Tag Archives: .38 Super +P

Firing Review — The stainless Colt M1991A1 .38 Super +P


Colt M1991A1 .38 Super +P

Colt M1991A1 .38 Super +P

You may recall that I gave a first-look review of this intriguing weapon and caliber before.  I had no intentions of firing that weapon, and still don’t as it’s a pre-bankruptcy example of the venerable Colt M1911 design in a somewhat rare caliber.

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What’s in the box

Fortunately I satisfied my itch to try the M1911 in .38 Super +P by acquiring a second copy.  As with the first copy, this one is also a Model 1991A1 in stainless, and outwardly it’s identical.  The only difference appears to be the included magazines, as the firing example came with rubberized footings screwed onto the bottoms.  See below for a comparison:

Rubberized footing on magazines

Rubberized footing on magazines

Previous magazine footplate

Previous magazine footplate

So, finally, I got around to firing this incredible combination — the classic Colt M1911 chambered in the powerfully exquisite .38 Super +P cartridge.  For an explanation on how this combination came about in 1929, and a brief history on the .38 Super +P cartridge, read my first-look review by clicking on the link below.  I’m sure you’ll find it both informative and entertaining.

The Prancing Horse

The Prancing Horse

Being the M1991A1, today’s Colt has the  Series 80 trigger.  For an explanation on that and a comparison with the Series 70 trigger go to these links:

Starboard view

Starboard view

And since I’ve covered the trigger on the Colt M1911 in those past articles, I won’t cover that again here today except to say that it’s what you’d expect from the M1911 design.  In a word — Superb.

Slide locked back

Slide locked back

As I’ve stated previously in the above articles, the Colt M1911 was originally designed around the .45 ACP cartridge.  Only in 1929 — when law enforcement had trouble going up against Depression-era desperados in thick steel-bodied cars and wearing body armor impervious to the .45 — did Colt get around to putting a bit more oomph through the Colt M1911.  That resulted in what is basically the forerunner to the Magnum load — the .38 Super +P, which would for six years reign as the most powerful handgun cartridge until the advent of the .357 Magnum revolver in 1935.  The .38 Super +P still beats the .40 SW, and even compares favorably with most commercial loads of the .357 SIG.

Slide forward

Slide forward

Considering the increased muzzle energy and higher velocity of the lighter .38 Super +P round, one would expect more recoil over an M1911 chambered in .45 ACP.  In actual practice it turns out just the opposite.  M1911 recoil with the much slower, quite heavy .45 ACP is very controllable, but it does have a “push” to it that gives some muzzle rise.  I refer to this recoil as a “push” because that’s the best way to describe what you feel.  If you read my article on firing the .45 ACP M1991A1 at the link below, you’ll find this description:

“In my opinion the 9mm has a sharper, quicker recoil whereas the .45 ACP imparts a steady, even, thrust-like reaction.  Recoil management is thus easy to accomplish and target reacquisition is very quick.”

Cocked and locked

Cocked and locked

If anything, the .38 Super +P feels more like the recoil one experiences when firing a standard locked-breech 9mm Parabellum when shot from a SIG P229.  The recoil impulse feels quicker than with an M1911 firing a .45 ACP, but the muzzle rise seems less and reacquisition on target is about the same.  There is one difference, however.  That’s in muzzle flash.  I shot this M1991A1 .38 Super at an indoor range with somewhat dim lighting.  The flash was . . . impressive.  Not .357 Magnum-out-of-a-two-inch-barrel impressive, but you’ll definitely notice a flash coming out of the muzzle.

Port view

Port view

My impressions after firing the .38 Super +P is that this is probably my new favorite handgun shooting round, and the M1991A1 in stainless is now my new favorite hiking piece except in brown bear country.  For that I’ll rely upon bear spray and shop around for something even more powerful as a backup to the spray, perhaps a Smith & Wesson .500 revolver with ported barrel.

Colt M1991A1 .38 Super +P in stainless — A real winner

Colt M1991A1 .38 Super +P in stainless — A real winner

Yep, the Colt M1991A1 is simply that fun to shoot.  This is also an incredibly accurate combination in an very controllable package.

