Colt Cobra Revolver

By Chuck Hawks

The Colt Cobra is simply an aluminum alloy framed version of the famous Detective Special .38 revolver. Like the Detective Special, the Cobra was fit and finished to Colt's usual high standards.

This is a 6-shot, double action snubby built on Colt's compact "D" size frame. The Cobra was often compared to its main competitor, the cheaper S&W Model 37 Chief's Special Airweight, but the Colt was a higher quality, stronger, better engineered revolver. Even its fixed sights are more visible that those on the little Smith. And the S&W Model 37 is only a 5-shooter.

The Cobra used a traditional Colt "V" spring action, which gives it an excellent trigger pull. Mine breaks at a clean 2.5 pounds in SA mode. Its cylinder rotates into the frame for a tight lock-up when the trigger is pulled. The Cobra action incorporates the patented Colt hammer block and is safe to carry with all six chambers loaded. The hammer itself is serrated for a sure grip.

The Cobra is rated for limited use of +P ammunition, while the S&W Chief's Special models of the period were barely adequate for standard velocity service ammo. Late model Cobras had a fully shrouded extractor/ejector rod and came with Colt/Pachmayr round butt rubber grips. They were and are the ultimate concealed carry revolver.

All of these benefits made the Colt more expensive to purchase than lesser revolvers, but its high resale value more than compensated for the difference in original purchase price. The Colt Cobra weighed about one ounce more than the S&W Model 37, a very small price to pay for a superior firearm.

Here are the basic specifications of the Cobra, circa 1971:

  • Calibers - .38 Special and .32 New Police
  • Cylinder capacity - 6 cartridges
  • Action - DA / SA
  • Barrel length - 2" or 3" (4" available in .38 Spec. only)
  • Overall length - 6.75" with 2" barrel
  • Weight - 15 ounces
  • Sights - fixed .135" square notch rear, ramp-style .110" front; 3.5" sighting radius
  • Trigger - grooved
  • Grips - full checkered walnut, round butt
  • Finish - blue or nickel
  • 1971 MSRP - $101 (blue), $116.15 (nickel)

As mentioned, late model Cobras came with a fully shrouded ejector rod and Colt/Pachmayr rubber grips and consequently weighed about an ounce more (16 ounces). The frame of all Cobras was made of a highly polished, high tensile strength aluminum alloy that was anodized black on blue finish guns. All other metal parts were steel. The external finish of the steel parts was a polished blue. The sides of the hammer were mirror polished and left in the white.

Cobras are usually very accurate snubbys. The .38 Cobras I have tested will consistently shoot tighter groups from a bench rest at 25 yards than equivalent S&W or Taurus snubby revolvers or compact .380 and 9x19 autoloading pistols. The Cobra's superior sights, outstanding single action trigger pull, and tight cylinder lock-up probably accounts for this.

Although Cobras are rated for limited use (approximately 1000 rounds) with .38 Special +P ammunition, I always use standard pressure ammo exclusively in any .38 snubby. +P ammo will not blow-up a Cobra, but the high pressure hammering from continuous use of +P ammo will eventually stretch the aluminum frame enough to affect headspace and reliability.

For practice I shoot inexpensive Remington/UMC or Winchester/USA factory loads with 130 grain FMJ bullets. 5-shot groups from a bench rest at 25 yards typically measure 2"-3" center to center with this ammunition.

Some Cobra owners practice with standard pressure ammo, but carry the gun loaded with +P ammunition, a viable option with a Cobra. However, there are some decent standard pressure personal defense loads, and they are what I recommend and use for concealed carry purposes.

My favorite personal defense load is the Federal 125 grain Nyclad HP ("Chief's Special") load, designed specifically for use in 2" revolvers. Unfortunately, it is now available only to police departments.

Widely available alternatives include the Federal Low Recoil Personal Defense 110 grain Hydra-Shok JHP (#PD38HS3 H), Winchester Super-X 110 grain Silvertip JHP (#X38S9HP), Remington Express 110 grain Semi-Jacketed HP (#R38S16), and Glaser .38 Spec. STD 80 grain Safety Slug in Blue (#01800-38) or Silver (#02000-38) configurations.

Glaser pre-fragmented Safety Slugs are designed for maximum stopping power with limited penetration. They are a particularly good home defense ammunition choice for anyone living in an apartment or mobile home.

The Colt Cobra is the Rolls Royce of lightweight snubby revolvers. Examples in good condition now sell for several times what they once cost new. This is partly due to collector interest, and partly because it simply makes good sense to own the very best if you are going to stake your life on it in an emergency.

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Copyright 2005, 2007 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.