Colt 10mm Delta Elite: A Classic Magnum-Powered 1911—Full Review

The 10mm Colt Delta Elite has a history dating back to the 1980s, but is still as viable today as ever.

The 10mm Colt Delta Elite has a history dating back to the 1980s, but is still as viable today as ever.

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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.

The Bren 10 was an early an ambitious attempt to the 10mm to the market, but ultimately failed where the Delta Elite later succeeded.

The CZ 75-inspired Bren 10 was an early attempt to bring the 10mm to the market, but ultimately failed where the Delta Elite later succeeded.

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.

The newly produced Delta Elite 10mm from Colt captures the retro charm of the 80s-era design.

The newly produced Delta Elite 10mm from Colt captures the retro charm of the 80s-era design. Image courtesy of Colt.


  • 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
  • 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 10mm round (taller round, and far left) delivers a good deal more power than the .40 S&W round (next to it).

The 10mm round (taller round, and far left) delivers a good deal more power than the .40 S&W round (next to it).

The classic delta logo of the pistol is emblazoned on the synthetic grip panels.

The classic delta logo of the pistol is emblazoned on the synthetic grip panels.

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

The Delta Elite proved to be an impressive performer for the author. It is shown here cooling down after a string of fire.

The Delta Elite proved to be an impressive performer for the author. It is shown here cooling down after a string of fire.

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.

While powerful, the author found the Delta Elite to be very controllable.

While powerful, the author found the Delta Elite to be very controllable.

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.

The author appreciated the inclusion of an extended beavertail grip safety on the pistol.

The author appreciated the inclusion of an extended beavertail grip safety on the pistol.

Anyone who has used a 1911 will be right at home with the controls of the Colt Delta Elite 10mm.

Anyone who has used a 1911 will be right at home with the controls of the Colt Delta Elite 10mm.

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

The author ran a selection of Hornady Critical Duty and Sig Sauer Elite Performance ammunition through the pistol.

The author ran a selection of Hornady Critical Duty and Sig Sauer Elite Performance ammunition through the pistol.

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.

The author ran the Colt Delta Elite through its paces and got some very good results with it on the range.

The author put the Colt Delta Elite through its paces and got some very good results with it on the range.

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.

The pistol features a contrasting matte and polished finish that the author found very appealing.

The pistol features a contrasting matte and polished finish that the author found very appealing.

The pistol comes from the factory ready to go with all the features you need for a good self-defense or hunting pistol.

The pistol comes from the factory ready to go with all the features you need for a good self-defense or hunting pistol.

{ 42 comments… add one }
  • Wayne Baker August 26, 2017, 6:33 am

    About 11 years ago. I did a favor for Davis Love III, the pro golfer, and he gave me a First Edition Stainless Delta. I didn’t have anything in it, so I sent it to Bob Cogan and he did about $700.00 worth of his magic to it. These were the dark days before Colt’s came with proper beavertails, ambitious safeties, front strap checkering, and match triggers. That pistol was a laser! Should have kept it, but replaced it with one of the new Sig 220R-10 reverse two tone, Match Elite pistols. Very nice also. Completely concur with your analysis of the new Sig ammo! Fine article, brought back pleasant memories…

  • gary September 17, 2016, 11:52 am

    I have two Three inch S&W’s one Trail Boss 44 Mag and one stainless 41 Mag, they are both wonderful shooters and I would not trade them an auto anything. By the way I also have a fully engraved AMT 44 AMP Auto Mag. EYHO

  • Christopher September 11, 2016, 1:26 pm

    SE Raptor, huh? NICE!

    • clay martin September 23, 2016, 9:27 am

      lol. you know how we do!

  • JL August 15, 2016, 2:52 pm

    It sounds like the quality of these guns has improved. I bought a stainless Delta Elite in the early 90’s and it’s what I would consider a semi-finished gun. The trigger was gritty, there were machining marks inside the slide and on the feed ramp and it had frequent failure-to-feed issues. I put lots of rounds through that gun – both factory and reloads, tried different recoil springs, polishing the feed ramp, different magazines, and finally ended up trading it for something else. Nothing draws a crowd at the indoor range like a 10mm shooting blue dot reloads, but I’ll take a Sig or Glock any day. My 0.02, take it for what it’s worth.

  • Tim Robertson August 11, 2016, 8:26 am

    Thanks for article Clay! I’m a big fan of the 10mm! Bought a Kimber TLE/ RL about 3 years ago when they were first introduced! Shot various older Ammo , ( older Norma stuff, Remington , Federal), but had wondered about the Sig Ammo! Will purchase some and try it! Have you seen/ tried any of the Federal 10mm trophy 180 bonded Jacketed soft point vital shock Ammo? Also, what type of holster are you using on your war belt in the video? Thanks again and Semper Fi!!

  • Gary August 9, 2016, 3:43 pm

    Informative article. Always been a fan of the 10mm. I bought three Delta Elites in the mid 80’s. Serial numbers 487 and 488 and number 3979. Still have all three, though I’ve never fired any of them. Guess I ought to try one. I did carry a compact Glock 29 a couple of years ago while working out of Ft Greely, Ak. Having 31 rounds with 3 mags and one in the chamber was comforting.

  • Scotty Gunn August 8, 2016, 8:21 pm

    Had one. Sold it. Bought a Kimber Target 2, never looked back.
    Recently put a KKM barrel in a Glock 20. It’s my new favorite toy. Amazingly accurate. Thinking about a Glock 40 now…(ten mm longslide).

  • Steve August 8, 2016, 5:52 pm

    Looked at a Delta elite due to already owning a Nibx glock 20 gen4. But cannot shoot any of my Underwood ammo I have because the Delta elite has a unsupported chamber. No thanks on that. Underwood ammo loads 10mm to what it was meant to be, why buy a $1100 10mm that can only shoot ammo loaded to 40s&w specs?

  • KATIE M.BURKLEY August 8, 2016, 1:20 pm


    • Matt August 8, 2016, 8:03 pm

      Comments like this frighten me.

      • Dave Hickman August 10, 2016, 11:14 am

        I agree. What about autromatic? LOL

    • Robert August 10, 2016, 8:38 pm

      Ok Scooby. Now you get a scoobie snack if you can say it properly. Good grief

  • Charlie August 8, 2016, 1:13 pm

    Had a DE way back when. I am a 1911 guy..and a 41 Mag revolver shooter. That said the 10mm while a good cartridge, is not the best round out there. It is truly too powerful as a SD cartridge and is only so so as a b’ar gun. In B’ar country I do carry a 41 as a backup but an 8 or 9 round shotgun loaded with slugs does make me feel warm and fuzzy. Even our local grizzlies wouldn’t like that. I guess if you were in a black ops group and spent the time to learn to shoot the 10 for that use it would be a great round. Luckily we aren’t all in a group such as that(and don’t even wish you were!). Yes I do carry 1911 types..In 45 auto and consider it a great SD round. T’ween the little Para Ord LDA 6 shooter and the small Kimber I feel well armed. In the winter I could carry the DE and do carry my Wilson Combat..but say what you will..the gun and cartridge are not a good much less perfect carry/ self defense piece. . Of course I feel the same way about the 9mm with out GOOD hollow point bullets. And there are plenty of easily concealed 9mm platforms

  • Timothy M Potter August 8, 2016, 12:24 pm

    I purchased one of the first Colt Delta Elite’s back in the 80’s. It was my intention to use it in USPSA competition. I had to do some trigger work, put a high grip safety on it, ambi-safety and I even put one of the early compensators on it. There wasn’t much 10mm loading data out there so I had to work with what I could get. I got a lot of good hearted harassment from fellow shooters but proved to them that the Delta Elite was a force to be reckoned with. I even purchased a high capacity 10mm frame from Para Ordnance and ordered parts from all over the country to assemble it. Cylinder & slide was a big help.

  • jrw August 8, 2016, 12:20 pm

    I am a 10 mm fan, having owned and shot an original batch 4 digit serail # (DE25XX) Delta Elite, as well as 2 S&W 610s, a 1076 and 1006 as well as a Kimber Eclipse. I still have the 1006 and Eclipse. When I bought the DE the only ammo available to shoot was the original Norma loads, which were fairly hot but controllable. They were known however for causing the DE to eat the recoil spring guide. So shortly after buying the DE I replaced the recoil spring assembly with a Wilson FLGR DE assembly, but I kept the original. Many years later I got rid of the DE because I had a choice to make, send it off to have the front strap checkered and better sights and a beavertail grip safety put on it, or sell it and get the Eclipse. I bought the Eclipse and sold the DE to a collector. From the pictures it is obvious Colt finally decided to fix at least two of the faults from the original.

    • Thor August 8, 2016, 6:28 pm

      As a retired LEO I’m curious as to why you elected to keep the 1006 and got rid of the 1076. My 2nd department allowed me to replace my revolver with a S&W Mod 39 in 9mm. A larger nearby town had changed everybody to the Mod 39 and my 3rd city actually issued the Mod 39 to all (in previous cities you bought your own). I found the 9mm to be a tad underpowered and about the time the FBI found itself outgunned I decided 10mm was the way to go.
      It was a plus that S&W semi-autos were double action, had adjustable rear sights, slide mounted ambidextrous decocker/safeties, checkered grips, SS slides & rails (Gen 3). I also carried a 1911 in the service but it didn’t have the features of a S&W. I always wanted a 10mm Smith that didn’t become a paperweight with a round in the chamber while I changed mags with a subject held at bay. Thor

  • Harley August 8, 2016, 12:08 pm

    I actually have a Colt Delta Elite, blued . Though I have several 1911 as it is my favorite pistol platform, the Delta Elite remains my favorite even over a couple more expensive 1911’s chambered in 45 ACP. I can’t recommend the pistol enough. Fair priced target loads can be hard to find though. Fine side arm , great all around caliber.

  • Tommy Gast August 8, 2016, 12:00 pm

    I bought an original blued when they first came out (serial 13xx). Still have it today, the only gun I’ve held on to and never sold. Still pretty solid.

  • Lopaka Kanaka August 8, 2016, 11:30 am

    If you like the 10mm in a 1911, try shooting a 40 Super with a 6 inch barrel in a 1911. And even a 400 Cor-Bon in a 1911 6 inch barrel and this will really give your a Awesome shooting. At 1600 fps and 900 fp you could stop most any North American game.

  • Larry Koehn August 8, 2016, 11:21 am

    I own another forgotten 10mm that is still a dream to shoot. The Springfield Armory Omega 10mm had a Peter Stahl slide and barrel on top of a model 70 1911 frame. I would never hesitate to use it as go to gun if I wanted that extra pop from a 10mm round. It is very accurate and easy to shoot with that ported barrel. For my frame it is too large and heavy for an EDC gun but if you can carry a full size 1911 comfortably you could carry this gun. The 10mm had that supposed die out when the 40 S&W came out and Springfield stopped production but if you want to hunt with a pistol a well placed shot from a 10 will easily drop deer.

  • Altoidfishfins August 8, 2016, 11:06 am

    I owned one of these years ago. Great pistol, good power. But I’m a reloader and lost most of the brass which was expensive. Brass and factory ammo in .45 ACP was much cheaper and way more readily available. So I traded the Delta Elite off and have never regretted it.

  • Kalashnikov Dude August 8, 2016, 9:53 am

    I never had the pleasure of firing one of these. But I recall being a kid in love while handling it over the counter at a K Mart store way back in the day.

  • wake_Up_America August 8, 2016, 9:52 am

    I am a very big fan of the 10mm. Picked up the Glock 20 a few months ago. I would love to pick up another 10mm of some sort down the road, who knows, maybe a Colt 🙂 Nice article.

  • jared August 8, 2016, 9:22 am

    i have no experience with the delta elite but plenty with the 10 mm and to say its a hoss is completely accurate. wish u would do a writeup on the thureon defense carbine also

  • David Bonomo August 8, 2016, 8:43 am

    Buy a Glock and spend what you have left over on ammo.

    • BUH August 8, 2016, 11:02 am

      Buy the Delta and get a good gun, buy a glock and then a trigger kit and then a barrel and then new sights, and then……..
      you’ll spend more getting the plastic glock to shoot slightly better than stock, but still no where as good as the Colt.
      And colt has a rich history, while glock’s history is full of fraud and deception and illegal practices, and remember that the glock gun idea came to him while at hitler nazi youth camp. what a proud tradition you glocksuckers have
      Single Action Rules !

  • Dominic Scavo August 8, 2016, 7:55 am

    I’d love to pick one up, but I’ll stick with my 450 SMC for field defense loads.

  • Tj2000 August 8, 2016, 6:31 am

    I bought my first 10mm Colt about 6 years ago. It was the late 80’s version when they made the cut out at the slide release. I gave the gun shop owner $500 and had a gunsmith friend of mine ceracote the whole gun for a $100. It looks 100% new and shoots like its on rails. Then last year when Colt was going bankrupt I bought a 2015 version all SS from the same shop for $875. It shoots just as good as the other Delta Elite I have. I will saw that reloading is the way to go if your going to feed theses beast. Great article.

  • Jason Barrett August 8, 2016, 6:07 am

    I may be wrong, but as a child of the era, I was under the impression that the 10mm round was developed for clandestine or professional uses involving suppressors. Which adds to the allure of the name and pistol, even with the Greek connotation.

    • ChrisV May 5, 2018, 9:15 pm

      It was actually developed after the FBI was involved in a shootout in Miami with 2 bank robbers where their issue 38 revolvers failed to kill the bank robbers before 2 or 3 (?) agents were shot and killed. The FBI realized they needed a more lethal round and after much development the 10mm Auto was born. But the original ammo was loaded by Norma and was extremely powerful. Too powerful in fact for the limp wristed accountants that made up most of the FBI rank and file. At the FBI’s request, it was downloaded to be less powerful. Shortly thereafter, S&W realized they could get similar ballistics from a smaller cartridge and the 40S&W was born. The FBI quickly adopted the 40 and relegated to 10mm to relative obscurity. It’s origin has nothing to do with clandestine ops or the like.

  • SteveK August 8, 2016, 5:42 am

    What have they done to the finish? It looks like cheap aluminum. Polish that stainless to a satin finish and you’d have a BEAUTY!

  • Zac August 8, 2016, 3:40 am

    I have a colt gold cup delta in 10mm, does anyone have any info on that? Recently sold etc? I can’t find anything on Google. My email

    • m.g. August 8, 2016, 11:02 am

      I also have the delta gold cup. this is a pistol that I won at the old Second Chance bowling pin shoot run by Richard Davis in Michigan. the match and his company are no more, but it was great fun back in the day. my pistol is fitted with a substantial compensator, bomar rear sight, beavertail grip safety, custom grips, and a full bright polish. it is a beautiful gun and shoots great. with the multi-port compensator it is quite comfortable to shoot, even with heavy loads. all of ammo consists of my reloads, since I have been at this for more than 50 years. you have to be careful of overall length with reloads, since the 10mm is max length for a 1911 magazine. these guns are probably quite pricey now, but I haven’t seen one for sale in a very long time. I was lucky, mine was free!

  • Myron D Freeman August 5, 2016, 8:00 am

    I ordered mine before they were even available in local gun stores back in the 80’s I think it was.
    Not surprising, I customized mine back then with a full beaver tail grip safety, checkered front strap and a light weight, adjustable trigger so it looks just like the newer one in the article.
    I also had BarSto custom fit a new barrel to it and it is a tack driver.
    Then about 2 years ago I picked up a S&W 1006 and they almost look like a matched pair.

  • Paul DeRidder August 4, 2016, 12:18 am

    Love my Delta Elite. Great review,

  • Jim August 3, 2016, 5:20 pm

    Delta Colt has always been a fine pistol but the snap of the 10mm is too much for me. Past hand surgeries make it impossible for me to control the 40 or 10 with any consistency. It’s hard not to love a Colt! Thanks for the article, nice job 👍🏻

    • clay martin August 3, 2016, 11:39 pm

      Thank you sir! I really loved shooting this monster.

  • Michael Bennett August 3, 2016, 4:59 pm

    Do you know anything about the lew horton 10 mm? Like production run. Thanks anything would be appreciated.

    • clay martin August 3, 2016, 11:39 pm

      Unfortunately no. But I will lean on it, see if anyone one else in the Cult of the 10mm knows anything.

  • Hunter Elliott August 3, 2016, 4:51 pm

    To answer your question where the Colt Delta Elite gets it’s name. Delta is Greek for 4, the 10mm Auto is .400 caliber and the triangle is the Greek symbol for Delta.

    • clay martin August 3, 2016, 11:38 pm

      Damn. Wish you had told me that last week. It was worth it to be wrong though, to get to mention Chuck Norris in a GA video and not get in trouble for it .

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