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Stainless Colt .38 Super +P M1991A1 — How do you go bankrupt making something this good?


Colt .38 Super

Colt .38 Super

Before we get to the Colt M1991A1 chambered in .38 Super +P, there will first be a giant rant on Colt’s mismanagement team:

In case you hadn’t heard the news, Colt Defense, which owns Colt’s Manufacturing Company, last week went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Chapter 11 theoretically means that Colt will continue to operate, reorganize and restructure its huge debt load, and eventually emerge as a viable company.

Don’t bet on it.

Sciens Capital Management has pretty much looted the company into unsustainability. Sciens even went so far as to put Colt’s $300 million into recapitalized debt. And where did that money go? Growing the company? Positioning Colt to take advantage of the recent unprecedented surge in consumer demand for firearms? Hardly. That money was “redistributed” right back into Sciens’ coffers. That means it lined pockets. In other words, Samuel Colt’s company dating back to 1855 (1836 if you trace back to Colt’s first attempt at a firearm company) is merely another victim of yet one more slash-and-burn private equity firm more concerned with turning a quick buck rather than actually producing anything of lasting value.

Colt .38 Super

Colt .38 Super

It takes a special kind of greed to bankrupt an American firearms icon during a period when nearly every other manufacturer of firearms in the U.S. is reporting record sales and record profits, but congratulations, Sciens. You managed it! Or, rather, mismanaged it. Too bad we don’t reward this type of “investment” with jail time. If we did, Wall Street would be a ghost town and AIG and Citibank would be synonymous with Alcatraz. Instead, we leave others holding the now-empty bag and throw more U.S. labor out of work while these robber barons make off with enough booty for a third vacation home on some island and a yacht.

Oh, how I so despise these private equity plunderers.

Look for Sciens to now cash in by breaking up Colt Defense and Colt’s Manufacturing into separate entities (again), selling off assets from both, and very possibly even auctioning off the single biggest asset still left to Colt — the right to the Colt name itself. This is what happened to the iconic Winchester name, which was sold off to the Belgians while current production of Winchester lever action rifles — the rifles that tamed the Wild West — moved to Japan of all places.

Colt .38 Super

Colt .38 Super

Now some background on the .38 Super round, or to be technically correct, the .38 Super +P.

In the beginning Gun God John Moses Browning created .38 ACP. And it was good. But .38 ACP was too powerful for the Colt M1900 for which it was originally designed. So .38 ACP (not to be confused with that other John Moses Browning creation, the similarly sounding .380 ACP) was downgraded in power.

Colt .38 Super

Colt .38 Super

Then Gun God Browning created the incredibly powerful .45 ACP and the more robust Colt Model 1911. And it was good. So good that it was discovered that the original power of the .38 ACP could once again be restored to its former all-powerful glory and chambered into the tank-like M1911 without undue concern with damaging both pistol and shooter.

Thus was born in the year of 1928 (and shipped in January of 1929) a new variant of the M1911 called the Colt .38 Super. So, you see, .38 Super wasn’t originally the name of the round. It was, rather, the name for the pistol in which the now fully charged .38 ACP went. But to avoid potentially devastating and dangerous firearm destruction in earlier .38 ACP weapons, a new designation was created and thus today we have the term .38 Super +P to differentiate a round that is dimensionally identical to, and visually indistinguishable from, the original .38 ACP.

Colt .38 Super

Colt .38 Super

So, how powerful is the .38 Super +P round? Powerful enough that it could do something even the heavier yet slower .45 ACP round could not do with reliability and consistency. It could penetrate the thick steel bodies of cars produced in that era (much to the chagrin of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow), granting to law enforcement officers a capability they simply did not have in any other handgun round of that era. The .38 Super could also penetrate contemporary “padded vest” body armor.

In other words, the .38 Super +P round was the .357 Magnum of its day, and it had the additional advantages of giving law enforcement more rounds (9+1 vs. 6 for a revolver or 7+1 for an M1911 chambered in .45 ACP) in a quick-loading (or reloading) semiautomatic with the inherent increased shooter accuracy of a single-action trigger.

