Blast From The Past: The Original Colt M4 Promo

Old promotional videos and literature aren’t just entertaining for their nostalgic qualities, but also as important tools for the historian. Features being marketed in a video or pamphlet give the viewer decades later a marker for when those had been introduced, and the characteristics emphasized in such articles give a window into the way the winds were blowing at the time it was made. This weekend, we take a look at a Colt promotional video from 1993, on the then-new M4 Carbine:

There are a few things worth noting in the video:

  • Reference is made to the NATO rifle trials, where the organization once again failed to standardize on a weapon. The Colt video claims that the M16 proved to be “the most reliable and effective weapon evaluated.”
  • Colt advertises both SAFE-SEMI-AUTO and SAFE-SEMI-BURST fire control groups, saying the former is available in the M4A1. However, the rifle shown with the fully automatic fire selector is the fixed carry handle variant, not the flattop that the video later specifically designates as “M4A1”, so even Colt may have been confused as to exactly what terms meant what.
  • The M4 advertised here is the original carry handle variant, not the later flattop. “Colt-ology” of this period is a little murky, but essentially these are Model 727s but with the “fat” double heat shield handguards. Later in the video, the flattop is shown “for use by special forces” under the name “M4A1”, which later would designated the fully automatic flattop variant, specifically.
  • The M4s in the video all have the transitional type polymer CAR-15 contour stock, not the later “M4” stock.
  • Compatibility with the M16A2 is emphasized in the video, and initially the M4 was marketed as the “M16A2 Carbine”, before being type classified “M4”. In practice, compatibility with the M16 is fairly modest, as barrels, receivers, gas tubes, buffers, buffer tubes, and stocks were all different than the M16A2 in the mature M4 Carbine.
  • The sliding buttstock is not advertised to have intermediate positions – and it may not have had them. At the time, it was common in SOF units to take two-position buffer tubes, size them to the shooter by moving the stock to an intermediate length, and then mark and drill a new position for the stock. However, in The Black Rifle II the author mentions that the nylon buttstock was developed with the four-position buffer tube, but one assumes that if the intermediate positions were present they would be advertised in the promo. Later, the familiar six-position tube was introduced.


The M4 proved to be a runaway hit for Colt, and its success secured another two decades of solvency for the beleaguered and mismanaged American gunmaker. The M4’s design itself, though not without its detractors, has stood the test of time, and it remains one of the most important individual weapons designs of the 20th Century.

H/T LooseRounds

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • anonymous

    Old promotional videos and literature aren’t just entertaining for their nostalgic qualities, but also as important tools for the historian. Features being marketed in a video or pamphlet

    Imagine how different 1980s action movies and ads in Soldier of Fortune would have been if the SAS had used CAR-15s instead of MP-5s during the Iranian embassy rescue in 1980….

  • Big Kat

    I like how far up that detachable carry handle is.

    • KestrelBike

      yup quicker target acquirement : P

  • Wolfgar

    I’m getting old , it seems like yesterday to me when the joint NATO nations did their test for a uniform combat rifle and cartridge that gave us the M-16A2 and [SS109] M855 ammo. Back then the M-16 proved to be the most reliable rifle in the test believe it or not.Love the older promo’s.

  • ItalianAmerican

    I love this too. Today, the ones like us are called “retro lovers” and I’m certainly one. I just brought back my Colt M4 carbine to almost bare status, after years of tricking it out with this ‘n’ that and whatnot.

    • iksnilol

      Get that tacticool stuff off the rifle, please 😛 . By tacticool stuff, I mean the foregrip and carry handle.

      • john huscio

        M4s look best with foregrips, rails and KAC railcovers……would replace the carry handle with a red dot….

        • iksnilol

          Why have the rails if you’re gonna cover them up with rail covers?

          • john huscio

            So you don’t get cut/keep em clean

          • iksnilol

            Yeah, but why bother having rails if you aren’t gonna use them?

  • TVOrZ6dw

    I almost believe…

  • Lance

    Like the promo like the first M-4s had a fixed carry handle with a A2 sight system. cool looking shooter.

  • thedudeaz

    At 2m 51 sec, the shooters is using a Beta C mag. Maybe they were trial testing with the new platform?

