Ballistics by the inch

Reprise: Review of the finest revolver ever made — the Colt Python

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 1/12/2012.  Some additional observations at the end.

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Who in their right mind would pay $1,200 . . . $1,500 . . . $2,000 . . . or more for a used production revolver? Lots of people – if it is a Colt Python.

There’s a reason for this. The Colt Python may have been a production revolver, but it was arguably the finest revolver ever made, and had more than a little hand-fitting and tender loving care from craftsmen at the height of their skill in the Colt Custom Shop.

OK, I will admit it – I’m a Python fanboy. I own one with a six-inch barrel, which was made in the early 1980s. And I fell in love with these guns the first time I shot one, back in the early 1970s. That’s my bias. Here’s my gun:

 

But the Python has generally been considered exceptional by shooters, collectors, and writers for at least a generation. Introduced in 1955, it was intended from the start to be a premium revolver – the top of the line for Colt. Initially designed to be a .38 Special target revolver, Colt decided instead to chamber it for the .357 Magnum cartridge, and history was made.

What is exceptional about the Python? A number of different factors.

First is the look of the gun. Offered originally in what Colt called Royal Blue and nickel plating (later replaced by a polished stainless steel), the finish was incredible. The bluing was very deep and rich, and still holds a luster on guns 40 to 50 years old. The nickel plating was brilliant and durable, much more so than most guns of that era. The vent rib on top of the barrel, as well as the full-lug under, gave the Python a distinctive look (as well as contributing to the stability of shooting the gun). It had excellent target sights, pinned in front (but adjustable) and fully adjustable in the rear.

The accuracy of the Python was due to a number of factors. The barrel was bored with a very slight taper towards the muzzle, which helped add to accuracy. The way the cylinder locks up on a (properly functioning) Python meant that there was no ‘play’ in the relationship between the chamber and the barrel. The additional weight of the Python (it was built on a .41 Magnum frame for strength) helped tame recoil. And the trigger was phenomenally smooth in either double or single action. Seriously, the trigger is like butter, with no staging or roughness whatsoever – it is so good that this is frequently the thing that people remember most about shooting a Python.

The Python had minimal changes through the entire production run (it was discontinued effectively in 1999, though some custom guns were sold into this century). It was primarily offered in four barrel lengths: 2.5-, 4-, 6-, and 8-inch, though there were some special productions runs with a three-inch barrel. Likewise, it was primarily chambered in .357 Magnum, though there were some special runs made in .38 Special and .22 Long Rifle.

The original grips were checkered walnut. Later models had Pachmayr rubber grips. Custom grips are widely available, and very common on used Pythons (such as the cocobolo grips seen on mine).

The Python was not universally praised. The flip side of the cylinder lock-up mechanism was that it would wear and get slightly out-of-time (where the chamber alignment was no longer perfect), necessitating gunsmith work. Mine needs this treatment, and I need to ship it off to Colt to have the work done. And the high level of hand-finishing meant that the Python was always expensive, and the reason why Colt eventually discontinued the line.

If you have never had a chance to handle or shoot a Python, and the opportunity ever presents itself, jump on it. Seriously. There are very few guns that I think measure up to the Python, and here I include even most of the mostly- or fully-custom guns I have had the pleasure of shooting. It really is a gun from a different era, a manifestation of what is possible when craftsmanship and quality are given highest priority. After you’ve had a chance to try one of these guns, I think you’ll begin to understand why they have held their value to a seemingly irrational degree.

 

On average, for online gun sellers, the Colt Python sells for more than $2,000, but there are occasions where you’ll find it for less than a grand.

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The value of the Pythons has continued to rise in the almost six years since I wrote that, and I’m just glad I got it before the market went nuts. I haven’t seen one sell for less than a thousand bucks in years.

I did send my Python off to Colt to have it re-timed before the last of the smiths who had originally worked on the guns retired, and it came back in wonderful condition. I don’t know what all they did to it, but it cost me a ridiculously modest amount of money — like under $100. It was clear that there was still a lot of pride in that product.

Whenever I get together with a group of people to do some shooting, I usually take the Python along and encourage people to give it a try. More than a few folks have told me that it was one of their “Firearms bucket list” items, and I have been happy to give them a chance to check it off. Because, really, everyone who appreciates firearms should have a chance to shoot one of these guns at some point in their lives — it’d be a shame to just leave such a gun in the safe.

