Colt King Cobra .357

“Re-Framing” a Classic Snake
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Mas’ favorite .38 Special +P load: Speer’s 135-gr. GDHP, 25 yards.

A few Januarys ago Colt announced the new King Cobra, not their first revolver to bear the name, so a brief history is in order.

The D-Frame series, as we know it today, goes back to the Police Positive Special of 1908. In 1926, Colt decided to make a 2″ barreled version called the Detective Special — it hit dealer shelves a year later and owned the small-frame .38 Special snub-nose market for the second quarter of the 20th Century.

In 1950, Colt made a Detective Special with a first-of-its-kind lightweight aluminum frame, and named it the Cobra. As the end of the 20th Century neared, these Old World-crafted guns became too expensive to produce at competitive prices so Colt did a revamped design in all stainless steel, the SF-VI and DS-II series. For one year (1999) Colt made a beefed-up version in .357 called the Magnum Carry, with some 6,000 sold. Meanwhile, they had debuted the first King Cobra in 1986 — a chunky V-Frame (.41) heavy-duty service .357.

By the dawn of the 21st Century, those neat little double-action Colt revolvers were no more … until 2017, when Colt introduced an updated version of the DS-II in all stainless called the Cobra by Colt (and the New Cobra by shooters). They’ve now followed with the same gun in .357 Magnum, featuring a full-underlug 3″ barrel.


Colt’s new King Cobra (top) with the original 3" Cobra from the Steve Denny collection.

Meet The New King Cobra

Overall, the new gun somewhat resembles a stainless, fixed-sight Diamondback — the deluxe Python-esque D-Frame Colt .38 (and .22) of 1966. Its heft is right between the 2″ Cobra of 2017 and a 3″ K-Frame S&W. An Ohaus LS2000 scale weighed our unloaded test sample at 28 oz. By comparison, a 3″ S&W M13 .357 weighed 32 oz. even. The original 3″ Cobra .38 (1971 vintage) scaled a hair over 16 oz.

The front sight is a square Patridge type with an old school flat brass bead. I’ll say right here I think it’s the best front sight Colt has put on a D-Frame since 1972! It’s interchangeable if you prefer a night sight or fiber optic, both available. The revolver’s finish is dull silvery. This gun shares the enlarged trigger guard of the new Cobra, which I think is this series’ best tactical feature as it allows full trigger return with a heavily gloved hand, unlike most double-action revolvers. Capacity is Colt’s traditional six rounds.


Mas loves the enlarged trigger guards on the new Colt, which allow full trigger return even with gloved fingers.

Functioning, Shootability

I want about a 0.006" clearance between barrel and cylinder. On our test sample, the empty gun closed on a 0.004" feeler gauge, but it dragged a bit with empty casings inserted and pushing the cylinder slightly forward at 0.005". There was no binding in dry or live fire, however, even when we shot the gun dirty.

The trigger itself is smooth faced (a good thing!) and pull is relatively light. On a Lyman digital gauge, measuring from the center of the trigger where the index finger naturally lies, double-action pull averaged 9.25 lbs., and single action, 4.3 lbs. In both modes it felt lighter than it weighed. Single action release was crisp with no perceptible backlash, and double action was extremely smooth. The current iteration of the V-shaped Colt mainspring is more of a U-shape, resulting in slight stacking (increase in resistance toward the end of the double-action stroke) but it seemed to disappear during rapid fire.

The full-length ejector rod generally did a good job of kicking out the brass, though occasionally the one spent case nearest the frame would stick a bit. This required us to flick it out by hand before inserting the HKS size “10” speedloader, which worked just fine.

Decades ago, gun expert Jac Weller wrote Colt had experimentally chambered the Detective Special for .357 Mag, and though the gun stood up, they believed recoil would be intolerable, which killed the idea. That was then and this is now, when people buy 11-oz. .357s. Cushiony Hogue grips come on the King Cobra and do a wonderful job of absorbing recoil. From petite females to burly 6-foot males, all our testers loved the action on the King Cobra and didn’t mind the recoil with even the hottest .38 loads — they found “Magnum Force” recoil surprisingly tolerable (but certainly not fun).

Mas’ test gun has a 0.004" barrel/cylinder gap. It’s a hair tighter than he likes but there was no binding.


