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Colt’s Cobra: First Of The Lightweight Serpents

by Paul Scarlata   |  January 3rd, 2011 2


Colt’s Cobra was basically an alloy-frame Detective Special with a skinny “pencil” barrel, an exposed ejector rod, and distinctively shaped grips. It was introduced in 1950.

In 1888 Colt’s head engineer, Carl Ehbets, patented a swing-out-cylinder revolver. All subsequent Colt swing-out-cylinder revolvers have been based upon Ehbets’s patents. Colt’s first production, double-action (DA), swing-out-cylinder revolver–chambered in .38 Long Colt–was adopted by the U.S. Navy in 1889 and by the Army three years later. In 1908 Colt’s first .38 Special revolver, the Police Positive Special, was introduced. In 1926 a 2-inch-barreled version was introduced with a distinct designation–the Detective Special. After World War II, increasing numbers of police officers began carrying back-up and off-duty guns, which resulted in a demand for lightweight guns. Colt responded with an alloy-frame revolver called the Cobra.

Introduced in 1950, the Cobra looked very much like a Detective Special on the surface. They both sported the same slim, 2-inch barrel; exposed ejector rod; and distinctively shaped grips. But thanks to a frame made from aluminum alloy, the Cobra weighed just 15 ounces, 6 less than the Detective Special.

The shooting public’s initial reaction to aluminum revolvers was not overwhelmingly positive, but as more persons opted for the Cobra, three things became obvious. First, for someone who had to carry a gun all day, the Cobra was a pure delight. Second, despite the alloy frame, the Cobra could stand up to as many .38s as the average owner was likely to put through a revolver in a lifetime. Third, the Cobra held six rounds of ammunition, while its main competition, the S&W Chiefs Special, was 4 ounces heavier and held five cartridges. Thus, even though the S&W’s overall dimensions were smaller, the Cobra was lighter, provided more firepower, and was easier to shoot due to its larger grips. Cobra sales took off, and the revolver quickly became almost as popular the Detective Special.

Colt originally offered the Cobra in .22 LR, .32 Colt New Police, .38 Colt New Police, and .38 Special, with the latter accounting for the vast majority of sales. And while the 2-inch-barreled guns were the most popular, barrel lengths of 3 or 4 inches were available. Colt produced an aftermarket accessory for the D-Frame revolvers that was perfect for the Cobra–a hammer shroud that covered all but the tip of the hammer. This attachment permitted the Cobra to be drawn from concealment without the hammer hanging up but still permitted it to be cocked for precise, single-action shooting if so desired.


The Cobra featured a full-length ejector rod for complete extraction of spent cases. Unlike other snubnosed revolvers of the period, the Cobra’s cylinder held six rounds.

During the Korean War, American pilots requested a lightweight sidearm, and the Air Force placed orders with both Colt and S&W for revolvers using alloy frames and cylinders. Colt fitted its 2-inch Cobra with an aluminum cylinder and dubbed it the “Aircrewman Special.” They did not stand up well in service and were withdrawn in the early 1960s.

1966 saw the debut of the Colt Agent, which was little more than the Cobra with a shorter grip frame, making it slightly more concealable and a half-ounce lighter. Beginning in 1973, the Cobra and Agent were produced with a shrouded ejector rod, the so-called “Second Issue” guns.

One of the more famous users of the Cobra was Jim Cirillo, the famed leader of the NYPD’s legendary Stakeout Squad. He used one as his regular back-up and off-duty gun.

The Cobra’s most notable moment in history occurred on November 24, 1963, at police headquarters in Dallas, Texas, when a small-time hoodlum named Jack Ruby walked up to Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy, and fatally shot him with a Colt Cobra revolver, serial #2744 LW.


The Cobra’s most famous day in history was November 24, 1963, when Jack Ruby used a Cobra to shoot accused presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.


With the growing popularity of .38 Special +P ammunition, the use of which Colt did not recommend in its alloy revolvers, sales of the Cobra and Agent began to decline, and Colt dropped the Cobra from its line in 1981.

A Sweet Shooter
I obtained a 2-inch-barreled Cobra from a fellow collector and retired law enforcement officer, and according to its serial number, it left the factory in 1965. It had served as my friend’s off-duty gun for many years, and while it displayed a fair amount of holster wear, it locked up tight and had a mirror-bright bore and chambers.

In firing the Cobra, I found it to have very practical sights, but the grips were too narrow. Accordingly, I installed a grip adaptor, and it then proved to be a sweet shooter. Both brands of ammo that I fired shot close enough to point of aim to please me and produced impressive groups for a snubnosed revolver. Despite its light weight, recoil was quite controllable–probably due in large part to the grip adaptor.

Firing on a USPSA target set up at 7 yards revealed that in rapid fire, the trigger was a bit stiff, but that was counterbalanced by a short trigger stroke. The result was that all my rounds impacted in the most appropriate regions of the target. A nice extra was that the Cobra’s long ejector rod punched spent cases completely out of the cylinder.

All in all, the Cobra was an easy-shooting and practical revolver for concealed carry. With the burgeoning demand for CCW handguns, I find it a shame that Colt no longer offers such a revolver to address this growing market.


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Shooting A Colt Cobra

Ammunition Velocity (fps) 15 Yard Accuracy (in.)
.308 Special
Winchester 148-gr. HBWC 685 2.38
American Eagle 158-gr. LRN 697 2.63
Notes: Accuracy is the average of three, five-shot groups fired from an MTM Predator rest. Velocity is the average of five rounds measured 10 feet from the gin’s muzzle with a PACT chronograph.

  • Alan_T

    Great revolver , but I'd never have one with a pencil barrel …….. unless of course , someone wanted make a gift of one to me . HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • shootbrownelk

    Colt should bring back their entire line, Cobra, Python, Annaconda & Diamondbacks.

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