A Bargain-Priced Detective
Special Proves Its Inner Beauty
By Massad Ayoob
So there I was in one of my favorite gun shops, when something a couple of shelves down in the “used” showcase caught my eye. I did a double take and asked, “Could I see that one, please?”
I could’ve sworn it was a Colt Detective Special with silvery aftermarket finish, and a price tag of just under $200. It turned out I had. Closer inspection explained the price tag.
Some shade-tree ‘smith had made this little snubbie a guinea pig for what was likely a first attempt at a baked-on finish job. The surface was beyond rough. It was flaking off on the cylinder yoke, scratched through elsewhere, and appeared to have been applied unevenly toward the front of the cylinder.
The salesman told me it was a trade-in from a fellow who liked to do his own gunsmithing at home. Gun dealers cringe at that. They’ve seen too many DIY action jobs where the guns don’t reliably go bang anymore. Or safety devices neutered in hope of making the trigger a little lighter. They see them as a liability, and if they take them in trade at all, they buy at a low-ball price and sell accordingly, with the caveat the gun goes out the door “as-is.”
I gave it a quick armorer’s check. The yoke was solidly flush with the frame. Timing was perfect, as was barrel/cylinder gap. No end-shake. Whoever had slicked up the inside had known his Colts: there was barely a hint of the V-shaped mainspring’s trigger “stacking” that had long since given the Colt a reputation for a 2-stage double-action trigger. Because they have a longer hammer throw and trigger pull than their J-Frame counterparts from Smith & Wesson, these D-Frame Colts have a proportionally lighter DA pull. This one had been made lighter still—but very smooth.
Finally, the hammer spur had been bobbed off. This doesn’t seem to be a problem on a Smith or Ruger, but on D-Frame Colts the procedure had a reputation for making ignition dicey. Pachmayr Compac grips completed the package.
Here’s the deal with shade-tree ’smiths. For all their reputation of “Bubba-izing” good guns, some of them stay with it long enough to get darn good at it. One such when I was young (who will remain nameless) got such a rep for too-slick S&W’s to the point they were no longer reliable, any used Smith found in local gun shops would draw the question from the cognoscenti, “Did (name deleted) trade this gun in?” If the answer was yes, the customer would make the sign of the cross or something and step back from the counter. But so-and-so stayed with it, and long before his untimely passing, he created some of the sweetest custom S&W’s on the planet. I had the feeling whoever had done this little Colt might have been following the same path.
For a $199 price tag, Mas can forgive a lot of “bad optics.”
First rapid fire 7-yard cylinderful showed promise.
Six high-chest hits in a hand-span from the 25-yard barricade is plenty OK for a 2-inch DAO .38 snubbie.
Performance vs. Appearance
Naturally, I reached for the credit card with one hand and the iPhone for the FFL with the other. When I got home the DS was waiting for me. On the range, six fast shots at 7 yards went into an inch and a half with four touching. Back at 25 yards from a right-hand barricade stance, the next six bullets went into a hand-size cluster. The groups were a bit high left of point of aim, but that was common with fixed-sight D-Frame Colts back in the day, and nothing that couldn’t be fixed. Primer hits were deep and centered. I was happy. My little orphan rescue puppy was turning out to be a shooter.
When I was looking the Detective Special over at the sales counter with the price tag still on it, folks standing nearby looked at the finish and said “God, that’s ugly.” My significant other looked at it and said “Mas, it’s not just ugly, it’s fugly!”
My answer? “Who cares? I’m gonna carry it concealed anyway! And it’s so ugly, I’ll be all the more motivated to keep it concealed…”
“But it’s hideous!”
“It’s a Colt Detective Special. For 200 bucks!”
And there the matter sits. I’m a happy owner. I don’t care my late friend Larry Wilson would never have put it in one of his gorgeous Colt collector coffeetable books. It’s ugly but it works. And that’s true of me too, so who am I to judge?