Colt Cobra: Gun Test
The original viper lives in this modern incarnation of one of Colt's most popular lightweight .38 Special revolvers, discontinued in 1981.
The Colt Cobra snubnose revolver made it first appearance in the company’s product line back in 1950. That was a time when wheelguns ruled the roost and the Cobra, in particular, was considered a high-tech, lightweight, powerful concealed carry firearm. The new Cobra is no different.
At the turn of the 20th century DA/SA revolvers were common and popular with law enforcement and civilians alike. Colt recognized the need for a short barrel revolver that was easily concealed and debuted the Detective Special in 1927.
At 21 ounces, 6.75 inches in length and with 6-shot capacity in .38 Special, it soon became top dog with undercover and plain clothes police officers. The Detective Special was also chambered in .22 Long Rifle, .32 New Police and .38 New Police—some of those calibers have since gone the way of the rotary phone.
The Modern .38 Special
While it was the standard for law enforcement for decades, the .38 Special has proven to be a good defense caliber as well. Not only does it produce moderate recoil, there are numerous bullet options in .38 Special on the market and the cost of factory ammunition is not insanely high. However, some considered it to be underpowered compared to the 9mm Luger and .45 ACP.
That opinion was challenged with the introduction of .38 Special +P ammunition in 1972. The FBI then loaded a +P round with a 158-grain, lead semi-wadcutter hollow point bullet, which proved to be very effective in stopping bad guys when fired out of short-barreled revolvers.
The new Cobra, as one would expect from a modern handgun, is designed to handle .38 Special +P loads, letting it wring every bit of power out of the aging cartridge and making the reincarnation of the Cobra a formidable defensive tool.
While the Colt Detective Special was popular, there was a need at the time, just as there is today, to lighten the pistol and make easier and more comfortable for concealed carry. That’s when the Cobra appeared in 1950.
The original Cobra was just like the Detective Special, except is was made from a lightweight aluminum alloy while the former gun was all steel. The Cobra weighed 16 ounces—and that was, and still is, a big deal.
The weight was easy to carry, but recoil in a lightweight revolver is always more noticeable and the light gun had a snappy kick with hotter ammo.
The original Cobra was also the first Colt to bear a snake moniker, which would become a popular naming convention for Colt (the Colt Anaconda, Python, etc).
In 1973, the second issue Cobra appeared that was similar to the first, except it had a shrouded ejector rod.
These second issue Cobra revolvers were produced through 1981 and then faded away—although plenty of Cobra revolvers were, and still are, in night stand drawers, tucked in glove compartments, and carried concealed. The fact is, revolvers like the Cobra were labor intensive to produce, which ultimately made them too expensive for most shooters and sales dropped.
Cobra Sheds Its Skin
The new Cobra relies on modern CNC machine to reduce labor costs, while still making a revolver comparable to the original. While Colt could have dusted off the design features of the original Cobra, they decided instead to start with a blank sheet of paper.
The new Cobra is made from stainless steel and weighs 25 ounces unloaded. That means the 21st-century Cobra has bulked up quite a bit, I liked the added weight when shooting +P ammo. The grip design—along with the weight of the revolver—helped soak up a lot of the felt recoil.
On the original Cobra, the bore axis was pretty high above your shooting hand, which can be a hinderance for point shooting and the speed of followup shots. The new Cobra drops that bore axis height and in combination with the grip, it feels like you are more behind the gun when shooting than under the gun.
While some manufacturers that have introduced new revolvers in recent years have made good use of new material technology in radical new designs, see the Chiappa Arms Rhino, the Cobra has a retro look to it, but with modern enhancements. Like the original revolver, the new Cobra has a skinny barrel and protruding front sight, and like the second issue Cobra, it incorporates an ejector shroud.
The trigger uses a mainspring design that Colt calls LL2—LL stands for Linear Leaf—which helps ensure a smooth, consistent trigger. If you’ve shot a few double-action revolvers, you’ve probably notices that some produce a stacking effect when you pull the trigger. When a trigger stacks, the shooter can feel increased resistance as the trigger is pulled through a full DA stroke, resulting in a choppy trigger pull, which can effect accuracy.
The cause of stacking lies in the coil spring mainspring.
While shooting the new Cobra, I did not experience that stacking effect at all. The DA pull is quite smooth, and so is the single-action pull. Both measure 9.3 pounds and 3.6 pounds, respectively.
The grip is hand-filling without being excessively large. Hogue was tapped to supply the Cobra’s grip and it went with its well-known, overmolded product to produce a solid and ergonomic grip, which includes finger grooves.
I’m a fan of the modern grip, since it allowed me shoot the Cobra more accurately and it helped dissipate the felt recoil in the palm of my hand.
Sights and Capacity
The front sight is a red fiber optic, which deviates from the traditional Cobras, but makes the sight picture much faster to acquire. I have come to appreciate red and green fiber optic front sights as they really are easier to pick up when ambient light is available, and they’re also easier to see in low-light situations than a blade or dot front sight.
The rear sight of the Cobra is a groove milled into the top strap, as expected with a compact revolver like this one. In tandem, the sights are bright and large as well as smooth and snag free, which are excellent characteristic for a conceal-carry firearm.
With a six-round capacity, the Cobra holds an extra shot compared to other small frame revolvers like S&W J-frames.
The swing-out cylider is released when the latch is pulled back (on S&Ws, the latch is pushed forward), and like other DA Colt revolvers, the cylinder rotates clockwise.
The Cobra uses a transfer bar safety system which basically means the transfer bar is between the hammer and firing pin.
Essentially, the system requires the trigger to be in full rear position for the revolver to fire. This safety system also means the revolver will not accidentally fire if dropped on the hammer with a round in the chamber beneath it.
I always have plenty of .38 Special ammo on hand and grabbed a diverse lot to test out the Cobra including: Armscor with 158-grain FMJs, Hornady Custom loaded with 158-grain XTP jacketed hollow points, Federal Champion 158-grain LRN, and SIG V-Crown +P loaded with a 125-grain JHP.
I fired for accuracy at 15 yards and found I could keep 5-shots in 2 inch groups all day long. It didn’t really matter what type of ammo I loaded into the Cobra. It spat it out consistently.
With the Sig V-Crown ammo, my average 5-shot groups were closer 1.5 inches. Hornady Custom produced groups that measured just under 2 inches at 15 yards.
Moving the target closer to 7 yards, I fired the Cobra for speed and found the revolver was easy to control. I could stay on top of it and not let the recoil get the best of me.
After all these years of no new DA revolver coming out of Hartford, Connecticut, this new Cobra revolver lives up to the Colt reputation. The original viper lives.
|Colt Cobra Specs|
|Caliber:||.38 SPL +P|
|Trigger Pull Weight:||7-9 lbs DA, 3-4 lbs. SA|
|Frame Material:||Stainless Steel|
|Twist:||1:14 LH, 6 grooves|
|Weight:||25 oz. (unloaded)|
|Sights:||Front: Red Fiber Optic, Rear: Frame Trench|