Colt’s newest 10mm 1911, the Two-Tone Delta Elite with Novak sights, borrows the cool of high-end custom 1911s from the 10mm’s early years.
Fans of the 10mm owe a lot to the Colt Delta Elite. Sure, the Bren 10 gets all the hype, but that gun got more years on screen than it did in actual production. It was Colt’s iconic Delta Elite that kept the 10mm going long enough to last though the 80’s, the 90s and to today’s resurgence of the higher power, high pressure pistol round.
Initial production of Colt’s Delta Elite started in 1987, just a year after the financial failure of Dornus and Dixon Enterprises and the Bren Ten. Few manufacturers jumped on the 10mm wagon, and if you wanted a 1911 in 10mm at the time, there weren’t many options other than the Delta Elite.
The FBI would famously pick up the 10mm, fielding the Smith & Wesson 1076b and 1026 in 1990. The FBI found that many agents couldn’t handle the recoil of the full power 10mm cartridge, as well as some other issues, so they watered it down to the “FBI light” loading. This eventually led to the .40 S&W and the demise of the 10mm as the FBI’s duty caliber. It didn’t last long.
If you’d like to read up on the full history of the 10mm, there’s no better source online than Bill Vanderpool’s article from 2018 in Gun Digest.
Colt dropped the Delta Elite in 1996, only to pick it back up again for a debut at the SHOT Show in 2008. In its time, the Delta Elite has gone through a few different variations, but with no real significant changes. That 2008 Shot Show re-release had a bushingless bull barrel, but by 2009, when it was actually released to the public, it was back to a standard bushing style barrel, as it stands today.
The Colt website has listed a railed version for a couple of years, but the most recent limited and likely highly collectible release is the two-tone Series 80.
Two tone 1911’s were the mark of a custom gun in the late 80s and 90s, and like all things of that era, they’re enjoying a bit of a comeback. Andy why not? Unlike glam rock, the two-tone black and brushed stainless is a great look. With the Delta Elite and its Delta logo accented black grips, that’s especially true.
The black composite checkered grips, set off by the bright red Delta logo, look great. That triangle has remained an iconic logo for the Delta Elite, and it ties in even better with the black slide. They’re also just good grips, providing a non-slip surface for the fingers and palm in firing.
The Delta Elite comes with legit Novak (not “Novak Style”) three-dot sights. These have remained popular for decades for good reason. They allow for precise shots while also grabbing the eye and making the front sight stand out. The rear sight is a ramp, and I would prefer a ledge for any kind of daily carry gun just in case you needed to manipulate the slide single-handed.
Like all of Colt’s base model 1911’s, the front strap remains smooth. This feature has always disappointed me, as it is one of the first things almost everyone does to their Colts during customization. On the 10mm, checkering there is not just pretty, it’s pretty necessary.
I shot the first few hundred rounds from this gun in 90 degree heat and high humidity. I was dripping with sweat before I started shooting and my hands were downright slippery by the time I finished. The smooth front strap didn’t help me control the recoil of the 10mm auto one bit.
Some of the previous releases of the Delta Elite included a wraparound rubberized grip to help the shooter keep purchase on the pistol. The new two tone version, as well as the new brushed stainless version, omit the wraparound front strap. This version looks better, but I was missing that texturing during long strings of fire.
The trigger on this Series 80 gun is pretty good. A Series 80 trigger can, despite popular opinion, be made great. With a trigger job performed by a competent gunsmith, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to feel any difference between a classic Series 70 gun and a Series 80 gun. I certainly can’t, at least not when actually firing the gun.
The hammer falls at a reasonable weight, averaging 3 lbs 11oz on the Lyman digital trigger scale over five trigger pulls. There’s a little bit of squish after a short amount of take-up. In general, it’s good, but needs some work to be anything remarkable.
Like most stock Colt 1911s, there are lots of edges and angles on the Delta Elite, and most of them don’t bother the shooter at all during firing or carry. On this particular gun, there’s one that does. The bottom of the trigger guard, close to the grip has a natural point on it. This one is particularly sharp.
There’s not an obvious burr on the metal, but it definitely digs into the top of the knuckle on the middle finger of the firing hand. Like a whole lot of shooters, I have a callus in that spot. Despite this, the Delta Elite did a good job of cutting through it on this review and made shooting uncomfortable after a few hundred rounds.
If you are new to 1911s, you might not notice all of the “extras” you get on the Delta Elite. That’s not at all a bad thing, as it shows how far the industry has come. Details like the extended beavertail and the commander style hammer used to be price custom work, and are now included on quite a few models across many brands.
The Delta Elite’s frame is undercut to allow for a higher grip with the dominant hand, and it also sports a three hole serrated trigger. You’ll also note the extended thumb safety.
I saw these same controls first on my Colt Combat Elite. The Combat Elite is my favorite gun Colt has ever had in its 1911 lineup, partially for these controls. The thumb safety is a great example. It’s large enough to never miss on the draw, and also large enough to be a small ledge for the shooting hand thumb if you want to keep your thumb pressing there during firing.
It’s also small enough to be out of the way, and should you decide to bring your thumb down and off the safety for firing single or two handed, it’s simple enough to just slide the thumb over and off. It’s the perfect happy ergonomic middle ground.
The shooter will also find a small but easy-to-reach textured magazine release. I ran the Delta Elite with 2 Colt 10mm magazines and one from Wilson Combat. I had no issues with the magazine ever failing to lock or eject easily with a push of the button. I also had no issue running with a full magazine and one in the chamber with either Colt or Wilson Combat magazines.
The magazine well is not flared or beveled. Like a serrated front strap, this is one area where now common custom features simply didn’t make it to the relatively low-priced Colt.
