The 10mm Auto is the most powerful conventional cartridge that can be used with a standard-sized pistol. And with loads ranging from 180 grains, with a velocity of 1,030 feet per second, to 60 grains and 2,400 feet per second, it is also one of the more versatile rounds to be developed.

History of the 10mm Cartridge

Col. Jeff Cooper with the Dornaus and Dixon company originally designed the cartridge in 1983 to do at 50 yards what the .45 ACP could do at 25 yards. Dornaus and Dixon developed the Bren Ten, based on the Parabellum CZ-75, as the pistol to launch the new powerful round. However, only 1,500 pistols were manufactured before the company failed in 1986.

Even though the Bren 10’s worked, Dornaus and Dixon was a relatively small manufacturing company. The company eventually failed in 1986 after manufacturing 1,500 pistols, which made sense because they couldn’t come up with enough magazines to include with their pistols. Colt, though, had been working on a pistol to handle the pressures of the 10mm and introduced the Delta Elite 1911 in 1987. It was the only 10mm pistol commercially available until 1990.

About the Colt Delta Elite

The Delta Elite has always been a unique pistol. It found its way into the holsters of lawmen and sportsmen across the country who wished for authoritative stopping power in a compact form with a higher ammunition capacity. Through the years, Colt has also offered a blued version; stainless-steel variants; a railed option; the Lew Horton, which could switch between .40 Smith & Wesson and 10mm; and a particularly striking two-tone model, which is still available. The 10mm Colt Delta Elite is now in Generation 2.5, which is the version I tested.

The Delta Elite is a Series 80 Colt 1911. Its sides are polished bright, while the rest of the slide and frame are left dull, creating a nice contrast. Colt added features to make the Delta Elite more comfortable and easier to shoot, bringing it into line with other 21st-century 1911s.

The undercut trigger guard is the most significant change. Once a custom modification, an undercut trigger guard results in a vastly improved grip. The undercut produces an almost unnoticeable arch that the middle finger of the shooting hand tucks into. This arch allows a much tighter grip, which is critical when shooting a pistol chambered for powerful 10mm.

Another important addition is the extended beavertail grip safety with a memory bump. The extended grip safety shields the web of the strong hand during shooting and is standard on almost all modern 1911s. There is also a new extended thumb safety, eliminating the need to shift the thumb around when disengaging it. The original rounded mainspring housing has been replaced with a flat-grooved mainspring housing, which works well with the undercut trigger guard.


Weight: 35 ounces
Barrel length:
5 inches
Overall length:
8.5 inches

An elongated skeletonized hammer replaces the Browning Hi-Power style rowel hammer, making it easier to cock or lower the hammer. The slide grasping grooves have been changed from the standard vertical fine serrations to the wider angled ones preferred on today’s updated 1911s. The slide is stamped “Delta Δ Elite” on the left, and “Colt Government Model” on the right.

Colt has dispensed with the original Pachmayer style wrap around rubber grips on the Delta Elite. The new grips are black composite individual panels that have traditional diamond-style checkering for a sure grip.

Original sights have been upgraded from a rather small set of standard sights to Novak’s combat sights with a three white dot configuration. The rear can be drift adjusted. While I would have preferred a set of Novak’s sights with Tritium white outline front sight and plain Tritium rear, these will do for most shooting. The Delta Elite’s slide is not cut for red-dot optics.

The trigger has been updated to a three-hole skeletonized type. I measured the pull at very crisp 4 pounds, 3 ounces with zero creep. It is probably the best production 1911 trigger I have tried in recent memory.

Shooting the Colt 1911

I tested the Delta Elite 1911 with two SIG Sauer 10mm loads: the 180-grain Elite FMJ practice load and the 180-grain Elite V-Crown JHP defense load. Both loads have a muzzle velocity of 1,250 feet per second, delivering 624 foot-pounds of energy. Because the ballistics are exactly the same, confidence and consistency are enhanced. And shooters can save money because practice with the V-Crown isn’t necessary beyond checking cycling and function.

After loading up the single-stack eight-round magazine, shooting started at the 20-foot line using the practice loads. The Delta Elite utilizes a fairly hefty double recoil spring setup with a standard guide rod to soften recoil. Even though the 10mm is a very powerful round, the Delta Elite wasn’t painful to shoot by any stretch.

Settling in for the next seven rounds, I achieved a nice group in and around the X-ring, measuring 2 ½ inches with one flyer. The sights were dead-on for this particular load, and the empty brass casings were ejected forcefully.

Moving back to 30 feet and loading up a six-round magazine, the groups were larger at 3 inches. I attempted one-handed shooting with the SIG Elite V-Crown Defense loads at the end of the outing. The group spread out but was still in the kill zone of the target. There were zero malfunctions.

Should You Buy the Colt Delta Elite 10mm 1911?

For many years Colt was the only manufacturer of 10mm handguns. Due to the company’s perseverance, several manufacturers are producing 10mm auto handguns today. For my money, Colt’s original Delta Elite is still the best 10mm available. MSRP is $1,199.


SIG Sauer: