Welcome back to the good old days. The stock market is up, there’s a pro-gun president in the White House, and Colt is making double-action revolvers again. The first model to make a comeback is the Cobra in .38 Special. Months ago, I got to shoot a prototype and was favorably impressed. But the true test with guns comes with specimens off the actual production line. So, I withheld judgment on the Cobra until I could get one of those production guns.
Some will forever associate Colt with the 1911 semi-auto pistol. But, for a good part of our nation’s history, people venturing into harm’s way relied on Colt revolvers. There were the Navy and Army cap-and-ball revolvers that saw action in the Civil War. There was the legendary Single Action Army of Old West fame.
Then came the double actions: the Lightning and the Thunderer, New Service, Police Positive, Official Police and the Detective Special. But as much as Colt enthusiasts looked for guns with that trademark rampant pony, they especially yearned for the company’s snake guns: the Python, King Cobra, Anaconda, Diamondback, Viper and, of course, the Cobra. Those “snake guns” are now demanding top dollar among collectors.
“The new Cobra shares some traits with its namesake. It is, after all, still a six-shot, double-action revolver in .38 Special with a 2-inch barrel. And it has the same role as a handgun for concealed carry.”
There was no ejector rod housing on those first guns. The grips were wood. The guns were offered in .22LR and .32 Colt New Police, too, but the .38 Special models were the most popular, especially for off-duty carry by police officers who carried 4-inch Colts when in uniform. While original Cobra revolvers aren’t as prized as their bigger brothers, namely the Pythons, ones in good condition still fetch a pretty nice price. For instance, a pair of Cobras sold through the Rock Island Auction recently for $3,162.50.
If you’re an old-time television fan, it might interest you to know that tough-guy actor Lee Marvin, portraying Lieutenant Frank Ballinger in the 1950s crime drama, M Squad, carried a pair of Colt Cobra revolvers. (And it was a Colt Cobra that Jack Ruby used to shoot Lee Harvey Oswald.)
The new Cobra shares some traits with its namesake. It is, after all, still a six-shot, double-action revolver in .38 Special with a 2-inch barrel. And it has the same intended role as a handgun for concealed carry. You pull back on the latch to unlock the cylinder, and that cylinder still rotates clockwise. But Colt didn’t want merely to reintroduce an old favorite.
The new gun with the legacy name received some upgrades. First, the new Cobra is made of stainless steel with a matte finish. At nearly 25 ounces unloaded, it’s about 10 ounces heavier than the old aluminum-framed Cobra. But that added weight not only allows the use of +P loads, it handles them comfortably, as well. The rear sight is still the foolproof groove in the top strap, but the front sight is now a highly visible, red fiber-optic unit that can be removed with a hex wrench and replaced with a tritium or other aftermarket sight.
The trigger guard is lengthened; you’ll have no trouble getting a gloved finger on the trigger. The grip frame extends back farther, and it is padded with a one-piece rubber grip with finger grooves. One thing you could always appreciate on Colt revolvers of old was the trigger pull. The new Cobra has what Colt calls its LL2 trigger, which stands for “Linear Leaf spring, version 2.” Whatever the terminology, it works. Colt rates the trigger at 7 to 9 pounds for double action and 3 to 4 pounds for single action. That was right in line with the readings on my trigger pull gauge of 8 pounds for double action and 3.5 pounds for single action. The trigger was excellent.
Now that I’ve shot both the old and new Cobras, I can say—without a doubt—that I like the new gun better.
The older gun was lighter and had a smaller grip that turned down more dramatically, making it a great pocket pistol. However, the grip on the new Cobra allows for a more natural grip high on the backstrap, which aids in pulling the long trigger when shooting double action. It also helps control the recoil for quicker follow-up shots. The rubber grips fill the hand better than the small wooden ones on the old model, too.
