The July 1990 issue of Guns & Ammo was the first that I received as a subscriber. Three .357 Magnums appeared on the cover including a stainless Ruger GP100, the Colt King Cobra and the Smith & Wesson Model 686. “The All-American Magnum” the blurb read, and inside was a roundup review of .357s. I lusted after that gun, but I’ve never managed to own one. It’s been nearly 30 years and now’s my chance — the King Cobra is back.
Despite the ups and downs since the early ’90s, Colt has remained an iconic brand most gun enthusiasts want to see endure. Hope was revived with the relaunch of the faithful Model 1911 Series 70 in 2011, followed by the surprise reincarnation of the Cobra series in 2017. Colt’s double-action revolvers reached near-mythical status among collectors when Pythons recently commanded as much as $8,000 during their peak demand. Depending on configuration, values have settled between $1,800 and $5,000 for clean examples as most of us hope that Colt will eventually reintroduce the ultimate snake gun.
Even through there isn’t a King Cobra that’s the peer to the quality of a Colt Python, it’s still a double-action Colt. Introduced in 1986 and discontinued in 1992, the King Cobra returned in 1994 until it went dormant again in 1998 where it remained for another 20 years.
Unlike original configurations, the 2019 King Cobra features a 3-inch barrel and several unique features collectors will quickly note. But does it deserve the reputation possessed by other Colt snake guns?
The King Cobra was intended to challenge the Ruger GP100 which also made its debut on the cover of G&A in 1986. Up to that point, Ruger revolvers were regarded as the less-expensive alternative to Colt’s due to designs better suited for Ruger’s manufacturing efficiencies, including investment casting. Colt responded with the King Cobra, which was easier to manufacture than other revolvers. Among its other fine details, the King Cobra featured a coil mainspring; a solid rather-than vent-rib barrel; synthetic grips and a number of cast-steel parts. The King Cobra was a well-reviewed serpent, but a Python it was not.
At the time, King Cobras were made with barrels anywhere from 2½ to 8 inches in length. Though a 3-inch model was never catalogued, a handful were reportedly made as samples for law enforcement. When the demand for duty guns shifted to higher-capacity semiautomatics, revolver interest faded among the shooting public and manufacturers learned that revolvers were far less profitable to manufacture than semiautos. Fiscally, the decision to kill the King Cobra was easy. Even though the King Cobra was never Colt’s premium revolver, the recent demand for Colt’s snake guns means that some can fetch north of $2,000.
The Cobra is a concealable six-shot .38 Special. It’s rated for +P loads and all current offerings wear 2-inch barrels. Following its appearance on G&A’s April 2017 cover, the Cobra was met with great enthusiasm. Calls for one chambered in .357 Magnum came immediately. As announced at the 2019 SHOT Show, Colt is now meeting that demand.
“It’s our first double-action .357 in 20 years which makes it pretty exciting.” said Justin Baldini, Colt’s product director. “It’s different from the King Cobras of the past, which had a mid-sized frame while this is more of an oversized small-frame gun. It’s very similar to the Cobra, but with a beefed-up topstrap. When we designed the Cobra, we knew we wanted to build a .357 on that platform.”
Unlike the original King Cobras, which were duty-built guns closer in size and proportion to the Smith & Wesson L-frame. The new King Cobra is lighter and more concealable. The 3-inch barrel now has fixed sights, said to be ideally suited for defensive use, whereas the original King Cobra models featured an adjustable rear sight. Today, the new King Cobra only offers an integral rear notch.
Conveniently, the new King Cobra strikes a balance between a pocket-sized revolver and a full-size six-gun. At 28 ounces unloaded and at an 8-inch length, the King Cobra is big enough and heavy enough to shoot well, but light and compact enough to carry. The full-length lug adds just enough weight to contribute in taming the recoil of .357 Magnum loads. This approach packs lots of power into a handy package.
King Cobra shares many parts with the 2017-released Cobra, including its internal lockwork, grip and sights. And like the Cobra, the new King Cobra uses a leaf mainspring design. It’s much like a scaled-down variation of the Python, and better than the coil spring arrangement found on vintage King Cobras.
Unlike Ruger and Smith & Wesson, companies that often use two-piece barrel designs to cut costs, and like Kimber’s K6s, Colt is sticking with a one-piece barrel machined from stainless steel bar stock. At the muzzle, the crown is deeply recessed, which helps protect the King Cobra’s accuracy potential. At the top, the barrel is milled flat.
Upon inspection, the cylinder gap was tight on G&A’s test gun and there was no light visible to the naked eye when held to the light. A .004-inch feeler gauge fit between the barrel and cylinder.
The cylinder rotates clockwise in the distinctive Colt style. Like the company’s previous double-actions, the cylinder release is actuated by a slight pull to the rear.
The firing pin is captive in the frame and a transfer-bar safety is part of the Cobra’s lockwork. Some of the parts, including the trigger and hammer, are made from stainless steel metal injection molded (MIM) manufacturing.
When handling the King Cobra, it’s obvious that the overall fit and finish of this gun is excellent. The finish is best described as a brushed, or semi-gloss stainless steel, with the exception of the bead-blasted topstrap which cuts glare as you’re aligning the sights. The rubber overmolded Hogue grip completes the utilitarian appearance and provides a secure purchase. A five-fingered grip doesn’t leave one’s pinky floating in space. The qualities of this grip are fully realized at the range.
My handgun mantra is simple: Give me good sights and a decent trigger and I’ll shoot well with it. Both of these aspects of the King Cobra hit the mark. The 0.125-inch-wide front sight (which is held into a milled barrel pocket using a hex screw above the muzzle) is black with a 0.95-inch brass bead. (I am a big fan of the bead.) A .140-inch rear notch is milled into the frame, making it all but indestructible.
The trigger is narrower than most revolver triggers, and its face is not serrated or textured. The 9½-pound double-action (DA) trigger is, to me, the best DA trigger out there. The pull is very smooth and breaks crisply without a hint of creep or grit. The single-action (SA) pull is equally as crisp, and our example averaged consistently at 3¼ pounds. I’m not exactly sure how Colt nailed the trigger design, but they did. The .240-inch-wide hammer maintains a low profile, yet it is serrated for a nonslip grip when cocking the gun for SA use.
Colt King Cobra At the Range
Given the gun’s defensive theme, the King Cobra was loaded with Magnum loads and shot a Bill Drill — six shots fired from 7 yards into the A-Zone of a USPSA target while achieving a sight picture between each shot. Despite the tempo, all six landed in a 3-inch group. The King Cobra proved to be practically accurate and reliable. Most importantly, the factory fixed sights were correctly regulated.
I began evaluating accuracy potential with five, five-shot groups at 25 yards using three loads. Shooting a 3-inch-barreled .357 with precision takes a great deal of concentration, especially with magnum loads. The first groups were shot with Hornady’s 110-grain Critical Defense FTX in a .38 Special. These were unimpressive, but I’ve seen similar results when using this load in other revolvers.
Speer's 125-grain Gold Dot load for the .357 Magnum produced greater felt recoil and blast, but the sizes of the groups were cut in half. This load averaged 1,350 feet per second (fps) out of the Colt’s 3-inch barrel. Recoil was surprisingly tolerable.
Accuracy results were similar when testing Federal’s .357 Magnum load featuring a 158-grain Hydra-Shok jacketed hollowpoint (JHP) that averaged 1,144 fps at the muzzle. Though the .38 Special loads are pleasant, the new King Cobra beat the accepted benchmark of 1-inch accuracy for every 10 yards using the magnum loads.
Colt King Cobra Accuracy and Velocity
Revolver accuracy can often be a matter of dimensions. As the bullet passes through the cylinder throat and the forcing cone to the bore, the internal diameter must decrease rather than increase for rifling to maintain a proper grip on the projectile. A revolver whose cylinder throats are tighter than the bore will almost never shoot well (particularly with cast bullets) since the bullet will be sized down by the throat before passing into the larger-diameter barrel; it’s akin to throwing a pencil down a hallway. The King Cobra was correctly dimensioned with throats measuring .358 inch each, and a nominal bore diameter of .354 inch.
The limiting factors to this gun’s accuracy potential are its sight radius and human error. Our King Cobra’s mechanical characteristics were flawless. I hope that Colt soon announces additional Cobra and King Cobra models that feature longer barrels and target-style adjustable sights.
The Long and Short
It’s no secret that I’m a revolver fan. However, when I heard Colt was reintroducing the King Cobra, I held my breath in hopes that the new gun wouldn’t be a budget-built facsimile of the originals. To the contrary, Colt has produced a quality piece packed with well executed and useful features. It’s size, trigger and sights coupled with excellent fit and finish makes this a desirable revolver for our time.
With revolvers making a comeback, so has Colt. If collector interest in Colt double-action revolvers is any bellwether of demand, the King Cobra will surely be a success. It’s a revolver befitting of the storied snake-gun reputation.
Colt King Cobra Specs
- Type: Double action, revolver
- Cartridge: .357 Mag./.38 Spl.
- Capacity: 6 rds
- Overall Length: 8.25 in.
- Height: 4.85 in.
- Weight: 1 lb., 7 oz.
- Material: Stainless steel
- Finish: Brushed; semi-gloss
- Grip: Hogue, rubber, textured
- Trigger: 9.5 lbs. (DA), 3.75 lbs. (SA)
- Safety: Transfer bar
- Sights: Fixed, brass bead (front); notch (rear)
- MSRP: $900
- Manufacturer: Colt Manufacturing Co., 800-962-2658, colt.com