 

Jim Downey

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November 7, 2017 Posted by | .22, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .41 Magnum, Discussion., Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Six shooter.

Well, well, well, BBTI made it to six years of shooting fun and research!

Yup, six years ago today we posted the first iteration of Ballistics By The Inch, and included data for 13 different handgun cartridges. Since then we’ve continued to expand on that original research, including some extensive testing on how much of an effect the cylinder gap on revolvers has, what performance differences you can expect from polygonal over traditional land & groove rifling, and added another 9 cartridges, as well as going back and including a very large selection of real world guns in all the different cartridges. This blog has had 100,000+ visitors and the BBTI site itself has had something like 25 – 30 million visits (the number is vague because of changes in hosting and record-keeping over time).

We’ve had an impact. I’ve seen incoming links from all around the world, in languages I didn’t even recognize. There’s probably not a single firearms discussion group/blog/site out there which hasn’t mentioned us at some point, and our data is regularly cited in discussions about the trade-offs you make in selecting one cartridge or barrel length over another. I’ve answered countless emails asking about specific points in our data, and have been warmly thanked in return for the work we’ve done. And on more than a few occasions people have pointed out corrections which need to be made, or offered suggestions on how we could improve the site, sometimes providing the results from their own crunching of our data.

When we started, it was fairly unusual to see much solid information on ammo boxes about how the ammunition performed in actual testing. Now that information is common, and expected. Manufacturer websites regularly specify real performance data along with what kind of gun was used for that testing. And the data provided has gotten a lot more … reliable, let’s say. We’ve been contacted by both ammo and firearms manufacturers, who have asked if they can link to our data to support their claims of performance — the answer is always “yes” so long as they make it clear that our data is public and not an endorsement of their product. And we’ve never taken a dime from any of those companies, so we can keep our data unbiased.

And we’re not done. We have specific plans in the works to test at least one more new cartridge (and possibly revisit an old favorite) in 2015. I try to regularly post to the blog additional informal research, as well as sharing some fun shooting and firearms trials/reviews. There’s already been one firearms-related patent issued to a member of the BBTI team, and we’ll likely see several more to come. Because we’re curious guys, and want to share our discoveries and ideas with the world.

So, onward and upward, as the saying goes. Thanks to all who have cited us, written about us, told their friends about us. Thanks to all who have taken the time to write with questions and suggestions. And thanks to all who have donated to help offset the ongoing costs of hosting and testing — it makes a difference, and is appreciated.

 

Jim Downey

November 28, 2014 Posted by | .22, .223, .22WMR, .25 ACP, .30 carbine, .32 ACP, .32 H&R, .327 Federal Magnum, .357 Magnum, .357 SIG, .38 Special, .380 ACP, .40 S&W, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .44 Special, .45 ACP, .45 Colt, .460 Rowland, 10mm, 6.5 Swedish, 9mm Luger (9x19), 9mm Mak, 9mm Ultra, Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., General Procedures, Links, Shotgun ballistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Confirmation of the .460 Rowland performance.

John Ervin at Brass Fetcher Ballistic Testing has just put up a new page about his testing of the .460 Rowland cartridge. As I have explained in the past,  our work at BBTI is intended to be an overview of how ballistic performance varies over barrel length — it is just a quick survey to get an idea of the general trends, not meant to be an in-depth examination of a specific cartridge.

But in-depth testing is exactly what Ervin does, using a larger sample size, ballistic gelatin, and high-speed videography. And as a result, his much more detailed analysis is more useful for getting into the details of a given cartridge out of a specific barrel length. And it is really good to see that his results confirm what I have been saying all along: that if you carry a .45, you should instead be carrying a .460 Rowland.

What specifics? Take a look at the performance of Speer 230gr Gold Dot HP .45ACP in terms of foot-pounds of kinetic energy transfer into 20% ballistic gel:

 

Pretty good, eh? It’s what we expect from the .45ACP: a solid energy dump and reasonable penetration.

Now let’s take a look at the same chart, but with the Speer 230gr Gold Dot HP in .460Rowland:

The curves don’t look that different on first glance, but pay close attention to the scale there on the left axis of each one: where the .45ACP tops out at about 72 ft/lbs about 2″ into the gel, the .460Rowland tops out at about 335 ft/lbs just before 2″. That’s more than 4x the energy transfer.

In fact, at 5″ of penetration, the .460Rowland is still dumping about as much energy as the .45ACP does at the maximum.

But there’s more than simple energy transfer involved in terminal ballistic performance. There’s also how well the bullet is designed, and whether it expands properly. This can be a big concern in “over-driving” a bullet, so that it breaks apart. Well, Ervin’s data also covers these comparisons quite well. For the two specific rounds cited above, the .45ACP expanded to 0.344 square inches of frontal surface, and was still 229.5gr of weight. And the .460Rowland expanded to 0.526 square inches of frontal surface, and was still 221.3gr of weight.

There’s a *LOT* more information at Brass Fetcher Ballistic Testing. Ervin has an extensive 17 page Ammunition Performance Data report in .pdf format which contains a ton of images, video, and data — more than enough to keep even a data-junkie like me busy for a long time. I urge you to take a good look at it, and to consider the thoughts which Ervin shares about this cartridge. But I will leave you with his opening sentence which sums it up very nicely:

The 460 Rowland represents the pinnacle of handgun calibers for self-defense.

 

Agreed.

Jim Downey

May 1, 2014 Posted by | .45 ACP, .460 Rowland, Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rimfire Roundtable

Well, it’s too damned cold in most of the country to go out to the range, so if you’d like to see hear why I didn’t stay in radio as a career, and maybe enjoy some good discussion about rimfire cartridges and guns, take a listen to this new podcast:

Episode #26 Rimfire Roundtable #1

On this show I was lucky enough to round up three guys uniquely qualified for the first ever Rimfire Roundtable. We discuss what we would like to see come from the firearms industry regarding rimfire, better supplies of ammunition aside. I hope you enjoy our discussion and let us know your ideas too.

It’s about an hour long, all told, and in spite of my participation fairly interesting/informative. Check it out if you have some listening time!

 

Jim Downey

January 7, 2014 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, Anecdotes, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A review …

A number of people have noticed that our .22 magnum data contains one very odd discrepancy: the Rossi Circuit Judge we used in the ‘real world’ portion of the tests performed really poorly, in terms of bullet velocity for all the ammo tested. If you’re curious why this is, go check out my review of the gun over at Guns.com:

The Rossi Circuit Judge .22 Convertible: Stylish, fun, cool, but there’s one drawback…

 

Jim Downey

June 24, 2013 Posted by | .22WMR, Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Great new resource.

The folks over at LuckyGunner.com have started a blog, and the first post up is some really solid data from their testing of the differences between 5.56 NATO and .223 Remmington. From the post:

The differences between .223 Remington and 5.56mm NATO have been hashed out many times on the internet. Unfortunately, many of the “facts” that are often thrown around are simply what someone has heard from someone else, leading to a lot of misinformation being accepted as gospel.

In order to create this article, I temporarily set aside all of my previous knowledge and opinions while several months’ worth of new research and experimentation on the topic was undertaken. In addition, extensive discussions with gunsmiths, ballisticians, and laboratory technicians were conducted.

My findings, and the opinions of many experts in the industry who deal with the topic every day, were not exactly what some might expect. In fact, many of them had already discovered what I am reporting, although my research was conducted independently.

It’s a long, and really solid piece of research. If this is going to be typical of their stuff (and I think it will be — I know one of the guys involved with this, and respect his intelligence & commitment a lot), then this will be one hell of a great resource for those of us who are looking for good information that we can trust.

Check it out!

Jim Downey

June 22, 2012 Posted by | .223, Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

June? Already?

Yeah, seems to be. So here’s the numbers & info for the last month, plus a little look ahead:

We had 19,937 visitors to the BBTI homepage in May. We’ve added a number of additional review links to the list of Real World Guns. Followers for both Twitter and Facebook have also seen a nice uptick this last month.

Back in March I reported on how Google Adsense had screwed us over. Well, after looking at a number of options and being realistic about what kind of revenue advertising could generate, we’ve pretty much decided to just give up on advertising — with one small exception for now: you’ll note that some of the BBTI pages have a small ad promotion my novel. It is proving to be very popular, and the reviews for it have been quite positive — check it out. Of course, we’re still happy to accept donations to help offset expenses associated with BBTI — and thanks to those who have donated!

Happy & safe shooting, everyone!

Jim Downey

June 1, 2012 Posted by | Anecdotes, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment