The Colt Police Positive Special

Colt’s “Delightful D” still makes the rate
66

Our 1920-vintage Colt Police Positive Special had a serious affinity for Black Hills 148-gr.
Match .38 Special wadcutters. This is 5 shots at 25 yards.

What’s In A Name?

Ask Colt revolver fans to list as many D-Frame models as they can and chances are the results will include fairly well-known names — many decidedly snaky. We’re talking Cobra, Diamondback, Agent, Viper, Detective Special, etc. But the granddaddy of the D-breed was the Police Positive, introduced in 1905. The 1908 Sears Roebuck catalog lists it at $14. The optional “pearl handle” jacked the MSRP up by an additional $2! Here’s a bit of the accompanying copy:

“Has a splendid grip, smooth working action, blued steel finish with fancy rubber handle, but may be fitted a pearl handle … It is the revolver which is adopted by police departments of New York and other large cities.”

Naturally, those on the side of law and order weren’t the only fans of the Police Positive. A nickel-plated 4″ specimen once owned by Chicago’s Al Capone went for a cool $109,080 at the Christie’s Antique Arms, Armour and Collectors auction in 2011.

Smith & Wesson’s Model 10 (top) is larger and heavier than Colt’s Police Positive Special (bottom).
But both were state-of-the-art in their day.

The Last Of Its Kind

In 1977 Colt “updated” the Police Positive Special for the last time. One of the visible cues differentiating it from earlier versions was a shrouded ejector rod. Although this makes sense in a hard-duty gun, it did — in my opinion — remove a lot of the classic Hartford charm from the gun.

About 25 years before Colt brought the curtain down on the Police Positive Special — 1969 to be exact — it was listed at $93.50 (blued). By comparison, the larger blued Official Police was going for $110, while the also-heftier competition Model 10 was bringing S&W a somewhat friendlier $76.50. It might partially explain S&W’s eventual dominance in the LE market.

Winchester’s 158-gr. RNFP Cowboy ammo clocked a hair under 800 fps from our century-old PPS.
While not as accurate as the Black Hills Match Wadcutters, this is nothing to gripe about.

Lightweight Packer

Here’s a by-the-numbers “packability” comparison — the unloaded weight of a 4″ K-Frame Smith Model 10 is 30.5 oz. while Colt’s preeminent duty revolver, the .41-Frame Official Police weighs in at 38 oz. in its 4″ iteration. Our little Colt PPS? A mere slip of a thing at 23 oz.. It’s not much of a shock when you stop to consider it’s essentially an early-series 4″ Detective Special with a square butt. Being an absolute delight to carry is only one of its charms, as I soon discovered.

Feeding The Oldster

My ammo menu for checking our Police Positive Special’s range performance was somewhat limited. I wanted to at least make an attempt to stay within the bullet weight parameters of what was in vogue when the gun was made. I also wanted to do so at standard-pressure “stress levels.” I use Plus-P stuff frequently but I usually avoid shooting it in small frame guns this old. If it would’ve been a modern D-Frame, say a later Detective Special, I might have given the high-test stuff a spin. But why beat up a classic like this?

My three loads were Winchester 158-gr. Cowboy lead RNFP, Black Hills 148-gr. Match Wadcutter and Remington 130-gr. FMJ. I figured the Winchester stuff would be a pretty close approximation of most pre-war “service loads,” while the Black Hills stuff would be a good bet for demonstrating the little Colt’s accuracy potential. The Remington FMJs? These are pretty much a dupe of the service ball load used by pilots packing (usually) S&W K-Frames like the Victory Model in WWII. What I like about them is they’re “bulk-pack practice” cheap and pretty accurate in most guns. Plus, they’re “FMJ clean.” Most 4″ guns I’ve used them in generally produce velocities a bit over 900 fps — what I got with the Police Positive Special.

The 158-gr. Winchester stuff produced a 6-shot 2.5″ group at 25 yards while the Black Hills Wadcutters crowded 5 shots into a spectacular cluster at just under 1.5″. The Remington 130-gr. was almost on a par with the Winchester 158s.

Normally I’m the first guy to piss and moan about tiny, fixed U-notch-rear/blade-front vintage sighting arrangements like this one, but I’m gonna keep my mouth shut here — good bifocals and a nice group or three will do that! Whatever long-ago Colt craftsman regulated these sights knew what he was doing.

An offshoot of the Police Positive Special, the classic Detective Special is probably the most famous Colt D-Frame.
This mid-’60s specimen sports the relatively rare 3" barrel plus the signature rounded grips.

Making It Go Bang

Trigger-wise, the Police Positive Special really shined in single action — 3.5 lbs. double action? Well, we’re talking about 11 lbs. Not “stagey” with the mid-hitch I remember from most old Colts but with quite a bit of takeup. As much as I love them, shooting one makes you realize why most serious DA guys (say, Ed McGivern) preferred Smiths. The best bet for effective double-action shooting with the old PPS was to take up the slack and pull straight through quickly.

The long-ago ad probably said it best when claiming the Police Positive was “The safest, simplest and most dependable revolver you can buy.”

I’ll “buy” it.

Read More Surplus Articles

Subscribe To GUNS Magazine

Purchase A PDF Download Of The GUNS Magazine May 2020 Issue Now!