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Thanks to tommix for the following article...

ST’s handgun editor reflects on his first article assignment back in 1966, which happened to be the then-new 38 Special Diamondback. He liked it then and still likes it today, but for different reasons.

By Skeeter Skeiton

This issue is a commemorative one for me. In addition to being our annual Handgun issue, it comes at the completion of my 10th pleasurable year as handgun editor of Shooting Times.
In March 1966, I wrote my first story for ST. an evaluation of the then-brand new Colt Diamondback revolver (it was published in the September issue), and I fondly remember taking the little .38 Special into the rugged. historic Canadian River country of Texas for a workout. I also remember that the new Colt snake performed beautifully.
Several Diamondbacks have passed through my hands since that first one including two I have now, but to refresh my memory, and to avoid repeating myself, I disinterred and reread my old, original story. I found that I had alluded to the Diamondback as a “scaled-down ver¬sion of the 357 Colt Python”. On reflection, I think that this observation could have been better stated.
The Diamondback could be more properly described as a mod¬ernized, deluxe version of the Police Positive Special, which has been in the Colt line since 1908. This small light (22-ounce) double¬ action 38 Special evolved into the famous Detective Special Snubnose in 1928. An aluminum-alloy main frame of the same dimen¬sions was used for the ultra-lightweight Cobra and Agent hideout guns. More than one million Colts of this frame size have been manufactured.
Their lockwork and basic frame were utilized in planning the Diamondback of 1966. It was given a flat topstrap, similar to that of the popular Python, and an efficient rear sight known as the Accro, adjustable for both windage and elevation. The metal portion of the butt was shortened with the introduction of the Diamondback, and the frame size of it, as well as of the Police Positive Special et al, was designated the “D-frame.” A long, low, wide, laterally serrated hammer spur, similar in shape to that of the Python (although the latter is checkered) was added, along with check¬ered, oversized target stocks that over¬lapped and extended below the short¬ened grip frame. The original four-inch barrel, on the contrary, actually was a scaled-down Python barrel, made with the same machinery used for the Python’s tube. It carries the same ramp front sight, ventilated rib, and underbelly lug, which encloses and protects the extrac¬tor rod. Its rib, as well as the top of the topstrap, carries a nonglare, matte finish, with the balance of the gun a cleanly polished nitrate blue.
A 2 1/2.inch-barreled model, essential¬ly a fancied-up Detective Special, came outfitted with the smaller, standard-service stocks that were found on the snubnosed gun.
The beginning serial number of the Diamondback was D1001. By 1968, more than 13,000 of these little nifties had been made in .38 Special, and a .22 Long Rifle model was introduced, also with a choice of 2’/2- or four-inch barrels.
A call to Marty Huber, the factory’s historian and human encyclopedia of things Colt, elicited production figures on the Diamondback from 1966 to Sep¬tember 1975:

Bbl. Length Cal. Finish # Produced
4 – inch .38 Spl. Blue 87,343
4 – inch .38 Spl. Nickel 3,614
2 1/2 – inch .38 Spl. Blue 18,347
2 1/2 – inch .38 Spl. Nickel 1,220
2 1/2 – inch .22 lr Blue 5,780
2 1/2 – inch .22 lr Blue 4,797

Note that there have been no .22-caliber Diamondbacks with nickel fin¬ish, and that the .22 LR is compara¬tively rare, considering the rather large total numbers of the revolver that have been produced.
This breakdown might be appropri¬ate. The engineers of the Diamondback probably envisioned it as mainly a de¬luxe law-enforcement and defense hand¬gun. And it certainly can be utilized for those purposes when its owner is content with the limitations of the .38 Special cartridges. Although I owned Diamondbacks during several years of law-enforcement work, I never carried one as a duty arm, and have seen very few in the holsters of other officers.
This in no way reflects on the useful¬ness of this good revolver. To me it is the epitome of light trail guns. Being Number an advocate of larger bullets, I more frequently find myself carrying the .38 in preference to the .22, although there are no files on the latter when the smallest game is sought.
Properly loaded, the .38 Diamondback is good medicine for medium animals such as coyotes, porcupines and javelina out to 75 yards or so. Its adjustable sights allow it to be sighted in correctly with any .38 Special cartridge, including the high-velocity 110 grain JHP loads. It is a stronger gun than its small bulk suggests.
The Police Positive Special and its successors were the only light-frame re¬volvers I’m aware of that were recom¬mended by their manufacturers for use with the ultra-powerful .38-44 S&W car¬tridge that preceded the .357 Magnum by only a few years and that was de¬signed to be fired in the .44-framed S&W Heavy Duty. Much of this strength is related to the fact that the cylinder bolt notches are cut to the left of the thin center of the chamber wall, in an area where there is more supporting steel.
The Diamondback is safe with any currently produced factory .38 Special ammunition with which I have had ex¬perience and can be hand-loaded to much better performance than offered by the standard factory wadcutter or round-nosed lead police round. Due to its light weight of 28 1/2 ounces, felt recoil will be greater than in a heavier revolver, and really extensive shooting of high-velocity loads would likely cause some looseness sooner than it might in heav¬ier guns. Common sense is a requirement in loading for the Diamondback, just as it is for every other firearm.
The Diamondback is splendidly ac¬curate with good ammunition, although it must be held tightly to obtain its full potential. As with practically every new handgun being manufactured today, it wifi benefit from a bit of tuning and trigger-lightening.
In the .38, this accuracy becomes quite evident when factory target wad-cutter ammunition is used up to about 50 yards. The wadcutter is an outstand¬ing small-game killer at this range—su¬perior to the roundnose .38, which has slightly higher velocity and is a great plinking round. Although I recommend more powerful .38 Special ammunition for such purposes, circumstances have permitted me to make a couple of one-shot kills on javelina at ranges of 20 yards or less, using factory wadcutters.
A better game load is the 158-grain lead semi-wadcutter as loaded by the factories, or cast and stoked with 5.3 grains of Unique, 4.2 grains of Red Dot, 3.5 grains of Bullseye, or a similar charge (of which there are literally hundreds).
Various loading manuals will give you data that will take the jacketed, expanding bullets up to the 1100 to 1300 fps range, depending on bullet weight. But you will pay a punishing price in recoil and muzzle blast.
I prefer to regard the Diamondback as a more relaxed gun, and carry it when I want to travel light either in my waistband, in a lightweight, open-top holster on the pants belt, or in a nylon musette bag along with a lunch, binoculars, and a bit of extra, medium-velocity ammunition. I’ve never used one as such, but it strikes me that the nickeled version would make a great fisherman’s companion for killing snakes and taking bullfrogs and rab¬bits for either table fare or bait.
It’s just right for rattlesnake protec¬tion, and I’ve “Diamondbacked” sev¬eral diamondback rattlers. Any of the .38 Special loads are fine for reducing the rattler population, including the various shot loads, should you want to get within about six feet of the noxious pit viper. The .22 model is virtually as good for this purpose.
Over the years before 1966, I saw many attempts at making a small re¬volver with target accuracy from exist¬ing models. These were all custom jobs, usually commissioned by gun-minded police officers of an experimental bent. The two revolvers most often employed as a nucleus for such shenanigans were the Colt Police Positive .38 Special and the Smith & Wesson Military & Po¬lice, the latter usually chosen with round butt.
The perfectionists, to begin with, wanted extremely smooth double-action and extremely light single-action trigger pulls that had just enough thrust and no more to crack a prim¬er reliably. Then they sought for ramped front sights that would not catch in the holster, pocket, or trousers, but would still give a clear, Patridge-type sight picture. Mated to this blade had to be a fully adjustable rear sight that would adjust the impact of the bullet of their chosen load right on the money and accommodate different loads if desired.
Small, neat, custom stocks that fit their varying palms like a squeezed hunk of modeler’s clay were necessary. Grooved or checkered triggers were polished into a convex, smooth surface to ease the slide of their DA trigger fingers. Hammer spurs were widened on one side or the other, or both, to hasten cocking for the occasional single¬action shot.
Some gunnies cut out the fronts of trigger guards for quicker access to the slick trigger, and perhaps removed the spur of the hammer entirely, ignoring the fact that the corners of the rear sight would foul a draw just about as effectively as a hammer spur.
Then there were the cosmetic effects. A specially made gun that expensive ought to look purty. Barrel ribs were added, steel butts rounded off. Nickel and gold plating and a scroll or two of engraving were applied. Ivory or stag replaced the functional walnut.
The net result, had the sixgun man gotten carried away, was often a re¬volver so dear to his heart that he left it in a plush-lined case, and only took it out to impress some passing gun buff. I know, because I’ve been guilty of most of these expensive indulgences myself. All such fancied-up toys have been abandoned by me for the more practi¬cal and, in the long run, less costly pro¬duction models that I feel free to carry and shoot. Sure, I occasionally have a custom handgun built, but it is only because it is not in manufacture at the time by any company.
The Diamondback is not perfect. Neither is any other product. For so small a revolver, I would opt for smaller stocks, still with the overlapping por¬tion under the short steel frame, but shorter overall and somewhat thinner. The hammer spur, for me, is unneces¬sarily long and wide, and pinches into the web of my hand, though I can cor¬rect the problem with a grinder.
The first triggers were serrated, but those of current production are smooth-faced— change I like. As indicated earlier, I believe any factory production revolver made today needs its action smoothed and its trigger adjusted. There are, at last, a number of good ‘smiths who can do the work well and comparatively inexpensively.
All new guns today are rather high priced. But I doubt that you can buy a new or excellent used Colt Police Posi¬tive Special and pay retail prices for a custom job that will have all the desir¬able features of the Diamondback with¬out exceeding the cost of the factory gun.
Chances are you will have a bit of trouble finding a Diamondback at your dealer’s shop. The small supply appar¬ently is due to the tremendous popular¬ity of the Colt Python. Colt is running wide open to supply this fine .357 to its consumers. As I pointed out, the Dia¬mondback barrels are made on Python machinery, thus the smaller one must wait its turn for a run of barrels, ac¬quiescing to the big boys.
But the handy little guns are coming through, as indicated by the factory’s production figures. If you try hard enough, you shouldn’t have to wait until the 11th birthday party to own one.

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