In Part 3 of the ’10 Years with the Colt 901′ series, I’m going to take us on a journey looking at the variations of the Colt SP901, LE901 and we will end with the Modular AR Carbine (M.A.R.C.) 901 variations.
The design of the SP901/LE901 goes back as far as early in 2004 when Colt became involved in the design of prototype proposals for the SOCOM ‘Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle’ (SCAR) program. The initial requirements of the program were for each competing firearms manufacturer to provide a weapons platform that could use interchangeable modules of differing calibers. The initial calibers that were specified were 5.56mm and 7.62mm. Prototypes in these two calibers became known as the 5.56x45mm SCAR-Light (SCAR-L) and the 7.62x51mm SCAR-Heavy (SCAR-H). Per the SCAR program requirements, Colt provided functional SCAR-L prototypes and their SCAR-H (LE901) design remained as a computer/virtual design. In November of 2004, SOCOM selected the SCAR-L and SCAR-H from FN for their program.
In 2009 the computer/virtual design of the LE901 from the SCAR trial was finalized and began the evolution from design to production. The first public look at a completed CM901/LE901 was provided by David Crane of the Defense Review internet blog on October 6th, 2010.
The CM901/LE901 did not make an appearance in Colt literature until the publication of the 2011 Colt product catalog. In the 2011 catalog, it is introduced to us as the SP901.
Prior to 2011, Colt had their AR-15 product lines split into two categories. There was a Law Enforcement category (LE serial number prefix) which was distributed to Law Enforcement. There was a civilian market ‘Sporter’ category (SP serial number prefix) which was distributed to the commercial retail market. To improve production efficiency, Colt decided to discontinue separate production categories for their AR-15 products. 2011 was the last year that AR-15’s were actively promoted with the SP designation (SP6920, SP6940, etc.) and the only time that the CM901/LE901 would appear with the SP901 designation.
A December 14, 2011 article titled “Colt Modular Convertible Carbine SP901 Pricing” in ‘The Firearm Blog’ internet site was the first time that we saw an MSRP mentioned.
The article stated that the MSRP for the SP901 was going to be $2,129.00. Another interesting thing observed in the article was the use of images of a prototype SP901 that had an X prefix serial number and “Colt Convertible Carbine” on the lower receiver instead of “Colt Modular Carbine” as seen on the operator’s manual published in 2011.
One thing that caught some people by surprise is the 13″ barreled version shown on the cover of the Operators Manual.
In the YouTube video below, you get a special look at not only the 13″ version, but also a limited edition 13″ version that is anodized FDE.
2012- Production Begins
Internet research enabled me to identify that the LE901 finally entered production and product left Colt in the June/July 2012 time frame. The LE901 makes its appearance in the 2012 Colt rifle catalog which is focused on Colts military and law enforcement customers.
The 2012 Colt Rifle Catalog images below are split because the LE901 image layout took up two pages in the catalog.
The model number designated by Colt was LE901-16S. The number 16 referenced the barrel length which is 16.1 inches. The S references the firearm being semi-automatic. Notice in the catalog image above that the rail space is less than the longer rail shown in the previous SP901 images.
The image below appeared in the 2012 Colt retail firearms catalog.
Here we see the 2012 retail pricing information for the retail catalog. We see a dealer cost of $1852 with and MSRP of $2129.
2013- Production Continues
2013 provided us with at least four Colt catalog variations. In my catalog collection, I have two different military/LE catalogs and one rifle catalog.
In one version of the 2013 Colt Military & Law Enforcement catalog we see a return of the CM901 designation. In the images below, you see reference to the CM901-16A and the CM901-13A.
There was a second Military Rifle & Carbine Catalog from Colt in 2013. Interestingly, there was no mention of the CM901-16A or CM901-13A. In this second catalog, there was only ‘CM901’.
The CM901 in this second version of the 2013 catalog was shown on a two-page spread. As a reminder, the CM901 is Safe-Semi-Auto. The LE901 is Safe-Semi only.
The 2013 Rifle Catalog below only has the LE901-16S in it. No mention of the CM variants.
Here we see the 2013 retail catalog.
2014- Production Continues
In 2014 we see Colt implement the use of a multi-fold ‘Product Overview’ brochure along with a product catalog.
The Colt LE901-16S is a two-page feature in the Colt 2014 product catalog.
Here is an article on the Colt LE901 that was written by Christopher Bartoccci and appeared in the ‘Small Arms Defense Journal’ in December of 2014.
2015- Changes in Models and Marketing
In 2015, we see some significant changes in both the type of models of .308 carbines that are available and some changes in the marketing. The change in marketing by Colt sees the introduction of the M.A.R.C. 901 product acronym. M.A.R.C. is the acronym for Modular AR Carbine with the 901 reference being carried over from the previous CM901/LE901 products.
For product reference in 2015, all that I have been able to find is continued use of the multi-fold product brochure. I have not been able to locate a catalog for 2015.
There were two significant changes in the 901 product line for 2015. The first change was the introduction of a lower cost 901 variant that used a free float tube instead of the traditional one-piece upper receiver. This model was called the AR901-16S and also featured a B5 SOPMOD stock. The second big change was the discontinued use of a one-piece upper receiver with the machined milstd 1913 rails and the implementation of a new one-piece upper receiver that used rail sections that could be installed at the users discretion and placed in various locations around the rail surfaces. The carbines with the new upper receiver design received the design designation ‘SE’ at the end of its model number. As an example, the old LE901-16S with milstd 1913 rails became the LE901-16SE.
The NRA published a pretty good article on November 5th, 2014 discussing the new models.
The LE901 FDE-16SE shown in the product brochure had color matched pistol grip and VLTOR buttstock. The LE901-18SE that was shown was only sold in limited numbers to law enforcement.
2016- Production Continues Reduced Variations
2016 had Colt continuing the use of multi-fold product brochures for their product promotion. There were two different product brochures in 2016 with a ‘Summer 2016’ version and version that was just labeled as ‘2016’.
In the product illustration below, we see the M.A.R.C. 901 (commonly referred to as the LE901-16SE) and M.A.R.C. 901 Carbine (commonly referred to as the AR901-16S. The M.A.R.C. 901 Carbine shown below was not included in the Summer 2016 product brochure.
The ‘Summer 2016’ product brochure shows further reduction in the Colt M.A.R.C. 901 product line with brochure only containing the M.A.R.C. 901 Monolithic (LE901-16SE).
2017- The End Of The Line For The 901-Series
In 2017 we see Colt return to the traditional catalog format, at least for military and law enforcement. Within the 2017 military & law enforcement product catalog there was a two-page layout featuring the CM901-16AE and the LE901-16SE. It is not known what the ‘AE’ designation in CM901-16AE stands for.
I have not been able to locate any product information for 2018. As a result, it is unknown if the CM901/LE901/M.A.R.C. 901 moved along for one more year or if the CM762 and CM65 came to life in 2018. The Colt 2019 product brochure in my collection shows the CM65 (6.5 Creedmoor) and CM762 (.308 WIN) being introduced as “New For 2019”.
Some online discussions that I have reviewed seemed to indicate that production of the CM901/LE901/M.A.R.C. 901 family ceased production in 2017. My belief is that there are not many M.A.R.C. 901 family carbines out there. There appear with much less frequency in the secondary sale market than LE901’s do.
I hope you have enjoyed this look at the 901’s series. In the near future I will be doing a small piece on the CM65/CM762 in addition to a piece on the LE901-16S San Bernardino Police Department trade-in carbine.