Colt Cobra

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, .38 New police, .32 Colt New Police, and .22 LR. It holds six shots of ammunition and was sold by Colt from 1950 until 1981.[1] In December 2016, it was announced that Colt would be producing a new run of the Colt Cobra with a steel frame and a fiber optic front sight. This model was released in early 2017.

Colt Cobra
Colt Cobra .38 Special
Place of originUnited States
Production history
Produced1950–1981, 2017–present
VariantsColt Aircrewman, Colt Courier, Colt Agent, Colt Viper
Mass15 oz (430 g) (pre-1981)
25 oz (710 g) (post 2017)
Length6.75 in (171 mm) (pre-1981)
7.2 in (180 mm) (post 2017)
Barrel length2 in (51 mm), 3 in (76 mm), 4 in (100 mm), 5 in (130 mm)
Width1.25 in (32 mm) (pre-1981)
1.4 in (36 mm) (post 2017)
Height4.5 in (110 mm) (pre-1981)
4.9 in (120 mm) (post 2017)

Caliber.38 Special
.38 New Police
.32 Colt New Police
.22 LR
ActionRevolver DA/SA
Feed system6-round Cylinder

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 1972-1981, 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 available 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 available with a nickel finish at additional cost. Early models also had a square-butt option.

It was announced in 2016 that Colt would re-release the Colt Cobra in 2017. The Third Model (2017-present) is offered only as a 6 shot DA/SA revolver in .38 Special (+P Capable) with a 2" barrel. This model will be offered with a Matte Stainless Steel finish and has an unloaded weight of 25 ounces. At the 2018 Shot Show, Colt debuted the Colt Night Cobra, which has a matte black finish and a front night sight. It is also double action only. [2]

Production subvariants

Colt Aircrewman

The Colt M13 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 Air Force medallion in the place of the 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/or frame failure began to plague the Aircrewman and its Smith & Wesson counterpart, the Smith & Wesson Model 12, despite issuing a dedicated low-pressure .38 Special military cartridge, the Caliber .38 Ball, M41 round.[3][4] However, the cylinder fractures continued, and the weapons were eventually withdrawn from service.[5]

Colt Courier

The Courier was produced in .22 Long Rifle, 32 Colt NP, 32 S&W long and short. Frame and cylinder are constructed of lightweight aluminum alloy. It was made from 1954 to 1956. Approximately 3,000 were produced in the two years.

Colt Agent

The Colt Agent was another model similar to the Cobra. The original Agents were very well made, with high polished finishes and highly checkered walnut grips. The bottom of the Agent grips 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 1955 to 1979. The original Agents had a smaller grip frame from the Cobra which made for a deeper concealment and the grip frame was later changed to match the Cobra in the late 60s. A slightly revised version of the Agent was released in 1973 with a shrouded barrel with a weight of 16 ounces. In 1982, the Agent was briefly revived by Colt, this time with a parkerized finish; production continued until 1986, which made the Agent a much cheaper version of the Cobra.

Colt Viper

The Viper was essentially a 4" barrel version of the alloy-framed Colt Cobra in .38 Special. Introduced in 1977 and only produced that year, the Viper did not sell as well as Colt expected and was discontinued. In recent years, owing to its limited production run, the Viper has become quite collectable. Examples in good condition fetch unusually high prices.


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.[6]

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 new 2017 reintroduction Colt Cobra revolver is rated to accept +P ammunition.

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.[7] 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.[8]
  • Lee Marvin carried two Colt Cobras while playing Detective-Lieutenant Frank Balinger of the Chicago Police Department on the TV series M Squad.
  • Monika Ertl used a Colt Cobra .38 to kill Roberto Quintanilla, the man who cut off the hands of the corpse of Che Guevara, in 1971.
  • Legendary music producer Phil Spector was convicted of murdering actress Lana Clarkson with a Colt Cobra .38 at his Alhambra, California home in 2003.


  1. Gun Collector's Club: Colt Cobra
  2. "COLT COBRA (.38 SPECIAL +P)" (PDF). Colt's Manufacturing Company, LLC.
  3. 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.
  4. Williams, Kevin, Colt Two-Inch Revolvers in U.S. Military Service, The Rampant Colt, Colt Collectors Association Magazine (June 2009)
  5. Williams, Kevin, Colt Two-Inch Revolvers in U.S. Military Service, The Rampant Colt, Colt Collectors Association Magazine (June 2009)
  7. Christianson, Scott (2006). Bodies of Evidence: Forensic Science and Crime. Globe Pequot. p. 83. ISBN 9781592285808.
  8. Trask, Mike (March 11, 2008). "From Jack Ruby to Las Vegas: A gun's trajectory". Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
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