Handguns > Semi-Auto

A Tale of Two Colts in .380

The discontinued Colt Government Model .380 continues to be a family favorite.


When referring to Colt 1911 pistols, the first models that come to mind are the standard-sized semi-autos chambered in .45 ACP. But many years ago, Colt manufactured a series of its iconic 1911s that looked like standard pistols that had shrunk in the wash. Nearly identical in appearance to the full-size pistols, with reduced dimensions and no grip safety, this was its series of 1911-inspired .380s. The models in this line included the .380 Government Model, the Mustang Pocketlite and the Pony. This is the story of two Government Models that found homes in my family.

It was 1996, more than a decade before the American .380 pocket-pistol boom. Bill Clinton was busily securing his second term as President, folks were dancing the Macarena and my fiancée and I were just weeks away from sealing the deal. While we were dating, I had introduced my bride-to-be to shooting defensive handguns. We completed the classes and requirements to obtain our concealed firearms permits together, so we started shopping for her defensive handgun.

The Colt Government Model .380, first introduced in 1984, was just one of several handguns my future wife tried out during a test session at our favorite indoor range. After shooting a variety of pistols, she declared this model of .380 to be just what she was looking for. It turns out that my wife was not alone in her fondness for Colt's .380s. During the ‘90s, multiple variations of the Government, Mustang Pocketlite and Pony models were available and selling well. Though the .380 was not nearly as popular for self-defense as it is now, these Colts were dependable pistols offering a light, compact design that fit many shooters’ concealed-carry needs.

Soon after our visit to the range, a new stainless-steel version of the Government Model .380 was purchased, and it's been one of our favorite guns ever since. But we weren't the only ones in my family to latch on to one of these .380s. During this same time period, one of my brothers was also investigating defensive handguns. After looking over various 1911s in .45 ACP, my brother was still in the market for a concealed-carry gun he could use every day. He had a compact double-stack .45, but found it was too thick and heavy for his kind of work. He tried shooting my wife’s Colt .380, and he was sold.

The combination of the thin profile, reduced weight and controls that mimicked his full-size pistol, made it an ideal carry solution for him. As a result, about a year after the new stainless steel version of the Colt Government Model .380 joined my family's set of firearms, a gently used blued model joined his. Then, in 1999, Colt discontinued its entire lineup of .380 pistols.

I learned about this decision from a staff member at the range where my wife discovered her pistol. I was shocked to hear this. Since the pistols were popular, and so many people I knew who had them loved them, I couldn't understand why they would suddenly disappear. As I later learned, Colt, like many gun companies, didn't have it easy during the 1990s.

The year the .380s were discontinued, Colt was suffering from the financial strain caused by frivolous federal and municipal lawsuits leveled against the gun industry during that time period. Remember, this was just five years after Colt bounced back from filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy, among other political and business challenges. Several smaller companies were swallowed whole by the legal challenges of the ‘90s, never to recover. Colt chose to sacrifice certain segments of its firearms manufacturing in order to keep its fiscal boat afloat. The .380s were one of the groups of guns to go on the chopping block.

In the 15 years since we discovered the Colt .380s, my brother and I have given our pistols different lifestyles. I learned early on that these discontinued pistols were increasing in value. Though we haven’t stopped shooting it all together, my wife and I decided to semi-retire our stainless model to help preserve its condition. This has proven to be a good decision. I recently found a blued model selling online for $800, and I have heard of clean stainless models selling for as much as $1,000. My brother's blued model, on the other hand, although not abused, has spent the years getting regular workouts at the range and riding in a holster into harsh and dirty work environments.

Though a whole slew of new .380s have come on the market, my brother continues to uses his Colt Government Model. He feels his pistol is still the cutting edge in concealable .380 designs. It has just the right combination of weight, balance, sight size, barrel length and grip length to be easy and comfortable to shoot. Our Colts have proven to be exceptionally accurate and reliable with a variety of ball- and hollow-point ammunition. So, what exactly is there to upgrade?

