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Colt Cobra
Cobra 38spl.jpg
Colt Cobra .38 Special
Type Revolver
Place of origin United States
Production history
Manufacturer Colt
Produced 1950-1981
Variants Colt Aircrewman, Colt Courier, Colt Agent, Colt Viper
Weight 15 oz (430 g)
Barrel length 2 in (51 mm), 3 in (76 mm), 4 in (100 mm)

Caliber *.38 Special
*.32 Colt New Police
*.22 LR
Action DA/SA
Feed system 6-round Cylinder

The Colt Cobra is a lightweight, aluminum-framed, double-action short-barrelled revolver, not to be confused with the Colt King Cobra. The Cobra was chambered in .38 Special, .32 Colt New Police, and .22 LR. It holds six shots of ammunition and was sold by Colt from 1950 until 1981.[1]

Product development and usage

The Cobra was made in two models: The First Model, made from 1950-1971 and weighing 15 ounces unloaded with 2-inch barrel, and an improved Second Model, made from 1972 onwards, recognizable by its shrouded ejector rod, with an unloaded weight of 16 ounces. The Cobra is the same overall size and configuration as the famous Colt Detective Special and uses the same size "D" frame, except that the Cobra's frame is constructed of lightweight aluminum alloy as compared to the all-steel frame of the Detective Special. In the mid-1960s, the Detective Special's and Cobra's grip frame was shortened to the same size as that of the Agent.

The Cobra was produced in calibers .38 Special, 32 Colt New Police, .22 LR, and a rare few in .38 S&W. The .38 Special Cobra was available in 2, 3, 4, and 5 inch barrel lengths. The .32 caliber version was availble in 2- and 3-inch barrel lengths. The .22 LR Cobra was available only with the 3-inch barrel.

Standard Cobras were blued with round-butt grip frames. The .38 Special Cobra with a 2-inch barrel was availble with a nickel finish at additional cost. Early models also had a square-butt option.

Production subvariants

Colt Aircrewman

The Aircrewman was an ultra-lightweight version of the Detective Special constructed of aluminum alloy, and made from 1951-1957 for use by US Air Force aircrews. They are distinguished by the gold-metal Air Force medallion in the place of the silver-metal Colt medallion on the checkered wooden grips, as well as a cylinder made of aluminum alloy. Within two years of issuance, reports of cylinder and/for frame failure began to plague the Aircrewman and its Smith & Wesson counterpart, the M13, despite issuing a dedicated low-pressure .38 Special military cartridge, the Caliber.38 Ball, M41 round.[2][3] However, the cylinder fractures continued, and the weapons were eventually withdrawn from service.[4]

Colt Courier

The Courier was produced in .22 Long Rifle and 32 Colt NP. It was made from 1954-1956. Approximately 3000 were produced in the two years.

Colt Agent

The Colt Agent was a lower-price version of the Cobra, featuring a less highly polished blue finish and smaller, simplified grips. The bottom of the Agent gripstock was slightly shorter than that of the Cobra. The original Agent weighed 14 ounces and was available only in .38 Special caliber, with a 2-inch barrel and blued finish. It was made from 1962-1979. A slightly revised version of the Agent was released in 1973 with a shrouded barrel with a weight of 16 ounces. In 1984, the Agent was briefly revived by Colt, this time with a parkerized finish; production continued until 1986.

Colt Viper

The Viper was essentially a 4" barrel version of the alloy-framed Colt Cobra in .38 Special. Introduced in 1977, it sold poorly, and was discontinued the same year.


Some have recommended against the use of +P-rated .38 Special cartridges in aluminum-framed Colt revolvers, as the Cobra was designed well before the "+P" designation. Others point out that +P ammunition is the same pressure as the regular pressure ammunition was before SAAMI lowered the standards in 1972 as a result of industry requests. They point out that the post-72 loads are merely regular pressure ammunition labeled as "+P". Some experts have done considerable testing so as to prove that +P .38 specials are not truly hot loads.[5]

In the owners' manual accompanying some post-1972 Cobra revolvers, Colt recommended the use of +P ammunition for 2nd Model Cobra frames only, with the stipulation that the gun be returned to the factory for inspection every 1,000 rounds (compared with a 2,000-3,000 round interval for the 2nd Model steel-framed Detective Special).

The Cobra should never be fired with extreme-pressure +P+ ammunition as there are no industry standards for such loads.

Notable Users

  • Jack Ruby used a Colt Cobra .38 to kill Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963 as Dallas, Texas law enforcement officials were transporting Oswald from the city jail to the county jail. The infamous gun was purchased for $220,000 at an auction held by Herman Darvick Autograph Auctions in New York City on December 26, 1991 by collector Anthony V. Pugliese III of Delray Beach Florida. It was consigned by Jack Ruby's brother, Earl Ruby.
  • Lee Marvin carried two Colt Cobras while playing Detective-Lieutenant Frank Balinger of the Chicago Police Department on the TV series M Squad.


  1. Gun Collector's Club: Colt Cobra
  2. TM 43-0001-27, Army Ammunition Data Sheets - Small Caliber Ammunition, FSC 1305, Washington, D.C.: Dept. of the Army, 29 April 1994: The original USAF .38 M41 ball cartridge had a pressure limit of only 13,000 CUP, propelling its 130-grain FMJ bullet at a mild 725 feet per second.
  3. Williams, Kevin, Colt Two-Inch Revolvers in U.S. Military Service, The Rampant Colt, Colt Collectors Association Magazine (June 2009)
  4. Williams, Kevin, Colt Two-Inch Revolvers in U.S. Military Service, The Rampant Colt, Colt Collectors Association Magazine (June 2009)

External links

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