  • Esh325

    So they did make M4A1’s with fixed carry handles? Honestly, I’ll have to call their statement about the M16 rifle in the NATO trials bs, as they have no information or source to backup that claim. The rifle at 5:15 I guess would be an early version of the M16A4. Thank you for showing us the video. I don’t think a lot people realize that the first M4’s had fixed carry handles. Here’s some pictures of some early M4/M4A1’s still in use with Turkish and Greek SF

    • Oh, I suspect that Colt knows how their own rifles performed in the NATO trials of the late 1970s. And frankly, it isn’t that hard to believe. Colt had a huge head start in debugging their design with several years of hard service use in Southeast Asia. Which of the European submissions had that kind of field testing? The closest might be the Dutch-sponsored IMI Galil, repackaged as the MN1.

      As for the presence of fixed carry handle carbines in other nations’ inventories, don’t forget that Colt had been selling M4-style carbines like the RO727 for several years before the M4/M4A1 was officially adopted and issued. This is what has lead to the misconception that the military M4 was based upon the commercial RO727.

      • Esh325

        While it’s true that a lot of designs were more premature in that testing, that doesn’t mean you can believe entirely what a manufacturer says who is trying to sell their rifle. They may not be telling the truth or the whole truth. Remember that Colt said originally that the M16 was self cleaning?

        • It is a sales video, not an academic history lesson. Even if Colt cited from the actual NATO test documents, how would the average customer be able to access them to confirm that they were not misquoted?

          “The Last Enfield” makes its clear that the XL64 IW did poorly. “Die G11 Story” confirms that the HK G11 was withdrawn prematurely. So that leaves the pre-production FN FNC, the just adopted but not quite finalized FAMAS, and the MN1. It is clear that FN went back to tweak their design as you can find references to the FNC76 versus the improved FNC80.

          • Esh325

            Even if we take out the G11, and the SA80, that still leaves us with the G3,Galil,Stoner 63, and FAMAS. Just because they made changes to the rifles doesn’t necessarily confirm that the M16 was indeed better than the competition. The USA made changes to the M16A1 rifles leading to the M16A2 before they adopted the M885. The G3 was also used as a control weapon, which of course Colt wouldn’t want to mention. Then don’t use information that can’t be verified as true, especially from a manufacturer who has made bold claims in the past that ended up not being true. It’s sloppy.

          • The question as to which rifle the Dutch submitted is interesting. While there are modern claims that the MN1 was the Stoner 63A1, most books and articles from the era mention that it was the Galil. In 1978, the US State Department even fielded an inquiry from the Egyptian government, who were concerned that NATO might adopt an Israeli rifle.

            Corporate sales departments play fast and loose with facts. Get used to it.

  • Jonathan Ferguson

    “even Colt may have been confused as to exactly what terms meant what.”

    No. The A1 designation refers to the Safe-semi-auto trigger group and the heavy barrel, and not the flat-top upper. Just as the straight (burst) M4 started out with fixed and went to flat-top without a change in designation, and just as there are M16A3s with both fixed and detachable handle uppers, so early M4A1s have the fixed handle and later ones (bearing in mind that not many of the early ones were procured) have flat-tops.

    • Jonathan, that isn’t quite correct. Since the late 1990s, the “A1” designation refers to the SAFE-SEMI-AUTO trigger group (not the heavy barrel, which is just called the “SOCOM” barrel), but before 1994 I see references made even in what should be authoritative sources to the A1 meaning either the full auto trigger group or the flattop receiver.

      I’m not saying there are no “right” or “wrong” ways to use these terms, but even this promotional video seems a bit confused as to exactly what means what.

      • I think part of the problem has been when Colt and the US Army have adopted the same designation for different configurations. For instance, Colt started using the M16A3 nomenclature for its flat-top rifles long before there was ever an official military rifle by that name. When the M16A2E3 was officially standardized in the US military as the M16A3, it had a 0-1-F trigger group and a fixed carrying handle.

        Here’s a reference to the M4E1 carbine from a 1994 vintage military report. You’ll note that it already has the flat-top upper receiver and a 0-1-F trigger group.

        • Esh325

          Doesn’t the above video feature a M4A1 carbine with a fixed carry handle though?

          • Again, it is probably a case of Colt jumping the gun with their naming scheme. The fixed carry handle carbines with 0-1-F trigger groups are likely RO727, with an outside chance of being a real deal RO721.

      • Jonathan Ferguson

        Ah, sorry- you’re quite right about the HB. I tend to forget that it wasnt part of the original A1. But AFIACT those sources that claim a flattop as part of a given mil designation are mistaken, at least as far as Colt are concerned. But reading Daniel’s comments below, and as you say, maybe they’ve confused themselves, as those fixed handle “A1s” might well be Colt Model Whatevers rather than actual mil M4s..

