View Full Version : Old FBI 38 Super

Bill Z
May 30, 2004, 10:10 PM
I know that in the late 20's the FBI used the 1911 platform with the calibre bieng 38 Super. I have never seen a picture with the nomencature on one of these 'Elliot Ness' period pistols. Think you may be able to come up with one. I'm working on a retro project for an alumni class and want to be as close to 'real' as possible, 'cept for that whole indexing on the extractor thing. ;)

Harley Nolden
May 31, 2004, 03:41 AM
The .38 Super is the succcessor to the 38 model 1902, which was simply a small caliber version of the M1911. As it shared many componets with the 45 pistol, the super Model was also much the same length and weight. It's magazine held 9 rounds as opposed to the 7 rounds in the .45.

As taken from "Pistols of The World" by Ian hogg and John Weeks,third edition.

.38 SUPER (Colt)
Maker: Colt's Patent Fire Arms Mfg Hartford CN
Automatic Pistol, recoil
Chambering: 38 Super Colt
Length over all 8.50in
barrell 4.92in (rifled
magazine(9 rnds

I have attached a photo of the .38 super ctg., taken from The Gun Digest Book of the .45, by Dean A Grennell. DBI Books Inc

May 31, 2004, 12:55 PM
What , exactly, do you want a picture of?
I didn't know if it's the lettering on the pistol or some sort of documentation on paper that you refer to.
I've seen quite a few photos of pistols themselves, but can't recall seeing one with anything directly on the pistol. Those I've handled have little to nothing that identifies them, other than the factory stamps.


I have some links somewhere that may help, I'll check those...g2

Bill Z
June 1, 2004, 01:38 PM
Actually, I'm interested in little things like the type of hammer, wide spur or not, if it had the small sights or if maybe they went with the larger commercial sights, type of MSH, etc... Were there the govt's markings like on the military pieces, type of grips they used etc... I can find plenty of pic's of Dillingers guns, but none of the FBI's.

Bill Z
June 2, 2004, 10:41 PM
Well, I guess I don't feel so bad now. I know I looked for months and couldn't really find any. I wonder exactly how rare these early pieces were and how widespread the FBI used them now.

Johnny Guest
June 6, 2004, 08:08 PM
Bill Z, if you look at a photograph of a commercial Colt Government Model .45 of a given era, and squint your eyes just a bit so you can't read the caliber marking on the slide or magazine floorplate, you can't tell it's not a Super .38. :) Seriously - - If you can't see the bore or markings, they are externally identical.

If you open or strip the piece, there are some differences in breech face, extractor, ejector, and of course, barrel and magazine. I believe all Super .38s were furnished with arched mainspring housings, unless special ordered from Colt with the flat MSH. And, certainly, the consumer might well have substituted parts. Original pistols from the pre-WWII era would have had the broader-spur hammers, short triggers, and long tang grip safeties.

There is nothing in the frame that would keep one from installing different parts from the earlier 1911-pattern pistols, or, later, from the Commander. If a round spur Commander hammer is installed, the correct configuration grip safety needs be used as well. The straight 1911A1 pattern gip safety will not work with the Commander hammer unless one or the other is modified.

The very earliest Supers would have had checked surfaces on the slide lock, thumb safety, and magazine catch button. Later ones would have the grooved surfaces. The Colt factory had considerable overlap in use of small parts. I've seen absolutely correct postwar guns with a mixture of checked and grooved pieces. They simply used up what was in the various parts bins.

All of the prewar pistols had plain checked walnut stock panels, without the "large diamonds." Colt's would furnish special order panels in mother of pearl and ivory.

The Supers had a separate serial number range from the .45 pistols.

Hope this helps.


Bill Z
June 6, 2004, 10:50 PM
I appreciate the info Johnny. I just wanted to see the configuration of what the FBI actually used. Did they usesd arched or flat? Special stocks or not? Wide spur hammer or not? Were they marked US Government on the side like the military pieces?

I'm trying to put together a class to build one and want to be as authentic looking as possible. Unfortunately, pic's are quite elusive, but I guess that could be a ggod thing. No proof to dispute what we finally decide to go with.

Benton Quest
June 7, 2004, 06:00 PM
Careful, now. Elliot Ness was a Treasury Agent....NOT an FBI agent. In some circles, such a mistake could be construed as fighting words!

Johnny Guest
June 8, 2004, 05:28 PM
Wish I could be of more help, Bill, but my information is VERY limited, and is only typical of the "normal" Super .38 of whatever time period.

First, I have no information that the FBI ("Division of Investigation," I believe, early on) ever actually issued Super .38s. Not saying they didn't, only that I don't have any printed information. In the early days, they could carry pretty much whatever they wanted, so long as they could get the firearms training guys to approve it. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to learn that the Bureau got a purchase order and had Colt's ship them a bunch of Supers, for anti-vehicular use.

