10mm is the Best Millimeter: the Colt Delta Elite

This pistol is coming up for auction at RIA on June 23.

Colt introduced the Delta Elite in 1987 to take advantage of the hype and publicity surrounding the 10mm Auto cartridge in the Bren Ten pistol. When the Bren Ten became such an ignominious failure, it left Colt in an excellent position as one of the first companies to actually have a viable offering in the caliber. However, the gun never sold particularly well despite its cult following, and it was removed form production in 1996 because of poor sales. It was reintroduced by Coly in 2009 with a few incremental improvements, and remains available today.
Mechanically, the Delta Elite is basically identical to the standard Series 80 1911. It has a polymer guide rod and recoil buffer, along with a set of dual nested recoil springs to handle the more powerful cartridge. It was a reasonable reliably and durable pistol in stock form with stock ammunition, but suffered from reputation problems because of owners who enthusiastically tried to load and shoot the most powerful ammunition they could find, in pursuit of maximum power.


  1. Again, the obsession with punching power!! Please tell me nobody caused a Delta Elite to explode with overcharged ammunition…

    • Not to my knowledge, but peening of the frame right behind the link was a frequent complaint. A resilient polymer buffer was supposed to solve the problem, but to be effective it needed to be changed frequently, like about every 100 rounds.

      My work with the 10mm Auto round was mostly with the Glock 20, and a bit with the S&W 1006. Of the two, I liked the S&W better overall, notably in terms of accuracy. The Glock handled the recoil of full-power Norma 10mm very well, having a bit less muzzle flip than the S&W due to its slightly heavier slide and lower boreline.

      My only complaint with the Glock 20 was my complaint with all Glocks; I just don’t like the trigger very much. Although it was still better than the gawdawful trigger of the S&W Sigma in .40 S&W. King Kong couldn’t have hit anything with that thing. and rankly, the .40 round wasn’t very accurate in anything in my experience (S&W Sigma and 4006, Ruger, Auto-Ordnance 1911).

      In the end, I came to the same conclusion about the 10mm that I did about the .40 S&W; there was no evidence of a compelling need for either cartridge. They didn’t do anything that warm to hot loads in a .45 ACP or 9 x 19mm couldn’t do. And if .357 level muzzle energy was the prime desideratum, going to something like the old 9 x 25 Mauser in a modern DA auto would have made much better sense. IMHO, the Glock 20 should have been a 9 x 25, not a 10mm. The S&W 4506/1006 frame could have been used to build a magnificent 9 x 25 full-sized service auto, complete to a 15-shot double column magazine.

      The 9 x 23 Winchester was sort of an answer, but the prospect of a round of that accidentally being loaded in a .38 Auto, .38 Super, or 9 x 23 Largo-chambered pistol made me a bit uneasy overall.

      It says a lot that I still have several boxes of unfired 10mm Auto ammunition from different manufacturers; simply never had enough interest in the cartridge to get around to using them.



      • That was supposed to be “And frankly”, but “rankly” sort of fits my opinion of the .40 S&W, too.



  2. Who else heard Tim Allens “ahr ahr ahr” in their head when they got to maximum power at the end?

  3. According to http://star-firearms.com/firearms/guns/megastar/index.shtml
    At the time of its introduction in 1992, the Megastar was the only production pistol rated for a steady diet of full-power 10 mm ammunition. Colt Delta Elite 1911s and the Smith & Wesson 10xx pistols would shoot themselves apart under such stress. The FBI’s downloaded 10 became the .40 S&W, and smaller pistols again were all the rage. The 10 mm Norma Auto never caught on, and the FBI moved on to .40 caliber SIGs.
    And what is today? What are other automatic pistol fit for steady diet of full-power 10 mm ammunition

    “suffered from reputation problems because of owners who enthusiastically tried to load and shoot the most powerful ammunition they could find”
    This lead to question: who is responsible for creating situation where there exist pattern of automatic pistol together with “ok” load and “too big” load variants, which apparently are not marked sufficiently to prevent such situation.

    “pursuit of maximum power”
    It looks somewhat similar to pursuit aeroplanes fighter development during World War II or more precisely – engines for them, various upgrades were made to get yet more power, but at a cost of shortening life.

    • A “store-bought” S&W 1006 absorbed 10,000 rounds of full-power 10mm Auto in one endurance test by the staff of Guns & Ammo magazine in 1986.

      A year later, they repeated the test with another off-the-shelf S&W, this time a 4006 in .40 S&W, again with full-power rounds.

      In both tests, about the only discernible wear was on the rifling, and a slight compression of the recoil spring. A pyrometer showed that both achieved peak bore temps over 150 C (300 F) at points during the test, with no degradation of weapon or ammo cookoffs.

      I grant that the Colt DE showed significantly less durability than the Glock, but I’d have to say the S&W was considerably more durable than the Colt.



  4. Any cartridge can be loaded to unsafe pressures. That’s why reloading manuals have maximum loads listed.

    • So under most powerful ammunition they could find handloaded ammunition should be understand? Or there existed commercially available loads being too powerful for that automatic pistol?

  5. The idea behind 10mm was to put something like a 41 magnum into an auto pistol. When it was introduced, the 41 magnum was supposed to be the ultimate law enforcement round.

    So the Bren Ten was supposed to be a CZ-75 that fired the auto-loader version of the 41 magnum. A really interesting concept–except police departments had never gone to the 41 magnum revolvers in the first place, with very few exceptions. Too much recoil.

    The FBI adopted the 10mm after someone brought in a personally owned Delta Elite to the ammo trials after the Miami debacle. Fabulous terminal ballistics–but too many agents could not handle the recoil either.

    Why Col Cooper, and then the FBI, did not heed the history of the 41 magnum is a mystery.

    Incidentally, one sheriff that carried a 41 magnum revolver (and killed people with it) was Bufford Pusser (the “Walking Tall” guy from Adamsville, TN). But then, he was a huge guy who had once been a professional wrestler. The San Francisco PD also issued it for a time.

    • “FBI adopted the 10mm after someone brought in a personally owned Delta Elite to the ammo trials after the Miami debacle. Fabulous terminal ballistics–but too many agents could not handle the recoil either.”
      This is mind-boggling for me, after all I excepted FBI to prize high ability to carry their handgun concealed (plainclothes), for what most 10 mm automatic pistol are rather ill-suited due to their size and weight, though it would fit SWAT application.

  6. Odd that the .38 Super never seems to have gained a cult following. Raymond Chandler even put one in the hands of Philip Marlowe. And I think John Dillinger suggested that police carry them to deal with bank robbers in body armor.

  7. I got my first 10MM in a Delta Elite I purchased at a Rod and Gun Club in Nuremberg. At the time all I could run through it were 170 grain FMJ Norma’s and they were incredibly hot. I’ve had several Gold Cup DE’s over the years, a G20, and Wtness. All ran fine but the Witness which after 200 rounds cracked a slide rail with CCI Blazers and when that was replaced started cracking the frame rails after only 100 rounds. The problem with a Ten has always been with the shooter, that is a full power (not even a hot hand load) 10MM is caliber for professionals not amateurs. Let’s face it-a lot of people have trouble with an M1911 in .45……….

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