April 2003

Pocket Pistol Pair-Off: We Test A Set of .380 Surplus Handguns

A brace of Coltís Mustangs beat out two clones by Iver Johnson and Firearms International. But after the fact we wonder: Are any of these guns really the right tool for portable self-defense?

The .380 cartridge has been around since early in the last century. It was another of John Browning’s designs, and has been known as the 9mm Kurz, 9x17, 9mm Browning Short, and .380 ACP. We also know it as the .380 Automatic, or simply the .380 Auto. It’s been chambered in a host of small autoloading pistols, some of them quite famous, such as Walther’s PPK.

The .380 is not a cartridge many of us would pick for all-around use. It’s hardly a plinking cartridge, because of the relatively high cost of ammunition, and because the pistols that chamber it are generally not all that accurate. Reloaders don’t exactly flock to the diminutive cartridge, for a variety of reasons. Ammunition manufacturers have produced some excellent fodder in recent years for the tiny guns, but none of it can make a mountain-size “stopper” out of the molehill .380 Auto.

Guns for the cartridge abound, some of them expensive, some of them — like the ones tested here — discontinued for a variety of reasons. Some .380s are great firearms, and some would make better table lamps. We acquired four examples of discontinued .380-Auto handguns, all of which pop up on the used market from time to time. They were all locked-breech pistols, with barrel locks similar to that of a full-size 1911 .45 Auto. Our test guns included the Colt Mustang and its lighter twin the Mustang Pocketlite, both of which cost in the $500 range; an Iver Johnson Pony ($250) that was similar in size and overall shape to the Colts, and a close clone of the Pony from Firearms International ($300). Here are our findings.

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