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Vintage Colt Cobra .38 Special Snub-Nosed Revolver

I must say that last year, I was pretty thrilled to hear that Colt was finally reintroducing a D-frame snub-nosed revolver after a regrettable 22-year hiatus.

I owned and carried a couple of different Colt Agent revolvers in the 1980s, one of which was the Parkerized version made only from 1984 to 1986. I carried it while working undercover narcotics, trading a Star PD .45 for it (the Agent was easier to carry concealed).

Later I carried a more finely finished Colt Agent, one with a shrouded barrel that was made between 1973-1984. It was beautifully finished by Colt’s craftsmen, and I carried it as a backup and off-duty gun while working as a municipal officer.

When Colt announced their reintroduced .38 Special revolver as the Colt Cobra, I thought, “Yahoo! Colt is bringing back their great lightweight .38s again.” Unfortunately, I was wrong.

The new Cobra is, in reality, an updated (modern CNC-manufactured) Detective Special. It is all stainless steel, and its weight has increased from 21 to 25 ounces. That is way too heavy for a modern snub-nosed carry gun. I had hoped that this year’s SHOT Show would bring us a new alloy-framed .38, but unfortunately it was not to be.

I had been keeping my eye out for a replacement Agent or Cobra at my local gun emporium, Vance Outdoors in Columbus, Ohio. Unfortunately, the ones I liked were out of my price range, and most of the others that were within my price range were pretty rough. Any original Colt revolver with a “snake” name, especially Pythons, are big bucks these days; they are priced in the “wife wants a divorce if you bring one home” range.

It was with some excitement that I found out that three Colt Cobras of First Model vintage (produced from 1955 to 1971), in decent condition and reasonably priced, had arrived at Vance’s. The three guns, with original-style unshrouded barrels and free-standing ejector rods, had around 80-85 percent finish left and were priced at $499 each. I had to have one.

I was able to pick the one with the best finish on the anodized frame and the blued barrel and cylinder. It also had the best checkering on the original wood grips with the Colt silver medallion. The trigger pull was smooth, and the cylinder locked up bank-vault-tight, as is typical with vintage Colts when the trigger is pulled and held to the rear. I gladly purchased it.

I took the Cobra out for an initial test-fire using some Winchester standard-velocity 130-grain “white box” ball ammo. The Cobra functioned perfectly and shot to the point of aim at 21 feet. I was in business.

First model Colt Cobras should never be fired with +P — or especially +P+ — ammo. The metallurgy then simply wasn’t up to today’s level.

There are a number of available self-defense loads to choose from that aren’t rated +P. One of them seemed like a great choice for a vintage Colt handgun: Colt Defense Ammunition.

Loaded by Double Tap Ammunition for Colt, their 110-grain .38 Special JHP load is rated as standard pressure, yet still develops 1100 feet per second out of a 2-inch Colt Cobra barrel. I verified the standard pressure rating with Double Tap owner Mike McNett.

I would not, however, put a lot of modern standard defensive hollow-point ammo of any type through a vintage Colt. Practicing with loads like 158-grain lead semi-wadcutters from Remington will keep the vintage Colts happy. I intend to try one out on a clay block in the future just to see how it performs.

I needed a carry holster. These days, I prefer an OWB, a pocket holster or a fanny pack as my top choices. Craft Holsters provided me with some excellent options. I was surprised to find 15 different leather holsters available for pre-2017 Cobras. I didn’t want nylon and wanted to set up my Cobra like it would have been carried when it was in its heyday. After going back and forth, I selected the model FD-1 — a good choice.

The FD-1, which I ordered in black, features all the classic good looks and decent retention of the holsters I remember seeing police detectives and administrators wear in the day.

The revolver is retained in the holster via proper fit of the detailed molding and an elastic strap that goes across the bottom of the trigger guard. While there is no retention strap, the FD-1 retains the Cobra even when inverted.  If there were one, the FD-1 would be absolutely perfect. As it is, the Cobra can’t easily be taken by a front grab but can come free from a straight up grab or rearward pull. However, as I will only be carrying my Cobra with a covering garment, a retention strap is not as critical. Between the natural high ride of the PD-1 and the 2-inch barrel of the Cobra, I have unfettered access to the right-front trouser pocket, which is where I normally carry a speedloader. Some otherwise good holsters interfere with that access — even with a snub revolver — but the PD-1 keeps it clear and rides very close to the body for excellent concealment.

The FD-1 is an excellent holster made of double-stitch finely crafted leather. It’s a great buy at only $55.95.

In our modern era, where plastic-framed semi-autos are all the rage — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — I was thrilled to find the vintage Colt Cobra. It’s a little beat up here and there and shows its age like its new owner, but, also like its new owner, the Cobra is still an effective self-defense six-shooter … and a blast from the past with some interesting history to boot.

Sources:

Double Tap Ammunition: DoubleTap.net

Colt: Colt.com

Craft Holsters: CraftHolsters.com

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