COLT PYTHON - 50 Famous Firearms You've Got to Own: Rick Hacker's Bucket List of Guns (2015)

50 Famous Firearms You've Got to Own: Rick Hacker's Bucket List of Guns (2015)


This 50th Anniversary Python was engraved by Colt Master Engraver Steve Kamyk and was the last Python the factory produced.

The year 1955 was a pivotal one for pistols, for in that one 12-month period, no less than four of today’s most coveted and collected revolvers were introduced: The Smith & Wesson Model 29, Ruger’s .357 Blackhawk, the reintroduction of the Colt Single Action Army, and Colt’s new Python. Yet only the Python, arguably the most meticulously crafted and supremely accurate of the four, is no longer produced. In fact, the Python’s superb workmanship and resultant accuracy were the very factors that ultimately caused the gun’s demise. The Python simply became too expensive to produce.

“A limited number of gun connoisseurs will mark 1955 as a distinguished year in handgun history, with the purchase of this Colt masterwork,” the Python’s full-page introductory ad proclaimed. Prophetic words indeed, as just one gun was produced that year. Only 299 were made in 1956. It took extra time to make a Python, as each part was hand polished and then hand fitted, before the fully assembled gun was hand tested on the factory firing range. If one didn’t perform to expectations, it was taken back to the factory, disassembled, reevaluated, reassembled, and tested again until it was perfect.

“We had to hone all the parts, including inside the sideplates,” recalls Al De John, who was Colt’s Service Manager when the Python was being developed and who later became Superintendent of the Colt Custom Shop, where the Python was produced during the final years of its existence. “It was the only gun we did that on. We polished everything, including inside the hammer strut. There were only two of us allowed to work on the Python, myself and Don Bedford. Usually, a Colt’s worker would be able to go through four guns an hour on average, but for the Python, because of all the extra handwork involved, it averaged about three guns per hour to build and fit everything just right.”

Such exacting demands for accuracy—and not just in the target-punching sense—took its toll in the cost per gun. Yet, in spite of its hefty $125 price tag (especially when compared to the $87.50 cost of that “other” new .357 Magnum, the Ruger Blackhawk), the Python quickly became Colt’s champion thoroughbred. Handsome and sophisticated in design, with a superbly rigid cylinder lockup, a slightly tapered bore that tightened groups dramatically, and a factory trigger pull of 234- to 312-pounds, the Python literally shot as good as it looked.

Whether for self-defense, target shooting, or hunting, the Python excels at all three. The aftermarkets grips are from Eagle Grips.

And it did look good. The Python’s highly polished exterior steel surfaces received the same glass-smooth polishing normally reserved for guns that were to be nickel-plated, even though the first Pythons were blued (bright nickel guns were introduced shortly thereafter, a natural progression, as the polishing work had already been done). Thus, the Python became the first Colt to be produced in what the company called its Royal Blue finish. In fact, and other theories to the contrary, it was because of its almost shimmering blue-black countenance that Colt’s new .357 Magnum was christened the Python, a name that was given even more stature thanks to a fully shrouded ejector rod housing that was part of a thick bull barrel topped by another distinctive Python feature, a full-length ventilated rib.

“We’d get together and talk about what we wanted to do [with the design of the Python],” recalls De John. “It might have been Al Gunther [Colt’s factory supervisor at the time] who first suggested we put a vent rib across the top of the barrel. It didn’t do anything, but it sure looked good.”

Interestingly, the Python was originally intended to be chambered in .38 Special, as a more stylized version of the Officer’s Model Target Revolver, which was also built on a .41-caliber frame and which, in turn, was a target version of the Colt Official Police. Thus, for all its up-to-date refinements, the Python’s basic lockwork stemmed from 1927. Then, everything changed when the decision was made to chamber this revamped revolver in .357 Magnum. It turned out to be a prudent decision, for even though that cartridge had been around since 1935, at the time of the Python’s introduction it was the most popular handgun caliber in America, and Colt’s newest double-action was about to bring it even greater fame. But the Python’s more powerful chambering created new challenges for Colt’s design team.

“That meant beefing up the cylinder and frame, including the topstrap,” remembers De John. “We had a lot of problems with blowback and the firing pins. In our initial testing of the new gun, the excessive pressure from the .357 Magnum kept hammering the recoil plate, which was a separate piece set into the frame.”

That recoil plate necessitated frequent replacement.

De John continued, “So the recoil plate was eliminated by putting the firing pin hole directly into the frame and beefing up the topstrap. We also beefed up the crane to make the gun even stronger.”

Initially produced only with a six-inch barrel, popular demand, primarily from law enforcement personnel, resulted in a four-inch barrel being offered. Later, a 212-inch barrel was brought out, “…which was the shortest barrel we could make and still fit a vent on the rib,” remembers De John. Over the course of its 50-year lifespan, other barrel lengths were made, including an eight-inch Python introduced in 1980, and a limited run of three-inch Pythons (beware of fakes, as many of these snubbies were altered outside the factory; real ones carry a slight premium in price).

Accuracy is one of the Python’s strong points. The author prefers Pachmayr grips for lengthy range sessions.

As a supplement to its Royal Blue and nickel finishes, in 1981 Colt began offering the Python with a weather resistant plating known as Coltguard. A stainless Python was introduced in 1984, followed by a super-polished stainless version known as the Ultimate Python in 1985, which basically spelled the end of the Python’s original Bright Nickel finish. When Python production moved from the main factory to the Colt Custom Shop in 1997, the gun became the Python Elite and was also available with a stainless matte finish. Of course, silver and gold plating were extra-cost options on the Python almost from inception, as was engraving.

Although pricey, the Python was a goal worth obtaining, for those who could scrape up the cash. Whether used for law enforcement, hunting, or home-defense, the Colt Python stood out from the other revolvers around it. It also achieved repeated fame and recognition in motion pictures such as Magnum Force with David Soul, McQ with John Wayne, and Tom Hanks in Dragnet, just to name a few of its roles in the hands of A-List actors.

In terms of historical significance, few of the many Colt Python variations can match The Last Python, which was exhibited at the 2006 SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade) Show, in Las Vegas. Two years earlier, when I’d learned that the Python, which had “officially” been discontinued in 1999 but was still being sporadically produced but was about to be discontinued completely, I suggested to Mark Roberts, at the time Colt’s Director of Sales and Marketing, that it produce a final gun to commemorate the Python’s 50 years of existence. Like the original, it was finished in Royal Blue, after being skillfully embellished by Colt’s in-house Master Engraver, Steve Kamyk, who also accented the gun with 24-karat gold bands and a two-dimensional 24-karat gold rampant Colt on the right side of the frame, with an engraved gold oval on the left side that read, “Python 50th Anniversary.” Thus, ironically, the same number of Pythons was produced in its final year of production as in its first: just one.