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The fact that the Colt "D" framed pistols like the Cobra and Detective Special were made in such large numbers and were THE police off duty or undercover revolver for so long is due to it being "Right" somehow.
During the 1930's to the 60's most cops owned one and S&W didn't even bother trying to compete until the Chief's Special of 1950.

Some machines are just "Right", and a small streamlined six shot, short barrel revolver filled the need very well.
It not only worked extremely well, it felt and looked "Right".

As to the design, the "D" frames were really a progression that started in 1889 with the world's first double action ,swing-out cylinder revolver, the Colt New Navy, later also the New Army.
In the 1890's Colt began making a series of small frame double action revolvers using the New Navy's swing-out cylinder that continued evolving into the Detective Special and later "D" frames.

So no one really specifically designed the Cobra, it was just the result of a long process that continues today with the new Cobra and King Cobra models.
 

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So what exactly is the difference between a cobra, detective special, and a agent? I’m a big S&W guy and know them good. Other than a 1911 and a Colt cowboy I do not or have I ever owned a Colt revolver
 

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Detective Special...steel frame.
Cobra and Agent...aluminum frame.
2017 -current Cobra...stainless steel construction, .38 Special snubby only (so far).

The Dick Special and Cobras were available in more calibers and barrel lengths. The Agent was only available as a snubby in .38 Special. Depending on year made there are some other variations...type of stocks, frame length but the essential differences are frame materials, barrel and caliber options.
 
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I love the look and feel of the grips on the Detective Special, Cobra, and Agent, but when it comes to shooting I need a grip adapter.
 
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