Value/Ease of Repair on old Colt '77 Lightning (and several other old six shooters)

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by bear166, Feb 26, 2022.

  1. bear166

    bear166 Member

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    Howdy folks. I went in to the local gun shop today, and happened upon a bunch of old revolvers. Not something I normally see here, it's a small town shop and usually there's not much around aside from your typical bolt actions and Glocks and the like. I reckon someone was probably getting older and decided it was time to pare down their collection.

    Here's what's interesting - all of them were priced very, very low compared to what I expect, and also all of them had horribly sloppy actions (probably a correlation here). In total there were two .32 breaktop S&Ws (one nickel plated, one blued), a nickeled .44-40 breaktop (I'm not super familiar with Smiths and and the model was not listed so I'm not certain what model it is), and a Colt Lightning presumably mislabeled as a .38-40 (the designation is DA .38 as one would expect with one chambered in .38 Long Colt).

    I'd be lying if I said I wasn't interested in all four, but the reality is what it is and I can't get that carried away. As I said, they're all quite sloppy - not a single one of them locks up tight. The .44-40 had a note on it detailing some DIY repairs, and given I have no idea who performed them and the fact that all of them have considerable issues, lends me to be a little skeptical.

    But as I also mentioned, the prices make them a little lucrative nevertheless. The .32s were $200 and $400, respectively. The .44-40 was listed at $500. Even without knowing the exact model, I have not seen such a Smith for less than $1,000 at any time.

    Most interesting of all, of course, is the Colt Lightning. The bluing is gone but it has never been reblued and is not rusty; I didn't have time to inspect very closely, but at a glance the bore looked okay. And to make it even more irresistable, they're only asking $650 for it! I had half a mind to snatch it up right then and there, but of course there's a catch. Like the rest of them, the cylinder had a lot of slop to it. The hammer did not lock at any position except full cock, and that still seemed janky. I don't know how many clicks are typical of a Colt double action, but I assume there must at least be a half cock that allows the cylinder to turn freely. This would obviously have to be fixed. I didn't dare risk dry firing an old gun I don't own to test the double action mode. But, while I have done some light tuning with my single actions, I am a complete novice in this regard.

    I do know that the Lightnings/Thunderers were perhaps known for having a design flaws that could result in this sort of dysfunction, and that it is fixable. I guess what I am asking is, how easy would it be to repair the old girl? If it's better left to someone more qualified than me, what do you reckon that would cost a guy? And, while less interesting to me, would any of you be jumping on those old Smiths? Colts (in the form of reproductions) are at least familiar to me, my knowledge of Smiths goes as far as the 686 I rarely shoot that will likely be traded for one of these beauties.

    Anyone that had the patience to read all that, I would appreciate hearing whatever you might know!
     
  2. Johnm1

    Johnm1 Member

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    The 32 break tops are fairly common and if loose overpriced depending upon on what’s loose.

    The Lightning is intriguing and you have pretty much taken my position as far as potential repairs and problems you can’t know at this point. Maybe it just needs a replacement hammer. So depending on the actual issues, which you can’t know yet, sounds a little over priced. I doubt you will find a gunsmith who is familiar with the Lightning. At least locally. I’d hat to be paying a gunsmith to learn.

    The top break 44-40 S&W sounds the most intriguing to me. At &500 that might be the best value if your willing to learn a lot. Maybe @Driftwood Johnson can join in to comment. Just consider he won’t be able to offer much more than generalities without pictures. And I suspect pictures weren’t really an option. The S&W has the same potential as the Lightning as far as gunsmiths go. Though I think there is more knowledge on this forum regarding the S&W.
     
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  3. Dave T

    Dave T Member

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    I knew an old gunsmith years ago who specialized in repairing old guns. He worked on a number of single action Colts and Winchester rifles for me and did an excellent job getting them back to functional condition. I asked him once about Lightnings and Thunderers and he said they were the only guns he wouldn't work on anymore.

    According to him, every time you try to adjust one thing it changes something else. To repair one internal part he said you ended up working on most of the others as well. He hated them and wouldn't have any more to do with them.

    Proceed in your plan with caution.

