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Monday, July 6, 2009

Colt Detective Special

Why are people drawn to purchase snubnose revolvers for concealed carry and home defense? Click here and Syd will explain.

The Revolver in the photo is an example of the last carbon-steel version of the Colt Detective Special; its production came to end in 1995. I doubt that Colt will ever restore the D-frame revolver to their product line even though many lettered people feel it to be one of the best handguns ever made for extreme close quarter self-defense. While it is a very good design, my humble opinion is that the Colt holds no grand defensive advantage over the S&W other than the fact that the D-frame revolver holds one more cartridge than the J-frame does. If you forced me to live with only one small frame .38 Special revolver, it would not be from Colt or S&W; I would choose the Ruger SP-101 .357 magnum and feed it a steady diet of +P .38 loads.

Why did Colt quit making double action revolvers? I can find no hard sales numbers to support the contention that the wheel-gunners of the world had moved away from Colts. Some speculate that Colt double action revolvers did not fall from favor; they opine that Colt simply gave up on the wheelgun market due to corporate and production problems. If anyone knows for sure why Colt dropped the line, I would love to hear the real story.

The large rubber grips that came standard on this later version, along with the added forward weight from the barrel ejector-rod-shroud, make it easier for me to shoot than the older versions of the Detective Special. In proficient hands with adequate blammunition and a decent holster, it makes a suitable concealed carry or home defense handgun. The same can be said for the Colt Diamondback, the Colt Agent, and the Colt Cobra. After purchasing this revolver new, I practiced with it very often, mostly using 158-grain lead semi-wadcutter hollowpoint +P loads. Routinely we took it in on vacation as a “car-gun” and for motel room protection. The larger grips fill my hand perfectly but make the gun overall a smidge too big to comfortably conceal in my pants pocket. As soon as Colt stopped making double-action wheelguns, I retired this one to the gun safe. It does see occasional range use but now only with light loads.

Some lightly fired, +P rated, later version Detective Specials are available on the used gun market. While I rarely find them listed at bargain prices, they are usually cheaper than the more collectable early versions. Shopping for an early version Colt D-frame is fraught with peril; many people don’t know what problems to look for. Click here to read how to check out an old revolver.

Click here for a Guns & Ammo article on the Colt Detective Special

Click here for advice on using +P loads in Colt revolvers


Hammer said...

I like colt revolvers but they are usually priced well above Rugers Taurus and Smiths on the used gun market.

I would really like to get one of these before the prices go out of sight.

Ed Harris said...

I have found Cabelas Gun Library a good source for D-frame Colts and have gotten a Cobra, a DS and a Police Positive from them. All were in sound using condition and required no gunsmithing. I had them checked by our retired department armorer who used to maintain these "back in the day" and he pronomnced them good enough to take "on the job back in 1970." Cost then of $500-600 per item was less than a new Ruger and having to have a DA action job done.

James R. Rummel said...

Good post.

Anonymous said...

The old Colt detective special still a good dependable and reliable personal self-defence weapon !On the used market they as with all Colt weapons are becoming rather pricey , I was lucky once and picked up an older Colt detective special from the 1950's for $140 at a yard sale once , a great little shooter and I bet will still be a great shooter long after I'm gone !

Arthur B. Burnett said...

My Detective Special came from my Step Dad by way of my Mom. I keep everything on the silhouette even out to my 100' target and at 25' it's deadly. Not what I would reach for when something goes bump in the night but great for conceal carry.

James A. Zachary Jr. said...

They sure are great old guns.

Anonymous said...

Don said:

You men may want to read the book "American Gunfight," about the 1950 assassination attempt on Harry Truman. I don't care for the way the chapters skip back and forth, but the info about guns, and the law officers, is great to read. Plainclothes Secret Service agents used Colt Detective Specials and uniformed White House guards used Colt Official Police 4" revolvers. The 4" revolver, as used by hero guard Les Coffelt, seemed easier to hit with than the 2" Detective Specials. What an impressive man he was, although all were superb in their duty.

Anonymous said...

The Colt Detective Special is still a very good weapon for defence , I have three and enjoy them very much , they are very well made and dependable ! This past weekend I was at a local swap meet and an individual had a Iver Johnson .38 special for sale called the "Rookie" made from 1975 to 1977 , I couldn't believe that this weapon was made without a cartridge ejector ! Seems that the cylinder had to be removed from the frame and each fired shell had to be punched out !!! If rookie police used that weapon back in the 1970's it's any wonder that any rookie police survived ! By all means there are far more quality weapons made today that back in the 1970's ! And I do agree with you the Ruger SP-101 is a superior weapon even to the Colt Detective Special ! Stainless steel and coil springs make it superior !

likesembig said...

I remember my Deputy Sheriff dads holstered snubnose Colt Cobra, All through my youth, In the 60s & 70s, So I have a sentimental attachment for starters, But the truth is, These weapons are great,I have 2, A steel frame Detective special, And the more lightweight Cobra model, With the hammerspur ground off, Which rides comfortably & unnoticeably in a coat pocket, Or waistband, Get yourself one while theyre around boys & girls, Cause when theyre gone ???? They're GONE !!!

Anonymous said...

Could you please tell me the year of manufacture of Colt detective Special SN AD 2086 ? Thanks

James A. Zachary Jr. said...

That "AD" prefix throws it off the charts that I have.

Sorry, but I am stumped on this one.

Anonymous said...

I have a .38 Spl caliber Colt Police Positive Special made in the mid-1920s. The word "Special" in the gun's name identifies it as the .38 Special version of the "Police Positive" revolver that was usually chambered for the .32 Long Colt round. It's in about NRA Good condition, and I only fire light wadcutter handloads in it due to it's age, but I wouldn't be at all afraid to fire standard pressure factory ammo in it. In fact it's one of the "just in case" guns that I keep stashed around the house just in case my wife or I are ever surprised by an intruder when we're not near the gun safe in our bedroom. It's currently loaded with standard pressure Federal 110 gr hollow point cartridges, which appear to be loaded with the well known Hydroshok bullets over a standard pressure powder charge. I'm primarily a S&W man, but this old Colt was built to the highest quality standards of the pre-WWII era and it's fit and finish is equal to anything S&W built in that same great era. In my opinion the high polish Colt Royal Blue is the most beautiful blue finish ever put on a gun.

Anonymous said...

I have a 2" Colt 38 Det. Special in 98% w/ original grips and original box. According to the serial number it was manufactured in 1968 and is in the first generation issue. It looks to be in new condition and only test fired at best.This gun operates and looks almost new. Can anyone give me an idea on its value sight unseen. I may also be selling it but not to get jammed on the value. I have a pretty good idea of what it is worth. If interested email me: