Colt’s Manufacturing Company has had its highs and lows over the decades, but each time it hit a low, it came back and reassumed its place as one of the iconic American gun makers.

Most recently, the company has made serious changes to regain its status as a leader in firearms. But the company is not turning away from its past, recognizing the value of the Colt name and the following some of its older products still enjoy with a segment of the firearms buying public.

Colt, for many years, was a leader in making revolvers for the military, law enforcement and private citizens. The company was well known for its line of double-action revolvers that included the Diamondback, Python and Cobra. These wildly successful handguns developed a strong following that, despite having gone out of production many years ago, still thrives with collectors laying out thousands of dollars today for guns that originally sold for a few hundred.

The iconic Colt Cobra snubbie was a favorite of shooters who wanted a fine revolver for target fun or self-defense. (Photo: Colt)

Building anticipation

There has long been a clamoring for Colt to bring some of these trophy-class lines back into production. But doing so is extremely difficult in today’s manufacturing environment where the hand-fitting and craftsmanship of decades past has become too expensive and difficult to replicate. The old tooling has long since been disposed of and the skills required of the craftsmen to sculpt fine hand-fitted firearms is scarce.

But this has not stopped Colt from bringing back, at least in name, the Cobra. At its unveiling to a select group of the gun writing press held at Gunsite in November of 2016, the new Cobra with its excellent trigger — more about that later — was greeted with a combination of delight, anticipation and skepticism. Delight was displayed by many who remember the line of snake guns and have lamented their passing from current production. That was mixed with anticipation for other snake guns that Colt might have in mind for reintroduction at some future date, although Colt would not admit to having any firm plans to do so. There was also skepticism that the new Cobra could live up to the standards of the past.

The original Cobra was built on the same D-frame used by the Detective Special, except that instead of steel, the Cobra used an aluminum alloy frame that made it lighter. It had a short barrel and was designed with discreet carry in mind. The new Cobra has been redesigned, and while it looks a lot like the original, there are some subtle differences.

This is not a lightweight gun like the original Cobra with its aluminum alloy frame, but it is still light enough with its stainless steel frame and cylinder for regular carry. The grip has been moved slightly towards the rear and the trigger guard has been enlarged to make it easier to shoot with gloved hands. The weight and grip change also help to reduce felt recoil.

The gun is chambered in .38 Special and is rated for +P ammunition. Colt’s goal was to make the gun comfortable for the average person to shoot for fun and practice, yet have enough power to be practical for self defense. While the .357 Magnum round may seem like a more logical choice and is arguably a better defensive round than .38 Special +P, it delivers a great deal more felt recoil making it impractical for some people to use.

Distinguished snake

Retail customers with even a small amount of gun knowledge will, when seeing the Colt Cobra for the first time, compare it to one of the Smith & Wesson J-frame revolvers that have dominated that market for many years. So, the seller should be aware of certain points.

The Cobra is classified as a snubnose revolver having a 2-inch barrel while the typical J-frame snubbie often has a slightly shorter barrel. The difference will be insignificant to most. And while the Cobra is slightly larger in height and length compared to a Model 340 Smith & Wesson, the difference is modest except for the longer Cobra grip and will not matter much to most buyers. More importantly, the longer Cobra grip makes the gun much easier to shoot and control under recoil.

While the Cobra has a slightly larger cylinder diameter — less than a tenth of an inch — compared to that of the Smith & Wesson J-frame, the Cobra carries one more round. Of course, the new Cobra owner who might be used to S&W revolvers needs to be aware that the cylinder rotates clockwise instead of counter-clockwise, and the cylinder catch must be pulled to the rear — supposedly to keep it from being activated under recoil — instead of pushed forward. These are actually minor differences that require just a bit of practice to get comfortable.

On target

The sample Cobra received for testing sported an even matte stainless steel finish that was nicely done. Fit was good. The red fiber optic front sight is set in blackened steel and quickly draws the eye when the gun is aimed. Incidentally, Colt may offer a tritium night sight that can be easily installed by the owner. The rear sight is a square trench or trough running the length of the top strap. The sight picture is conventional, but the matte stainless steel of the rear sight may cause glare in certain light, which makes aiming a bit difficult. At 7 yards, the sights were easy to acquire, but obtaining a good sight picture proved to be moderately more difficult at longer ranges. Of course, the gun was designed for personal protection at short ranges, and the need to shoot at longer ranges in personal defense is less likely, although it still exists.

The test gun was accurate, printing groups ranging in size from about 3 to 4 inches at 25 yards when fired off a bench rest. The best group was 1.80 inches in single-action mode where the hammer was thumb cocked. These numbers are perfectly acceptable for a small self-defense handgun and are better than the numbers delivered by many other small handguns. At close range in rapid fire drills shooting double action where the hammer is retracted when the trigger is pulled, the gun performed very well with hits centered in the vital zone.

Recoil was surprisingly mild even with +P loads, thanks to the grip design, weight of the gun, and the recoil-absorbing Colt-branded Hogue grips that feature a textured surface and finger grooves. Although this is a small, short-barreled, snubnose revolver, it shot much like a medium- or large-frame revolver, so long practice range sessions with the Cobra should be enjoyable.

Smooth stroke

The Cobra has a fully shrouded ejector rod unlike the original Cobra, which had an exposed rod could be susceptible to snagging and bending. Straightening a bent ejector rod is very difficult so the solution was to install a new one. With the full shroud, this potential problem is greatly reduced. The ejector rod is also fairly long compared to those on a Smith & Wesson snubnose revolver like the Model 340. This is noteworthy because the longer the ejector rod, the better job it does of lifting fired cases clear of the cylinder, allowing them to fall freely out of the way so that a fresh round can be loaded. The shorter the rod, the greater the tendency of fired brass to cling to the cylinder where they need to be plucked out and tossed aside before a new round can be inserted. That takes time, which is critical and in short supply in a deadly force encounter.

Running a revolver in a self-defense situation is not the same as running a semi-automatic handgun. The obvious difference is that reloading is slower because cartridges are not pre-loaded into a box magazine that can be inserted into the gun when the empty magazine is ejected. Instead, once cartridges are ejected, fresh rounds are loaded one at a time or with the aid of some type of ammunition handling device like a Tuff Products (tuffproducts.com) Quick Strip that holds six rounds or an HKS (hksspeedloaders.com) Speed Loader that can dump a cylinder full of rounds into the gun all at once. This writer has used both and they are far superior to reloading one round at a time. A retailer who sells revolvers would be wise to carry a supply.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the new Cobra is the trigger. Unlike most factory revolver triggers that display a noticeable amount of stacking — a term used to describe the characteristic of most double action triggers where greater force is required as the draw stroke progresses — the Cobra’s trigger was almost free of stacking. It was very smooth and consistent throughout the stroke, thanks in part to what Colt calls the Linear Leaf spring, version 2 (LL2). This mainspring is really a dual leaf spring and is an example of the design work that went into developing the new Cobra.

For customers considering a revolver for self defense or recreational shooting, the Cobra has many features that make it one to consider.