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Colt Detective Special
Unlike some of the smaller framed snub noses, this gun holds a full six rounds. The photo to the right shows the Detective Special, alongside a S&W J frame, in this case a model 649. Note the smaller frame of the S&W, and the much smaller cylinder, which only allows the little Smith to hold five shots. I won't get into the dynamics of defensive handgunning here; the vast majority of pistol owners will get no closer to combat than the paper targets they shoot at the range. Though the difference between five shots and six may not seem like much, it is a definite mark favoring the Colt. The S&W shown in the photo is of stainless construction. This is something which was not offered on the Detective Special until the introduction of the short lived DS II, in 1993. Very few such guns were made.
This is a carbon alloy framed gun, and so can handle some use of +P loads, although regular use of them is not recommended. When these guns were in production, Colt recommended using such loads in "moderation". A steady diet of +P loads, though unlikely to blow the gun up, will eventually loosen the gun up, and make it go out of time. This will happen after several thousand round of +P, and is costly to have repaired. Considering that these guns are no longer made, it would be a shame to ruin one, over something which does not even offer any real advantage. I actually consider shooting +P loads out of a 2" barrel a waste. The powder is never fully expended by the time the slug exits the muzzle, and so you have considerable muzzle flash, and blast with little if any increase in energy. So why put yourself, or your gun through the trouble? For the hand loader, a maximum load with a fast burning powder like Bullseye is probably the best bet. This load behind a 158 grain bullet is what I load for defense, with a somewhat lighter load behind a 125, or 110 grain bullet for practice and recreational shooting.
Colt has set itself up as a premium revolver maker. The Colt series of revolvers, including the Python, Diamondback, and Police Positive, have always been more expensive than the corresponding S&W offerings. The deep Colt Royal blue is unmatched, as is the smoothness of the action and the lightness of the Colt double action trigger. The Rampant Colt logo graces the sideplate of every colt civilian revolver, and is as traditional as the Colt deep blue. The gun is filled with class touches, such as the radiused muzzle, and a full length ramp site which will not snag on anything. It is arguable, whether or not any of these features add to the utility, or effectiveness of the piece; but they certainly add to it's luster. Handguns being what they are, it doesn't hurt to have a revolver which feels just a bit special to the owner, and adds just that extra touch of comfort, if not confidence.
The Detective Special is built upon the D frame. This is Colt's small frame, and is the same frame on which the Police Positive is built, the Detective Special having gotten it's start as a cut down Police Positive. As an aside, the first handgun that I ever owned was a second series (no shroud) Police Positive, with a four inch barrel, for which I paid $100 (oh to have that gun back). This frame is a bit larger than the S&W J frame; but not quite as large as the popular K frame. This allows for slightly better concealment and ease of carry than that afforded by the more standard size revolvers, while still permitting a full six shots, as opposed to the compact J frame Smiths. This factor may contribute to the great popularity of this gun. Perversely, the Colt cylinder release needs to be pulled back, as opposed to that of the S&W and most other revolvers which is pushed forward. In addition, the cylinder of the Colt turns clockwise, as opposed to that of the S&W and most other revolvers which turn counterclockwise. That rampant Colt is just plain ornery.
There have been four different series of these guns, since their introduction in 1927. Production of the first series continued until 1946, with a new series being introduced in 1947, as Colt began to re-gear from military to civilian firearm production. The second series replaced the plastic grips with wooden panels in 1954, and introduced the shrouded barrel, in 1958. Production of the second series ended in 1972. In 1973, production began on the third series, which was to last until 1986. My gun happens to be of the third series. When production ended in 1986, it was thought that the days of the old Detective Special were over, and the gun was to pass into history. By this time 1.5 million Detective Specials had been produced. The vast majority of these guns were chambered for the 38 Special, and sported 2 inch barrels. Though there were a few other calibers, notably 32, I have never come across such a gun, nor have I ever seen a Detective Special with the 3 inch barrel which records tell us was a production barrel length. There was a short production run, the so called fourth series, made between 1993 and 1995. It was more of a commemorative model, than anything like a reintroduction of the popular line. They are reputedly less well fitted than earlier series.
The third series had the shrouded ejector rod, radiused muzzle, wraparound grips, and is essentially what most people under the age of fifty think of, when they think of a Detective Special. It is a great looking gun, and though the action is one of the smoothest, that radiused muzzle, and fully shrouded barrel probably sold more of these guns than any other feature. Unlike the offerings from S&W, the little Colt is considerably tweaked out. I am not necessarily saying that it is a better gun, merely that it is more refined. Colt has a knack for squeezing it's offerings in between those of S&W, and for seeming to out finesse those of Smith. The Detective Special, along with the Police Positive, and the beautiful little Diamondback, are sized between the J frame, and K frame Smith. The Python, essentially a factory custom gun, is sized just a bit bigger than the K frame, but not quite as large as the N frame. The Colt guns have actions which seem to have been pre broken in at the factory.
