Colt’s “Dick Special” Detective Special Revolver

colt detective special review
September 26, 2018  
Categories: Guns

Those that have ’em love our dicks. They are special. The D frame revolver never fails to render us nostalgic.

This article was originally published in March 2016.

Back in 1927 when Colt made firearms that people wanted and could actually buy, the company rolled out a new revolver based on their popular Police Positive Model. With its slimmer frame and shorter barrel, the new revolver was called “The Detective Special”. But to us, it was just a Dick.

Elliott Ness famously carried one, as did Charles Lindbergh. The Dick Special was carried by police detectives, private detectives and anyone who wanted to discreetly carry a small frame .38 revolver. Colt dropped it from their lineup in 1992, just in time for concealed carry reform to start taking hold in America.

For those unfamiliar with Colt’s frame sizes, the Detective Special was built on the “D” frame. That’s somewhere between a “J” and a “K” frame to the Smith & Wesson lovers. For those who don’t know revolvers at all, Judge Mills Lane of boxing fame summed it up best when he famously said,

“People talk about their friends, Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson, but I have Doctor Colt. You see, Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson only have five shots, and Doctor Colt has six.”

The Colt Detective Special, or "Dick Special" was built on the D frame revolver.

The original Dick Special had an unshrouded ejector rod, common to Colt Revolvers of the time, and Colt wouldn’t install one until 1973 with its third series. Opening the revolver is the opposite of a Smith & Wesson. Colt makes you retract the cylinder latch to the rear as opposed to pushing forward.

After emerging from bankruptcy for the 7th or 8th time, the Connecticut arms maker brought back the Detective Special from 1993 to 1995. Then they apparently determined that blue guns must have been designed for Democrats, and ceased all production. Embracing soulless stainless steel, they rechristened the Dick as the SF-VI, which of course sold about as well as the Colt 2000. The Detective Special never heard from again.

Personally, we think Colt’s president at the time was just getting tired of all the dick jokes.

As far as snub-nosed revolvers go, the Detective Special was the world champion of the .38 Specials, holding six rounds instead of five and having an unbelievably beautiful factory trigger.

Detective special: the gunfighter’s gun

I came by this revolver in a unique way. Having mustered out of the Marine Corps with a head injury that limited my civilian job opportunities (it killed my boxing career and future law enforcement prospects) I did what any other separated jarhead would do when he misses the days of people shooting at him or trying to kill him with fire: I became a Private Investigator and picked up skips for a local bondsman while working also for an ammunition and bullet manufacturer.

Renowned NYPD Stake Out Unit officer Jim Cirillo developed several effective types of bullets.

At the time, the State of Florida only authorized three calibers for duty-carry while working as a Private Dick: .38 special, .380 ACP and 9mm. As an avid shooter, I had plenty of guns in 10mm, 41 Magnum and 45 ACP but the only thing I had of that variety was a 6″ Colt Python and an S&W Model 52 Wadcutter pistol. Neither of which were suitable for concealed carry in the Florida winter, much less the summer.

I had been lucky enough to train with Jim Cirillo, a master gunfighter who survived at least 17 gun battles, at the time. He had an extra Colt snubby laying around, took pity on his poor student and sold it to me for a more than fair price.

Cirillo had been a part of the NYPD Stakeout Unit. This was a unit comprised of the best shooters in the department to stake out high-risk targeted locations such as liquor stores, pharmacies, grocery stores, hotels, pawnshops, and jewelry stores. Back in 1968, New York City was a cesspool; criminals would rob locations like these and murder everyone after they took their money.

The Stakeout Unit was disbanded in 1973 for being too efficient. Those cops put down a lot of bad people in a short period of time. Somehow that didn’t sit well with the political intelligentsia.

The gun I bought wasn’t Cirillo’s duty gun from the old days, this was a more modern third version dated to the late 1970s. But it had a modification applied to the front sight, a cut out with an orange insert that Jim could never get Colt to adopt.

A Colt Detective Special with the front sight cutout for an orange insert.

That orange insert makes all the difference in the world if you’re trying to capture a quick sight picture. Of course, Jim would teach me how to shoot without using sights at all during a few of the sessions I shared with him on the range.

I keep it loaded with a unique split-nose bullet design developed by Cirillo. Safestop is no longer manufactured, but these 38 special 148-grain +P rounds are known for their penetration. It rides in an old school DeSantis leather IWB.

This old Desantis holster, here holding a Dick Special, has seen a lot of use.

Old Dick doesn’t get carried as often as he used to. As much as I love revolvers, they are slow to reload and the reduced capacity is a relic of a bygone era. Every now and then though it works its way into the carry rotation because this one shoots cloverleaf type groups at 25 feet in double action.

Jim Cirillo's Safe Stop ammunition and a Dick Special make an effective self defense combination.

If Colt ever decides to become a firearms manufacturer again and wants a chance at remaining halfway solvent, they could start by producing revolvers of this quality again.

– MS –

See where the Dick Special made its appearance in movies on the Internet Movie Firearms Database.

An Ape Smoking. Is this Mike Searson, aka Mike the Mook?

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Mike Searson

Mike Searson

About the Author

Mike “the Mook” Searson is a veteran writer who began his career in firearms at the Camp Pendleton School for Destructive Boys at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire life, writing about guns and knives for numerous publications and consulting with the film industry on weapons while at the same time working as gunsmith and ballistician. Though seemingly a surly curmudgeon shy a few chromosomes at first meeting, Searson is actually far less of a dick and at least a little smarter than most of the Mad Duo’s minions. He is rightfully considered to be not just good company, but actually fit for polite company as well (though he has never forgotten his roots as a rifleman trained to kill people and break things, and if you look closely you’ll see his knuckles are still quite scabbed over from dragging the ground). You can learn more about him on his website or follow him on Twitter, @MikeSearson.


  1. RJS

    Perhaps Mr. Cirillo did succeed in convincing Colt. Although rare, the Detective Special 3rd could be had with factory red ramp insert but only in nickel finish with Zebrawood combat grips.

  2. George Smith

    I have one from early 1960s. Still shoots great although I don’t shoot it often. Got it for $50.00 frim a sailor who needed drinking money.

  3. Jim

    I have Dick Special that I found at a gun shop about 20 years ago, and it’s easily my favorite snubby. According to the numbers it was made in 1973. Sweet shooter.

  4. John

    I love my “Dick”..

    If I could only post a pic….. I’ve an original nickel platted one.

  5. Wilson

    I’m not going to shit talk wheel guns, but they’ll never be my primary.

    Great back up though! I’ll be looking for this kind of gun to replace my Taurus Ultra-Lite as a backup gun.

  6. JESullivan

    Some badass loadings there bro… Cirillo was not known to fuck around when manstopping was on the agenda. Likely one would be prosecuted these days for capping a miscreant with those wicked projectiles. I like the .38+P a lot! It has the necessary performance to do it’s job well yet unlike the .357 mag, hemorrhage usually does not accompany unprotected or confined space discharge. Revolvers are just fine for 99% of armed encounters and I am usually comfortable with my airweight in pocket…AND they are simple to operate, almost never fail and are inherently safer that most autoloaders, just the ticket for those who are not professional pistoleros..Thanks for the sentimental journey back into the 20th century.

  7. Russ

    Excellent article! I have been reading of Cirillo’s exploits for a while. This is an interesting peice of hardware you have there. His ammo design was so that the bullet would not skip off the cranial vault and would bite into the skull with the sharp edge. He was always thinking ahead (see what I did there)


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