In the quest for pistols appropriate for the new sport of Zoot Shooting, I ‘ve investigated a couple of new prospects. The two are, the Colt 1903 and the FN model 1903. Both pistols were designed by John Moses Browning, the pistols are similar but not identical. I had always thought the guns were the same, only differing in markings. Not true, the designs are similar but not the same. As you can see in the photos, the FN 1903 is a bit larger in the frame and has a longer larger slide, there are other mechanical differences as well and as near as I can tell, few if any parts interchange.
The pistols have different missions as well. The Colt 1903 is a pocket pistol, we’d call it a concealed carry pistol today. The FN 1903 is a service gun, made for police and military use. Calibers are different also, the Colt came in 32 ACP and 380 ACP. Both are common pocket pistol cartridges sill popular and in use today. The FN 1903 is chambered in 9mm Browning Long, an obsolete European cartridge that is hard to find ammo for and is not widely known in U.S. Here’s where it gets interesting, may FN Model 1903s were converted to 380 ACP when the used guns imported into the U.S. in the 1950s to the 1980s. 380 ACP was much easier for to obtain, but the gun seems underpowered for the its bulk.
Most of the FN Model 1903s on the market were actually built in Sweden under license by Husqvarna as the Model 1907. The pistol stayed in Swedish production until 1943 and was replaced in Swedish service by the M40 (Swedish built version of the Finnish L-35 Lahti pistol).
One odd characteristic of the both the Colt and FN is the grip safety. When firing the pistol, the grip safety must be depressed, however unlike a Model 1911 Colt, the safety pivots from the bottom of the frame. This different feel does take some getting used to.
The FN Model 1903 is a great option for Zoot shooting. The Swedish versions converted to 380 ACP can be found on the used gun market for about $350 and up, making it a very good value. Issue holsters and extra magazines are available at reasonable prices. The pistol can also be used by members of CASS clubs that have more liberal rules on Wild Bunch Shooting Matches. This would be a fun alternative to the Model 1911.
If you watch old movies closely you’ll see FN model 1903s, being a little larger that the Colt Model 1903, they photograph well. The FN’s last great moment in the sun was in a post Ian Flemming James Bond novel in 1980. Mr. Bond use the FN 1903, however, many fans apparently objected and later Bond stories have used more modern equipment. But for Zoot shooting, both the Colt and FN Model 1903s are the cat’s meow.