Tag Archives: pocket pistols

Fun Firearms Friday — Pocket Pistol Shootout: Colt Mustang vs. Beretta Tomcat

Left to right: Walther PPK, Beretta Tomcat, PPK/S, Colt Mustang

I hope you’ve enjoyed Pocket Pistol Week here at the blog, but now it’s time to determine a winner. The 9mm P99c AS by Walther remains my primary concealed carry weapon, and it will continue in that role. But sometimes you simply need something just slightly more compact than the (in my opinion) best concealed carry weapon ever made, and for years my go-to choices for this were the Walther .380 ACP PPK/S for winter and the .32 ACP PPK for summer. Let’s look at the relevant numbers:

Walther PPK/S:

  • Length: 6.1 inches/155mm
  • Width: .98 inches/25mm
  • Height: 4.3 inches/109mm
  • Weight with empty 7-round .380 ACP magazine/9mm kurz: 23.6 ounces/669 grams

Walther PPK same as PPK/S above except:

  • Height: 3.8 inches/97mm
  • Weight with empty 7-round .32 ACP magazine: 22.1 ounces/627 grams

Colt Mustang Lite:

  • Length: 5.5 inches/140 millimeters
  • Width: 1.06 inches/27 mm
  • Height with flat-based 6-round magazine: 3.9 inches/99 mm
  • Weight with empty 6-round .380 ACP/9mm kurz magazine: 12.58 ounces/357 grams

Beretta 3032 Tomcat:

  • Length: 4.92 inches/125 millimeters
  • Width: 1.1 inches/28 mm
  • Height: 3.7 inches/94 mm
  • Weight with empty 7-round .32 ACP/7.65mm magazine:
    • Early thin-slide Tomcat 14.38 ounces/408 grams
    • Later wide-slide Tomcat 15.72 ounces/446 grams

Mustang vs. Tomcat

As you can see, the Walther pocket pistols are noticeably larger and much heavier than the competition in today’s article, almost to the point that calling either a “pocket pistol” is really a misnomer by today’s standards. Between the Mustang and the Beretta measurements get a bit tighter, with the Colt coming out ahead in the weight category, and the Beretta clearly winning in length and height. The two pistols are virtually tied in overall width, but the much narrower slide of the Mustang makes it feel substantially thinner compared to the Tomcat.

Mustang vs. Tomcat length

Ergonomically the Mustang wins by a landslide. The button slide release on the Colt is where any experienced shooter expects, directly behind the trigger. And when pressed, the magazine falls freely from the grip magazine well. The Tomcat button release is much farther down the grip and located to the rear, making thumb manipulation with the shooting hand (for right-handers) very awkward. It’s actually easier to use the off hand to press the release, and when released the magazine stops dropping after just over a third of an inch of travel, about 10mm.  The Mustang also comes out on top with an ambidextrous safety and a slide that locks back on the last shot. The Tomcat’s only real win here is the ease of breech loading that marvelous tip-barrel rather than having to rack the slide. Further working in the Beretta’s favor here is the location of the barrel release lever above and slightly behind the trigger; its location is perfect for thumb activation with the shooting hand.

Mustang vs. Tomcat height

Triggers are pretty much a wash. The Mustang’s single-action only trigger is much stiffer than what one normally encounters in a 1911-type design. I’d estimate it at over seven pounds, probably approaching eight.  Reset is shorter, at about a sixteenth of an inch/1.6mm compared to three sixteenths/4.8mm for the Tomcat.  The Tomcat single-action trigger feels lighter than the Colt’s, but not appreciably so; probably around six pounds if I must guess (I really need to invest in a trigger gauge at some point for these articles).  As for the Tomcat’s double-action trigger, it’s better than the above cited Walthers, but it’s not very smooth and you can both feel and hear when the hammer passes the half-cock position. Despite its flaws, the Tomcat’s double-action trigger is more than adequate at self-defense ranges, and the Beretta has the added advantage of a cocked-and-locked option.

Mustang with 7+1 magazine vs. Tomcat height

I’m going to grant a tie in the shootability between the Mustang and the Tomcat. Both have atrocious sights. Both are very mild in the recoil department, the Mustang being surprisingly so considering the more powerful .380 ACP in a lighter package. Because of their light recoil characteristics, both are extremely quick at reacquiring the target for follow up shots, or would be if the sights were actually up to that task. With factory magazines the Tomcat comes out ahead for two reasons.  First, the Tomcat is 7+1 versus 6+1 for the Mustang, although there are 7+1 magazines available for the latter at the expense of an extra inch of height.  Second, the Beretta’s factory magazine actually worked. The Colt’s did not, as the rounds nose-dived into the feed ramp so badly I couldn’t even get a round chambered until I switched to the three after-market Metalform seven-rounders I’d brought with me to the range.

