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Colt 10mm Delta Elite: One Very Different 1911 Pistol

Colt Delta Elite Rail. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Colt Delta Elite Rail. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Though Colt is no longer the market share leader when it comes to M1911 platform semiauto pistols, it was certainly the original producer of the iconic handgun and therefore still the most famous in terms of historical name recognition. Therefore, when the then-newfangled 10mm Auto cartridge came along in the 1980s, it was only logical that Colt was the first gunmaker to produce the 1911 pistol in that then-new chambering. Say hello to the Colt 10mm Delta Elite. 

History & Specifications

The 10mm cartridge debuted in 1983, envisioned by the late great Col. Jeff Cooper – “The Father of Modern Combat Handgunning” – as an ideal compromise caliber between the 9mm Parabellum and the .45 ACP, though the ballistics actually ended up being much closer to those of the .41 Magnum. The first gun to be chambered for the cartridge was the Dornaus & Dixon Bren Ten – essentially a CZ-75 on steroids – which made a bit of a splash as the gun used by Sonny Crockett on Miami Vice, yet ended up as a commercial failure. As noted in the July 2015 issue of NRA American Rifleman, “Had the 10mm Auto not become available in the Colt Delta Elite in 1987, it might now be pushing up daisies.”

I was 12 years old when the Delta Elite debuted; I remember seeing it being advertised on the cover of Guns & Ammo Magazine and thinking “Wow, that is such a cool name for a gun,” and it made me immediately think of America’s elite Delta Force. Though for the record, Delta Force never actually adopted the 10mm, content to stick with the tried-and-true .45 ACP. Appropriately, the black rubber factory grips on the pistol came with a cool-looking red delta triangle design in the middle, which, in combination with either the stainless steel or blued steel finish options, made for one very handsome pistol.  

The Delta Elite was based on the Series 80 Colt Government Model iteration of the 1911, which included the passive firing pin lock that made the gun more drop-safe but also, at least by some accounts, reduced the crispness of the trigger pull compared with the much-lauded Series 70 Colts. The new gun added a stiffer double recoil spring to handle the increased operating pressures of the supersonic 10mm round. After some of the early pistols showed a disturbing tendency to suffer flex-induced slide-rail stress cracks, the manufacturer addressed the malady by removing the section of the rail above the slide-stop cutout. The Delta Elite also uses the bobbed hammer of the compact Commander versions of the 1911. 

Other than that, the Delta Elite pretty much matches the dimensions of the standard-sized M1911-A1, including the 5-inch barrel and the 8.5-inch overall length. The empty weight is 35 ounces, and the trigger pull weight is listed at 4 pounds 8 ounces. The standard magazine capacity is 8 rounds. 

Personal Shooting Impressions: Pros and Cons

My first time firing a Delta Elite was back in July 1990, a month shy of my 15th birthday, at the now-defunct Santa Anita Firing Range in Monrovia, California. It was my first time firing a “big-bore” – as in .40 caliber or above – of any kind as well as my first time firing a 1911-type pistol. I was quite impressed by the smooth handling characteristics and the accuracy of the pistol.

Fast-forward to early 2019, and, going through a nostalgic kick for the guns of my childhood, I decided to purchase a used Delta Elite from the Vienna Arsenal gun shop in Vienna, Virginia, which is a great place to shop for used firearms, particularly Curios & Relics (C&Rs), if you’re in the DC/NoVA area. For a measly 875 bucks, it came with four mags, and carrying case.

The problem was that the previous owner had installed (1) a ridiculous aftermarket market mag release and (2) a fancy-shmancy magazine well funnel that made it extremely difficult to properly seat the magazines if that mags lacked extended baseplates. And (3) in a most sacrilegious act from an aesthetic/cosmetic standpoint, the previous owner had replaced the cool-ass factory original delta-design wraparound grips with some very dull-looking, plain-Jane black plastic grips. So, to rectify these shortcomings, I went to the various online 1911 parts stores to order a standard magazine release, Wilson Combat baseplates, and the proper factory grips.

From there, it was off to the range. 

At first, it shot like a dream. The testing session started with 150 rounds of MagTech 180-grain FMJ; 50 rounds each (divvied evenly into head shots and torso shots) at 7, 15, and 25 yards with the 115-gr Xtreme Defender load, and finally 25 rounds of 25-yard torso shots w/180-gr S&B ball. Excellent sights and a crisp trigger make practical accuracy a breeze, easily holding the 9-ring at 25 yards, and I made 23 out of 25 head shots at the same distance. The beavertail grip safety made it very comfortable to shoot, even one-handed. And out of 225 rounds fired, there were zero failures to feed, eject, extract, or go to slidelock on an empty mag. 

However, by the third or fourth range session, trouble started a-brewin’ in paradise. Jamming problems started to arise, and in addition, the fact that the pistol had a full-length guide rod as opposed to the old-school recoil spring plug and guide of the old-school 1911s necessitated the use of a barrel bushing wrench for a basic field-strip, which I found to be extremely awkward. I am not keen on the idea of having to use tools as opposed to bare hands to disassemble a defensive weapon. 

Bottom Line: Yea or Nay?

I can conditionally recommend the Delta Elite, with a Buyer Beware warning about potential teething problems like the kind I just described. The manufacturer lists an MSRP of $1,199.00 USD.

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Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.  In his spare time, he enjoys (besides shooting, obviously) dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports. 

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).