, I suspect.

    Obviously the single-stack magazine of the 1911 well, “stands out”, pun intended. 🙂 They’re still pretty cool though, and the people using them probably wouldn’t have donr so if they would have been impractical.

  • Mang

    Dillinger’s full-auto 1911 and the one from the Colt files aren’t the same gun. Yet clearly, those are two photographs of the same weapon – or two weapons of the same series. The FBI image is probably another of the Colt-converted pistol.

  • zach

    @ Spudgun i think you mean the Glock 18, the Glock 33 is a subcompact in .357 SIG 🙂

  • zach

    by the way I’m a different zach then the one farther up the thread

  • Greetings from Texas,
    These just looked wrong to me when I first saw the pictures as a kid. Today I know firearms enough to know why. Spray and pray incarnate. To hell with hitting anything, pray it sprays!
    Having said that they are like the Scorpions. If you can terrify the croud enough to comply they will never find out you can’t hit a barn from the inside with it. Just hope you can get off a short burst into the ceiling before it jams.

  • Redchrome

    having seen some videos of Glock 18 shooters; and knowing at least one person who’s shot one; my impression is that even with a 33-round mag it’s tough to get off more than 3-4 bursts before the gun runs dry. 1100RPM is *fast*. Also, the bullets tend to be sprayed all over the target, even at close range; and one could fairly easily put a couple of shots Center Of Mass with the same effort as putting a bunch of rounds all over the target (IMHO only COM hits count).

    They do look like a lot of fun tho. 🙂

    A cursory search doesn’t turn it up anymore; but there used to be a drop-in thingy that replaced the slide cover plate on any glock and turned it full auto. I always thought it would be amusing to convert a Glock 26 to .30 Luger and load it with sabot rounds ( Given an auto-switch, it may very well be the world’s smallest machine pistol; and there’s even some chance it would be controllable due to the low recoil. The ROF would be ridiculously high tho; unless that could be somehow slowed. (I can’t find it anymore, but somewhere on there was an article by a Russian small-arms engineer regarding a proof-of-concept machine pistol based on a makarov but with a reciprocating weight on top that lowered the ROF to ‘only’ 850 RPM or so.)

  • Burst

    Oh, I dunno. The success (such as it is) of the MAC-10 means there’s a niche for a .45 Machine pistol.

    Remember at the time, a .45 SMG meant the Thompson, which was the size of a rifle. This isn’t a GOOD solution, but it’s a solution.

  • unllama
  • Mangon,

    Back then, there was a gunsmith in San Antonio, TX named Hyman S. Lebman that specialized in these conversions, and he really didn’t care to whom he sold them. His customers included Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Pancho Villa’s revolutionaries. The pistol in the top photo was reportedly one of two Lebman-converted pistols captured from Nelson by the FBI. Lebman was working on a third for Nelson when the FBI arrested Lebman in 1934.

  • zach


  • 54Bravo

    MANG: I totally noticed that too. I was even comparing the two images back and forth with the grip screws orientation and the wood grain in the fore grip-definitely the same gun.

  • SpudGun

    @zach – not sure which one now, I get easily confused. 🙂

    Yep, I meant to write Glock 18, I must have subconciously put 33 as that’s the round count on the extended magazine. Dammit, I went to all the trouble of making sure I was quoting the correct Mauser configuration and then this happens.

    SpudGun made to look a fool once again – in other news, leader of Catholic church defecates in forested area.

  • Carl

    Here’s a Glock 19 F/A with the target displayed. 15 rounds center of mass @ 5-6m or so.
    I’m not saying it’s perfect for everything, but for short ranges, cramped quarters and concealment I’m sure it could be very useful, as long as you practice enough.

  • I’ve had the opportunity to fire the Glock 18C, CZ-75 full auto, a Beretta 93R and a Stechkin and out of them all the Beretta was by far the most controllable (with the Stechkin a distant second.) Really it would be almost a no-brainer even on paper given it fires the least powerful cartridge in the bunch but the real advantage was that it is limited to three round bursts. Although with time I’m sure I could have reliably managed short bursts with the other pistols, it was comforting to not have to concentrate as much on regulating my trigger finger as I did with the others which greatly increased my ability to put lead on steel. I will say that the Stechkin was the most “fun”…9×18 not being much more powerful than .380 and it being a bit heavier than the Beretta made dumping mags out of it enjoyable (although accuracy was negligible…the grin on my face made up for it!)

