July 21, 2013

Colt Mustang Pocketlite .380 Auto

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.

The Colt Mustang Pocketlite .380 Auto, about $500
was available in blued or stainless finish while it was made. The all-steel Mustang was available in three finishes: blued, stainless, and nickel. The Pocketlite was introduced in 1987, and its all-steel brother a year later. Colt’s made the guns for a little over ten years. They were discontinued when the Colt company decided to concentrate on military contracts a few years ago.

Because of their usefulness as being among the smallest pocket-carry weapons in a meaningful caliber, both types of Mustang remain very popular. Prices for good samples of the Colt Mustang and Mustang Pocketlite may be expected to continue to escalate, and these Colts ought to be good collectibles in the long haul, in our opinion.

Colt Mustang Pocketlite .380 Auto

Courtesy Gun Tests

Colt’s Pocketlite is among the smallest, most powerful handguns available. If you can find one and are willing to pay the price, it should serve you well as backup.

Both our test guns had matte-black (brushed) finishes, rounded hammers, large ejection ports, integral and wide front sights, driftable rear sights with big notches, plastic grip panels with checkering, and magazines designed like those of the 1911, with bottoms extending forward of the front grip strap so they could be ripped out or tapped firmly into place as needed. There were two magazines with each gun.

The front and back straps were smooth, and the bottom of the rear strap was rounded so it didn’t gouge the palm of the hand. These guns were obviously designed by someone, or by a team, with at least a fundamental idea of what’s needed in a fighting handgun, we thought.

Fit and finish were excellent in both guns. Some of us thought the safety levers could have been larger, or extended forward for easier access. The trigger pulls were very good. Both broke at about 4.5 pounds, welcome change from the 6.5- and 7-pound triggers of the first two. The Mustang Pocketlite had its name on the left side of the slide, surmounted by the caliber designation, given as “COLT 380 AUTO”. The right side of the slide was bare, but the caliber designation was on the side of the brushed-white-steel chamber. The all-steel Mustang had the same chamber mark, and was marked on the left-side slide as “COLT MK IV/ SERIES ’80" over “MUSTANG - 380 AUTO”. Both guns had the serial number on the left side of the receiver above the trigger opening. We took the Pocketlite shooting.

At the range the Pocketlite gave us fits. On placing the loaded magazine into the gun, the first round fed just fine. After the first shot, the empty went away and the second round left the magazine and entered the chamber, but the slide didn’t go fully forward. We tapped the back of the slide, and that forced the Colt’s internal extractor to jump over the chambered round’s rim. The slide seemed to be sticky and had little spring pressure. We had many failures to feed in a like manner.

Colt Mustang Pocketlite .380 Auto

Courtesy Gun Tests

We would carry the Pocketlite as backup to a more powerful weapon, and in such a capacity it could be toted in a pocket with the hammer down on a chambered round. The firing pin is rebounding, so this can be done with some degree of safety. Another potential carry method is in an ankle holster, and again its light weight makes it a better choice than many other guns. The desirability of the Colt as a collector's gun also gives it an edge over many other pistols, but be aware that carrying the gun will cause noticeable wear, which won't help the collector value.

After a few more failures, we thought the gun might benefit from some oil. Its owner had loaned it to us for testing, having carried the gun for a long time in his pocket. All that pocket dust and the passage of time had removed most of the gun’s lubrication, and this is something that all pocket-gun carriers might take note of. We put some oil into the gun here and there and worked it a few times, but did not disassemble and clean it, which it probably needed. However, we wanted to see if lack of oil was the problem, and it was. From that point on, the little Pocketlite ran perfectly.

It didn’t exactly stun us with its accuracy, giving a best five-shot group at 15 yards of 3.4 inches with the Cor-Bon fodder. It didn’t seem to like the Federal, which ran fine but didn’t give good accuracy. The largest group we recorded with the Pocketlite was 6.4 inches with Federal ammo, but four of those went into 1.9 inches. However, the general scattering of shots with both Colts told us that these guns are not target pieces, so an occasional tight clustering of shots didn’t mean all that much. Average accuracy of the Pocketlite with all loads was about 4.6 inches. That of the all-steel Mustang was closer to 6 inches. Not tack-drivers, these. Only you can judge if that’s enough accuracy for you, based on your intended uses and expectations for a .380.

