Friday, September 22, 2006

Detective Special - a Short History

I stole this short history of the Colt Detective Special from dfariswheel at The High Road forums. Many thanks to the author for a concise explanation.

The Colt Detective Special started off life in 1908 as the Colt Police Positive Special. In 1927, Colt fitted the PPS with a 2" barrel, named it the Detective Special and history was made.

The Detective Special became just that: the chosen pistol of detectives, undercovers, off duty cops, and anyone wanting a powerful, concealable gun. The DS was so popular, few police carried any other small gun. S&W didn't even bother making a competing model until the Chief's Special of 1950.

The "generations" of the DS depends on what your definition of generation IS.

As example, the very earliest DS's had square butts. In the early 1930's Colt changed it to the famous round butt. Is the square butt a different generation than the round butt.?

Most people follow this format:
First Generation.
Made from 1927 to the early 1950's. This model has a full profile steel grip frame, the 2" "skinny" barrel, and a slightly shorter ejector rod. Grips are checkered walnut with Silver medallions, and fit flush with the frame all the way around.

Second Generation.
In the early 1950's Colt introduced the aluminum frame Cobra and Agent. The Agent had a short "stubby" grip frame to save even more weight.

In the 1960's, Colt changed all their "D" frame revolvers to the same short frame design to simplify production. This new generation DS had the short butt, with checkered walnut grips that followed the grip frame on the front and back, but overlapped on the bottom to provide a full sized grip. Early grips still had Silver medallions, later grips were Gold. The ejector rod was lengthened.

Third Generation.
In 1972 Colt redesigned the DS to add a heavy weight barrel with a shroud over the ejector. The front sight was changed to a long ramp design. The grips were changed to a wrap-around "combat" design which left the back-strap open, but filled the front of the grip in. The grips had checkered panels, but no medallions. This was the first DS to be rated for +P ammo.

"Fourth Generation".
There really is no Fourth Gen DS since all later DS's were simple the Third Gen design with different types of grips, depending on when made. It was during the 1990's that Colt began a wild pattern of introducing models discontinuing them, then re-introducing them in a bewildering swirl. The DS was discontinued, several years later new DS's were produced from spare parts, the gun was again discontinued, then re-introduced and made from new-production parts.

Finally, in the late 1990's, the Colt Detective Special was discontinued for the last time, and replaced by a new model gun made with an entirely new action featuring a transfer-bar system. This gun was built of stainless steel, and was called the "SF" frame. Guns in this series were the SF-VI, the DS-II and the Magnum Carry.

The only original Detective Special model that was factory-authorized for +P ammunition was the post-1972 heavy shrouded barrel guns. Early versions rated the gun for "up to" 3000 rounds of +P ammo, at which point the gun was to be returned to the factory for inspection, and "possible frame replacement".

Later, in the 1990's the standard was changed to "factory inspection every 2000 to 3000 rounds".

From the standpoint of collecting, the pre-war DS is most desirable. For a shooter, the post-1972 shrouded barrel models are the best, due to better strength.

The Colt DS was offered in a variety of finishes running from the standard blue and bright nickel, to later finishes like Electroless nickel, also known as Coltguard.

Barrel lengths were 2" and 3". There were some DS's made in the 1990's that had double action-only spurless hammers, front sight inserts, and Zebra wood grips.

Like all Colt's the Detective Special could be special ordered with about any custom features the buyer was willing to pay for, but production guns varied very little.

And from Jim Keenan, the various Colt letter designations of their frame sizes...

AA - King Cobra (new action)
D - Detective Special, Cobra, Agent, Commando,
Diamondback, Police Positive, Viper
DA - Double Action .45
E - Army Special, Officers Model Match, Officers Model Target,
Official Police (old)
F - Reproduction percussion revolvers as a group
G - .22 Peacemaker, .22 New Frontier
I - Python, Trooper (old), .357 Magnum
J - Lawman Mk III and V, Official Police Mk III, Peacekeeper,
Metropolitan Mk III, Trooper Mk III and V, King Cobra
K - Frontier Scout 1962 (new)
MM - Anaconda
O - Government Model
P - Single Action Army
Q - .22 Frontier Scout, .22 Buntline Scout (old)
S - Postwar Woodsman
SF-VI - Detective Special, 1993 model
V - Short action version of the D frame

For those interested, Massad Ayoob has a short article about the Detective Special in the Nov/Dec 2006 issue of American Handgunner.

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