What we Gonna do now, Butch?

# The Cowboy Way

# The Long and Winding Road to the Centaure Richards Conversion

# The Making of a Centaure Richards Conversion

# Detour to the Bulls Eye

# More Views of the Centaure Richards Conversion

# Winter 2011/12 - Update from Downrange

 

The Cowboy Way: while you go shooting your Centennial Army models with the holy black, I’m sitting back now on my porch, considering myself lucky to be one of this great bunch of cowboys & cowgirls and getting all this help for the study from the USA, many European countries and even down-under. It is almost a global project now if you look at the countries listed in the Acknowledgement page or the survey chart. But I am also concerned that no other Northern or Western European Belgian Colt owners are stepping forward with their Centaures like from Portugal or Scandinavia? When I browse through all those CAS or BP forums there are active cowboy action and black powder shooting communities but also quite a number of Western gun collectors in these countries…

On the other hand I would have been greatly surprised to receive any contributions from Italy due to their highly competitive replica industry in the Gardone Valley.

 

The Long and Winding Road to the Centaure Richards Conversion: IMHO rarer specimens of the RNMAs like the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th or 7th variation, the Civilian, Cavalry, Pocket Army or Marshal Models, and certainly the beautiful factory and custom engraved variants should have their rightful place in your Civil War or Western gun collection next to their grand-uncles of 1st generation Colt 1860 Armies. The more common sub-variations of 1st and 3rd variations of the Regular New Model Army with their rebated, plain or roll-engraved cylinders with a naval engagement scene in Ormsby style, will surely appreciate a regular diet of powder, wad, ball and cap on the range…but please, clean them painstakingly afterwards to maintain their value.

ASM Richards Army Conversion #522 with my .44 Colt reloads

Rear view of #522

For years I had this hankering for a modern made period correct Richards conversion to shoot my favourite inside lubed .44 Colt ammo loaded with smokeless powder. That is after I obtained an Uberti Richards-Mason Army conversion and one of their Open Tops in 2002, both in .44 Colt. As for a companion rifle a gunsmith converted my brass framed Uberti Henry from .44-40 to .44 Colt. So pistols and rifle use the same ammo.

Eventually in March 2004 I found a replica described as Richards Army made by the now defunct Italian company Armi san Marco. She was advertised in .44 Colt cal. with original box at an internet auction in the USA. The price was hot and I just had to have her. A Texas friend made the purchase for me, took care of the export paperwork with a little help from the NRA, and off she went with the next plane to Europe.

I am frankly admitting that I did not research the ASM conversions in detail back then regarding PCness, and checking the pictures at that auction would have been prudent, too…because I was just happy to find an Army size Richards conversion to complete my line of modern made Colt Army conversion clones at a decent price. When all importation formalities were completed at Frankfurt Airport customs and I unpacked the parcel pistol #522 looked awesome with frame and hammer in beautiful case colors and deeply blued barrel, cylinder and back-strap. In that respect above pictures do not do her justice. To that period looking arrangement the polished nickel plated trigger guard made a pretty contrast.

Colt Richards conversions # 4663 & 5596 courtesy Chain-Fire, USA

Functioning and accuracy was fine, light trigger pull and all, but somehow she did not look right. No, it was not the scaled-up frame, cylinder and barrel which irritated me since my Uberti conversions had these areas strengthened, too. Have a look at the left picture of 2 Colt Richards for comparison. These originals were converted at Colt’s in Hartford during the 1870s.

Then it hit me: her straight cylinder and frame without step, combined with this “short lip” machined to the conversion ring and the separate gas ring just were not right. So, she had to go, made another German pard happy who wanted an unpretentious but different looking shooter in .44 Colt and not a .38 Special or .45 Colt SAA clone like many of the other modern cowboys. After that experience, however, I did my homework on the ASM conversions. I discovered that Armi san Marco had made Richards conversions “that never were”: 1951 and 1861 “Navy Richards” in .38 Special and in various barrel lengths. To make things worse a pard called his model of an ASM Richards Army “Il Barstardo” in my favourite US forum. Which says it all, doesn’t it?

But I still wanted that period correct Richards Army conversion…

Finally in Fall 2007 the time was right. After more research among fellow collectors and inquiries in German internet forums likeWaffen-Online www.forum.waffen-online.de I was ready for the next move to get a Richards.

The Making of a Centaure Richards Conversion: this time I shipped my 1965 vintage Centaure RNMA #4079 to Karl Nedbal in Vösendorf near Vienna, Austria (http://www.nedbal.at/), for conversion into a period correct Richards. In the European gun forums Nedbal was recommended as a knowledgeable conversion smith

Nedbal conversions from Uberti C&B pistols: Colt Richards Army with ivory grips (top) and Richards-Mason Navy (bottom)

with years of experience of converting Italian replicas of C&B Colt and Remington revolvers into cartridge firing pistols. Above are pieces of Nedbal-art converted by the master. He is using mostly Uberti C&B revolvers for these tasks but also works on other maker’s guns delivered by his clients. Until we met his preferred

4 x .44 cal. left to right: .44 Russian made from .44 Mag case, .44 Colt, .44 Special, .44 Magnum

Note difference in rim dia of .44 Colt, .44 Special, .44 Colt

cartridge for Army conversions was the venerable .44 Special since commercially made rounds are readily available in Austria. To accommodate the wider rim of this cartridge his newly lathed conversion cylinders have their chambers bored-through with a slight cant. To shoot this caliber he recommends lining the C&B barrels. I should have listened to him. That would have saved me mucho dinero….

Here is my wish-list for Herr Nedbal:

#1 a one-of-a-kind pistol because to the best of my knowledge no Centaure has ever been converted to shoot cartridges.

#2 I wanted her converted to shoot .44 Colt caliber smokeless cartridges with inside lubed .429 diameter bullets (see above). Chambers were to be bored parallel (!) to the arbor. Because the rim of the .44 Colt is smaller than the .44 Special a cant was not needed. For acceptable accuracy this would require reaming chambers into the bored-through C&B cylinder and also galvanizing the bore to this smaller diameter. The application of the galvanizing technique was felt feasible because the factory groove diameter of the Centaure is ca. .446 only, whereas 1st generation Colts or their Italian replicas normally have ca. .451-.454. This galvanizing was a more complex and difficult task than anticipated. Only with the fourth attempt an acceptable groove diameter seemed to have been obtained...

Another Nedbal Uberti Colt Richards Army: custom engraved, silver plated and with ivory grips, .44 Special caliber

#3 I prefer the unique Centaure proprietary naval engagement scene over the more traditional Colt/Ormsby-style one. So I suggested that Nedbal used my extra cylinder #969 that was included when I had acquired #4079 back in 2005. My reasoning was that the confirmed hardness of the Belgian steel would easily stand the moderate pressures of my .44 Colt reloads. As it turned out his assumption did not work out. Not because of the quality of the steel but because the cylinder notches were cut too deep by the factory some 40 years ago. The Proof house would not have accepted that for cartridges.

Centaure Richards Conversion

Project Outline

Base pistols

RNMA 1st variation, 2nd sub-variation #4072

Barrel

8", lug

Barrel marking

"1960 NEW MODEL ARMY"   CENTENNIAL TRADE MARK

Caliber

.44 Colt inside lubed (liner, .429 rifling groove diameter)

Ejector housing

Richards type

Wedge

Centaure

Conversion ring

typical Richards with spring loaded firing pin & integrated rear sight

Conversion cylinder

newly lathed conversion type, Centaure proprietary naval scene engraved

Hammer

bobbed from Centaure

Gate spring

internal

Back-strap

Centaure (steel, with cut for stock)

Trigger-guard

Centaure (brass)

Finish

barrel, cylinder, back-strap rust blued, finish of original case colored parts maintained

Also, it was not cost-effective to add material to the forward portion of the chambers to support the inside lubed bullets before they hit the barrel cone. Nedbal overcame these obstacles and lathed a new cylinder from 1.7225-42 CrMo4-V320 steel to proper specs with notches of the correct depth. The original Centaure naval scene of the cylinder was copied and engraved on the new conversion cylinder.

