38 and 38 Super


August 24, 2007, 09:44 PM
What is the difference between 38 and 38 super?

Are they the same shells or different?

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August 24, 2007, 09:51 PM
.38 is slower than a 9mm and the .38 Super can out shoot (with handloads) even the .357 Sig, but it does fall short of the .357 Mag.

The 38 is physically longer than a .38 Super, but far less powerful. For many years the .38 Super was the world's most powerful autoloader round.

Can you tell I love my Colt .38 Super 1911?


August 24, 2007, 09:57 PM
The 38 Super was introduced in 1929 as a much improved and more powerful version of Colt's original 38 ACP. It was often touted as being like the 357 Magnum for a semi-automatic pistol. Unfortunately, most factory loadings never allowed the 38 Super to make good on those claims. The bullets themselves are .357 in diameter and handloads with 125 grain bullets can be pushed out to nearly 1300 fps. What has kept factory loads on the tame side was the problem that the 38 Super could be loaded in older guns chambered for the 38 ACP, which was never designed to handle that kind of pressure.

August 24, 2007, 09:58 PM
the 38 special which is what most people refer to if they say "38" is a rimmed revolver cartridge, the 38 super is a rimless autoloader cartridge. Not the same animal at all--as mentioned the 38 special is not as powerful as a 9mm, the 38 super is sort of the "old" 357 sig, somewhat like the 7x57 vs 7-08 only in handgun ammo ;)

August 24, 2007, 10:15 PM
The 124 grain handloads can push up to 1,594 FPS. The factory loads are little more than 1,200 to 1,300 FPS. I recently asked in a thread if it was due to companies (factories) being cheap or fearful of full-power loads. I personally will not purchase any more factory loads.

Specifically, Lee, R (2003) Modern Reloading, 2nd, page 542, lists the 124 grain projectile, with 10.4 Grs. of v-N105 at 1,594 FPS.

Jim Watson
August 24, 2007, 11:05 PM
It is more complicated than even that.
.38 Short Colt, .38 Long Colt, .38 Special, .38 S&W, .38 Auto, .38 Super.
Probably some others. All different.

August 24, 2007, 11:22 PM
As I understand it the correct name (as rollmarked on barrel hoods) is Super .38. As it started it was the Super .38 ACP. Being dimensionally identical to the .38 ACP but a much hotter load.
The Super .38 is an excellent round that is not represented well in power in store bought rounds but excels at the loading press.
There is room for low pressure Super .38 rounds for target work and with the right powder charge it can be a barn burner.

August 24, 2007, 11:24 PM

Well said! I like the point about target rounds. I had not thought of that. Thank-you for extending my thinking.


Jim K
August 24, 2007, 11:31 PM
The Super .38 was originally differentiated from the older and less powerful (but dimensionally identical) .38 ACP by nickel plated cases.

The .38 ACP and Super .38 are not really rimless, they are semi-rimmed because John Browning didn't think about case support on the case mouth until he found out about the 9mm Luger. The cartridges he designed after that, the .380 ACP and the .45 ACP are both straight, rimless cartridges, supported on the case mouth.


August 24, 2007, 11:50 PM
The bullets themselves are .357 in diameter Not so fast....The bullet dia. for the 38 super is .355.

The Lone Haranguer
August 25, 2007, 01:01 AM
What is the difference between 38 and 38 super?

Are they the same shells or different?
If by .38 you mean the .38 Auto or .38 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) that was used in the very old Colt pistols that looked like T-squares, the .38 Super is the same case and bullet weight with much higher pressure/velocity.

August 25, 2007, 01:39 AM
Not so fast....The bullet dia. for the 38 super is .355.9mm? Interesting. I always wanted a .38 Super. Guess I would have found out this when it came time to reload.

August 25, 2007, 05:35 PM
It is not unheard of to use 356 and 357 bullets the super,especially if lead bullets are being used..It depends a lot on how tight the chamber is in your barrel..Too tight chamber and the larger bullets might not feed,fit..I have used 125gr JSP's that I bought for the 357mag in both 9mm and the 38 super.
One should start with a powder charge a little on the light side,actually you should do this whenever trying a new powder and bullet..Just to be safe..

August 25, 2007, 08:03 PM
I've used both, .355 and .357 in the Super 38. One thing to consider with hotter handloads for the Super 38 is that the typical Colt barrel did not use a supported chamber, so there is a greater risk of case failure, (weak brass and too hot a load), if pushed too far beyond the maximum load listing. For instance, when Jeff Cooper was toying with his project for a lightweight Super 38/Super 9, some of the loads he used were as follows: 90 gr. bullet making 1750 fps with 8 grs. of Unique and 125 gr. doing 1600 fps with 15 grs. of Win 630 Ball. Hornady lists for the 110 gr. for the Super 38 , with 7.1 grs. of Unique at 1350 fps, as being their maximum loading; likewise 125 gr. with 17.2 grs. of Win 630 Ball does 1550-but this is the max load for the .357 Magnum. And of course, Cooper experienced numerous case failures with these loads; so much so that they began experimenting with .223 brass to remedy the problem. If you're going to push the Super 38 that far, you had better be doing it with a supported chamber barrel and really good brass.

Carl N. Brown
August 25, 2007, 08:21 PM
To add to the confusion about .38 ACP and .38 Super
for the Colt / Browning (semi) Automatic Pistols, when
the .38 S&W and the .38 Special were loaded with
200 grain bullets, those loads were called Super also.

Jim Watson
August 25, 2007, 08:37 PM
200 gr .38 S&W or Special = Super Police. You just have to read the whole thing.

In general, the older the .38 Super or .38 Auto, the larger the bore. Long time standard .38 Super bullet has been .356".

Carl N. Brown
August 25, 2007, 09:03 PM
I saw a documentary on TV that discussed ".38 Super" in
a context where I was fairly certain that it was the .38 Super
automatic that was meant; the stock footage, however,
showed a revolver. That indicates that, at least among the
custodians of studio stock footage, there was some confusion
over .38 Super and .38 Super Police.

August 25, 2007, 09:23 PM
One of the many things that I like about the 38 super is there are less feed problems with the long case..The 1911 was built for the longer case,not that you can't get 9mm's to feed but it can be rather trying..Actully all my reloads are on the mild side these days,just accurate and pleasant to shoot..One of my three supers does have a ramped barrel so that if the need for speed ever comes up I can do it safely..Been thinking about a compensator lately also but it seems that other more important things come up to keep the wallet empty..

Jim Watson
August 25, 2007, 10:10 PM
That indicates that, at least among the custodians of studio stock footage, there was some confusion over .38 Super and .38 Super Police.

I see a lot of things that indcate the custodians of studio footage, along with the rest of the entertainment industry, have a tremendous amount of confusion over all things related to firearms. And probably to any other reasonably technical subject, but they don't do many films about my few other areas of competence and I don't catch them as much.

August 25, 2007, 11:08 PM
Saying "38" is not enough. There's a bunch of 38s. Off the top of my head I can list 38 S&W, .38 Special, 38 Largo, 38 Colt, 38 New Police, 38 ACP (Auto Colt Pistol), 38 Long, 38 Short, 38 Super, 38-200, 38 British. Some ar actually the same with differing names. That's just the ones I can think of, there are many more.

In America most people think of the 38 Special as THE 38.

The 9mm (.355) is almost the same bore diameter as the 38s (which actually run .357-.363). The 9mm Short or Corto (380 ACP in America), 9mm Largo, 9mm Baynard, 9mm Bergmann, 9mm Luger (also known as 9mm Nato, 9mm Parabellum and 9x19), 9x23 and some I don't recall.

To answer your question, the 38 Super is a semi-rimmed auto cartridge intended for the Colt 1911 platform that originally used a 130 FMC (full metal case) at nearly 1300 FPS. This load has great penetration and if I knew my opponent would be wearing a vest this is the handgun I would want. Recent factory loads for the caliber are greatly reduced out of liability fears. Now Super ammo runs the same speed as the old 38 ACP. Must load your own for full performance.

The 38 Special is a revolver cartridge that can generate 900-1200 FPS with a 125 grain bullet so when loaded to its full 1200 FPS potential (most factory ammo is way below full potential) it competes with the Super in performance.

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