October 10, 2019
Colt introduced the King Cobra revolver in 1986, and it was eventually available with 2.0-, 2.5-, 4.0-, 6.0-, and 8.0-inch barrels. Chambered for .357 Magnum/.38 Special, it had a fully adjustable rear sight with a white-outline notch and a ramped front blade with a red insert. Built on Colt’s V frame, the medium-size revolver had a lot of class.
From a distance the King Cobra might have been mistaken for the more expensive Colt Python, which was considered by many to be the finest revolver made in America at the time. But a close examination revealed differences between the two. The barrel of the Python had a ventilated rib, and the rib on the King Cobra was solid. Fit and finish also differed, especially inside. Whereas the Python was a design of its own, the King Cobra was actually an improved version of the Trooper Mark V revolver introduced in 1982. Discontinuing production of the Trooper Mark V in 1985 opened a slot to be filled by the King Cobra the following year. The King Cobra was dropped in 1998.
For 2019 Colt has brought back the King Cobra name, and while seeing the new revolver in its original form would have been exciting, why the company went in another direction with the 2019 version is easily understandable. Semiautomatic pistols designed for concealed carry receive the lion’s share of attention these days, but small, easily concealed revolvers made by Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Taurus, Kimber, and others are extremely popular and selling quite well. Colt returned to that market segment in 2017 by bringing back a stainless-steel version of the D-frame Cobra. The 2.0-inch-barreled Cobra carried by Dick Tracy in the comic strips in the 1950s had an aluminum frame, held six .38 Special cartridges, and weighed 15 ounces. It was a lightweight version of Colt’s steel-frame Detective Special. As early as 1946, the comic strip lawman had an atomic-powered 2-Way Wrist Radio (the equivalent of today’s Apple watch), but .38 Special +P ammo was still quite a few years in the future. The Cobra was in production from 1950 until 1981. The 2017 version is +P capable, has a 2.0-inch barrel, and weighs 25 ounces.
I’ll get back to the King Cobra directly, but continuing on with Colt’s Cobra, it was—and still is—favored for backup use in law enforcement circles for several reasons, one of which is an excellent double-action trigger pull commonly attributed to a flat mainspring. I am no expert on the subject, but it was explained to me by an engineer many years ago. As the coil mainspring in some revolvers is compressed, it can reach a stack point that causes the pull to become heavier toward the end of its stroke. Colt used coil springs in a few revolvers, with the Trooper being one example, but most, including the Cobra, King Cobra, and Python, had leaf springs. When introducing today’s versions of the Cobra, Colt described it as the LL2 Linear Leaf Trigger System.
The New Colt King Cobra
Excellent sales of the new Cobra along with customer requests for an easily concealed .357 Magnum prompted Colt decision-makers to bring back the King Cobra in a different form. The Rampant Colt and other markings we expect to see are there. On one side of the barrel, the head of a cobra in the strike position with its distinctive flared hood is flanked by the words “King Cobra.” The revolver weighs 28 ounces and is available with a 3.0-inch, full-lug barrel. Rifling at the muzzle is protected by a deeply recessed crown. The fluted cylinder holds six .357 Magnum or .38 Special cartridges.
The new Colt King Cobra also has the Linear Leaf Trigger System. The first thing I noticed when shooting it double action was a buttery-smooth, stack-free pull-through averaging 10.75 pounds on my Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge. During offhand, slow-fire drills, double-action accuracy was as good as single-action accuracy out to 15 yards or so.
The second thing I noticed was a crisp single-action pull that broke at a consistent 3.0 pounds with no detectable take-up or overtravel. The curve of the rather narrow trigger has been straightened a bit, and a smooth surface along with beveled edges makes it perfect for fast double-action shooting while remaining comfortably shaped for squeezing off shots in single-action mode. The trigger guard opening was made larger than on the old gun to accommodate a gloved finger. Not as pretty, but more practical.
