Premium Placeholder for the Python.
Hey, doesn't that sound like a good title as would be found in a gun rag?
Got this Colt Three-Fifty-Seven revolver back at the end of March after incubating the deal for two years or longer. The photo was taken in the middle of the night at the gun show while doing security duty, after giving it a detail strip and scrubbing up. Have not had time to properly introduce it. I've still not shot it enough to suit me but have shot it enough to gain an impression.
Stuck this narrative up on a small private forum on which I participate to be "vetted and approved" and also on the Colt Forum where the "Heavy Hitters" reside in order to be graded and corrected. Will stick it up here in hopes that y'all read more Colt lore than you ever really wanted to know.
While the .357 Magnum cartridge was developed by Smith & Wesson and introduced in 1935 on their N-Frame revolver, Colt quickly adopted the potent new revolver cartridge, serving it up in a couple of revolvers found in the Colt catalog. Relatively small quantities of both the famous Single Action Army and the gargantuan New Service revolvers were produced and shipped by Colt during the late 1930s and right up until World War II, when all production was given over to critical military contract requirements.
The .357 Magnum cartridge became an instant sensation the moment it hit the market and interest and demand far outstripped the miniscule quantities shipped from both the Smith & Wesson and Colt factories. While the well-deserved interest in the .357 Magnum remained high, the interruption caused by the war years, along with the immediate post-war demand for production of all models for civilian and export needs, impeded production of revolvers chambered for what was then apparently considered only a special-interest cartridge.
Revolvers chambered for the .357 Magnum were still in very short supply into the early 1950s with only the small pre-war production by Smith & Wesson and Colt in circulation and supplemented by the barest trickle of .357 Magnum revolvers being produced by Smith & Wesson on their large N-Frame. A .357 Magnum was a desirable and costly handgun, new or used, in the early 1950s.
Enter Colt, grasping the extent of market demand for a very flexible, useful, and powerful cartridge and wanting to introduce a new revolver of more modern proportions.
Colt did not have either of the pre-war revolver models in production that had housed the .357 Magnum. Production of the wheezy ol' Single Action Army had not been resumed after World War II due to a genuine lack of interest in this model in an era preceding the advent of the television western and the fast-draw craze. The grand New Service (my personal favorite Colt model) was a casualty of World War II and was not returned to production post-war. It is said that the machinery used for producing New Service revolvers was actually moved outside to suffer exposure to the weather in the rush to provide space in the Colt factory for increased production of military contract small arms of all kinds. The New Service machinery ruined.
Colt determined that their E-Frame, also known as the ".41 frame"size could be utilized for what they had in mind. Originally introduced with the Army Special model in 1907 and then still being used for the Official Police and several other Colt revolver models, the E-Frame size could be engineered to be amply strong enough for the high-intensity .357 Magnum cartridge. These revolvers were very similar in size to the later Smith & Wesson L-Frame revolvers. Holsters will interchange.
Colt envisioned workhorse revolvers with adjustable sights and chambered for the .38 Special along with a gussied-up premium revolver especially designed around the .357 Magnum cartridge for the more discriminating pistolero. The result was the 1953 introduction of the Colt Trooper in .38 Special along with the premium companion model in the Colt line, the Three-Fifty-Seven, roll marked ".3 5 7 " on the left side of the barrel. The trooper offered Colt's standard service blue finish but also featured the bonus of adjustable sights. The 3 5 7 model carried things a bit further. Colt saw fit to equip the upscale 3 5 7 with a frame-mounted firing pin rather than the traditional hammer-mounted firing pin as the Trooper possessed. This change in firing pin design was considered to be important enough by Colt to rename the 3 5 7 frame, the "I-Frame" even though it shared the same size and internals as the tried-and-true E-Frame.
The 3 5 7 was unique, being the only Colt Model using the I-Frame for a couple of years until the introduction of another iconic Colt model, the fabulous Python which also utilized this unique frame variant.
The 3 5 7 initially offered a more finely finished exterior, an expertly polished version of Colt's Dual-Tone finish. Colt had previously produced blue revolvers with this finish for several years, beginning in the late 1940s, but discontinued it after the first year of the 3 5 7 production. The top strap, back strap, bottom of trigger guard and frame, and cylinder flutes were given a soft, matte blue effect, with the balance of the revolver polished to give a bright blue finish. This is not as apparent in most photos but is attractive when actually viewing the guns.
The 3 5 7 initially came in blue finish only with barrel lengths of four and six inches. Later the Florida Highway Patrol obtained 3 5 7 revolvers with 5-inch barrels and nickel finish on a special contract with Colt. I'm not certain whether nickel was ever offered on regular production 3 5 7 guns. May have seen some on Colt Forum and GunBroker but can't verify their authenticity.
The 3 5 7 could be ordered in any combination of standard service stocks and hammer spur, or with newly introduced fully checkered (really fully checkered!) target stocks or wide target hammer spur.
The original Colt target stocks as they first appeared on both the 3 5 7 and the Officer's Model Match are very handsome. A hand-filling design, rendered in black walnut, these featured cut checkering over their entire surface save for a nicely executed narrow border which frames the broad expanse of checkering work. A silver "Rampant Colt" medallion highlighted these stocks which were also offered as an extra cost option on the other various Colt E-Frame Models. A variation of these stocks with medallions done in gold became standard equipment and unique to the Python upon its introduction. Colt used these stocks with the same dimensions for many years, right up until the discontinuance of the Python. The fully checkered version was gone after 1960 though, the checkering being greatly reduced after that time.