You’ll also find the ejection port has been lowered for increased reliability in less than ideal conditions.
If you have issues with grip strength, the Delta Elite is not for you. The necessarily stiff recoil spring wrapped around a GI style guide rod means that a firm grip and a good push pull is required to bring the slide to the rear and lock it.
This is, however, greatly assisted by the large, deep Colt Gold Cup-style rear cocking serrations. This is another now classic feature that started on competition guns and found its way into fighting pistols. They aren’t particularly fancy. They don’t spell anything out. They work.
When it comes to reliability, I had no issues at all with the Delta Elite. Over the course of a couple of weeks, I put 660 rounds total through the gun, with the first 500 rounds in the first two days. I lubed up the gun with CLP prior to shooting, and never cleaned it or even wiped it down until the full review was done and I was ready for photos. I ran both flat point FMJ and hollow point ammunition through the gun without a single hiccup.
The Colt retains pretty good accuracy through a wide range of loads. Several 180gr FMJ rounds scored around 1.5″ on average. That’s exactly where the Armscor 180gr flat point FMJ round scored, 1.5″ for five shots averaged over four shot groups. Federal’s Trophy Bonded Bear Claw 180gr hollow point scored a bit worse, averaging 1.8″ for the box. The best performer was the heaviest round, the Bufffalo Bore Heavy 200 gr FMJ round, scoring at 1.4″ on average.
That Buffalo Bore round is generating over 600 ft/lbs at the muzzle and is moving at 1,200 fps out of the Delta Elite. Given that energy level, and that precision potential, this firearm is a legitimate feral pig and Hill Country white tail deer hunting round out to about 50 yards. It’s point of aim is the point of impact, within an inch, out to those ranges.
At the power levels most companies load the 10mm round to, recoil is not too stiff at all. Of course, if it’s compared to a full-frame Government 1911 in 9×19, the 10mm is going to feel like a whole lot of gun. That’s not because it is, it’s because the 9mm isn’t.
The Delta Elite has a traditional barrel set up. This is not a “supported chamber.” Note the small amount of space left open on the case in the photo above. The sometimes-justified fear is that, as the 10mm’s pressure can rival and sometimes even exceed that of the .357 Magnum, this section where there’s no barrel wrapped around the case has the potential to bulge and rupture.
None of the rounds I shot, including the Buffalo Bore rounds, exhibited any undo stretching or bulging near the head of the case. Reloaders seeking to get the maximum ballistic performance out of their 10mm loads should only use new brass, and be careful about what you buy. I’ve reloaded 200 and 220 grain rounds to their SAAMI pressure peak in the Delta Elite before, and by using Starline cases and careful practice, never had any issues. Case selection is extremely important at the highest pressure levels.
At the top end of the scale, like the heavier Buffalo Bore rounds, the recoil is pretty snappy. Buffalo Bore loads these pretty hot, as I can’t find any 200gr loading on the Hodgdon reloading website that gets me within 100 fps of Buffalo Bore’s published data, and it’s been my experience that Buffalo Bore’s published numbers are accurate. If you are used to fast follow-up shots from your 9x19mm or standard pressure .45 ACP, expect your split times to slow significantly with the heavier 10mm loads, especially single-handed.
I understand that some people carry the 10mm for bear defense. For black bears that seems perfectly reasonable. For grizzlies, 10mm, no matter how many you have in the magazine, is underpowered. I’m sure both experts and amateurs will disagree, but having seen some up close and unafraid, it seems a bit light to me. A tube of 12 gauge slugs seems more appropriate.
The Colt 1911 is my standard for the stock 1911 pistol. That is, it’s the minimum bar every 1911 should meet. You can get better, but there’s no reason to go with any lower quality when these are available at reasonable prices.
The new but retro two tone Delta Elite has come out as a limited release with a $1,200 MSRP that was quickly bought out. I’m still finding them at retailers online at full MSRP, and everyone who has it listed at a price under that has them listed as “out of stock”.
Even at full MSRP, this is a good gun. It’s got a lot of bells a whistles that make the gun not only more attractive, but more shootable as well.
Specifications: Colt Delta Elite Two-Tone
Action: Single Action Hammer Fired Semi-Auto
Barrel Length: 5″
Safety: Thumb Safety, Grip Safety, Firing Pin Safety
Grips: Black Composite with Delta Medallion
Finish: Two Tone
Stock: Composite Grips with Delta Medallions
Sights: FT: Novak White Dot RR: Novak Low Mount Carry
Overall Length: 8.5
Weight: 35 oz
MSRP: $1199 (about the same retail)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * * * *
I love a two-tone gun, and with the black grips and the Delta medallion, the newest Delta Elite really looks great. Some of the sharp edges need to be turned down for comfortable shooting.
Customization * * * *
It’s a 1911. With enough money, you can do anything. There are, however, relatively few options right from the factory at this time.
Reliability * * * * *
Perfect with any round.
Accuracy * * * *
Two inches at 25 yards is now my midline average, and a pistol of this size needs to break 1″ for five stars. The Delta Elite scores right between those two. That means for anything you really need the gun for, it is accurate past the ballistic performance of the round.
Overall * * * *
This newest two-tone Delta Elite from Colt provides shooters with ballistic authority in a classy package. Like all traditional 1911s, and unlike most other 10mm auto platforms, it carries easy OWB or IWB. It’s a perfectly reliable handgun that handles recoil well and is plenty accurate. Colt reached back in time a bit for this version of the Delta Elite, and it’s definitely my favorite one yet. And yes, Magnum PI episodes are playing in the background as I write this.