In 1950, Colt began production of an alloy version of the Detective Special, which they named the Cobra. Soon afterwards, the grip of the Cobra was shortened, resulting in the Colt Agent. I also vaguely remember a model introduced in the late seventies, or perhaps the eighties called the Commando. The Commando was a parkarized Detective Special, which was not fitted quite so carefully, and was presented as a low cost snubnose Colt. This gun did not last too long in the marketplace. It should not be confused with the old Colt Commando, produced in the forties, and equipped with a four inch barrel.
Having been in production for so long, the gun has become quite an icon. It has been featured in countless movies, and television shows, dating back to the thirties. There are numerous accessories available, including a range of holsters, loaders, grips, and even hammer shrouds. Even years after it's demise, the millions of guns out there have supported a pretty healthy aftermarket. In my own case, I have considered it a must to have a good holster, a set of speed loaders, and I will soon have a hammer shroud.
A good holster is the first order of business. Though I tried an ankle holster for a short time (a very short time), I do not find this to be a suitable mode of carry, for this particular gun. I know there are people out there who swear by this holster style, for concealed carry of a snubnose; but I find that the protruding cylinder of the gun makes it too uncomfortable. A shoulder holster, on the other hand, seems just too much holster for this little gun. My personal choice is a classic high ride holster. In deference to the blue finish of the gun, I am using a nylon holster, rather than a leather model. It is an Uncle Mike holster, with a thumbreak release, and a decide forward cant. The holster conceals well, balances the gun nicely, and is not at all tiresome, even when being used for extended periods. This is my favorite holster style for most situations, and for all but the very largest, or very smallest pistols. I plan on soon getting a hard plastic holster, as I am beginning to lose my taste for the soft nylon types. In any event, I will not use a leather holster with a blue handgun
The original wraparound wood grips, as attractive as they are, have been replaced. In their stead is a set of Pachmeyer rubber grips, with a finger cut out. They are thinner than the originals, make the gun point quickly and easily, and will not slip. They also conceal much better. A set of aftermarket grips is one of the best things that you can do for most revolvers. There are a few models out there now, that have good grips from the factory, as firearms manufacturers are beginning to listen to their customers; but most still come with the traditional oversize target grips, or else with the thin combat style grips. Actually, if I were to get new grips for this gun today, I would probably go with more of a reverse wedge style. Still, the Pachmeyers are good enough, and are quite an improvement over the original wraparounds.
I have four speed loaders for this gun, though I never carry more than two. I do not bother with a speedloader holder; but merely carry the loaders in my pocket. This is not a combat rig, after all, and I do not wear a duty belt, or load bearing gear when I am going about my daily business. For those who might find the carrying of speedloaders to be too bulky, there are speed strips, which are simply strips of plastic or rubber, with cutouts for cartridges. They are considerably less bulky than speed loaders, though somewhat slower to use.
I have ordered a hammer shroud, and hope to have it installed by this summer. this is a feature which would seem a natural on a concealment handgun, and it is a feature that I really appreciate on my S&W Model 649. The shrouds are available at http://www.wallerandson.com/hammershrouds.htm There is also a grip, formerly made by Bianchi, which features a hammer shroud built into the grip. I have not seen one of these in quite a while; but they may still be available on the used market.
In point of fact, the used market is where you will have to go, should you desire to own a Colt Detective Special, or any other Colt double action revolver. After the fourth series of production ended in 1995, the model has disappeared from the production catalogs. As a matter of fact, the entire revolver line seems to have disappeared from Colt's offerings to the public. The only exception to this, is the Colt Single Action Army, of cowboy fame. The double action revolvers are gone.
This is a real pity, and the end of an era, I suppose. S&W, along with Ruger, now seem to be our only large manufacturers of revolvers. Doubtless, Colt will introduce limited runs of it's former DA revolver production line, for collectors, and as special offerings; but it will not be the same. The releases are likely to be in much smaller numbers, more expensive, and of less careful fit and finish, as was the case with the last run of the Detective Special. There will also be a loss of continuity, as fewer people in the Colt factory are around, who actually have experience in making Colt DA revolvers. It is strange that the old Colt Single Action Army seems destined to outlive it's far younger double action siblings. The prices being asked for all of the Colt DA revolvers, are getting to be truly impressive. I expect prices to continue to go up on these guns, which makes me glad that I already have my Detective Special. I may never be able to afford to get a Diamondback, a Python, or even a Police Positive, judging from the prices I have been seeing on Gunbroker.