Comments (31)


Posted by: fred45 | February 19, 2011 2:54 PM    Report this comment

Sullyshooter: It is true it is best to carry same caliber as primary piece. When I was a deputy with the Sheriff department here in INdy, I carried the duty Glock 22 and my backup was in an Alesis ankle rig for my G27 daily for over 5 years. Now I usually carry the Kimber CDP 45 and the PM9 Kahr in ankle rig now. If I just run to the store I usually pocket the Kahr 380.

Posted by: MacIndy | July 22, 2010 12:09 AM    Report this comment

Long ago, I accepted the premise that a backup gun is a good idea, and I always carry a backup along with my primary concealed handgun.
Admittedly, it is best to carry a backup in the same caliber as the primary piece, but it is often difficult to find something to fill that role. That said, I have found myself carrying small .380 pistols such as the Ruger LCP, Kel-Tec P3AT, and the North American Guardian .380 in my pocket, and a major caliber piece on my strong side hip. The Ruger LCP is usually my choice for everyday backup, while the North American Guardian fills the bill when I am working under strenuous conditions that produce lots of sweat. Here in Central Texas, if one is going to do any sort of outdoor work in the summer the handguns that are carried should likely be made of stainless steel to avoid the rust that would appear very quickly on carbon steel. My outdoor "sweat guns" include a major caliber piece on my hip in stainless, along with the Guardian .380 (also stainless) as backup. This combination has worked very well.

Posted by: canovack | July 21, 2010 6:10 PM    Report this comment

I sure like my Seecamp in 32 auto. Anyone have experience with it in 380?

Posted by: sullyshooter | July 21, 2010 5:59 PM    Report this comment

I own many .380's I have the Colt Government Pocketlite customized with low profile night sights. It runs flawless and is extremely accurate out to 15 yards. I have the LCP Ruger that I have tried to cause to misfire even to limp wristing. Flawless (wife stole it from me, lol) I have the Kahr .380 runs flawless even past 200 rounds without cleaning. The PM9 was hard to inject the first round and Kaur said to lock slide back, insert mag. the use slide release. Function was fine, but not the proper way. After about 150 rounds, it started working as My P9 had.

I purchased the P45 for winter carry and found that after first round chambered ok, but when I went to unload, it would catch and not eject full unspent cartridge. It would do alright at the range and eject spent cases fine, but the same problem occurred with unspent round. The gunshop I bought it from shipped it back to Kahr for me and it was back in three days after it was sent. It is now my favorite Kahr that runs perfect. Now I want another??? P40???


Posted by: MacIndy | July 21, 2010 4:34 PM    Report this comment

When I was working for Navy Arms some 20 years ago, we sold a lot of .380 guns of various makes. For the newby gun owner they did'nt know that the .380 cartridge was a very dirty round to shoot, and would return the gun saying it did'nt work. some were around the 150-200rds the gun would foul up, and need some TLC to get going again. My advice, READ THE OWNERS MANUAL.

Posted by: lotoofla | July 21, 2010 3:41 PM    Report this comment

I have carried my Pocketlite just about daily in my pocket of in my truck - that's OK in Texas. It has never failed to fire. I buy hollow poiints for carry and solids for practice, usually in 500 packages. My wife shot a 236/250 in the Texas concealed carry course. I can clean it in a minute with Gun Scrubber, Hoppes and an air hose. And some doubt it? Dozens of snakes, a few coyotes and all sorts of raccoons, squirrels and little pigs beg to differ. Accuracy? Read about my wife's 236/250. Of course spome just cannot shoot. JT

Posted by: jmturner | July 21, 2010 3:33 PM    Report this comment

I carried a PPK back up for years, but sold it to a friend. I never even thought of buying another .380 until I was looking for a CCW for my wife and shot a Ruger LCP with a Crimson Trace
laser sight. Now she has one, and I again carry a back up. Right out of the box, both ran flawlessly. We may have been lucky, but at this point I would recommend the LCP very highly.

Posted by: olderndirtcop | November 12, 2009 6:03 PM    Report this comment

To Lee W.
A PM9 for under 400? Grab it! I have 2000+ rounds thru mine and after the first 250 it's been a machine! Also, the accuracy for a 3" barrel is amazing. It also has great balance and fits like a glove in my hand. Amazing little gun! 5 Stars to Kahr.

Posted by: larryh1108 | September 11, 2009 9:57 AM    Report this comment

To OregonGreg That makes sense why the gun may get some complaints if it needs to be broke in. I heard the same thing about Kimbers, the tighter tolerances require break in time. I had heard several complaints about Kimbers, never had one, but I always assumed that people were not giving them a chance to break in. Thanks for the info, I had been tossing it around getting a Kahr also. The new compact .45 Kahr did have some problems in a test I read, seemed to be the small size and big cal. was creating the problems. Don't know if they worked out the bugs, might just be spring size or something. I tried to find the article last night however I just gave a whole box of gun magazines to the VA hospital.

Posted by: Robert J | September 9, 2009 7:27 AM    Report this comment

Thanks, Greg, Robert. Appreciate the insight.


Posted by: Lee W | September 8, 2009 9:51 PM    Report this comment

To Lee W.
The Kahr has gotten great reviews and is carried by many law enforcement professionals as a back-up and off-duty gun. When I bought mine (gently used from a favorite gun shop) was advised to lubricate it well and that I may have to put 100 rounds through it before it would function reliably. The gun dealer was right! The Kahr is built to extremely tight tolerances. My PM9 had plenty of failure to eject/feed for the first 50 rounds. By the time I was done with my 2nd box she ran great. Important tip: After inserting a fresh second magazine, use the slide-release lever to free the slide from the locked back position rather than using your off-hand to grab the rear of the slide to "sling-shot" release the slide. (The knowlegable and friendly Kahr customer service helped me with that info last bit.)

Posted by: OregonGreg | September 8, 2009 8:55 PM    Report this comment

I have heard various negative comments on Kahr's over the years also, some in gun reviews most recently on the newer Kahr .45. A friend of mine has the Sig 232 in .380 and has nothing but good things to say. Let me just say this about that, I hear a lot of people talking about caliber size rather than if the guns are good or not. Everyone has their opinion on what size to carry, I know people who would not carry any thing less than a .45 cal.(I used to be one) and others who are perfectly comfortable with a .380. I think the arguement is mute since their are so many different conditions under which people carry for example: Small females, back up guns, beach apparel, sports apparel, physical limitations, low threat area. My point is not everyone is under the same conditions and it is my contention that any gun is better than no gun obeying the first rule in a gun fight: Have a gun!

Posted by: Robert J | September 8, 2009 7:40 AM    Report this comment

Glock 19 and a pocketlite have been carried by me for 15 yrs. Both function flawlessly as concealed carry or on my range. Not trying to tout them as great target guns but are as reliable as anything I've ever owned. I'll leave with two words....CLEAN THEM!!!

Posted by: Dick | September 6, 2009 9:23 PM    Report this comment

How do these 0.380s compare with the Sig 230 or newer 232...it seems oversight that the Sig 0.380 was not included in comparison

Posted by: BOB G | September 5, 2009 10:41 PM    Report this comment

Check out the Taurus PT 709 slim 9mm

Posted by: GARRETT G B | September 4, 2009 12:04 PM    Report this comment

I've carried a stainless steel Mustang off and on almost 20 years. Contrary to the review here, I have found it to be a very accurate pistol for it's size. Maybe just luck of the draw. I liked the design so much, I have also purchased the Sig P238.

Posted by: KyJim | September 4, 2009 7:56 AM    Report this comment

The cheap plastic trigger turned me off as well as the crude outside workmanship. Accuracy is dismal to say the least. A much better gun is the original German and/or French made Walther PPK/S guns. Forget the American made Walther's as they are junk and do not work reliably, especially the latest S&W produced Walther's.

Posted by: wild romanian | September 4, 2009 6:05 AM    Report this comment

I have a question for all the Kahr owners here: I read on another board a long list of complaints trashing Kahr's quality control, customer service, and the PM9's durability, reliability, and serviceability. My dealer has a nice-looking used PM-9 for less than $400, but I got spooked by the bad press. What do you guys think?


Posted by: Lee W | September 3, 2009 9:32 PM    Report this comment

To give Star the credit they deserve look at the Star PD, the first generally available cut down version of the 1911.

