Colt Government Model MK IV Series 80 380 ACP




We have tested this handgun only twice, in the November 1989 and November 1991 issues, the second time as a new gun suitable for women. At the time, our test gun cost $450. In that review, we said, “A little extra care with the sights would go a long way toward improving this gun. Overall, however, we found it sufficiently user-friendly. With proper training in the use of a single-action auto, we believe it would be a good choice.” Not much has changed in the intervening 30 years.

Action TypeBlowback, single action
Overall Length6.1 in.
Height4.15 in.
Max Width1.05 in.
Weight Unloaded21.6 oz.
Weight Loaded23.45 oz.
Slide MaterialSteel
Slide Retraction Effort15.0 lbs.
Receiver MaterialSteel
Front Strap Height1.75 in.
Back Strap Height2.55 in.
Barrel3.25 in.
Grip Thickness Max1.23 in.
Grip Circumference4.5 in.
MagazinesTwo 7-round
Rear SightFixed notch
Front SightPost
Sight Radius4.6 in.
Trigger Pull Weight4.5 lbs.
Trigger Span2.35 in.
SafetyManual thumb safety, firing pin block
Made InU.S.A.
Telephone(800) 962-COLT

This is the most expensive pistol tested. There is a bit of collector appeal woven into the Colt’s performance. The much smaller Mustang is the more popular handgun in some ways, but the Colt Government Model was on the shelf at a shop in the used section and was the only Colt 380 of this type in the two-county area the senior rater shops for used guns, perhaps a dozen shops all told in the area. The Colt comes to the plate with a couple of minus points. The pistol cannot be purchased new for any price. Colt isn’t likely to put it back into production either, so availability is hit and miss. No matter how great the performance, the pistol is scarce. The Colt Government Model would have to be an outstanding performer to earn a recommendation against the readily available pistols.

The Colt Government Model 380 is a nicely fitted and finished handgun. The Colt Government Model 380 uses a sepa-rate barrel bushing that must be rotated in disassembly, in the same manner as the Colt 1911 (arrow). The barrel fea-tures locking lugs that fit into the slide. However, the lower lugs are angled camming surfaces rather than a swinging link.

The Colt is a popular size for 380s for shooting and home defense, but not necessary for carry. If you go this big, perhaps a slim-line 9mm might be better, and if you need a pocket gun, well, this pistol needs larger pockets than the LCP II. Interestingly, while quite thin, the slide lock adds about a tenth of an inch to the pistol’s width. The Glock 42, as an example of a modern pistol, buries the slide out of the way.

The Colt features all-stainless-steel construction. The finish remains good, although the pistol is well over 20 years old. The grips are black plastic, lightly checkered. The backstrap features a pronounced tang that prevents the slide from contacting the web of the hand. The pistol is a single-action design with a slide-lock safety. The Colt Government Model 380 is 1911-like in appearance, but it isn’t a 1911 any more than the Colt 1903 is — in fact, the Colt 1903 is much closer to being a 1911 than this pistol. The Colt Government Model 380 features the exposed hammer, single-action trigger, and slide-lock safety the 1911 has. However, there is no grip safety. The safety operates differently as well. The safety allows cocked-and-locked carry, but also may be applied when the hammer is down. The safety isn’t really a slide-lock safety because the slide may be racked with the safety on. So, the gun may be loaded with the safety on, an advantage to some. The pistol may be carried hammer down and cocked quickly, which isn’t recommended with a full-size 1911. With the smaller pistol, leverage on the hammer is much better for thumb cocking. If the pistol is carried in a pocket, you may not wish to carry the pistol cocked and locked.

The Colt Government Model 380’s sights are small, but they delivered good accuracy. The Colt fired an inch to the left, which was easily corrected by drifting the rear sight in the dovetail (arrow). Center Left: The Glock 42’s outline sights aren’t great, but these delivered best-of-test accuracy.

