One from the Classic Case

A Brief Overview and History of Colt Cobra .38 Special

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I had been wanting to pick up a used, D-Frame Colt Snubnose .38 Special Revolver with aluminum frame as a working, carry gun for a long time. Any of the aluminum D-frame snubbies would do-a Parkerized Agent which was the type I carried as an undercover narcotics officer, a blued Agent with checkered walnut grips which was the type that I carried as an off-duty/backup gun with the City of Reynoldsburg Police, or a Cobra, which I had never owned before.

Before I go any further talking about the gun I ended up finding and purchasing at the Cleveland Avenue Vance Outdoors location, let me make a few brief comments about the new Colt Cobra snub, which was introduced in 2017 and why I didn't purchase one of those.

The new gun offered as a "Cobra" isn't a Cobra-any Colt fan will tell you that. The Colt Cobra was manufactured for 21 years with an aluminum, and only an aluminum frame. Today's Cobra is actually a modern Detective Special, which was one of the first "modern" Colt .38 Special snubs which featured all steel construction. Toward the end of their production they were offered in stainless steel and .357 Magnum chambering's. While I am thrilled that Colt has reintroduced a D-Frame revolver, I wish they had called the new one a Detective Special. Hopefully a new alloy frame Colt revolver is on the horizon since lightweight carry guns are all the rage, and rightfully so-who wants to lug around a heavyweight handgun all day long.

I will always be a revolver guy-simply because that is the handgun I learned to shoot first, and the one I carried on and off duty as a law enforcement officer for the first twelve years of my law enforcement career. It is still the type of gun I carry most off-duty and rely upon as a backup to my duty weapon while on-duty.

I also don't tolerate packing a lot of weight around as much as I did at one time. The concealment handguns I prefer are light in weight and highly concealable-but still pack an adequate punch. I like guns I can carry all day long with ZERO discomfort-and detection by others.

While I really like the Smith and Wesson snubs for their size and ultra-concealability, such as the M&P Bodyguard .38 with built in laser sight that I pack most of the time, I do wish I had an even six rounds on tap rather than five. In order to find a revolver suitably light and concealable with six rounds on tap, well, the only choice was a used Colt.

The Vance vintage gun case (I prefer that term over "used" when it comes to fine handguns) has lately been brimming with some great classics at great prices. Lo and behold, three first model Colt Cobra's recently showed up in the case, and all were from the same source. And, just as important, they were priced within my current budget.

Any of the so called Colt "Snake" revolver have been bringing premium prices for a couple of years now, as described in a recent American Rifleman article. Colt Python's, Diamondbacks, Vipers, Anaconda's, King Cobra's, and Cobra's are the guns collectors want most-and prices of the premium guns such as the Python are in the stratosphere, and in my case, could be divorce producing should I bring one home. But such was not the case with the trio of Cobra's in the case.

These were all first model guns, produced from 1950-1971. They have the original plain barrel and no ejector rod shroud-the ejector rod is the classic "free standing" style. The frames were black anodized, while the steel cylinder and barrel are blued. Weight is 15 ounces. Sights are fixed black, with a serrated front to cut down on glare. The hammers are exposed and can be cocked for single action fire. The grips are the original checkered walnut "service grips" with the silver Colt medallion emblem embedded on both grip panels. Due to their production years and aluminum frames, they should only be used with standard pressure .38 Special ammunition-which is really not an issue.

So, what was the origin of the Cobra's? They all came from Ford Motor Company, back in the days when many corporate entities had their own, in house armed security police. The Cobra's apparently were used by plainclothes detectives or by ranking officers or the chief.

All three had been pretty well used. I selected what I felt to be the "best in show" of the three. There was no visible rust on any, but the anodization on the aluminum frames showed wear down to bare aluminum in some places, with some small dings. Mixed in. The sample I purchased-for $499-has probably 90% or more of its finish both on the blued barrel and cylinder and the frame intact. Actually the only worn spot on the bluing was where someone had removed some light in one of the cylinder flutes with steel wool. The hand cut checkering on the grips was also good, and showed little signs of wear. Actually, it is because of the visible wear that I was able to purchase it for $499.

Like all intact Colt double action revolvers, the cylinder on mine locks up "bank vault tight" when the trigger is pulled. That is a great check of a Colt Action. Pull the trigger on an EMPTY gun, and hold it back, then try and jiggle the cylinder side to side with your fingers. It the action is properly timed and in good shape, there will be no movement.

After I purchased the Cobra, I took it out for a brief test fire with some Winchester "white box' 130 grain FMJ ammo. The Cobra ran without a hitch, and shot as expected to the point of impact. It was good to feel the same level of confidence with this vintage Cobra, as I did with the previous agents I owned when they were brand new. I want to keep the duty loads I carry in this fine old piece to the lowest pressure rounds that I can find that still will be effective. One of my prime choices looks to be Winchesters original 110 grain Silver standard pressure load. If you want the lowest pressure ammo available that can still be effective in one of these loads that you can also use for enjoyable practice would be the 148 grain all lead target wadcutter round.

Holsters are still available from several manufactures for Colt's old D-Frame line. Some are specific for the 2017 Cobra, and I have one coming for my Cobra. I have also ordered a Tyler's T-Grip adaptor for the front strap of the gun. It takes up some excess space between the front strap and the trigger strap. They don't alter the original grips.

After I get the holster and T-grip, I plan on carrying the Cobra on a regular basis. I have looked into having it totally refinished, but I am not sure I want to spend the money. After all, it's a bit like me, somewhat worn on the outside, but still available for duty.

When you are in any of the Vance Outdoors location, look over the vintage gun case. There may be an affordable handgun waiting there for you!