After talking with my brother about our pistols, I was interested to see how both guns compared on the range. As I tested both guns for function and accuracy, I found just one difference between them. My brother's trigger is broken in a bit more, resulting in a 4-pound, 6-ounce trigger pull compared to the 4-pound 13-ounce trigger on my wife’s. Otherwise, the well-used blued Colt was identical in its performance and reliability compared to my more gently used stainless model.

Just in case you are feeling nostalgic or left out, there is some good news. Colt has announced the re-launch of its .380s this year. These pistols have been regularly requested by fans ever since they were discontinued. The first model out of the gate will be the Mustang Pocketlite, which is projected to be available in June of this year. It has a slightly shorter grip frame and barrel than the old Government Models, as well as an updated aluminum frame to help reduce the weight. Otherwise, the sights, controls and overall dimensions will be the same as the classic .380s. The double-action Pony will not be far behind.

Colt’s timing for these new .380 pistols couldn’t be better, since my brother’s eldest daughter has promised to abscond with his .380 the day she turns 21. Currently there are no plans on Colt's drawing board to re-release the Government Model. This may be good news to collectors, since it's likely that the value of these pistols will remain intact. I’m curious to know how the new Mustang Pocketlite will compare to my family’s old stand-by. It will be fun to find out ....

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32 Responses to A Tale of Two Colts in .380

RM wrote:
August 19, 2014

I have one now and would consider another if it was local. S/S would be better yet.

gerald collier wrote:
January 27, 2014

I have a new condition govt.pocket-lite .380 (black) with original box, sleeve, manual, and all paperwork. My brother bought it new in 1985? How mich would it be worth and is it considered collectable? Anybody?

Joe Z wrote:
January 18, 2014

Trying to reassemble my 380. There's a loose hook on the left side of the hammer that is flopping up and down. Should it be up or down before I put the slide back on. Thanks

Paul Z wrote:
February 25, 2013

I have three of the Colt Government Models, I really like them for concealed carry. They easily fit in your pocket in a pocket holster, and are very accurate. My brother in law is trying to buy one from me. So far I am hesitant to let one go.

CB wrote:
November 25, 2012

Got the stainless MK IV 380 a few years ago. It has only been shot a few times ever. My hands are too big to properly grip the thing. I think I'll consider selling it seeing some of the prices people are talking about.

Larry wrote:
November 12, 2012

I have the Mk 4 380 stainless for sale. Did you find one?

AlongTN wrote:
November 11, 2012

I am looking for a Colt .380 series 80 government model(stainless). I am selling my sig(45) to purchase one of these Colts for my husband. Anyone know where I can find a nice one?

adoy wrote:
October 31, 2012

I recently bought a Colt 380 Mark IV series 80. This gun is all gold plated, with scroll work through out. Never been fired. No idea what the value is. In it's original box.

fxrp94 wrote:
July 31, 2012

Glad I came across this site. I just located the dark blue plastic box my Colt MK IV/Series 80 SS Government Model came in. I stall have the receipt from 5/20/1992 and all of the documents to include the letter from Ronald E. Stilwell, the President of Colt. Believe it or not, not one round has gone down the barrel since it was purchased.I guess it's safe to say it's worth a little more then the $359.00 I purchased it for.

IndyMac wrote:
June 15, 2012

I own 2 of the Government 380's One is the Pocketlite. Both are excellent weapons. On the Pocketlite I had extra work done with low profile night sights and Sambar Stag grips. Getting ready to put Rattlesnake matching grips on my Gov 380 Steel and 1911 Gov. Lightweight. All are excellent shooters.

Cam Mollohan wrote:
May 05, 2012

I have a friend offering to sell me his stainless Government 380 with new night sights in 'like new' condition, for $900.00. My concerns are 1. I'm not looking for a safe queen, 2. If Colt comes out with a new Government 380 it will be better made and the value of this one will suffer. It is the sweetest 380 I've ever laid hands on though and I've had my hands on quite a few. For those of you who purchased your back in the late 20th Century, Congrats! I'm envious!

tom wrote:
December 31, 2011

I have a Colt Government .380. It's very concealable, reliable and with the Federal Hydra-Shock rounds, has the potential for some serious knock-down power. I don't like having a 'cocked and locked' pistol, so I carry (concealed) with the hammer down, thus I would have to cock it on the draw should I ever have to actually use it. I guess I could get a special holster for it that would allow me to carry cocked and locked but in a safe manner, but I haven't investigated the availablity of those kind of holsters yet.