True to a tradition that goes back to Colt percussion revolvers of the 1800s, the cylinder of the King Cobra revolves clockwise rather than counter-clockwise as in S&W revolvers. Barrels of midnight oil, lengthy studies, and entire articles have been devoted to which is better, but as far as I know, all findings were inconclusive. Another obvious difference is in the cylinder latches. To swing out the cylinders, you push on the S&W latch and pull on the Colt latch.
Examination of the Colt King Cobra’s bore with a Lyman Digital Borescope revealed extremely smooth, six-groove, left-hand rifling with a total absence of surface marks or blemishes. Twist rate is 1:16. Cylinder gap at lockup is a snug 0.375 inch. There was a slight trace of endshake and a bit of rotational looseness with my sample, but neither was enough to matter. Single-action and double-action timing was spot on. An extractor star travel of 0.75 inch is plenty long for ejecting .357 Magnum and .38 Special spent cases from fouled chambers.
Unlike the original King Cobra, the new one does not have an adjustable rear sight. Instead, it has a “pinched trench” (as Colt has long described it) in the top of the frame. I totally approve of the absence of adjustable sights on this gun. If Colt had brought back a hunting version with a 6.0- or an 8.0-inch barrel, fully adjustable sights would have been in order, but the new King Cobra is designed for carry in harm’s way, and an adjustable sight is more likely to snag on clothing when a gun is quickly drawn from deep concealment. Few things interrupt a shooter’s concentration more than that.
As long as bullets land close to point of aim at typical personal-defense distances, adjustable sights are not needed.
Bullet weights of the .357 Magnum test loads ranged from 125 to 180 grains, and their points of impact were quite close to the same at 20 yards and only about an inch low. Switching to .38 Special ammunition, the Black Hills HoneyBadger ammo loaded with a 100-grain bullet at over 1,100 fps landed 3.0 inches below point of aim at 20 yards, but all other loads were about the same as for .357 Magnum ammo. Interestingly, that load clocked virtually the same speed over my chronograph screens as the Black Hills .357 Magnum load with a 125-grain bullet.
The front sight consists of a 0.135-inch black blade with a round brass insert. The sight rests deeply in a slot in the top of the 0.315-inch-wide solid rib and is held in place by an Allen-head screw at the front of the rib. That makes switching out for another style of blade easy, although I see no reason for doing so. On some of the early Colt double-action revolvers, the firing pin was attached to the hammer. It was eventually moved to the frame, and a transfer bar was added. The new King Cobra shares those features.
No short-barreled revolver can honestly be described as fun to shoot when fed heavy .357 Magnum loads, but the shape and shock-absorbing quality of the Hogue OverMolded grips eliminates a great deal of the discomfort. Finger grooves at the front prevent the grips from slipping in the hand, and by extending as high up on the rear of the frame as possible, the grip is kind to the web of the hand. My wife has a considerably smaller hand than mine, and she also liked the grip. Those who opt to carry .38 Special +P in their .357 Magnum revolvers will find it to be quite comfortable to shoot.
The compactness, relatively light weight, and power of Colt’s latest revolver make it suitable for personal defense in a variety of environments beyond public places. It is an ideal kit gun for taking along on camping trips and long hikes in remote country. Cougar attacks are on the increase in several western states, and the new King Cobra would be an ideal carry gun for hikers, mountain bikers, and others who would rather not end up as kitty kibble. And it’s not just for defense against four-legged attackers. Several years ago a couple of hikers in my area were bludgeoned to death by a mass murderer. A handgun in one of their daypacks might have prevented that.
The Colt King Cobra was the sixth of seven “snake” revolvers produced by Colt beginning with the Cobra (1950–1981) and ending with the Python (1955–2005). Other revolvers slithering up from the pit were the Diamondback (1966–1988), the Viper (1977), the Boa (1985), and the Anaconda (1990–1999).
Colt is to be commended for reaching into the past and bringing back the Cobra and King Cobra. And this poses a question: Which of the remaining snakes will be next to strike?