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Colt King Cobra, The Snake Resurrected

Photos by Kenda Lenseigne

Although introduced at SHOT Show 2019, the King Cobra traces its lineage all the way back to 1908 with the launch of the Colt Police Positive. Immensely popular in law enforcement circles, the 38 Special, six-shot revolver dominated the market for decades, a fixture in the lives of lawmen, citizens, and outlaws until 1995, when declining sales killed it off.

Eventually selling over three quarters of a million units, the Police Positive spawned offshoots such as the very first snubnose belly gun, created as a custom proposition by Colt employee John Henry Fitzgerald in the 1920s. The Fitz Special chopped the revolver’s barrel to 2 inches, shortened the ejector rod, and bobbed both the grip and hammer spur — but the most noticeable feature, that of its open trigger guard, was always more of a conversation starter than a practical modification. After a couple of hundred Fitz Specials were moved out of the New Haven factory, Colt’s management decided to formally add the custom gun to their catalog, minus the hammer and trigger guard mods, and thus the Detective Special was born.

In 1950, an aluminum-framed version of the Dick Special was introduced and christened the Cobra. While dimensionally identical, the new gun shaved 6 ounces from its predecessor’s weight, while retaining its advantage over its nearest domestic competitor — Smith & Wesson’s diminutive J Frame was a tad smaller, but the Colt offered a six-round payload.

If 38 Special was good, then 357 Magnum must be better, right? Yes, but…
In order to handle increased pressures, erosion, forcing cone wear, and frame stretching from the Magnum round, Colt abandoned their “D” frame, instead looking to the slightly bigger “V” frame found in the Trooper lineup. Thus, the King Cobra was born. No aluminum version was offered, and the King Cobra had a production run from 1986 through to 1992.

Ejector rod is sized for a 2-inch barrel and sacrifices full length stroke.

The 1990s were not a happy time at Colt. Overreliance on military contracts, labor disputes, and management short-sightedness forced the company into bankruptcy, an event which for the past few decades seemed to occur like the emergence of cicada swarms. As an overarching strategy, pissing off your customers by advocating for federal restrictions on civilian firearms ownership is not exactly a winning formula, yet Colt’s CEO at the time managed to bring down the wrath of the American consumer by doing just that. Fortunately, their current management are dyed-in-the-wool gun guys, rather than corporate suits.

Production of the D frame guns was restarted, then stopped, as was their V-framed counterparts, which enjoyed a second run from ’94-98. As a last hurrah, Colt introduced their final DA revolver in 1999. This was known as the Magnum Carry, based on a slightly shrunken version of the V frame, but with a thicker top strap. Confused? You should be, as it was in production for just a few months until October of that year, when Colt was forced to kill off their entire revolver line. It’s this gun that forms the basis of the newly resurrected King Cobra.


The new King Cobra is offered as a one-variant model, following the Henry Ford philosophy of, “You can have any color you like, so long as it’s black.” Or in this case, stainless. As non-choices go, it’s hardly a drawback and the revolver’s classic lines don’t suffer too badly — yes, there are plenty of people (myself included) who wax lyrical over the Royal Blue found on the Python, but it was never a good option on a carry gun, and the King Cobra is aimed squarely at the concealed carry market.

Evidence of this can be found in the barrel specs, which split the difference between the concealability of a 2-inch pipe and the ballistic advantage of a service-length 4-incher. 357 Mag from a short barrel is attention-getting at both ends, but there’s a very good reason to put up with the increased concussion and blast, versus downgrading to a 38 Special. Put bluntly, as a defensive round 38 Special sucks. Despite offering advantages of almost universal availability and a compact form factor in the typical J-frame sized package, 35 caliber bullets are highly velocity-dependent when it comes to performance, and most fail to expand when propelled at the sedate muzzle velocities achieved from a 2-inch 38. Step up from 850 fps to 1,200, and it’s a different story.

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