Think about the really stereotypical service pistol for the 21st century (so far) – it would be something with a polymer frame, large magazine capacity, minimum of manual controls, and a striker with a safety built into the trigger pull. Like a Glock or Springfield XD or Smith and Wesson M&P. Everyone in tune with the times seems to have come to an agreement that this is the ideal set of features for a “serious” service sidearm. Now think back to the 80s (having been born in the 80s, I’m judging the second-hand, but bear with me). What features were really desirable on service sidearms back then? Large caliber, manual safety, and stainless steel (and lots of it), right? In that case, I present a quintessential 1980s combat pistol:

Mossberg CAC-45 with instruction pamphlet
Mossberg CAC-45 with instruction pamphlet

This is the Combat Model .45, made by a company called CAC for Mossberg. It was designed by none other than Bo Clerke (of barrelmaking notoriety, as well as the .38/.45) first shown to the public at the 1979 SHOT Show. Mechanically, it is basically a 1911, with design changes made to address what were considered shortcomings in Browning’s venerable pistol. The differences are:

  • No grip safety. Instead, it has a huge beavertail to protect the shooter’s hand from the hammer.
  • Rear sight adjustable for windage by a small screw.
  • Massively extended slide release, which can be operated by the shooting thumb.
  • Safety (ambidextrous) mounted on the slide; push forward to disengage.
  • Cam slot in the barrel (like the High Power) instead of Browning’s swinging link.
  • Threaded-in barrel bushing, theoretically for improved accuracy.
  • Full-length guide rod for the recoil spring.
  • External extractor.
  • Shortened 4 inch barrel.
  • Pivoting trigger rather than Colt’s yoke type.
  • Beveled magazine well.
  • And, of course, the entire gun is made of stainless steel (all 36 ounces of it).

As you can see, many of these updates are not exactly original to this particular pistol. My Ballester-Molina incorporates several, as does the High Power (which was Browning’s follow up to the 1911, although he died before completing it). A couple anachronisms are also evident, primarily the “combat” style trigger guard spur. To quote Dr. Ralph Glaze’s article on the CAC .45 in the 1979 Guns & Ammo Annual:

Since “Combat” shooting requires the use of a two-hand hold, it has long been common practice to “square-off’ the front of the trigger guard on combat autos to· provide a steady rest for the forefinger of the non-shooting hand. The Mossberg Combat .45 not only has a square trigger guard, but also has a small hook at the bottom front of the guard to keep the finger from sliding down as a result of motion induced by recoil during rapid fire . It’s a small thing, but that little hook really works in helping to maintain a solid two-handhold.

Not exactly today’s style, eh?

Original Mossberg ad for the Combat Model .45
Original Mossberg ad for the Combat Model .45 – note the suggestion to use wadcutters, and the $350 MSRP

Since that list above of changes form the 1911 looks pretty long, we should point out the elements that were kept the same. Primarily it’s the operating mechanism. The Mossberg gun is a recoil-operated, short recoil system identical in principle to the 1911. As recoil pushes the slide backwards, the barrel is cammed downward at the chamber end, disengaging the two locking lugs from the top of the slide. The disassembly is identical in principle, with just changes to the details from the extra screwed-in bits. The magazines are also interchangeable, at least on some of them. Reportedly some were designed for a magazine with the mag catch cutout slightly higher than the 1911 standard, but some were also made to use stock 1911 mags. The standard, though, was just 6 rounds – a regular 1911 mag will stick out below the bottom of the grip.

Mossberg CAC Combat Model .45 disassembled
Mossberg CAC Combat Model .45 disassembled (photo from 1979 Guns & Ammo annual)

Mossberg planned to release the gun to commercial public sale (they went so far as to print instructions and advertising), as well as submit them to the Army for testing in the hopes of getting a contract to replace the 1911. Somewhere along the line it all went wrong, though, because only a handful were ever actually made (and the Army apparently wasn’t interested). I had the chance to inspect gun #1127, seen a writeup on #1025 (with great photos), found an auction sale of #1105, and seen photos of #1145. That suggests that serial numbers started at 1000, and something like 150 were made in total. Why the gun died on the vine so abruptly, I do not know…it could be anything from industry intrigue to a simply underestimation of production cost and market interest.

 

Technical Specs

Caliber: .45 ACP
Magazine capacity: 6+1 (some can use standard 1911 magazines)
Barrel length: 4 in (102mm)
Overall length: 7.5 in (191mm)
Weight (unloaded): 36 oz (1020g)
Action: Short recoil
Locking system: Tilting barrel
Material: Stainless steel

Photos

Here are some photos of CAC .45 number 1127 (thanks to reader Bob for letting me examine it). This example is missing its safety lever:

 

3 Comments

  1. I have in my cabinet # 1171 CAC Combat Model 45-1. My father bought the pistol from a friend who couldnt get it to fire. I traded a compound bow for it with my father, put about $50 into a new hammer and it fires just fine. The only draw back I experience is the fact that after 3-4 rounds, the gun double feeds. I have had gunsmiths look into it and found that the angle of the chamber when cycling rounds is to steep. FMJ rounds work the best, as long as no more than 5 rounds are loaded into the mag. Other than that, the gun works great. I use mine for home defense, since I only have 5 rounds.

    • Mr. Allen,
      I have CAC 45-1 # 1071. I have had it for over 25 years and could never make it run. After retiring I decided to play with it some and now it works perfectly. I am however looking for a barrel bushing. Mine is somewhat scared up. (Many disassembly/re-assembly)

      Looking forward to hearing from you with any ideas.

      Jack Seeley

  2. I get a nostalgia rush just looking at it. That was the eighties alright. There was a whole cottage industry of gunsmiths who worked on 1911s. And also a handful of small companies (Devel, Detonics, etc.) that made their own and who made accessories for tricked-out .45’s. Not to mention super-duper guaranteed corrosion-resistant finishes with a plethora of brand names (Nitex, Armolloy, Perma-chrome).

    Part of this was the fact that Colt and the many clone makers had such abysmal quality control then that it was considered a necessity to cough up extra to have your gun custom-tuned if you were going to get it to work consistently. As the 1911-type was still the only .45 around the major manufacturers didn’t feel the need to cater to their customers by making those special features standard. Seriously, why not have a factory craftsman take an extra half hour to do some throating and polishing and trigger testing as part of the regular manufacturing process?

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