Popularity of Colts vs Smiths c.1940's-70's?


May 8, 2007, 12:13 AM
A quick question for y'all who were around then...

How were the Colt and Smith double action revolvers thought of back then, compared to each other? I imagine both had their strong devotees as most anything does today, but in terms of general popularity is it possible to say which was more popular when, where, and for which purpose?

I mean, did target shooting competitors prefer one make, defense-oriented folk another, and so forth? Did preferences change over those decades? What about other makers of the time?

Thank you. :)

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May 8, 2007, 12:31 AM
I think that there were more considerations beyond simple ones like the trigger. Customer service, the sights, aftermarket parts availability (especially the grips) and such . . . There was a time when one wanted a custom 1911 with better sights that the adjustable S&W sights were the benchmark, and the 'smiths put those one the 1911's more than any other.

I seem to have developed a fondness for Colt revolvers, unfortunately now I have to buy them on the used gun market, as the ones I like aren't produced new any longer.

May 8, 2007, 01:36 AM
For much of the 20th Century, Colt was the innovator in revolver designs, while S&W was the innovator in new cartridges, like the .357 Magnum.

From the early 1900's to the early post-WWII days, the Colt was though of as a slight step above the S&W in quality and especially in accuracy.
In the 1930's through the early 1950's, most NRA-style target shooters favored the Colt Officer's Model revolvers.

From about 1900 to around the mid to late 1950's the Colt revolvers were heavily used by law enforcement, with S&W having more popularity on the West coast than back East.
The "average" lawman in those days carried a Colt Official Police or a Police Positive Special.
The prestigious departments like the NYPD and FBI used Colt's and this heavily influenced other departments, just like today.

The premier off duty, undercover, or detective revolver was the Colt Detective Special, and virtually every cop in America owned one. S&W didn't even try to compete until the S&W Chief's Special of 1950.

In the 1960's, S&W began to overtake Colt for a variety of reasons, and pretty well locked up the market with the S&W Model 19 revolver, which along with the stainless Model 66 was THE cop gun of the 60's and 70's, although Colt's Trooper was very popular with Sheriff's departments.

As far as DA revolvers, Colt and S&W were IT. There WAS nothing else worth mentioning except some cheap guns made by H&R and Iver Johnson, and some low quality stuff imported from overseas.

May 8, 2007, 02:04 AM
Dfaris, or any other who's knowledgeable, you say S&W began to overtake Colt in the 60s. It seems I've read here before that post WWII S&W was able to meet both private citizen & LE demand, in terms of producing & delivering new revolvers, far better than Colt was. It seems, again from what I've read, that S&W got the orders & sales because they had the product available, and once they got those departments / agencies on board they kept the great majority on board. It seems this was the beginning of S&W gaining their heavy market share. Is that correct?

May 8, 2007, 09:10 AM
My reading also suggests that Colt was slightly more popular with cops until the 1960s (and Colt owned revolver competition shooting). But S&W had more models and lower prices by the 1960s and took over the LE market.

Until the 1980s when autos became all the rage. I can still recall the first time I saw a cop with a semi-auto in his holster.

May 8, 2007, 09:29 AM
ugaarguy that is an interesting observation and I think you are right.

Police Departments that issued or mandated a specific firearm generally went with Smith and Wesson revolvers.
Colts even then were too darn expensive even on a mass buy.
Smith and Wesson would kill them on the bid almost every time.
The Model 19 came out in about 1955 and I remember lots and lots of cops carrying Model 19s and Model 15s in four inch.

It appeared to me that many cops who had a choice would be just as likely to choose a Colt Python or Trooper because I can remember quite a few of those guns in the holsters too.

I can also remember the first time I saw a cop with a semi auto.
Illinois State Policeman with his spiffy new Model 39 Smith.

May 8, 2007, 10:45 AM
My father has often reminded me that he would have bought a Python when he joined the State Police, but then I came along. I just remind him they were too expensive for a new Trooper back then, family or no family.

Of course, I was four when the Python was introduced, but he knows that. Why let the facts stand in the way a wonderful family tradition - ribbing each other. ;)


Ed Gallop
May 8, 2007, 12:02 PM
I remember when Dirty Harry made an impression on the police. Even I thought the monster Colt was cool and bought one. I didn't carry it very long though. I made detective about that time so carried my new S&W Airweight 5 shot snub instead. Soon got rid of the monster but still have the airweight. Qualified in the top 10 of 80+ students at the VA State Police special training (for municipal police) after being allowed to use it instead of the service revolvers because I carried it on duty. Everyone underestimated snubs, including the trainer. They thought I was making a mistake but I did as well as if I had used a Python. As for comparing S&W with Colt... I always preferred the S&Ws of the 60s and 70s but Colts were nice too. I also prefer Remington 870 shotguns over others but only because I was trained and used them. Bought one for hunting everything from dove to deer. Ed.

Art Eatman
May 8, 2007, 12:30 PM
As a generality, the idea of any real need for a self-defense handgun wasn't all that prevalent until late in the 1960s; the idea gained strength in the 1970s. Sure, quite a few folks had some sort of pistol, but it was more of a, "Well, I'm SUPPOSED to have one!" than any sincere belief in a real need.


May 9, 2007, 02:36 AM
I remember when Dirty Harry made an impression on the police. Even I thought the monster Colt was cool and bought one.
What monster Colt? :confused: Dirty Harry had a S&W Model 29. No large frame Colt had been made since before WWII.

May 9, 2007, 02:50 AM
Yeah, the bad guys had the Pythons in the Dirty Harry movies.

From the early 1900's to the early post-WWII days, the Colt was though of as a slight step above the S&W in quality and especially in accuracy.

This is also my understanding. Colt was the Cadillac of revolvers for a long, long time. S&W was in a similar position to Taurus today--an innovator with a lesser reputation. Colt's fall from grace was slow, but by the postwar period they were on the decline. They were slow to adopt the magnums, and I believe their prices remained high and supplies limited even as their revolver designs failed to keep pace. The advent of the Mk III's and Pythons was their swan song. The rep. of the early Colts has fallen considerably in modern times, which is odd. I suspect a lot of it has to do with the inability of most living gunsmiths to cope with the timing problems in the aging stock of Colt wheelguns. They're far happier with the lockwork on Smith & Wesson revolvers.

Ed Gallop
May 9, 2007, 12:36 PM
It has been a long time ago and unfortunately I am getting old and forgetful. I now recall Harry mentioning it was a S&W 44. In the 60s most all police carried a 38 S&W but after the Dirty Harry movie they started buying their own larger 357 mags to carry. Police departments even started issuing them. I recall the Colt Python as 357 mag with a 6" to 8" barrel and was considered a big revolver. They were quite popular. If I recall correctly, it was more popular than the model 29. I remember shooting a model 29 and it had a big enough recoil that rapid firing was not easy. It was also big and too heavy to carry comfortably. I'm not that knowledgeable but do remember both revolvers. The Python 357 was a very nice gun and I believe they were new on the market back then. If they were made in the 50s they must have been a different model.

May 9, 2007, 02:30 PM
The Python 357 was a very nice gun and I believe they were new on the market back then. If they were made in the 50s they must have been a different model.

Python production started in 1955.

Ala Dan
May 9, 2007, 04:22 PM
I'm not much of an authority on days of yester year, but I do know my late
father advocated the use of Colt revolvers in .32 caliber. Sad to say, but he
got rid of both of his Colts while I was still in diapers~! :( :eek: :scrutiny:

May 9, 2007, 09:03 PM
I have a small collection of Detective Specials. My earliest is about 1927, or so. The latest is a F serial number version.

The earlier the Colt the better built. The pistols of the 50's are still good, my early 60's Colt is still good. The internal parts of the older Colts show very few file marks. I guess that the fitter was handed a bunch of parts that were close to final fit. A couple of file strokes and everything fit. But the internal parts from the revolvers from the 70's and 80's look like they were filed from soap. The fitter must have been handed hugely oversized parts and basically filed them to fit from a block of metal. I infer from this that Colt production equipment was completely worn out.

The Colt lockworks give a smooth action, but overall they are delicate. Advertising of the era claimed an accuracy advantage due to the lockworks, but I have not seen it on paper. Instead the cylinder hand pressing against the ratchets just causes wear, and in time, the revolver is out of time. When a Colt is in tune, it is a very accurate delightful revolver that requires a Pachymr grip adapter to hold.

Colts always cost more than a Smith, and Colt was always slower to adapt changes. Colt has been the absolute last in the industry to respond to new ideas. This shows me that the management of the company is detached from the customer base.

I believe the decline of Colt pistols is directly related to the lack investment for better machines, better products, new products. The company has been run into the ground. Colt chased after profitable Government contracts and neglected its civilian customer base. They are still chasing after Government contracts but they no longer have a monopoly on the M16 design. And they do not have a product for the next generation of infantry rifles. They make overpriced M1911’s that are not as well built as the competition. A local high volume gun dealer told me he does not carry Colt M1911’s as he is embarrassed to try to sell them at list. Cowboy action shooters buy hideously expensive single actions, but that may be a fad, and they really prefer old Colts anyway. I really doubt they make much of anything in their factory, as I have heard, they purchase most everything from subcontractors, stamp their name on the product, and people pay for the name.

I starting disliking Colt executives the first year I went to the National Matches in 1996. Colt had a table on Commerical row. They had HBAR's all over the table. I asked them what the barrel twists were. I was informed by a Colt executive that they were 1:9 twist. I asked him if they had any 1:8 twist. You see the 1:9 twist barrel won't stablize the heavier bullets needed to shoot competitively at 600 yards. I was told no, they only had 1:9 twist barrels. I asked why they did not make some 1:8 twist barrels. I was then lectured about how they were selling some ungodly amount of rifles in 1:9 and basically anyone who wanted a different barrel twist was not worth bothering with, and was probably a stupid git to begin with.

I have always wondered why these brilliant executives came to Camp Perry to sell rifles that could not be used by competitors in the Matches. But then, I never saw them again.

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