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When the chance came up to review the Colt Delta Elite, I was fully prepared to demand trial by combat if another writer tried to jump the rotation. As a card-carrying disciple of the Cult of the 10mm, I was extremely motivated to get my hands on the gun that can be credited with saving my favorite cartridge. While I am not normally a 1911 fan, despite the fact that I carried one to war once, I was more than willing to shelve my combat Tupperware for a few weeks and play with this stainless steel work of art.
It seems we can’t have a discussion of anything 10mm without talking about the Bren Ten from way back in 1983. I’ll make mine short and sweet. All you really need to know about the Bren is that it was a CZ 75 knock-off design (with an authority no less than Col. Jeff Cooper endorsing the CZ 75 design as a sound combat pistol), and Czechs were still commies then. At that time it was widely held that Americans viewed a pistol as a fighting tool while Europeans viewed a pistol as a decoration for their officers. The Colt Delta Elite is still in production, and the Bren Ten is a museum piece. I think that sums this up nicely. (And yes, I am aware we are friends with the Czech Republic now. I went there a few years ago to import gun powder. The 80s was a different time.)
So with the Bren Ten being an abysmal failure, the 10mm cartridge also seemed destined for the bone pile of wildcat cartridge hell. The cavalry, rather ironically, came in the form Colt Manufacturing Company. In 1987 Colt succeeded in building a 1911 pistol chambered for the 10mm, providing the cartridge a leap to commercial viability. Colt named this pistol the Delta Elite.
- CHAMBERING: 10mm
- BARREL: 5 inches
- OA LENGTH: 8.5 inches
- WEIGHT: 35 ounces
- GRIPS: Composite
- SIGHTS: Novak Carry with dots
- ACTION: Single-action
- FINISH: Stainless steel
- CAPACITY: 8
- MSRP: $1,099
Why is it named that? Does Delta mean 10 in Greek? Not exactly. The 80s was also a different time for information. The Cold War was in full swing, and we didn’t hand out slaps on the wrist for mishandling the classified stuff. We sure as hell didn’t let someone lose control of mountains of it and then become a major political party’s presidential candidate either, but I digress. I can tell you we only wanted two things back then: #1, to say NO to drugs and #2, to be Delta Force guys canoeing some Tango’s forehead during an aircraft assault, between days we spent flying fighter jets and shooting down Mig’s belonging to fictional but vaguely Russian-sounding Republics.
The United States was obsessed with counter-terrorism, at least partially because it was so new. I can’t say for certain that was Colt’s marketing angle on this, but it certainly seems plausible. And the nice thing about naming your gun after a bunch of black ops sneak ninjas, they won’t exactly send out a press release saying they aren’t involved. Either way, the name stuck, and now Delta Elite instantly conjures Stainless 1911 in 10mm. Was it ever actually used there? I don’t know, I wasn’t in Delta Force. Somebody send Larry Vickers an email and ask.
A New Era
So, here we are 30 years later, and the Delta Elite is still going strong. Obviously there is enough of a following that they are still producing them. How does our modern 2016 edition stack up? In a world where every gun company under the sun builds a 1911, Colt still stands out.
To start with, this gun is just pretty. Colt did an absolutely amazing job of contrasting matte and shiny stainless steel. The contrasted black grips, trigger and sights make the gun very visually appealing. The trigger pull is crisp, with a clean break like you would expect from a 1911. Colt also put in a grown up-sized extended beavertail safety, which is a nice touch. That has traditionally been the first thing I change on a 1911. Toss the baby-sized one and add in an extended for more reliable engagement.
It comes with a flat, serrated mainspring housing, which fit my hand well. The front strap is smooth, but that is easy enough to change after market if you are so inclined and easier to add after the fact than to remove, so no points off from me on that one. Classic rear serrations make running the slide by hand a breeze (I would say correcting malfunctions, but I didn’t have any). The rubber grips help dampen some of the recoil and are cut with a diamond pattern to add some grip.
How does it shoot? I was pretty impressed. The 10mm round is snappy, that is for certain. But nothing like a true magnum caliber revolver. Even my hottest round tested was manageable. If you have a proper grip on the gun, you can still sling this monster quickly. Accuracy was excellent, as you would expect from a 1911 at this level of quality.
So why would you buy this over a 1911 in .45 ACP? In my mind, it boils down to two reasons. First, 10mm is much better against large game if that is a concern in your area. In Idaho we have black and grizzly bears as well as mountain lions that are known to attack dogs and people. A 10mm loaded to the top end approaches .41 Magnum capabilities, and blows .45 ACP out of the water. What would I rather have to stop a charging grizzly? Probably a Barrett .50 BMG and some friends, but that isn’t always practical to carry. I prefer automatics to revolvers, so 10mm is the best choice for me. And anything that will stop four-legged predators will work even better on two-legged predators. A 180-grain jacketed hollow point moving at 1,220 fps will absolutely make someone think twice about invading your home.
Second, versatility. The 10mm will do a great many things if you reload your own ammo. You can go full power bear deterrent, “10 FBI” load for more dainty hands, and load anything from 155- up to 220-grain hardcast. Whatever sport you play, 10mm will do it well. Super-fast target rounds? Check. Hunting deer? 10mm is one of the only approved rounds for handgun hunting in many places. Power factor for USPSA or IDPA? 10mm is awesome. I prefer heavy and slow to make my power factor for sports as it tends to be more reliable for me. And I have seen a couple of catastrophes from attempted 200-grain 40 S&W. 10mm gives you more case dimension to play with, which ultimately makes it capable of more things. Anything .40 Slow and Weak will do, 10mm will do better. The only real down side to reloading 10mm is that you must use large pistol primers, so add that to the list if you plan on “rolling your own.” If you are in the prepper/ survivalist camp, this gives you some versatility of supply against your other auto cartridges, except .45 ACP.
Feed The Beast
A real victory today is the commercial loadings available in 10mm. Not that long ago factory 10 was difficult to find. Now many manufacturers feature it in the line up. Our Hornady 175-grain FlexLock Critical Duty load used in testing is an excellent defense round, featuring all Hornady’s lethality science poured into a ready to go package for you. One thing about a defense round built by a company with a long tradition of hunting bullets is that they know exactly how to inflict trauma. The FlexLock bullet features a patented Flex Tip design that will not clog, and an ultra thick jacket to core interlock band to ensure high weight retention.
I cannot say enough good things about the Sig Sauer Elite Performance line of ammunition. I never thought I would see the day Sig was in the ammo business, but they seem to be doing it very well. The velocity and standard deviation numbers on this ammo are staggering. It has 1,220 fps average velocity, which is screaming for 180 grains of lead, and 8 fps second standard deviation that has a huge influence on accuracy. The thing I like absolutely best, they make an FMJ and a JHP with identical ballistics. Anything that saves a couple of bucks on training ammo is a win with me, especially in the world of large pistol primer brass. Sig is obviously an up-and-comer in the ammo world, and I am expecting good things from them. I will be leaning on Sig ammunition for testing in the future, and I bet they perform just as well in other calibers.
Overall, the Colt Delta Elite was a joy to review. If you are in the market for a 10mm, this is an excellent choice. I spent most of last summer in Okinawa working with the Marines, who happened to be issued Colt 1911s in .45 ACP. Like those guns, this one would be a formidable sidearm. This is the gun that stormed both Omaha beach and Tarawa, defended the 38th Parallel and ran recon in Vietnam. Still in use by military units and elite SWAT teams today, but available in the best auto caliber ever dreamed of for a pistol, the Colt Delta Elite is a real winner.