A Pair to Draw to

A Pair to Draw to

Unfortunately for the .38 Super +P (and for today’s shooters it turns out), that round only had five years to catch on before the slightly more powerful .357 Magnum round debuted. I say “unfortunately” because the .38 Super +P was designed for semiautomatic weaponry whereas the .357 Magnum is almost strictly a revolver round (excluding Magnum Research’s Desert Eagle of course). And .357 SIG? It fits in between .38 Super +P and .357 Magnum, but it’s expensive and sometimes hard to find. You’re better off to stick with the .357 Magnum if revolvers float your boat, or the .38 Super +P if semiautomatics ring your chimes. The .357 SIG was an answer to a question that had already been answered by the previous two rounds, and I doubt it’ll be around over the long haul.

By the way, what was the whole raison d’être for the .40 S&W? Oh, I remember now — vehicle penetration. Good going, FBI. You managed to force the reinvention of a capability that’s existed for around a century, and you still managed to get a round that doesn’t have the energy of the .38 Super +P from 1928.

Colt .38 Super vs. Colt .45 ACP

Colt .38 Super vs. Colt .45 ACP

Here are some comparisons of the original .38 ACP, the later downloaded .38 ACP, the original .38 Super +P load, and the original .357 Magnum load (bullet weight in grains; velocity in feet per second; muzzle energy in foot-pounds):

.38 Super +P Ballistics Comparison

.38 Super +P Ballistics Comparison

You’ll note that the original .357 Magnum data is from a ridiculously long barrel, so let’s take a look at what you can expect coming out something a bit more reasonable using a modern load:

.357 Magnum Ballistics — 4

.357 Magnum Ballistics — 4″ barrel

And how do .40 S&W and .357 SIG stack up to the .38 Super +P and .357 Magnum from 1928 and 1935?  Let’s take a look:

.357 SIG and .40 S&W Ballistics

.357 SIG and .40 S&W Ballistics

As you can see, the .40 S&W originally didn’t have a lot going for it in comparison to even the original .38 ACP loads, hence the derisive nickname, “.40 Short & Weak.”  Newer loadings have upped the performance a bit, but I’m still not impressed.  The .357 SIG looks good using its original development load, but those numbers don’t hold up with with most commercial loads available today.  In practice, .357 SIG falls just above .38 Super +P and well below .357 Magnum in muzzle energy.

Now let us look at today’s firearm — a stainless steel version of the original Colt Model 1911 chambered in the uncommon .38 Super +P round, modified with the Series 80 trigger, redesignated officially as an M1991A, and sold under the model designation of O2091 (that first character being the letter “O” rather than the number zero). The blued version is the O2991.

Colt .38 Super

Colt .38 Super

What’s included:

  • Colt .38 Super “Government Model” M1991A1 with brushed stainless slide and frame flats (vertical sides) and matte finish elsewhere; solid aluminum trigger; spur hammer; composite rubber grips; lowered ejection port; single-action only Series 80 firing system
  • Two 9-round magazines
  • Firearm lock
  • Plastic “empty chamber” flag
  • Instruction manual
  • Attractive Colt blue hard-sided, foam-lined case
  • Bright orange, stop sign-shaped, Christmas Story-type “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid” warning tag
  • The ubiquitous “Join the NRA or you’ll lose all your guns and be imprisoned for life by a week from Friday” enlistment package (Note to NRA in general and Wayne LaPierre specifically: If you want to be taken seriously as an advocate for gun ownership rights then don’t endorse for president the one candidate with the worst gun-rights record in the history of presidential elections. That just makes you look silly. Stupid silly. And quit hyping phony fear stories while you’re at it.)
Colt .38 Super

Colt .38 Super

M1991A1 (Model O2091) dimensions:

  • Length: 8.54 inches/217mm
  • Barrel Length: 5.03 inches/128mm
  • Slide Width: .91 inches/23mm
  • Maximum Width: 1.34 inches/34mm
  • Weight with empty magazine: 38 ounces/1,077 grams
  • Magazine Capacity: 9+1

I’ve already reviewed a .45 ACP version of this weapon in A 1911 by Any Other Name Would Be . . . an M1991A1 — Shooting Review. As such I won’t be giving a firing review here. The trigger is the same as in the .45 ACP M1991A1, so I’ll just repeat here what I said about the trigger on the M1991A1 in .45 ACP:

Internally, at least since 1983 on Colt Series 80 pistols such as the M1991A1 depicted here, there is also a firing pin block that only disengages when the trigger is pulled, which in turn can only occur if the external safety is disengaged and the grip safety is squeezed into the grip.