Targets — Colt vs. Beretta

Both the Tomcat and the Mustang are quality pistols at comparable pricing.  Indeed, the Mustang would be my choice for a mini-1911 pistol in .380 ACP when compared to higher priced offerings from SIG (P238) and Kimber (Micro 380). The Mustang is lighter and less expensive than either, although I do like the SIG’s night sight option.

Walther PPK over Beretta Tomcat; PPK/S over Colt Mustang

Tomcat overlying PPK; Mustang atop PPK/S

So, bottom line, which weapon wins in the battle to replace the PPK and PPK/S as an alternate carry to the Walther P99c AS? Surprisingly to most having read this, I’m going with the Beretta Tomcat for several reasons:

  • I like being able to safely decock the weapon without having to clear the chamber
  • I’m more accustomed to double-action/single-action, and feel safer with the added resistance necessary to pull the trigger in double-action mode
  • For accuracy shots at beyond 21 feet, the hammer can still be thumbed back to place the weapon in single-action
  • The Tomcat still provides me with single-action cocked-and-locked capability if I so choose, whereas the Mustang only gives me that one method of carry

On a cold winter day, I’ll probably consider going with the Mustang for better penetration of heavier clothing, but in those cases the 9mm, 10+1 P99c AS is going to be easy to conceal anyway so the need to carry a smaller weapon is less likely to arise.

The Overall Winner in the occasional deep-concealment carry sweepstakes — Beretta’s .32 ACP 3032 Tomcat.



Filed under Firearms, R. Doug Wicker

Pocket Pistol Week — Colt Mustang

What’s in the Box: Colt Mustang Lite .380 ACP/9mm kurz, one magazine, safety lock, and a nice zippered gun pouch

This is Pocket Pistol Week. I’ll return to travel and photography next Monday, but today we’re taking an in-depth look at the latest iteration of the Colt Mustang. Wednesday’s mystery pocket pistol is going to be a bit of a surprise, especially if you’re one of the many people who believe that Wednesday’s pistol is no longer in production. And on Fun Firearms Friday both pistols are going head-to-head on the range for a direct comparison, as well as a size comparison to the most famous and probably the most prolific pocket pistols ever made, the Walther PPK and PPK/S (see: The Perfect Fashion Accessory—Walther PPK in .32 ACP).

Before the Mustang there was the Colt MK IV Series 80 Government Model 380, which first came to market in 1984.  This pistol was, not surprisingly considering the name, chambered in .380 ACP/9mm kurz. The Colt Government 380 was a scaled-down version of Colt’s famous M1911 design, but without the grip safety. Alas, the Colt Government wasn’t much of an improvement in either size or weight over other .380 ACP/9mm kurz pistols long established in this market segment. The competition included such .380 ACP stalwarts as Walther’s PPK and PPK/S, SIG’s P230/232 line, and Beretta’s slightly larger but elegantly satisfying Cheetah series. The milder recoil of the Colt’s locked breech design was nice, but not enough to become a serious contender in the .380 ACP market.

So, two years later Colt’s Government 380 underwent further reduction in both size and weight, but at the cost of losing one round of capacity in the process. The smaller pistol’s design was also simplified with the elimination of the barrel bushing and other changes. Thus was born a true “pocket pistol”, the lightweight Colt Mustang. But as interest in the .380 ACP/9mm kurz waned in the 1990s, so too did the fortunes of the Mustang. Add to this some serious quality control issues and a bad reputation for reliability, and the Mustang was discontinued without much remorse in the mid to late 1990s.

Under side of the slide; exposed frame

But a funny thing happened to the .380 ACP on the way toward obsolescence. Not only did older .380 ACP designs such as the Walther PPK/S and the SIG P230/232 continue somewhat steady sales, but by now Bersa’s Thunder had entered the market and began posing a serious, low-cost alternative to both Walther and SIG. Then, in 2003, a new pocket pistol was introduced that really ramped up the resurgence of the .380 ACP. That weapon was the Kel-Tec P-3AT double-action only pocket pistol. Whereas the PPK/S and Thunder were recoil unfriendly blow back-design beasts in .380 ACP, the P-3AT had a very controllable locked breach design that proved that the .380 ACP could be tamed to the point of pleasantness, reliable in a locked breach weapon, and much more easily concealed than its larger, heavier blow back cousins. The explosion in states allowing for concealed carry also paved the way for this resurgence, as many people simply don’t want conceal much larger weapons in the more powerful 9mm Parabellum cartridge.