The King Cobra’s full-length rod usually cleared all brass, but one would occasionally hang up.


I tested three loads from a Caldwell Matrix rest on a concrete bench at 25 yards in single-action mode. They ranged from mild to wild. For mild, I chose Black Hills’ Match 148-gr. .38 Special mid-range wadcutter. From the lab to the street, such authorities as Duncan McPherson, Dr. Gary Roberts and Chuck Haggard have endorsed this humble target load for self-defense, and we elderly arthritics certainly appreciate it.

All groups were measured center to center between the farthest shots in question. The 5-shot WC group measured 1.85″. The best three hits — a measurement which tends to factor out human error and come closer to what the same gun and load would have done for all five from a machine rest — was only 7/10″!

With small frame .357 revolvers like this, the .38 Special +P is often the compromise between controllability and power. I’ve found none better than Speer’s 135-gr. +P Gold Dot, especially engineered by a team led by Ernest Durham for maximum performance out of short barrels. In the King Cobra, it led the grouping test with five shots in 1.70 and the best 3 in 0.80.

“Wild” in small revolvers is the full power .357 Magnum and we chose the legendary “lightning bolt,” Federal’s 125-gr. semi-jacketed HP. The whole quintet went into 2.70″, and the best three, 1.95. Overall, group size averaged 2.08″ and the best three measured 1.15″. Basically, the King Cobra is a 2″ gun at 25 yards (with sub-1″ potential).

Colt revolvers are famous for their accuracy, with their rock-solid cylinder lockup and the 1:14 twist to its LH rifling. This new incarnation of the King Cobra certainly lives up to the Colt rep.

Grouping is only part of accuracy: The other element is point of aim vis-à-vis point of impact. Our test gun centered a bit low left with .38 wadcutters, low center in the black Birchwood-Casey Shoot-N-C bull with the Speer .38 +P, and center for elevation but a wee bit right with the hardest kicking load — the 125-gr. Federal .357. The broad range of velocity and POI/POA combinations in a .38/.357 revolver cry out for adjustable sights, and rumor has it an adjustable sight version of the King Cobra may be available by the time you read this.


Colt’s new King Cobra .357 features a heavy 3" full-lug barrel with an enclosed ejector rod.

Carrying The King Cobra

I wore the test gun for a few days inside the waistband behind the hip in an ARG holster for a 3" K-Frame S&W by Mitch Rosen. I had worried the sharpish edge of the hammer spur might dig into my side but it didn’t. The third inch of barrel pretty much takes this gun out of “snubbie” class in terms of pocket or even ankle carry but for a compact belt gun, it’s just right. In or on the belt, the extra inch of barrel bears against the hip and tucks the butt inward toward the torso, improving concealability.

It’s very much a shooter’s gun! The sights are easier to see than what you find on most small frame revolvers, though one tester felt the smooth silvery rear of the frame created bothersome glare. I took it to the range to shoot a 4- to 15-yard off-duty qualification. The test finished with a 100 percent score, 300 out of 300 points for the 60 shots — it’s hard to ask for more in a gun of this type.

The recoil-absorbing underlug, quick-change front sight, and recessed muzzle crown of the King Cobra.

The King Cobra takes six rounds of .357 Magnum if you’re feeling frisky —
or six .38 Special if you’re not!

“Metropolitan Special”

One of the most influential gun experts in the mid-20th Century was New York City holster maker and quick-draw ace Chic Gaylord. He was a big Colt revolver guy, and in his 1960 Handgunner’s Guide, he postulated his ideal concealed carry gun which he called the “Metropolitan Special.” It was the D-Frame Police Positive with a 3″ barrel, maybe a gold bead front sight, and a bird’s head-style round butt, in .38 Special. Gaylord considered the .38 Special with 200-gr. bullets to be an absolute minimum for self-defense and liked the idea of something even more potent.

If you think about it, the new King Cobra pretty much is the Metropolitan Special, as rendered almost 60 years later in the .357 Magnum chambering Chic would certainly have appreciated.

Colt has set the MSRP for the new King Cobra at $899, putting it neck and neck with the six-shot Kimber K6 series, its only real competitor in the niche of small-frame six-shot stainless .357s with this size barrel. I think they’re going to sell a lot of them.

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