Posted by: David M | September 3, 2009 5:32 PM    Report this comment

The "new" Sig 238 is also a copy of the Colt Mustang copy of the Star Starfire. If you want a real good .380 carry gun, find an old Astra Model 300; small reliable and they love hot ammo.

Posted by: Bullwrinkle | September 3, 2009 5:28 PM    Report this comment

The Colt was well designed, but not ab Colt's personnel. It was copied from a design by Star Bonifaccio Echeverria is Spain and sold for many years under the Star name as a Starfire. Colt merely modestly modified the Star design. This isn't any different than the Colt .22 which came out in the late 90s; it was a copy of the High Standard Duramatic with the magazine release switched to the other side by Mike Gamache, its "designer." After the Colt .22 flopped, Beretta copied the Duramatic again and called iit the Neos, which is ironic because Neos means new, and it was a copy of a fifty year old design.

Posted by: Bullwrinkle | September 3, 2009 5:20 PM    Report this comment

I like the colt mustang, but I prefer the kahrs and the walther pps 9mm because they are so slim and easy to carry and more powerful with the better caliber.

Posted by: carry9 | September 3, 2009 4:23 PM    Report this comment

A. The Colt Mustang is arguably miscatagorized in this publication as "home Defense". It would be more logically slotted under the heading "Concealed Carry". Yes, any concealed carry gun can be pressed into service for home defense, but I would not buy the Mustang specifically for home defense.

B. How safe is it to carry concealed? It appears to lack to grip-safety of its 1911 big brother and it is single action. Would I have to carry it with an empty chamber or rely entirely on the thumb safety? I think that there are a host of more logical choices. I suspect that the real interest in the mustang is emotional (It Looks like a 1911!)
"I show my 1911 to my friends. I show my Glock or my Kahr to my enimies".

I carry a Kahr PM9 concealed (with extended mag for better control), and a Glock 22 for home defense and unconcealed carry.

Posted by: OregonGreg | September 3, 2009 2:56 PM    Report this comment

The .380 auto ammo is not a very clean ammo as it is a low pressure cartridge. Starting from a very clean, and well lubed gun, you'll find that with different makes of factory ammo that the gun will foul up at right around 200 rds. Reloading, using a single base powders will extend it's use much further.

Posted by: lotoofla | September 3, 2009 12:12 PM    Report this comment

Many years ago I had a Colt Government Model .380 which I liked other than the single action mechanism. I traded that away and later found a Colt Pony Pocketlite .380 which is double action and lighter than my old steel Government .380. Great gun and well worth what I paid for it at a gun show. Although the Sig Model P238 .380 appears to be a nice gun, it is still single action and heavier than my Pocketlite. Of course neither of them compare well to the Kahr PM9 in terms of power but for those who don't like the recoil of small nine's, the .380 is a good alternative.

Posted by: David M | September 3, 2009 12:10 PM    Report this comment

One of the strengths of this gun is its similarity to the 1911. It's always helpful if the operation and controls on your backup gun mimic your primary carry (and possibly dangerous to your health if you're in a hurry and they don't). For those who carry a 1911 variant, it's still a great choice...

Posted by: dras | September 3, 2009 11:59 AM    Report this comment

I have carried and used my Colt 380 for 10 years, and for short use it is perfect. There are many kinds of hot loads that you can purchase for this gun. Jim

Posted by: gunreports | September 3, 2009 11:47 AM    Report this comment

Nice guns, but there's several 9mm's in same or smaller package. Double action too.

Posted by: Squirmydad | September 3, 2009 11:00 AM    Report this comment

Great article...but today, you can carry a lighter, slimmer pocket gun in something that begins with a "4" like the Walther PPS .40 cal that's riding comfortably in my pocket right now (I think it's there...let me check...yep :-) .

Posted by: Law Dog in Philly | September 3, 2009 9:53 AM    Report this comment

I was able to find a Colt .380 Mustang in very good condition. I've been pleased with it and intend to hold on to it due to the history, utility and increase in collector value. One might also note that Sig has introduced it's version of the Mustang, P238 ! So, something was very right about this design.


Posted by: Randall S | September 3, 2009 9:40 AM    Report this comment

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