On February 11th, 2021, CZ Group out of the Czech Republic (duh!) made it known that they had signed a definitive agreement to acquire 100% percent of the equity interest in Colt Holding Company LLC, which gives it control of Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC, as well as Colt Canada Corporation. While it may rankle some that the United States’ most storied gunmaker is now owned by European interests, this is actually a good thing…
But first, the boilerplate press release. Or part of it.
CZG – Česká zbrojovka Group SE (“CZG” or “the Group”) hereby informs that on 11 February 2021, it signed a definitive agreement to acquire 100% of the outstanding equity interest in Colt Holding Company LLC (“Colt”), the parent company of U.S. firearms manufacturer, Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC as well as its Canadian subsidiary, Colt Canada Corporation.Subject to the terms and conditions of the definitive agreement, CZG shall acquire a 100% stake in Colt for upfront cash consideration of $220 million and the issuance of 1,098,620 shares of newly issued CZG common stock. The agreement also provides for potential earnout consideration of up to 1,098,620 shares of newly issued CZG common stock if defined EBITDA thresholds are achieved in years 2021 – 2023.
So, in a nutshell, CZ picked up Colt for $220 million US (4654065431.93 Kč) along with some stock issuance and so forth. It’s a fair amount of scratch, but we are talking about the defining name in US firearms history. Again, this is a good thing.
For untold decades, Colt was synonymous with “gun” in our culture. Colt firearms won the Wild West. Colt 1911s were the first widespread semi-automatic magazine-fed service pistol in US military service. The “snake” revolvers (Python, King Cobra, etc) defined the wheelgun market. Colt popularized the AR-15 for citizens. Colt M16s and M4s became and still are the standard service rifle for our armed forces. “Gun” meant the rampant pony rollmark somewhere on the weapon to our gun culture.
However, for the past few decades, Colt has been in a world of hurt…
Colt Depended On The Government – To It’s Detriment
Almost since it’s inception in the mid-1800s, Colt had a cozy relationship with the US government. The first reliable revolvers produced by Samuel Colt were utilized by the US military and also the (then-independent) Republic of Texas Volunteers. Colt rifles and revolvers equipped both the Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War – though Colt could not legally sell to the Confederacy after the start of hostilities, Colt did see the conflict brewing and equipped states planning on secession.
Down the line during and after Reconstruction, westward expansion saw Colt’s guns at the side of the US military, lawmen, and citizens alike. Even the Natives prized Colt weapons, knowing the quality was by then above reproach. Still, the bulk of Colt’s orders were to Uncle Sam. Colt even provided manufacturing services to other designers who lacked the facilities to mass produce their own weapons. Many Thompson submachine guns were marked “COLT”, for example.
As the 20th century started, Colt’s tradition of being “the” government armorer continued. The Colt M1900, of course begat the venerable M1911. The 1911, chambered in .45 Automatic Colt Pistol, made it’s debut in 1911, and became the standard US military sidearm until the 1980s, and even is part of the military inventory today for those with enough juice to request it. And as mentioned prior, the M16 and M4 were Colt products almost exclusively, owing to Colt acquiring the official designs to the AR-15 from Armalite in the early 1960s.
For over a century, government guns were most likely Colt. Pistols, rifles, and submachine guns – the pony was at the side of soldiers and G-Men.
Not to say Colt completely disregarded the citizen market in the US. Colt produced many fine weapons for us Regular Folk. The M16, with it’s space-age looks and zippy .223/5.56mm cartridge, was neutered for citizen use and sold as the semi-automatic only AR-15 Sporter. Colt’s revolvers were prized as carry guns and collectibles. Surplus and new 1911s were highly desireable, with notable models like the Colt Delta Elite being especially sought after.
However, despite the clamoring for Colt products by the citizenry of our great nation, Colt just rode along from government contract to government contract. US and allied nations alike signed multi-year contracts for the bulk of Colt’s output.
Of course, Colt got comfy. Why try to sell to citizen users, with the attendant bureucratic nonsense, when it was just easier to sell direct to government users?
However, governments are fickle mistresses…
The first shot across Colt’s bow happened in the 1980s. The US military, seeking to move to the easier-to-handle 9mm cartridge, solicited bids for a 9mm service pistol. Colt submitted their design, the SSP, but lost out to Beretta, who won with their 92F model, designated M9 in military service. Abandoning decades of tradition, the US military chose an Italian (though with US facilities) manufacturer for their next service pistol. The Beretta performed to spec, but for reasons unknown, Colt withdrew it’s SSP from the competition. Some say politics and that Colt was confident their M16 near-monopoly would keep them solvent.
It’s this confidence that led to Colt’s near-demise. As time went on, Colt slowly started losing even government users. Police departments switched from wheelguns (by Colt and Smith & Wesson) to the GLOCK 17 9mm pistol. Tactical units were less likely to use the M16 or AR-15 and instead chose submachine guns like the H&K MP5. But Colt had that “nut” of the M16 contract, and just kept going, occasionally cranking out serviceable wheelguns and 1911 variants for citizen collectors and the like.
Colt was clearly regarding citzen users as second class, especially when, in 1998, then-CEO Ron Stewart advocated for federally-mandated licensing and training for citizen gun owners. The community, of course, was outraged, which led to a massive boycott of Colt. Though a new CEO, William Keys, attempted to salvage Colt’s reputation with the citizenry in the early 21st, it was too late. Even then, Colt’s government guns were becoming known for reliability issues, especially in desert environments, since the War on Terror had begun at that point.