  • Redchrome

    Gregory Markle:
    Was it the folding foregrip on the Beretta 93R that made it so controllable? Or did it have a lower ROF or both? The folding foregrip looks like a good design, but the ergonomics of the fire controls (safety & selector) seem a bit awkward.

    Max Popenker says it’s single-action only:

    Can you carry it cocked & locked?

    I don’t want to have to change magazines after I shoot the target! 🙂

  • Carl

    Redchrome: Then just fire quick bursts rather than empty the entire magazine. And get some 33 round mags. 🙂

    Here is a good display of the 93r including a tutorial on modding it to full auto (it’s 3-round burst only as standard as Gregory points out). Beautiful gun.
    It has a safety so I’m sure you could carry it cocked and locked.
    Personally I wouldn’t be too excited about sticking my left thumb into the trigger guard though.

  • Mang, you are 100% correct that the photo(s) on this page are the same gun. “Every Day, No Days Off” gun blog ( ran this photo captioned as Dillinger’s gun:
    Visible differences are the hammer is not blued, the comp IS blued, the leading edge of the forward grip has been trimmed, and it has a .38 Super magazine stuffed into it. Cheers.

    • Anopsis, thanks for the photo.

  • Redchrome

    Thanks for the link!
    The folding foregrip really does seem to make the difference in controllability, as witnessed by one video of someone shooting it without holding the foregrip. (Just one more argument against the asinine NFA law that a second grip on a pistol makes it a ‘short barreled rifle’).

    My issue with carrying it ‘cocked & locked’ is that the safety is a little thing, and works backwards from an M1911 safety (up to fire instead of down). It’ll work, but it won’t be as fast to deploy as other designs.

    — Carl.

  • Chris

    I have always been amazed with these “baby machine guns” as not only do they look cool but would be very pratical for back in the day. Nelson took out a car load of agents with his before they could even react. That is what these pistols were designed for, up close and personal! I could see the 45acp version jamming as the single stack 45 acp 1911 magazines today even suck but I through my experience with high capacity 38 super magazines they dont jam. That is using a fluffed and buffed 38 super…. AWSOME PISTOL PERIOD A PART OF AMERICAN HISTORY!!

  • Keith Applegate

    Swartz was also to blame, er, um, I mean, was responsible for the short-lived Swartz Safety, the original firing pin safety Colt tried out back before WWII.

    A Colt with a Swartz Safety is worth big bucks today.

    So it seems that Swartz, while poor at designing commercial successes, was great at creating collectors items.

  • Chris

    Anyone know where the outlaws weapons are today? I mean you had Pretty Boy Flyod and his modified 1911’s, Baby Face Nelson and his full auto 1911’s, Van meter etc.. It wouls be interesting to see their guns!

  • Spiff

    I remember seeing a picture of an early WWI rear seat gunner in a bi-plane with a Colt 1911 that had a “bird cage” wrapped around the pistol to keep hot empty cases from getting into the air craft while shooting over the side.
    I have shot the Mauser “Schnellfuer”, the select fire MAC 10 in both 9mmP and .45ACP, and the Glock 18…the Mauser “walks” predictably, the MAC’s are a “shotgun” pistol and a blast to shoot, the Glock, with just a little trigger control, are quite accurate for what they are intended for…Not well known was the role that the MAC 10’s played in the attempted POW raid at Son Tay. The reports from the field were so good we (Sionics/MAC) thought we would get a government contract, but the Gov. Human Elements Lab sabotaged us that at the trials…

  • Keith Applegate

    Chris, I believe most of the guns you mention are currently in the FBI archives. They have quite a large collection of outlaw/gangster weapons.

  • steve mendez

    That is baby face nelsons pistol.

  • Darqan Hamileria

    I would have loved to have had one of these with a custom beta c-mag…