I read somewhere that the famous agent, Melvin Horace Purvis (The Man Who Got John Dillinger!) committed suicide in 1960, using an engraved Super .38, but, of course, this would have been a personally owned pistol. I did a Yahoo! search on Purvis today and read through most of the FBI file on Purvis, furnished as result of a Freedom of Information Act query. At least three references are made to a .45 Colt automatic with which Purvis ended his life. In fairness, there is some question as to whether the death-by-gunshot was an accident. One account is that the .45 was a gift from fellow agents when Purvis resigned from the Bureau in 1935.

Another point, though - - Since the Super .38 and the .45 Government Model were practically identical, it is quite possible that someone might see the pistol at the scene, or in a death scene photograph, and merely (and pretty logically) assume it was a .45. For years, it was taken for granted that Captain Frank Hamer had carried a .45 on the Bonnie & Clyde ambush. Turns out it was a Super .38 which Hamer had procured especially for that job of work.

Back to your questions: Since the Super .38 was introduced in 1928, all of them would have been built on the 1911A1 type frame. This would indicate arched mainspring housings, long tang grip safeties, short, broad hammers, and short triggers. As mentioned above, the individual users might well have substituted 1911-era parts to suit their own tastes. I've never heard of special stock panels being supplied, but, again, the individual might have installed his own.

Colt's marketed a pistol called the Super Match, which was a Super fitted with slightly higher, adjustable rear sight and corresponding front sight. It had a dream trigger, specially fitted and honed to a "glass rod" break. As there were some very proficient shooters in the Bureau, I'd be surprised if at least one or two Super Match pistols weren't carried by working agents.

I've never seen an authenticated FBI handgun with special markings - - But then, I've only seen six or eight. All the S&W M&Ps and Model 13s, and old Colt OPs were standard commercial handguns. S&W presented FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover either the first, or one of the very first, .357 Magnums. There were a lot of 3-1/2 inch .357s carried by agents, early on.

I fear you'll have a difficult time replicating "an FBI Super .38" and making it a very "special" piece, Bill. Any pre-WWII Super could serve as a representative example. I say pre-war, because the .357 was not introduced until 1935, and they were in pretty short supply until after WWII. Therefore, a Super .38 would have been a very valid choice for an agent's sidearm from 1928, well into the late 1940s.

I regret that I don't have any references which tell when the Bureau began requiring agents to carry issue handguns.

Again, good luck on your project.


Bill Z
June 9, 2004, 04:00 PM
Thank-you for the effort, I had exhausted all of my resources.
I built a retro for my Dad prior to his passing and have since becomequite interested in the 38 Super cartridge. I like the old style pistol and thought it would make a great alumni project for our classes and we have many interested students. I'm just trying to get a better handle on the configuration.

June 10, 2004, 06:25 PM
Have you contacted Caspian Arms? I think they have some frames/slides that are marked in the manner of the early Colts.

Bill Z
June 15, 2004, 01:23 PM
Thanks Penman, but yes I actually have, they are one of my suppliers. Before my father had passed I built a pistol for him that actually gave me inspiration for this idea. I found myself leaning more towards the traditional look, but still want the 38 Super cartridge. That's when I had learned of the early usage of the cartridge. I do want to make two major changes though. Originally Colt indexed the round on the extractor and not the case mouth which made it hit and miss in the accuracy department. The other being the sights. I want to keep the traditional looking sights, but go with the larger Colt commercial sights so the pistol is a bit more user friendly. I did this with Dad's pistol and it made a world of difference.



June 17, 2004, 04:21 PM
1. The .38 Supers were purchased by the FBI to counter the body armor of the day. I have some photos in some books about this, but the guns, as noted, are externally identical to the .45 of the period.

2. The FBI had/has at least 2 Thompson Subguns in .38 Super! I friend of mine got to fire one (he was the ballistics expert for a major PD).

Brian D.
June 17, 2004, 10:03 PM
Well, Sleuth, now I'm only about two or three times removed from an actual eyewitness to the Thompson in .38 super. ;) Those things have been the stuff of legend even before Algore invented the Internet! :p Sorry, not trying to slam ya. Would just LOVE to play with a .38 super Tommy Gun. Anyhow, been fortunate enough to run across those 1930's vintage Super Match Colts at the Ohio Gun Collector's Ass'n shows. Johnny Guest is describing them perfectly.

June 18, 2004, 11:19 AM
The individual who fired the .38 Super Tgun is now deceased. I have a friend, with deep contacts in the bureau and very well versed on the Thompson, who is now investigating. Perhaps he will unearth one of these.
I have fired one of the 9 Thompsons made by BSA. The owner coverted it to .45, but he has all the 9mm parts.

Texas Shooter 2
June 24, 2004, 09:33 PM
Have you tried checking with the patent office for a copy of the original patent design? Or check with the Smithsonian. Handguns of the world by Edward C. Ezell has a lot of information in chapter 6 about colt and browning patents, diagrams, etc.