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Colt introduced the Mustang Pocketlite .380 semi-auto in 2011 and it took the market by storm. Imagine a .380 pocket model with the Colt name! For those who have not been following the company’s history, Colt was not introducing the latest .380 pocket model—it was “reintroducing” the very first one!

Back to Basics

The first American-made .380 ACP semi-automatic pistol small enough to discretely hide away in a trouser pocket was developed and introduced by Colt in 1908. Known as the Model 1908 Hammerless, it remained in production up until World War II and was still prominently carried by U.S. officers throughout the war. Aside from the .380 Government Model (1983-1987), the .380 ACP pocket pistol fell out of production for almost half a century until Colt introduced the .380-caliber Mustang. One of the earliest ads for the new .380 stated that the Mustang “is lighter, smaller and handier than most .380s, even our own .380 Government Model…the Mustang .380 tucks away as neatly as most .22 or .25 autos but delivers four times the stopping power.”

The original models, which were blued, were produced from 1986 until 1999, including the Plus II (1988-96), Stainless (1990-1998), and five versions of the Pocketlite model, before being discontinued in 1999.

The .380 ACP cartridge—and the first guns to fire them—were invented by John M. Browning shortly after the turn of the last century and first put into production by Colt in 1908. Ironically, by the end of the 20th century, the .380 ACP had come to be regarded as a substandard round for personal defense, despite the fact that pistols chambered in .380 had been in use for almost the entire century, not only by civilians but by law enforcement as well, mostly as a backup or hideaway gun. With declining sales, Colt decided to drop the Mustang from its product line.

But just as soon it was gone, other armsmakers began to fill the void. In 2003, the .380 ACP experienced a renaissance. Small, easily carried semi-auto pistols like the Kel-Tec P-3AT took the country by storm, driven by a sweeping upsurge in concealed carry weapon (CCW) permits nationwide in the first 10 years of the new century. The .380 pocket pistol was suddenly one of the most highly demanded concealed carry sidearms in the nation. Add to that advances in bullet designs and terminal velocities for defensive .380 auto cartridges from manufacturers like Federal Premium, Hornady and CorBon, and it became manifest for Colt to bring back the Mustang Pocketlite.

The Mustang Returns

With more than a decade of new technology at hand, Colt didn’t simply start building the same gun. They reengineered it, improved the design and quality to keep pace with consumer demands, while at the same time ensuring the unmistakable look of the classic little Colt would be retained.

While some regard the Mustang as a scaled-down Model 1911, it is only partially so because the .380 uses a solid camming lug barrel system in place of a traditional 1911-style swivel link, and it utilizes a direct barrel/frame interface rather than a barrel bushing.

The Pocketlite also has one other distinctive difference: a thumb safety that allows the slide to be manually cycled even when the safety is set. This permits checking for a loaded chamber, clearing the gun or loading the first round with the safety engaged. If the hammer is down on a loaded (or empty) chamber and the thumb safety is set, the gun will not cock, but the hammer will move back into a half-cock notch and stop. Releasing the thumb safety will allow the hammer to be fully cocked. The Colt design uses a firing pin safety block to prevent accidental discharges.

The new Mustang Pocketlite introduced in 2011 uses an aluminum alloy receiver, stainless steel slide and a barrel CNC machined from solid bar stock for precise tolerances. The new Pocketlite looks and feels different, too, with an overall superior fit and finish compared to the 20th century models, particularly in slide-to-frame tolerances. This is further set off by a stark contrast between the polished stainless steel slide and the matte, bead-blasted appearance of the aluminum alloy, electroless-nickel frame, which has a warm, champagne-colored hue. The slide’s side panels and the hammer flats are polished bright to contrast with the thumb safety, slide, magazine release and top surface of the slide, which have a matte finish. It is a handsome, two-tone combination that truly distinguishes the new Pocketlite from its predecessors.

With a loaded magazine, the Mustang tips the scales at less than a pound and measures 5.5 inches in length with a 2.75-inch barrel. The minimal weight and length of the gun, combined with the short single-action trigger, proven frame and grip design, and firing pin safety block, make this an ideal small-caliber handgun for personal protection and concealed carry. The magazine holds six rounds, so capacity is seven with one in the chamber. “Cocked and locked” is the standard carry method, just like a Model 1911.

The Pocketlite has a very solid feel in the hand, more so than .380s with a polymer frame. While this adds a little overall weight, the heft makes the Mustang substantial in terms of grip and recoil management. Like the original, the new Mustang Pocketlite is an ideal concealed carry handgun, in this or any century.

At the range, the Pocketlite had a very consistent trigger pull with a short take-up and quick reset. Rounds fired at 1-second intervals struck consistently just above point of aim from 21 feet. Recoil from all three types of ammo I tested was modest, allowing for quick follow-up shots. The best accuracy came with Hornady Critical Defense 90-grain FTX ammunition, which cleared the Colt’s barrel at 930 feet per second (fps), placing five rounds in 1 inch, followed by a 1.2-inch group with Federal Premium 90-grain Hydra-Shok traveling downrange at 908 fps. Overall, the Colt Mustang Pocketlite is a very easy gun to handle and shoot. For more information, visit coltsmfg.com or call 800-962-2658.

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