Disassembled Mustang Lite — breakdown and reassembly are a snap

To add even further insult to Colt, another manufacturer took that old Colt Mustang design and got it to work quite reliably. The SIG P238, an almost direct steal of the Mustang, made its debut in 2009. Like the Mustang that preceded it, the P238 was based on Colt’s 1911 and sported the same recoil-reducing locked breach design. The P238 even kept the Mustang’s original 6+1 capacity. Sales took off, enough so that SIG discontinued the previously popular P232 in 2015. The recoil from the .380 ACP in an 18.5-ounce/520-gram blow back P232 was simply no competition for the much softer recoil from the much lighter 15.2-ounce/430-gram SIG P238 and its locked breach design. The SIG P238 became an instant hit.

With the sudden popularity in SIG’s version of the old Mustang, Colt reintroduced their pistol in 2011. And Colt learned from their past mistakes, actually making a reliable version this time around using advanced CNC machining while instituting much better quality control over the final product.

Factory 6+1 magazine and after-market 7+1 magazine

Not happy with merely improving the quality of the reintroduced Mustang, Colt now turned their attention to actually improving the design as well. Within two years Colt introduced a polymer framed Mustang called the Mustang XSP and sold it alongside the one-ounce/28-gram heavier alloy framed Mustang Pocketlite version.

The Mustang XSP is no more, but the polymer framed Mustang still exists today as the Mustang Lite. And since the Lite frame has steel rail inserts, the pistol should be more durable than the alloy frame Mustang Pocketlite despite the fact that the Lite is an ounce lighter.

The 7+1 adds an inch in height

I’ve not fired the Pocketlite, but I can tell you that the Lite is so tame and easily controlled that I don’t see the need for that extra ounce of weight. Let’s make a direct comparison with an earlier, heavier, blow back design. I have almost 35 years of experience shooting the .380 ACP version of the Walther PPK/S, which at 23.6 ounces/670 grams is almost twice the weight of the Mustang Lite’s 12.58 ounces/357 grams total weight including an empty magazine. The PPK/S has far more snap, demonstrates much more muzzle rise, and takes longer to reacquire the target for a follow-up shot than does the Mustang Lite. The PPK/S becomes a chore to shoot after only a few magazines. Although the long-tang redesign of the discontinued Smith & Wesson PPK/S variant helped immensely in this area, even that variation can become painful much over fifty rounds. Not so with the Mustang. This is an all-day shooter. There is simply no comparison. Not only is the Mustang smaller, lighter, and easier to conceal, it’s also a better shooter. Look for a description of the trigger performance on Friday’s comparison with Wednesday’s mystery gun.

Alas, all is not peaches-‘n’-cream. Every gun has a downside, and the Mustang has several.

First, the sights are horrendous. They are small and ridiculously difficult to see even under the best of lighting, and they’re certainly not adequate for anything beyond perhaps 21 feet/6.4 meters, the standard self-defense training distance. The front sight on my Mustang Lite is going to receive some high-visibility paint in the very near future, but for now I rate the sights as barely above worthless. Here you can see what I mean with my test target from the range:

All over the place, but still on paper

Second is a problem with Colt’s Manufacturing. The Mustang only ships with one magazine, and the included six-round magazine didn’t even work. The top cartridge consistently nose-dived into the feed ramp, making chambering even one round impossible. Fortunately, I had ordered several after-market seven-round magazines from Metalform. Had those aftermarket magazines not arrived in time for my range trip comparison between the Mustang and Wednesday’s mystery pistol, the Colt would have received a failing grade by default. Colt was contacted almost seven weeks ago and said they would ship a replacement, but that shipment would be delayed awaiting availability. Here it is almost two months later and I’m still waiting. I’m glad I didn’t wait to acquire those three Metalform magazines ($18.99 through CDNNSports.com), or this firearm would be nothing more than an overpriced paperweight.

One magazine just doesn’t cut it, especially when it doesn’t work

A word about Metalform’s magazines: CDNNSports lists these magazines as “Original Equipment”, which leads me to suspect that Metalform may be the OEM supplier to Colt. The followers on the Metalforms appear identical to the magazine supplied by Colt, so that is a distinct possibility. Unfortunately, the 7+1 Metalforms come with a ridiculously long finger rest that adds an inch to the overall height of the weapon.

Mustang Lite specifications:

  • Trigger: Single-action
  • Caliber: .380 ACP/9mm kurz
  • Capacity: 6+1 (factory-included magazine)
  • Stainless steel slide, polymer frame
  • Length: 5.5 inches/140 millimeters
  • Width: 1.06 inches/27 mm
  • Height with flat-based 6-round magazine: 3.9 inches/99 mm
  • Weight with empty 6-round magazine (as measured by the author): 12.58 ounces/357 grams
  • Barrel length: 2.75 inches/70 mm

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Filed under Firearms, R. Doug Wicker