Sunday, January 6, 2013

Colt Delta Elite (part 1)

Colt Delta Elite (part 1)

This is going to end up being a two part review for a few reasons. First I want to go over the history and perfection that is the Colt 1911 design, the 10mm Auto cartridge, and the history of the specific Delta Elite model. I’ll also talk about the accuracy, reliability, ergonomics, and breakdown of the Delta Elite. Part 2 will involve me going into the modifications I have made to my personal Delta Elite that, in my opinion, make it a much better firearm.
Image Copyright Point-of-Aim Productions

A History...

There was a cartridge that was developed in the early 1980’s that was to put to shame the tried and true .45ACP. It was the brain child of the late, great, Col. Jeff Cooper with the help of Norma (see my Glock 20SF review for a full history on the 10mm Auto). After the failed introduction of Dornaus & Dixon’s Bren Ten pistol, both Colt and Smith and Wesson introduced pistols chambered in the new cartridge. Smith and Wesson came out with the Model 1006 and Colt came out with the Delta Elite which was tested by the FBI for their agents but ultimately never used. 
The Delta Elite never gained the popularity of the standard 1911 pistol because of the unpopular cartridge it was chambered in. The original Delta’s were also plagued by issues because of the higher pressure’s associated with the 10mm Auto. Colt added a section of metal to the frame where the slide release is located to prevent the frame from flexing under the recoil of the new cartridge. Unfortunately it did exactly what it was designed to do, to devastating effects. The frames would crack in a short time and the slides suffered stress cracks as well. This was fixed in the late 1980’s and the problems were a thing of the past. 
Throughout the Delta’s life from the late 80’s to early 90’s there were five variations of the pistol. The first was a strait blued pistol, shortly after they introduced a stainless versions. A GOLD CUP version was introduced that added a number of custom features like adjustable sights, high speed trigger, and flat mainspring housing. In 1988, a Delta Match 10 was introduced that was essentially a blued version of the Gold Cup, sources say only around 400 were made. A simple version was made that was parkerized, and had no delta markings on the grips or the normal Delta roll marks. The final variant was called the Colt Elite Ten Fourty that included a .40S&W swap-out barrel and a few new custom enhancements.
The Delta, sadly, was discontinued in the early 90’s and had a significant cult following. Delta’s in good shape go for over $1200 at shows and auctions. Colt announced they were re-introducing the Delta Elite in 2008 with significant improvements such as a bull barrel, high ride beavertail grip safety, extended slide stop, and beveled magazine well. Unfortunately (and I do MEAN unfortunately) that never came to fruition. However, in March of 2009, Colt did re-introduce the Delta Elite in its old configuration with checkered rubber wrap-around grips. That is the model we are focusing on today.


As I’m sure most of you can tell, I am a huge fan of the 10mm Auto cartridge. It is my favorite automatic pistol cartridge and I plan to expand my collection extensively. The Delta does not disappoint. As with the Glock, I tested the Colt with a variety of ammunition from Hornady, Remington, DoubleTap, and my hand loads. Everything performed incredibly well with a few hangups. The Remington 180gr loads gave me feeding problems almost immediately. I switched the magazines out but still had feeding issues. After 10 rounds or so it smoothed out so I am not 100% sure what the issue was. The Hornady and DoubleTap loads performed flawlessly with no feeding or extraction issues and were very accurate out to 15 yards. My hand loads did give me feeding issues however. The would not fully seat in the chamber, yet the same rounds functioned flawlessly when I ran the same rounds through my Glock. I have a feeling reaming and/or polishing the chamber will fix that problem. 
Accuracy was top notch with all the loads, my hand loads performing the best. The Hornady Ciritcal Defense and DoubleTap Bonded Defense kept groups within an inch at 15 yards. The Remington UMC loads opened up to about two inches but this was also off hand and not rested. Recoil was stout, noticeably more in the Colt that with the same loads in a Glock, which is interesting considering the Colt is a all stainless-steel gun. The trigger broke very crisply at around five pounds, with minimal take-up but a bit of over travel. The grips are sharply checkered plastic that give you a very good grip on the gun and are very comfortable. The sights are standard 3-dot system which are great, they aren't standard G.I. type low sights with no dot system. Colt uses the same sights on their 1991 series of pistols and their Series 70’s. 
One detractor i didn’t like on the gun was the grip safety. While I love the 1911, I am a firm believer in the less external safeties, the better, which is why I like the Glock and M&P pistols as much as I do. You will hear more about this in my Springfield XDm review soon. The grip safety on the Delta Elite is a tiny duck-bill type that took a chunk out of my big hands the first time out. I now have a nice .17 caliber size scar in the webbing between my thumb and index finger. It only took one time to start taping my hands to prevent that from happening. If you are going to do ONE modification to your pistol, it should be to change the grip safety. One of the Wilson Combat series 70/80 drop in safeties would be perfect. In Part 2 I am going to go into more detail what I did to the gun to make it perform best for me and my recommendations to you if you are considering one. 
Image courtesy OldSkool Photography


The great thing about the Delta Elite is the fact that it is simply a Colt 1911. The great thing about that is the amount of customization that can be done to the pistol. A 1911 can be COMPLETELY rebuilt and refinished to fit a customers needs. The problem with that is that depending on what you want done, after parts and labor from a qualified gunsmith, and the initial $1000-1200 investment on the pistol, you could be looking at the price of a Wilson Combat or Nighthawk Custom in 10mm. If you are like me, its the Colt name and logo that you really wanted and the legacy that the Delta Elite carries with it. From triggers, hammers, barrels, mainspring housings, safeties, and springs, there is endless possibilities for the Delta. I plan on going through my entire upgrade process and all of my options in Part 2 of this review, so stay tuned!!

Final Thoughts

If you are a fan of the Colt 1911 AND the 10mm Auto cartridge, then the Delta Elite is definitely worth looking at. Is it the ONLY option for a 1911 in 10mm? No, but it is the cheapest next to a Kimber Stainless Target II, and even then they can be expensive. Dan Wesson reintroduced the RZ10 last year branded under CZ-USA, but the retail on that is over $1300 with street prices going above that for its rarity. After the Colt, only Wilson Combat and Nighthawk Custom have options available for the 10mm Auto and they can run $3000+ depending on options. 
As a stock gun, the Delta is easy to handle and comfortable to shoot (minus the awful grip safety). The stainless steel construction with matching finish is beautiful and having the Delta logo on the grips really makes it stand out. I would have love to have seen the prototype bull barrel version, but alas, Colt stated they didn't get the accuracy out of it that they wanted. It is a solid competitor in the 10mm market as well as the 1911 market. I’d like to see a blued version come out to mimic the very first of the Deltas... but one can only hope.

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