  • Dylan

    I suspect the reason the M4s in the video have the fixed carry handle was because rails were not standardized until 1995. This video came out 2 years before that, so the concept of the rail system was fairly new.

  • USMC03Vet

    Going to need a whole lot more BBQ sauce for all those chicken wings in that video 🙂

    • ItalianAmerican

      I was wondering about that. I ‘heard’ that both stances would have been used at one time or another (still today). I like to keep my wing shut, so to say. Folded. But I keep on seeing many still spreading those chicken wings.

      • iksnilol

        It’s better for accuracy. Tucking the elbow in is only good for making you a smaller target.

        • USMC03Vet

          Except it’s not. It’s natural to chicken wing in an attempt to stabilize the sights, but tucking your arm in doesn’t reduce accuracy and allows for better recoil management.

          • iksnilol

            Yeah, I am guilty as charged in regurgigating info I heard. Now that I think about it I tuck my elbow in to support the gun better. Y’know, to get that sweet bone on bone action. The elbow bone goes on the rib bone and I forgot how the rest goes.

    • Rick A

      A lot of that is simply due to the grip angle. With running stocks short becoming popular, more vertical grips becoming commonplace, and it being more fashionable to tuck your arm in, folks now ridicule the “chicken wing.” It’s rather silly. Whatever works for you. It’s hard to avoid with an A2 grip. There’s some funky contortions folks are teaching to “drive the gun” but I’ll stick to what’s fast and natural.

      Competitive shooters and military folk will often just use what works for them with no regard to what’s tactically fashionable.

  • Grindstone50k

    I had to double check to make sure this wasn’t a CARNIK-CON! video.

  • Anonymoose

    Needs moar Elcan.

  • Southpaw89

    It worked, now I want one.

  • Jeff Smith

    Which guy is Claymore?

    • claymore

      AW man they didn’t call me for this one RATS. No wait I was already out of conus by 1993. OR was I muhahaha?

      • Jeff Smith

        I’ve never been more jealous of another person’s life, hahaha.

  • Uniform223

    I watched the video and I didn’t see a single beard… so not operator. All joking aside this video was cool beans.

  • MikeF

    Cool Video

    Pretty sure I saw my first M4 in 1995, I was with 10th Mountain, returning from JRTC at Ft Polk. A couple of Infantry Officers had them. They had carry handles, but I dont remember if they were removable. They looked brand new.
    I would have traded my M16A2 for one in a New York Minute.

    There were some guys there that training cycle from Natick Labs testing a bunch of future soldier gear as well. Good Times

  • Jonathan Ferguson

    Nathaniel, I owe you an apology – I made the cardinal sin of not actually watching the whole video until now, and you’re totally right – they define the M4A1 in the video as being a flat-top; no mention of any other features.

    Also, whilst the style of upper may or may not have changed within the military designations (and I’m no longer clear on that either), the Colt RO numbers are pretty straightforward. From the Standard Catalogue of Colt Firearms (p.226), they break down as;

    COLT MODEL 720 M4 (Original Version) This is a short barrel version of the M16 with collapsible stock. Chambered for 5.56x45mm cartridge. It is fitted with a 14.5” barrel and has a magazine capacity of 20 or 30 rounds. Its rate of fire is 800 rounds per minute. . The weight is about 5.6 lb. Marked “COLT FIREARMS DIVISION COLT INDUSTRIES HARTFORD CONN USA” on the left side of the receiver, with “COLT M4 CAL 5.56 MM” on the left side of the magazine housing. In use with American forces as well as several South American countries.

    COLT MODEL 920 – M4 This model is the current U.S. (“US PROPERTY”) version of the flat top carbine with 14.5-inch barrel with a 1-in-7 twist rate, forward assist, sliding buttstock, and A2 improvements. Select fire with three-round burst and semi-auto.

    COLT MODEL 921—M4A1 This U.S. (“US Property”) model is the same as the Model 920, except it is full auto with no burst feature. Copyright by Colt Defense LLC.

  • Rick A

    A lot of guys in the infantry were excited about the M4 at the time as it was seeing some limited specialized use soon after. I really didn’t care and don’t recall having seen one. The M16A2 was a little stuffy in some vehicles, but not enough to really matter. The adjustable stock I always thought would make a great addition but that had been in use for decades. It’s crazy how slowly equipment progresses in the military. Most of our gear in the 90’s was Vietnam era stuff. Only the high speed low drag units got the stuff that is commonplace today.

  • Steve_7

    Colt’s started making the 727 in 1987 iirc.