Whether you’re old or young, the red fiber-optic sight is quick and easy to pick up when bringing the gun to eye level. While I used to worry about those types of sights being more fragile, I’ve yet to break one. In the case of the Cobra, the sight would be easy to replace if you did happen to smash it.
AT THE RANGE
I put in the obligatory bench shooting time at the range. I’m not as concerned about a small defensive pistol being able to shoot tiny groups, but the Cobra did very well. At 15 yards, the gun will group in the 1- to 2-inch range … if you do your part. The crisp, single-action trigger pull was a big part of this gun’s excellent practical accuracy. I tried some conventional—and economical—loads: Winchester and Remington 125-grain +P loads jacketed hollow points. I also fired some Federal Hydra-Shok 110-grain hollow points and some Telos 105-grain +P hollow points by G2 Research. The Telos load uses a segmented copper bullet that fragments on impact and is purported to lessen the chances of overpenetration.
Remember, though, that the sights of the Cobra, as on most defensive handguns, aren’t adjustable. The point of impact of your ammo can vary greatly according to brand, velocity, bullet type and weight, so you have to make sure you know where your defensive ammo is going to hit. Firing off-hand is the part of the job I love. I’ve found that .38s, in general, and the Cobra, in particular, are fun guns to shoot. As I usually do to keep my range sessions interesting, I tossed a 5-inch plastic ball out on the range and rolled it with shot after shot out to 25 yards. Gaining proficiency with the double-action pull on a revolver takes practice. The Colt’s trigger was very smooth throughout, which was helpful in attaining confidence-boosting hits. I don’t have to address reliability with the different ammo. It’s a revolver. Enough said.
“Now that I’ve shot both the old and new Cobras, I can say without a doubt that I like the new gun better.”
WHEEL GUNS IN A SEMI WORLD
Colt did its homework on this new Cobra. It will make an excellent concealed-carry gun. While collectors will undoubtedly still seek out the vintage snake guns, none of them can complain about the quality of the new ones. Colt will be sure to sell many of these new guns to knowledgeable shooters who want an effective handgun in durable stainless steel—with that added touch of class.
Remember, it does have that pony on the side. I know, I know. The military uses semi-autos. So do most police departments. So do most actors on television. So naturally, new shooters are attracted to them.
When I was at the range shooting the Cobra, I ran into a police officer I know who was teaching his girlfriend how to shoot. The gun she was using was a small semi-auto .380 pocket pistol. She was doing pretty well, but when I let her shoot the Cobra, she absolutely loved it. Why? Because it was more comfortable to shoot—and easier to shoot well—than the pistol she had been using.
I pointed out some of the benefits: no slide with a heavy spring to pull back; no forgetting if one is in the chamber or not; no worry about it being finicky with different types of ammo; easy to tell at a glance if it’s loaded; easy to load and unload; no separate magazines to misplace; and carries six rounds—the same as many small semi-autos. “Thanks a lot,” that police officer said to me. “Now, I’m going to have to buy her a revolver.” If he’s smart, it’ll be a Colt Cobra.
Yes, I know, we should all have this problem:
You have multiple handguns, and you have to find holsters for each of them. It’s often a scramble to find an appropriate holster to use during my tests, because I review many new models.
That issue has now been mostly resolved:
I recently acquired a Vanquisher inside-the-waistband holster from DeSantis Gunhide. It comes closer to a top-notch universal concealed-carry holster than any I’ve used before. The one I have is the larger of the two sizes. It carried the Colt Cobra snubnose revolver just as well as it contained my full-sized 1911. The holster features a wide backer that conforms to the shape of your body. Two tuckable belt clips keep the holster secured.
As a result, it won’t come out with the gun on the draw. The holster, itself, is a rugged nylon fabric pouch that is open at the bottom. The muzzle of a larger carry gun will stick out of the bottom, but that’s not a concern when that will be concealed inside your pants. The trigger guard is well-covered, yet the gun doesn’t ride so deeply as to prevent ready access.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the September 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.