Being the kind Austrian Karl Nedbal is he documented the making of the Centaure Richards conversion, see step-by-step picture story below:

#1 Barrel milled...

for ejector housing…

and contoured

#2 Ejector housing…

cut

and finished

#3 Frame & new arbour...

frame prepared for cutting recoil shield, original arbor removed

The separate deep grease groove is lathed already, the slot is being cut into the new arbor

#4 Gated conversion ring & new arbor

ready for installation

Conversion ring fitted to frame, new arbor ready to be srewed into frame

#5 Frame & chambers...

Frame with gated conversion ring and new arbor

Reaming of chambers of new conversion cylinder

#6 Centaure Richards assembled but…

ejector housing needs to be installed

#7 How does she compare to an original Colt Richards? See for yourself. Almost like twins, aren’t they?

Nedbal Centaure Richards almost completed, old front sight still in place

...and an original for comparison

#8 Final “cosmetic” touches.

Scene on conversion cylinder was copied from C&B cylinder

To hit POA Centaure Richards needs new front sigh

On May 14, 2008 Nedbal phoned and informed me that the Vienna Proof House had proof tested the Centaure Richards conversion and granted their acceptance mark.

And finally May 23, 2008 was the great day when I took possession of my Centaure Richards conversion!

There she is in all her beauty...

Detour to the Bulls Eye: but...all June 2008 I worked on loads for the Centaure Richards. She just did not like my regular CAS ammo with 200 grain or 230 grain bullets, nor did she deliver any acceptable accuracy

with a 200 grain hollow base bullet over different powder loads. So, after more phone calls to and from Austria AND slugging of the barrel Nedbal summed it up: “Galvanizing might be too innovative for accuracy

when this bore at the muzzle end of the barrel has rifling oversize to the rifling at the breech end” which is what there was, and installed a conventional linerwhich works fine using my regular cowboy loads at CAS but

also regular bulls eye shooting distances, see left quickly engaged targets:

# left 15 meters

# center 25 meters

# right 7 meters

More views of the Centaure Richards Conversion:

Left side of #4079

44 CAL is embossed in trigger-guard, screws are domed

Rear sight and loading gate closed

Close-up of right side with the hammer cocked and loading gate open

Winter 2011/12 - Update from Downrange: The FROCS from the German Rhine-Main-Area carried out an endurance and torture test to assess the suitability of modern made C&B revolvers of Army caliber and their conversions for CAS activities. This Nedbal Colt 1860 Army Richards was one of the customs conversions entered into the test. #4079 presented herself as a reliable and accurate shooting iron with smokeless loads. The testers suggested, however, that the factory issued high tension main spring should be exchanged for a lighter one. During recoil the loading gate would drop open from time to time. This did not affect overall function, however.

Part 1 of the test called for 6 strings of 5 rounds loaded with smokeless powder while during the 2nd part 6 strings of 5 cartridges loaded with the only true powder where required. Black powder fouling started to take its toll from the 4th string. That was quickly cured with Teflon paste applied to the front sides of the cylinder.

Thanks to the highly visible rear sight on top of the Richards’s conversion ring target acquisition was very easy. The testers where pleased with her crisp trigger which helps in side matches where maximum accuracy is required over longer distances.

They concluded that the Richards (R1) would be an ideal conversion for CAS, but is currently available as customs conversion only.

WDN/March 18, 2012

© 2007 Wolf D. Niederastroth

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