The Colt Government Model 380 uses a separate barrel bushing that must be rotated in disassembly, in the same manner as the Colt 1911. The barrel features locking lugs that fit into the slide. However, the lower lugs are angled camming surfaces rather than a swinging link. The Rock Island Armory 380, as an example, is much more of a true 1911 than the Colt Government Model. Just the same, it is a Colt and is a good match for a full-size 1911 if carried as a backup. The trigger is an advantage, breaking cleanly at 4.5 pounds. We felt take up was mushy, but its reset was sharp. The seven-shot Colt magazines are well-made steel units (the second magazine was a Metalform) and hold one more cartridge than the standard magazine of the other handguns. Loading the magazines was easy enough.

The pistol was lubricated and loaded with the same ammunition as the other pistols. There was a single malfunction, on the first shot we fired, and that was the only one of the test. We fire every pistol we test into dirt at the base of a berm for the first shot as a safety measure. The pistol short cycled. We cleared the jam and proceeded. This must have been a limp-wrist type malfunction when we simply pointed the pistol at the dirt, and it did not recur.

The Colt Government Model 380 trapped the PMC shells in the ejection slot. Those shells also made the Glock fail to lock open after the last shot.

The pistol was fast on target and handled well. Recoil is light, even very light, with all loads. The Glock is about as comfortable to shoot well. The other pistols were much less comfortable to fire compared to the Colt and the Glock. During the combat-firing drills, the Colt turned in the best combat groups of the test, barely, but measurably edging out the Glock 42. In firing for accuracy off the bench, the Colt fan among the raters was certain the Colt would outperform the Glock. We fired both from a solid benchrest firing position. The Glock 42 was slightly more accurate than the Colt, although the Colt’s 2.0-inch groups are nothing to be ashamed of. The Colt fired an inch to the left, which would be easily corrected with a punch and brass hammer to drift the sight. The pistol handled well with no other failures to feed, chamber, fire or eject.

Our Team Said: The Colt Government Model 380 gave a fine showing on the combat course. Accuracy off the bench is acceptable. At this point, magazines for it are readily available. The Colt is a great shooter, but the polymer-frame pistols get the job done cheaper and are lighter in the pocket.

Range Data

PMC Bronze 90-grain FMJ 380ANAA GuardianRuger LCP IIColt G’vt Model 380Glock G42
Average Velocity839 fps850 fps867 fps874 fps
Muzzle Energy141 ft.-lbs.144 ft.-lbs.150 ft.-lbs.153 ft.-lbs.
Smallest Group5.9 in.4.0 in.3.0 in.2.8 in.
Average Group7.7 in.5.0 in3.5 in.3.3
SIG Sauer Elite 100-grain FMJNAA GuardianRuger LCP IIColt G’vt Model 380Glock G42
Average Velocity856 fps864 fps900 fps925 fps
Muzzle Energy163 ft.-lbs.166 ft.-lbs.180 ft.-lbs.190 ft.-lbs.
Smallest Group5.6 in.3.0 in.2.0 in.2.2 in.
Average Group8.0 in.4.1 in.2.8 in.2.7 in.
Fiocchi 90-grain JHP 380APHPNAA GuardianRuger LCP IIColt G’vt Model 380Glock G42
Average Velocity855 fps847 fps890 fps909 fps
Muzzle Energy146 ft.-lbs.143 ft.-lbs.158 ft.-lbs.165 ft.-lbs.
Smallest Group6.2 in.3.7 in.2.8 in.2.7 in.
Average Group7.9 in.4.5 in.3.6 in.3.0 in.


S&W M&P 380 Shield EZ 180023 380 ACP, $384Aug. 2018AThe Shield is EZ-ily among the most useful and attractive 380 ACP pistols we have tested.
Springfield 911 Bi-Tone PG9109S 380 ACP, $559Aug. 2018AThe Springfield is suited to carrying hammer down instead of cocked and locked.
Walther PPK/S 4796006 380 ACP, $700Aug. 2018CNot reliable with a modern load designed to maximize the cartridge. We would not buy the Walther PPK/S.
Rock Island Armory Baby Rock 51912 380 ACP, $356Aug. 2016ACombat shooting gave good results. Accuracy was excellent for a pistol this size.
Ruger LCP 3701 380 ACP, $229Aug. 2016B+We would pay more for the LCP Custom, which has better sights and trigger.
Remington RM380 Micro 96454 380 ACP, $341Aug. 2016B-Heavy stacking of the trigger led to poor accuracy. Sight regulation was also badly off.
Ruger LCP-C Custom No. 3740 380 ACP, $419Oct. 2015AThe sights and trigger are great improvements over previous versions of the LCP.
Taurus Curve 180CRVL #1-180031L 380 ACP, $380Oct. 2015CThe bottom line is that a pistol without sights isn’t useful, in our opinion.
Kimber Micro Carry Advocate Brown 380 ACP, $796Sept. 2015AThe Kimber was well finished and demonstrated excellent reliability and accuracy.
Browning Black Label 1911-380 051904492 380 ACP, $620Sept. 2015BThe Browning is a reliable handgun with familiar operation. Less accurate than the smaller Kimber.
Glock 42 380 ACP Subcompact Slimline, $480Nov. 2014BWith a Viridian green laser on it, we’d bump up the grade to an A- and probably buy it.
Kahr CW 380 No. 3833 380 ACP, $419Nov. 2014BWe didn’t like the sights, the short grip, or the long DAO trigger pull.
Colt Mustang XSP Pocketlite O6790 380 ACP, $649Nov. 2014C+This costs a lot of money, and there are many pistols that work better for less money.
SIG Sauer P238 238-380-NBS12 380 ACP, $710Nov. 2014CIts controls should have produced a 1911-like feel, but the inconsistent trigger pull affected accuracy.
Ruger LCP-CT 380 ACP, $559Jan. 2014A-Ramp-up time was nil, but to fire the pistol without using the laser was a feat.
S&W Bodyguard 380 109380 380 ACP, $419Sept. 2013BThe Bodyguard had the best integrated laser sight of all the models tested, easy to turn on.
Ruger LCP 380 ACP, $379July 2013B+The LCP performed with any ammo we loaded into it. The sights are minimal.
Ruger LC380 No. 3219 380 ACP, $450June 2013A-The LC380 offers better ergonomics than many smaller 380s.
Ruger LCP-LM No. 3718 380 ACP, $443Feb. 2013B+The LCP-LM was an easily concealed pistol; we couldn’t operate the laser switch with one hand.
SIG Sauer P238 Tactical Laser 238-380-TL 380 ACP, $829Feb. 2013B-1911 aficionados liked the P238 for its trigger, and laser activation was easy to perform.


  1. Why did you leave out the CZ83?? Best 380 out there with a 12 round capacity. You can only get it used but there are a bunch of them out there at the moment, IDF surplus.

  2. This Colt Gov 380 does not use a blowback system, it is a locked barrel just like the 1911. This is why it is such an easy shooter. I own t
    His pistol as well as a Sig 232 and a Walther / S&W ppks. For my money the Colt is the winner and easily packs away out of sight for

  3. I at times carry the Colt Mustang, as a pocket pistol. Very satisfied with it. I saw your other reviews and was extremely surprised at your review of the Walther PPK/S. I own one and although it is not my first choice for carry, as it is a little heavy and larger than others I have, but to be downgraded for reliability was a shock. I have fired modern ammo and never had a problem, always feeds and fires and is very accurate. Great gun for home or car.

    • Metalform .just bought 2 and they are OEM for colt but not marked colt . Carried a govt 380 as an unauthorized back up gun as a young Infantry officer when they first came out. Ended my career carrying the mustang in the same role. I bought 10 mustangs, 6 380 Govt and 2 mustang plus 2s. Gifted many to my late Dad, friends and fellow infantrymen .


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