The Snake Strikes Again!

Colt’s Cobra Is Back
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Black Hills 100-gr. Honey Badgers clocked out at over 1,050 fps in the Cobra and shot well.
The Cobra seemed to digest everything with aplomb

In the early part of the 20th Century, Colt had the large frame New Service, the Medium frame Official Police and the small frame Police Positive. All the bases were covered. Almost. The next step was to come up with the first true pocket pistol. Starting with the Police Positive, Colt maintained the 6-shot .38 Special while cutting the barrel back to the more easily concealed 2″. At first the square butt frame was maintained however this was soon rounded both fore and aft to make pocket carry even easier. This new gun was called the Detective Special in 1926, and became the standard by which all 2″-barreled .38 Specials would be judged over the next half century plus.

Colt did not stop there. In the waning days of the 1940’s Alcoa and Colt worked together to come up with a lightweight frame for the Detective Special. The result in late 1949-1950 was a 15-ounce pocket revolver, weighing 30 percent less than the steel Detective Special. This new alloy frame, 2″ .38 Special was given the appropriate name of Colt “Cobra” for its quick striking ability. It’s identical in all ways to the Detective Special except for the lightweight frame. I saw my first Cobra at the company store and I could not resist this nickel-plated pocket pistol. It rode in my pocket from the early 1960’s on.

Colt still had their Official Police which when fitted with adjustable sights and target grips was known as the Officers Model. For several decades this revolver was the standard by which all .38 Special bullseye shooters would judge target revolvers. Now it was time for Colt to capitalize on the idea of naming their revolvers after snakes. The Lightweight Cobra would last from 1950 to 1972 and then in 1973 was upgraded with an enclosed ejector rod and hand filling grips. This version would last until 1981.

With the passing of the .44 Anaconda and .357 Python in 2006 all the Colt “Snake” revolvers were gone. And in fact, all double-action Colts had disappeared.

Pictured is Colt’s Linear Leaf Mainspring, greatly improving double-action and single-action trigger pulls.

John was pleasantly surprised by how easy the Cobra was to shoot … and was impressed
by the consistent accuracy across the board regardless of bullet weight.

Magic Occurred

Now the unbelievable has happened. We never thought we would ever see a double-action sixgun from Colt again, and now we not only have a double action, we have a resurrected Snake. The Colt Cobra is back! Perhaps resurrected is the wrong word as the stainless steel Cobra of 2017 bears only superficial resemblance to my 50-year-old nickel-plated original, alloy-framed Cobra.

Instead of just copying the 1950’s-era Cobra, Colt began anew, designing a revolver that could be easily assembled instead of taking hours for costly hand fitting. It was this hand fitting that caused the demise of the Colt double action revolver, as they had gotten to the point where it was costing them more to build the gun than they could sell it for. Except for truly custom guns, for the most part all double action revolvers today, no matter the manufacturer, are simply “assembled.” CNC machinery is so refined now, labor intensive hand fitting is essentially no longer required.

These double-action revolvers may not come from the factory as smooth as the old classics from the 1950’s, however they do work well, and also seem to be getting better all the time. The New Cobra is quite attractive in a 21st-century way and every bit as eye appealing as its ancestors. The Cobra is now all stainless steel construction, has an enclosed ejector rod, a larger trigger guard allowing easier use wearing gloves, and actually feels smoother and has a much better overall feeling than the Classic Colts.

It has a 41/4-pound SA trigger pull and the smoothness of the double action is attributed by Colt to what they call the Linear Leaf Mainspring. It works, as not only is the single-action pull excellent, the double-action pull is also quite smooth at around eight pounds. To illustrate there really is nothing new under the sun this same basic mainspring is described and pictured by Elmer Keith in his 1955 book, Sixguns.

Modern ammo, from lightweight to heavy, hits hard in the .38 Special and proved plenty-accurate in the Colt Cobra.

A favorite hat, sturdy Colt Cobra, good holster, pocket knife and a speedloader means
you’re ready to hit the trail. Sometimes “retro” is a good thing!

Shoots ‘Easy’

Normally, I don’t find 2″ .38 Specials very comfortable to shoot in long strings, however I was surprised at how comfortable shooting the Cobra now is. After spending a couple of 3-hour sessions with the Cobra I pronounce it very easy shooting. Two major factors are the 25-ounce weight and especially the new grips. There was a time when all sixguns came fitted with wood grips. Instead of the standard small checkered original grips, we now have very comfortable finger groove rubber Hogue Overmolded stocks that really do a good job reducing felt recoil, without being overly bulky. The sights are also a large improvement, as the square notch rear sight matches up with a red fiber-optic front sight giving a very easy-to-acquire sight picture. The 2″ snub guns from the middle of the 20th century were not rated for +P loads — this new Cobra is.

With its pocket pistol size and short barrel, the Cobra is basically designed for self-defense. With this in mind my test loads were fired at seven yards. Two loads from Black Hills performed exceptionally well. Those being their 100-gr. Honey Badger at 1,060 fps and my favorite .38 Special for several decades now, the Black Hills 125-gr. JHP +P at 870 fps. Its 5/8″ 5-shot group proved to be the most accurate load. Buffalo Bore has a very serious looking load which uses a 158-gr. soft-cast, hollowpoint, semi-wadcutter clocking out just under 900 fps and grouping into 13/8″. It should make for an excellent self-defense load.
Then we have the CCI/Speer 125-gr. Gold Dot JHP, another .38 Special with an excellent reputation for self-defense use. This load clocks out at over 900 fps, with a 11/8″ group. Hornady’s XTP-JHP’s also perform well with the 125-gr. load at 735 fps, grouping into 11/8″. Their 140-gr. bullets and loads at a lucky 777 fps delivered tight 1″ groups. Two other excellent shooting 125-gr. JHP loads are the Sig Sauer +P V-Crown at 880 fps with a 1″ group and the Winchester Silver-Tip with a velocity of 850 fps and the same accuracy.

For those who prefer 110-gr. JHP’s Remington’s loads shoots into 11/8″ at 885 fps, while the Winchester Silver-Tip at the same speed produces a 1″ group. I also like to include full wadcutters for use in pocket pistols. Buffalo Bore’s 150-gr. WC is an 890 fps load with 13/8″ accuracy. Hornady’s 148-gr. WC does 710 fps and 11/4″; while Winchester’s 148-gr. WC is about 30 fps slower than the Hornady at 11/8″ for five shots at 7 yards.

It’s easy to see no matter what your preferences for .38 Special self-defense loads might be, the Colt Cobra can handle it. We can only hope the Cobra will be so successful it will lead to other Snakes being resurrected — especially the Python and Anaconda.

American Handgunner Jan/Feb 2018

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