Modern collectors of classic Colt double-action revolvers from the 1950s go nuts for the early Colt target stocks. Decent examples of these stocks with full checkering coverage bring good money. The stocks weren't produced in large quantities and surviving examples are uncommonly found. Quantities of the stocks have been mislaid or discarded over the years. The revolver ruled bulls-eye competition during the era, Colt target revolvers were considered "King of the Hill," and many Colt-equipped competitors exchanged the factory stocks for custom aftermarket designs more to their liking. Colt revolvers featuring these stocks found their way into law enforcement service from the 1950s onward and more stocks were discarded in favor of other designs. Since the total number of Pythons produced in the 1950s was small, these stocks with gold medallions are extremely
scarce. Anyone wanting to restore an early Python has a hard time finding needed stocks so the early Colt stocks with silver medallions are sometimes sacrificed and modified by substituting gold medallions for the silver. There's a lot of collecting pressure on 1950s Colt target stocks.
Speaking of the Python, it was that pesky "snake" gun that put the bite on the 3 5 7 model, curtailing demand and ultimately killing off Colt's first post-war .357 Magnum revolver in 1961. The introduction of the Python in 1955, after the 3 5 7 had been on the market for just 2 years, represents a curious marketing decision on the part of Colt. The factory built a premium revolver only to top it in short order, effectively making it redundant. And redundant the 3 5 7 immediately became, elbowing its way between the Trooper and the Python. The Dual-Tone finish was gone and the 3 5 7 looked very much like the Trooper but for different markings on the barrel. This apparently wasn't lost on the Colt buyers market either. Most purchased the lower priced Trooper with a few springing for the luxurious Python. In 1960 the Trooper was chambered for the .357 Magnum cartridge and also housed on the I-Frame. The 3 5 7 soldiered on for a few years in the shadow of the Python but there really was no place for it in the Colt line-up.
Smith & Wesson didn't help the 3 5 7's cause either. During the decade of the 1950s, Smith & Wesson began to increase production of .357 Magnum revolvers. The Springfield Massachusetts firm added some new models to its catalog, supplementing its own premium .357 Magnum model which became the Model 27. One was another N-Frame offering a bit less glitz but was priced attractively. This revolver, originally named the Highway Patrolman, became the Model 28 when model numbers were assigned in 1958. A new concept in .357 Magnum revolvers was also introduced, the famous Combat Magnum, later known as the Model 19, which made its debut in the mid-1950s. Built on the popular K-Frame, this represented a startling development in its day, putting the powerful .357 Magnum round into a smaller revolver. The concept was warmly welcomed by .357 Magnum fans everywhere.
So, between Smith & Wesson's competition and Colt itself knocking the props out from under the 3 5 7 by bracketing it with other Colt .357 Magnum models, the very first post-war Colt .357 Magnum revolver disappeared after only an 8-year run.
More's the pity too as the 3 5 7 gives up nothing to the Python except for high style. Mechanically the same, its action is just as smooth and it is capable of accuracy every bit as fine as the Python. I've had a Python for some years but being a contrarian, I think I prefer the 3 5 7.
As highly polished as the Python is, neither the polish job nor the color of the blue finish is equal to the expert and detailed polishing work and the carbonia blue finish with nitre blue highlights of the Colt handguns produced in the very early 20th century. The Python, at least by 1978 when mine was produced, seems almost over polished and has a slightly melted look to its factory original blue finished surfaces. The 3 5 7 is very attractive with the two-tone finish and the sharp corners and edges. Of course early Pythons were also finished in the same fashion, sans Dual-Tone matte highlights.
The 3 5 7 lacks the characteristic full lug featured on the underside of the Python's barrel. An industry first, the full-lugged Python barrel predated by 25 years Smith & Wesson's appropriation of the concept for their L-Frame. Said to be an aid in steadying the sights and acting to dampen recoil, the full lug has proven wildly popular over the years. I don't prefer it however, either for its appearance or for the fact that it lends an ungainly front-heavy feel to the revolver. The effect is worse on revolvers with 6-inch barrels than those with 4-inch barrels. To me, the revolver without a full barrel lug is the better balanced revolver.
The Python introduced the handgun shooting world to the vent rib as a production feature. Prior to the Python's 1955 appearance, various solid and vent ribs were a custom accessory item added to both Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers intended for bulls-eye competition. The Python offered the buyer a premium revolver with a factory fabricated vent rib as standard equipment. I don't much care for the vent rib which contributes to somewhat "over-the-top" styling. The vent rib affects me in much the same way as do tail fins that crowned the wretched excess that was the late 1950s automobile styling. The solid rib of the Smith & Wesson Model 27 is more tasteful. The Colt 3 5 7 manages understated elegance with no rib at all.
One person's personal opinion obviously runs contrary to popular tastes as the Python became iconic, spawning imitators among the competition while the 3 5 7 languished. Perhaps the 3 5 7's popularity suffered from the oddly unimaginative name given the model, simply taken from the popular cartridge for which it chambered. Sales speak volumes and the Python was sold in the hundreds of thousands of revolvers while the 3 5 7 was all done after only about 15,000 produced.