    Dave
     
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2022
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  4. bear166

    bear166 Member

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    Thank you both for replying, very interesting information. There is a good gunsmith in town who I trust extensively, and who has some experience working on old revolvers. It may be worth calling him at least to see what his thoughts are.

    I agree that the Lightning is perhaps overpriced, depending on how extensive the necessary repairs would be. If the repairs are simple, it seems like a very good deal based on prices I have seen for the same model online, but it is impossible to know without cracking it open (which of course would not be an option without purchasing it). I have heard they are finnicky and prone to breakage so it doesn't surprise me that people would be averse to working on them. I have done a little research on what they look like inside and I will say that, while there are some big differences, the guts are at least laid out similarly to what I am familiar with in my Colt repros. I understand how those bits and bobs work anyway, although I have never tried to hand fit a replacement part on one of those. Could be a potential learning opportunity if I decide to proceed.

    I also think the .44-40 is intriguing as well though. I will need to take another look at all of them, but I remember one of the Smiths had a cylinder that would turn almost freely when it should be locked. I think it was one of the .32s although I can't recall. Would certainly be a more convenient cartridge as I've had my eye on a few Winchester '73s as well. Much as I love Colts, I don't see myself acquiring any other guns chambered in .38 Long Colt and it would be a bit of a nuisance to go through the slightly more involved process of reloading that cartridge just for the one gun. My main hold up is that the cylinder certainly had a lot of play to it, even if it wasn't the one that spun freely, and I am completely unfamiliar with that action. But, I am willing to learn, be it with the Colt or the Smith.

    I will be back there in a few days and I'll try to get some more details. In the meantime, I'd love to hear about anyone else's experiences with these guns.
     
  5. .455_Hunter

    .455_Hunter Member

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    Just a point of reference is that there is a Sheriff in Wyoming who carries his Great-Grandfather's Lightning (also an LEO) as his BUG.
     
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2022
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  6. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    Are you SURE that .44-40 is a real made in USA Smith and Wesson?
    Those are rather uncommon vs .44 Russian.

    But European knockoffs are quite common in .44-40 usually marked 1873 or Winchester 1873.

    DA or SA?
     
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  7. bear166

    bear166 Member

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    That's awesome. Folks in Wyoming know how to get it done, that's for sure.

    Good questions, and unfortunately my memory isn't the greatest so I may be wrong about some details here. But if I recall it was a double action, and I'm certain it at least had S&W branded grips (although we all know that a logo does not an authentic gun make). I'll have to go back and look at the designated caliber again, but good call on being careful about that. I'm aware of the .44 Russian cartridge but didn't even think to confirm that's not what it was - normally I would just accept what the tag said (it did clearly show .44-40) but after seeing the Lightning marked as a .38-40 I think some more careful attention is required.

    I believe what I was looking at was a S&W Frontier, or something very similar, as seen here: https://www.riverjunction.com/Model_1883_DA_Frontier_3660.html

    Upon further digging, I have found evidence that these were also produced in .44 Russian and that European knock-offs are out there. If it truly is a S&W .44-40 Frontier that can be brought back into service, I suspect $500 is a steal. I'll need to take care to make sure that *is* what I'm looking at before making any hasty decisions.
     
  8. Pat Riot
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    Pat Riot Contributing Member

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    Too bad you don’t have photos of these. Especially the one you want, the Lightning.
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2022
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  9. Gordon
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    Gordon Contributing Member

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    Too many good antiques out there to waste your money on a low condition (and too high priced) non op Lightning ! Trust me , I learned 50+ years ago about what a turd they are, and nothing has changed tha opinion in the intervening years of gun dealings. Sure they probably worked 125 years ago for a couple hundred rounds when new .
     
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  10. bear166

    bear166 Member

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    I will definitely get some pictures next time, although at least at the surface level they all look to be in pretty good shape so I'm not sure how much anyone will be able to tell from them. Still, never hurts to have pictures of cool looking guns to look at.

    And indeed I'm starting to think the Colt is probably not worth my time and money. I will of course take another look and see how bad the damage really is, but at his point I'm thinking the Smith is the way I'll go.
     
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