The reliability and reputation issues continued to plague Colt, which attempted to right the ship, but by then it was too late. Though a reorganization and new management had begun to address the problems, by 2013, the government had awarded the lion’s share of M4 production to FN Herstal. Colt had to scramble, and embarked on a campaign to market it’s wares more heavily to the citizen market. Still, this wasn’t enough to ward off a bankruptcy declaration in 2015.
Colt came out of it’s bankruptcy in early 2016, with new handguns for the citizen market, and new AR-15s for citizen use as well. The models proved to be reliable and consistent, but low production numbers made them hard to get. Also, by that time, especially in the AR market, other brands had exceeded Colt in market share, especially those who tuned their marketing to the “tacticool” crowd. Colt was seen as “out of touch”. Furthermore, financial mismanagement was rapidly sinking the company.
Relying too much on one customer, and not being able to cope with the loss of said customer, Colt was rapidly spiraling towards doom.
Finally, after government pork bailouts including some “sympathy” contracts to produce a limited amount of M4s, CZ swooped in a few days ago, and bought the company lock, stock, and barrel.
This is a good thing.
Though not as storied as Colt, Česká zbrojovka Uherský Brod aka CZ, is no stranger to the gun business. Founded in 1936, CZ became known for producing surprisingly robust (considering it was an Eastern Bloc nation) and reliable firearms including pistols, submachine guns, rifles, and aircraft weapons.
Though the Czech Republic is remarkably (classical) liberal with regards to firearms laws, the company sought out more fertile ground for it’s wares – which in the arms industry basically means the United States citizen market. CZ has put their money where their mouth is, with the company importing as many firearms as possible to the US, and even setting up a factory in Kansas City to produce the new P-10 pistol.
CZ knows there’s money to be made from the US citizen market. Their firearms are fairly priced and go bang on demand. Their marketing reflects that, with themes of self-defense and protection of home and loved ones, themes that resonate with us Second Amendment Radical types. Meanwhile Colt ignored us, unless we were well-heeled collectors looking for safe queen wheelguns.
With a much-needed injection of new life, capital, and new marketing tactics, CZ will keep Colt from ruin. Of course, I have my take on some specifics.
Colt Needs To Appeal To Us Regular Folk
Yes, the government is a fickle, unfaithful, and spiteful mistress. Loyalty and quality mean nothing. It’s all about whose pockets get lined. Us armed citizens however, we don’t have a bottomless ATM, so we’re quite selective on who we choose to do business with, and like to stay with that company long-term if possible.
Under CZ ownership, Colt needs to focus on the citizen market here in the US, and produce firearms citizens want and can afford. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with a collector-grade Colt Python wheelgun, but do you really want to tote that around? Do you even want to shoot it, and mar the beautiful finish? Probably not. You want a serviceable and affordable firearm, much like CZ already produces. Some ideas:
Produce AR-pattern Firearms With Features People Want
Colt hit the mark actually with the LE6920 in certain configurations. A few modern tweaks to the line and they could have a winner. Tweaks like:
Full-length M-LOK rails. Outside of the niche, few people want a classic-look AR these days. They want something with plenty of room for expansion. M-LOK it.
A mid-length gas system. It’s a minor detail, but the increased reliability is worth it. Plus people look for that detail and it’ll move some units.
Magpul stocks, take your pick. No one actually wants the basic mil-spec adjustable stock. It’s ugly and not really ergonomic. Go Magpul anything.
Include more than one magazine in the kit.
MBUS sights standard.
Off-the rack AR pistols. It’s a thing. Partner up with SB Tactical and you’re onto something. Offer SBR versions for those who are willing to do the NFA dance.
OK, and maybe some off-the-rack retro builds and military collector’s editions. Really ham up the ‘Nam motif.
All these features should be the baseline, especially coming from Colt. They have to make up with some goodwill, and a great out-of-the-box AR at a price point of around $800-$900 would do that.
Produce A Handgun People Want
Use CZ’s expertise with the P-10, etc and make a Colt-branded variant of it. People want a decent 9mm striker-fired pistol, and they maybe don’t want to pay GLOCK prices. Maybe they want to save $100 and spend that on ammo. A properly-assembled 9mm carry gun will sell, especially in these crazy times.
Colt Pistol Caliber Carbine
CZ should use it’s expertise with the Scorpion EVO 3 and help Colt tailor a new pistol-caliber carbine from the ground up. There’s a niche for that sort of thing.
People pay for the pony still. It’s no secret. Colt-produced lowers, bolt carrier groups, triggers, barrels, uppers, and so forth can and will sell. Get them out there and let people know they are for sale. I use Colt components in some of my rifles, and they still are superb.
Get Colt the hell out of enemy territory in Connecticut. Move to Florida or Texas where the company will be appreciated and revered.
Market To Us Citizens
Not all of us are veterans. Not all of us served in law enforcement. Amazing respect to those who heeded the call of service, but Colt needs to realize the biggest market for their guns is the Regular Folk and Second Amendment Radicals out there. We’ll take what you’re selling, provided it’s reliable and has the features we want. Entice us. Market to us. Themes of self-defense, defense of home and loved ones. Hell, mess with everyone and show non-typical gun owners wielding Colt firearms. Do what Subaru did in the 1990s.
Aim to have a Colt AR-15 occupying a place of importance in every single American home. The Citizen Rifle. Leverage the history and cultural cachet. I don’t kow, I’m just a blogger who talks over people and takes pretty pictures. But I know what I, and a lot of other people want in a gun. CZ, if you’re listening, I’ll start talking. You’ll have to shut me up. A free Scorpion EVO 3 or another Colt LE6920 made to my specs would help, ha ha.
Hashtag MCCA – Make Colt Cool Again. Government isn’t cool. Armed Citizens and Second Amendment Radicals are.
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