That last Series 80 feature is a bit controversial.  Some claim that it unnecessarily complicated the original design, degraded the trigger by making it stiffer and adding an almost imperceptible (in my view) amount of trigger creep before the hammer trips, and gunsmiths complained that the new design is more difficult to tune to competition standards.  My personal opinion?  It’s still one of the best triggers out there, and according to my research any gunsmith worthy of the title will be able to tune your trigger with just a bit more effort.  But even out of the box, I’d be hard pressed to understand why anyone would think this weapon needs any tuning whatsoever.  If the shooter can’t hold this weapon on target, then it’s the shooter who has a problem rather than the trigger and firing system on this weapon.

I’ve fired other M1911 models in the past, including a Series 70 Gold Cup with National Match barrel.  And while it’s been awhile since then, I have no complaints concerning the current M1991A1 Series 80.  Trigger take-up is in the neighborhood of ⅛ inch/3mm.  The aforementioned trigger “creep” is less than even that.  As such, the hammer trip is very clean and exceedingly crisp, especially when compared to most modern trigger designs.  Trigger reset is equally short with a very positive tactile feedback and audible “click.”

Colt Government Model

Colt Government Model

Now on to recoil.  Handgunners with M1911 pistols in both calibers report similar perceived recoil characteristics, with the .45 ACP described as more of a “push” and the .38 Super +P imparting a “quicker” but overall slightly more controllable impulse. Let’s face facts here, though — we’re talking about all-metal pistols weighing in at a whopping 38 ounces (with empty magazine). That’s a lot of mass, so either weapon is going to be more manageable than a miniscule 22.4-ounce Walther PPK/S firing the much lower powered .380 ACP round coming in at around half the energy of either the .38 Super +P or the .45 ACP.

Colt .38 Super

Colt .38 Super

Fit and finish are nearly as good as on my previously reviewed blued M1991A1. Slide-to-frame fit is exceedingly tight. If you vigorously shake the weapon there is one minor rattle emanating from the grip safety, but otherwise the entire assembly is tight, tight, tight. In other words, it’s a modern Colt through and through, and it shows in the quality.

Colt .38 Super

Colt .38 Super

Magazine insertion is another story. Both magazines slide smoothly into the magazine well until about 1 9/16 inches/39.69mm to go, then stop hard. It requires either a hearty slap at the base of the magazine or a hefty push to complete insertion. I don’t recall this being the case on my .45 ACP M1991A1, so I checked. Resistance is met at the same point of insertion, but it required only a fraction of the force to overcome and fully insert the .45 ACP magazine into the magazine well. This may be a break-in issue, but that’s not going to happen with this example. It’s not going to be fired.

Colt .38 Super

Colt .38 Super

So, why no shooting review? Because this particular example was acquired more as an investment. If Colt does break apart, or if quality suffers because production is ramped up to cover creditors, or (shudder) the Colt name gets auctioned off to some maker of cheap 1911 knock-offs in China, then pre-bankruptcy Colts will command a premium over post-bankruptcy examples.

Colt .38 Super

Colt .38 Super

Hey, the robber barons at Sciens Capital Management shouldn’t be the only ones to capitalize on their own mismanagement, right? Now if only I could get Ursula to spring for blued and perhaps a stainless Colt M1911A1 to keep this safe queen company, also never to be fired.

Firing Review — The stainless Colt M1991A1 .38 Super +P

For another take on the .38 Super +P cartridge and a competing 1911 design:

The Rock Island 1911 and a History of the .38 Super Cartridge

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