Introduced by Colt’s Manufacturing Company in 1927, the .38 Super was designed as an improvement on the .38 ACP. Law enforcement agencies of the time drove development by demanding a pistol cartridge with high power. The bullet weighed 130 grains, traveled over 1,200 feet per second, and was able to penetrate the body armor criminals were wearing at the time. The FBI is reported to have adopted the cartridge because it could punch through contemporary body armor and still deliver a lethal wound at 50 yards. Performance was also impressive against criminals who used their cars as shields during escape.
But it wasn't just the police who used the .38 Super. Notorious criminal John Dillinger had a Colt .38 Super when he was captured. Also in his possession was a custom-built Colt M1911A1 chambered in .38 Super that fired in full automatic. It was modified with a Cutts compensator, the fore grip used on a Thompson submachine gun, and an extra capacity magazine.
The demands of World War II controlled firearms and ammunition development, relegating the .38 Super to a hibernation of sorts until the early 1980s. Thanks to Rob Leatham and Brian Enos, the .38 super was reborn among competitive shooters and popularity surged – because it was possible to load the cartridge to major power factor with higher magazine capacity and less recoil than the .45 ACP.
.38 Super ballistics are impressive. Muzzle energy easily exceeds 500 foot pounds, and muzzle velocity exceeds 1,300 feet per second with a full metal jacket bullet. Regarding magazine capacity, a .38 Super enjoys an advantage over .45 ACP in a 1911 frame, where there is room for two additional rounds in a flush fitting magazine. Another advantage, the recoil of the .38 Super is comparable to a 9mm and is a proven cartridge that delivers for shooters looking to shoot on the range or to carry concealed.