Back in late 1980, I heard about a PPC gunsmith in California who was grafting Colt Python barrels onto Smith & Wesson and Ruger revolvers for the dedicated revolver competition crowd. The idea was to achieve Python-like accuracy with a full-underlug, vented-barrel profile without having to spend Python prices. The results were called by such names as “Smolts” and “Cugers,” and for a while they were popular.
Even with the cost of a new Colt barrel and the gunsmithing involved, it was still cheaper than buying a new Python for those who were strapped financially, such as myself, a young cop. The idea interested me immensely, but before I could go forward with such a project, Smith & Wesson dropped the bomb.
A new frame size? A fully underlugged barrel? Built to hold up to the hotter magnum loads we were using just before the dawn of the autopistol? I obtained a 4-inch sample of the new Model 586 Distinguished Combat Magnum the following year, and it was definitely worth it. The impression I got from that Model 586 and others I’ve owned since is that the original, blued, 4-inch L-Frame is one of Smith & Wesson’s finest guns of all time. It balanced well; the familiar profile (slightly enlarged here and there) was retained; the highly regarded, fully adjustable, micrometer-click-adjustable rear sight was carried over; the additional weight out front helped noticeably with the .357 Magnum recoil; and even though the rib on top wasn’t ventilated, it still gave the Model 586 plenty of looks to turn heads.
The Model 586’s frame split the difference between the K-Frame and the heavier and bulkier N-Frame. Many of us felt the L-Frame was the ideal size, with greater durability than the K-Frame but less of the N-Frame’s end-of-the-shift aching back. The L-Frame also had the same square-butt grip frame size as the K, and since the K in its many variations was a majority stockholder in police leather from coast to coast, there was already a wide selection of grip types and sizes available for the Model 586. And for decades, knowledgeable S&W-owners had been spoiled with the level of tuning that could be achieved with their S&W revolvers—the L-Frame had that same potential while costing much less than a Python.
During its run from 1980 to 1999, the six-shot Model 586 was offered in several variations and more than a few commemorative versions. Subsequently, S&W dropped the blued model in favor of the stainless Model 686 equivalent as part of a general trend toward stainless revolvers. The most common Model 586 had a 4-inch barrel, but it could also be found with 6- and 8.37-inch barrels, and in a 2.5-inch barrel for overseas contracts. During the model’s life, there were various sight options, hammer and trigger widths and continuing manufacturing changes, which included the round-butt grip frame and MIM parts.