Colt's Mfg. Co. is finally profitable after a rocky 10 years marked by a bitter four-year strike, bankruptcy and musical-chair ownership. The historic gunmaker is now on solid footing thanks to a new owner, Donald Zilkha of Zilkha & Co., and a new president, 44-year-old Steve Sliwa.
Zilkha is committed to resurrecting Colt through capital expenditure to upgrade the factory, innovative new product introductions and consolidation within the industry by acquiring new companies under the banner of Colt's Holding Co.
The holding company recently acquired Saco Defense, the Maine-based manufacturer of several military and sporting firearms, including the M-60 machinegun and Weatherby rifles. Colt's Holding Co. also owns A.I.S., a manufacturer of an interactive computerized "scenario" shooting system.
Saco gives Colt a broader military base in addition to its M4A1 Pentagon contract at the West Hartford factory. Zilkha also said Colt is in the final stages of acquiring Ultra-Light Arms (ULA), a small manufacturer of custom rifles in West Virginia.
ULA produced 102 custom-grade hunting rifles in 1996, the latest year for which BATF figures are available. ULA's main claim to fame is a light-weight rifle, less than 6 pounds with a scope. ULA rifles retail for $2,000 to $2,500. Zilkha said he plans to make a "production version" of the ULA rifle in the $700 to $800 retail range at the Saco facility for sale through the Colt dealer base.
Sliwa, the company's new president, comes to Colt with an impressive background in the aerospace industry. Sliwa is tasked with developing new technologies at Colt, such as the controversial new "smart gun" that Colt unveiled last year.
Sliwa holds a doctorate in engineering and was a project engineer at NASA before joining Colt. The Princeton and Stanford educated executive was the president of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida immediately before coming to Colt. He also did a stint as a software engineer in Silicon Valley.
Zilkha sees Sliwa as the sort of leader it will take to bring a gun company prosperity in the coming millennium - high tech all the way.
Market-driven new products are also a top priority with Colt, Zilkha said. Showcasing the company's commitment to utilizing the latest technologies, Colt is developing a "smart gun" that can only be fired by a person wearing a special microchip that "talks" to the gun. Sliwa touts the "smart gun" as a solution to the next wave of anti-gun legislation aimed at "child-proofing" firearms. He also sees it as a way to create a vast new market for firearms among families who want a gun for protection but are scared to keep one in a home with children.
Colt's new products slated for the 1999 SHOT Show answer the consumer demand for small, concealable self-defense handguns with new products such as the Defender (sub-Officers size .45 ACP), the Magnum Carry .357 snubnose and a new subcompact 9mm. The Cowboy, an affordable single-action with a transfer bar safety, is finally in production with the first guns shipped to distributors in late 1998.