By Clint Smith
Originally Published in Guns Magazine November 2004

 

One of the vivid memories from my childhood was watching my Dad get- ting dressed for work. My earliest recollection is of a large man in a medium blue shirt with a badge and a row of shiny buttons. I had the special job of making sure his shoes were shined and ready to meet his approval. "Getting with the program," Dad called it. As time passed, he got a promotion to Detective, and with it the bland (in my opinion) plain-clothes uniform. I still got to shine his shoes, which was OK but the cool part for a IO-year-old kid was Dad's new addendum to his wardrobe. The new gear was a nickel-plated 2-inched barreled Colt Detective Special. Dressed with mother of pearl stocks, the 2-inch revolver was carried in Dad's left front pocket, and his Stag handled 4-inch Colt Official Police rode on his right hip. Handcuffs were carried tucked in the rear behind his belt and a really large switchblade was placed in his right front pocket. He has passed on now, and I have the Stag handled Official Police as well his badge and hand- cuffs. The nickeled Detective Special went by the wayside after his retirement and, although I never thought to ask of it, I also never forgot the shiny pocket gun.

In retrospect, I guess many a cop kid's fathers have carried similar revolvers simply because the double-action Colt revolver has long served the long arm of law and order.

Colt has made many types of revolvers over the years, but the family of small, solid frame, simultaneous ejection swing-out cylinder revolvers known as the Detective Special, the Cobra and the Agent were among the most popular revolvers Colt ever made.

They are no longer made, but when found, are still very functional handguns for personal defense. Small of size, sights and caliber, they can to be used effectively by competent, range- practicing owners. The inherent accuracy of these revolvers is remarkably good considering their short 2-inch barrels, especially when used with good ammunition. Mechanically, as a family of weapons, they are strong and very well made; reflecting an era when Colt was truly building guns not arguing with unions and such rubbish.

The Cop's Gun

The Detective Special traces its lineage to the Colt Police Positive Special. The all- steel snub nose version weighs in at 25 ounces and holds six rounds of .38 Special ammunition. The steel frame adds to the weight, but the reward is an increase in durability over the life of the revolver. Additionally, the steel frame and extra weight come in handy in the era of +P ammunition and the hotter loads often carried for self-defense. The cylinder rotates counter clockwise and is the opposite of Colt's nemesis Smith & Wesson. The original factory blue is excellent and fit and finish are from the good old days and well done. The warm wood stocks are finely checkered and well fit and the silver rampant colt medallions are symbols of an era when all who made handguns looked with envy upon the rearing pony logo. They are truly nice old handguns.

The Snake Gun

The mechanics of the Colt Cobra are the same as the Detective Special, but the Cobra brought a new angle into play and has an alloy frame. The cylinder, barrel and internals are made of steel, and the whole package weighs a nominal 18 ounces. The long stock tang provides a reasonable gripping area that is helpful to those with large hands when the cylinders are fueled with +P ammunition. The regular bark of the short barrel is accompanied by more noticeable jump with the weigh reduction.

The Cobra life span would probably be less than a full steel gun but the advantages of weight reduction for concealed or second- gun carry often outweigh longevity in this type of revolver, which is generally carried more often than it is shot.

The Spy Gun

The Colt Agent is the smallest Colt package of this series of concealed carry revolvers. The Agent has an alloy frame and has the cut down frame in the grip area to make it even more concealable than its relatives. Carried as a second or third gun it is a deep concealment piece often carried in an ankle holster or coat pocket. Weighing 18 ounces, the six shot wheel gun can be a handful when using +P ammunition. I found an old Agent that was pretty beat up and included a cocked barrel in the frame. I sent this wag beater to Bill Laughridge of Cylinder and Slide, who turned it into a true custom updated self-defense gun. Laughridge and the C&S guys retimed the cylinder, did what they call a standard action job that I would call just short of a magic trick. Not being much of a magic man, I've shot the gun a lot since, and even with the significantly lighter double-action trigger, the revolver has functioned flawlessly. At my request a nice touch of the C&S gang was the installation of a hammer shroud which pretty much snag-proofed the small cannon as it comes out of the pocket. When I got it back the sights were reset and straight, the barrel was crowned smoothly at 11 degrees. With a final coating of Black-T it makes a great concealment package for long-term carry and use.

It might cross your mind that this revolver could be considered expensive by some people's standards in this custom configuration. If I ever need to use this gun to defend myself, what I paid for it will be insignificant.

In the '70s, the old Colt format was replaced with a new model, which had a covered ejector rod, and larger stocks but even the new models couldn't survive, and they regretfully went under the bow of the boat.

In a world of scandium, titanium and florescent sighted eight-shot hand cannons, these old Colts seem to be archaic old war-horses. Then again, they are in fact the precursors to all of the technology we see today in the world of concealable handguns. Still often seen at gun shows and on the bottom shelves at the local gun stores, they are often passed over by the uninformed. These old Colts are still excellent tools for self-defense and truly deserve a second look. Many a bad guy has looked down the barrel of one of these little wheel guns, and more than one has gotten a dose of behavior modification by one of these three guns bearing the rampant pony etched on the side plate.

If one needed a personal defense tool, the wise would do well to look at these old guardians of law, order and personal defense.