Allen Mousseau wrote:
September 25, 2011

Bought my Colt Mustang new about 1990. Best carry gun ever. Never gonna sell it either.

Joeyjo wrote:
August 03, 2011

I bought my stainless 380 Gov model back in the 80's, cleaned it never fired it still have all the paperwork and boxes, and a box of Herters ammo. I looked on Guns America and found what they are selling for now.Good investment, its stored and cleaned weekly . I sent to Colt for another mag. Its has a great feel all I need to do is take it to the range.

Ed wrote:
May 23, 2011

Bought a stainless lightweight mustang in 1994 for $450 dollars. Very nice gun, very reliable, good sights. Stopped carrying it after Keltec P3AT and later later Ruger LCP came out. I honestly did not like cocked and locked with the tiny safety and small gun. It could be carried half cocked on safety. I think the pony would be better for carry. Sold the thing this year for $800 online. I knew the were reintroducing the mustang and decided to cash out while values were high.

eric wrote:
May 11, 2011

I love the colt 380, have been looking for a replacement to one that i sold like a fool years ago. One that i found is the 1903 colt 32 ACP god what extension of your arm and smooth, sleek. and 8+1 is a great + I also had the FI DC.pony 380 loved that one too. What I really want is a match to my 03 .32 which is the 08 .380 same browning design and same as my .32 which is as compact as my Sig 238, I also have a LLama 380 made in early the early 60`s re did the ramp polish and stoned the action WOW never jams and feed everything. My .32 will eat every and anything with no jams. I parkerized black/black and put walnut grips and it is the best pint and shoot I own. it was built in 1921 and is the bushingless model so feild striping takes litery 5 seconds. Long live the .380 and the .32. For those people that speak bad of the 32 ACP let me shoot them just once, like I said point and aim never using the sights I can put all 9 in the head at 20 yards before the 1st shell casing hits the ground. with littel to no recoil. and carry small of back on my custome holster and you dont even know its there.

copsunited wrote:
April 24, 2011

Wondeerful piece. My buddy has the Mustang and I've been working hard to buy it from him. His answer is still unprintable. The ones I've found are over $500 used. A new Walther PPK S is only $545.. but..aint the same you know.

KC in NM wrote:
April 23, 2011

I was fortunate to find a govt model Colt 380 at a gun show in Ft. Worth in 2004. It was in perfect condition and I got it for $500. I have now semi-retired the gun but wish I had immediately, it has some carry markings but functions perfectly. These are great guns, glad to see Colt bringing back the other models. many other manufacturers have tried but none live up to the Colt.

Billl Glaze wrote:
April 23, 2011

I have a Llama .380 that looks like, and disassembles like, a Gov't model. Bought it in the '60's for about $70 and still have the box and receipt. Ditto for my Walther PPK. $89 and both still run like a couple of Rolex watches. Recently got a KelTec .380. Good gun for the pocket when drressed for Church; nobody can even begin to tell I've got it on me.

Jerry in AZ wrote:
April 21, 2011

+1 on the Llama 380. A buddy of mine carried one in 1965 during the Watts riots. Since I could never talk him out of it, I finally bought my Micro-Max new in 2002. It’s been my carry every since. 100’s of rounds and never had a problem with it.

Redman wrote:
April 21, 2011

I bought defender back in the 90's and purchase a 1903 32 an love both of them an just purchase a pony pocketlite still hope to get mustang an I know they will work excellent THANKS COLT

Andy wrote:
April 19, 2011

I bought my blued, Colt Mark IV, Series 80, Government Model .380 in May 1985 for $268.49. It has been my favorite concealed carry weapon ever since. Weighing in at 1.8 lbs., with eight rounds, it’s slim profile offers numerous pickup and go carry options. I’ve added pachmayer grips, tritium sights and polished the ramp. With the exception of certain hollow point cartridges it functions flawlessly. Very dependable. When at the range I have had numerous offers made for it.

Geneva Dave wrote:
April 19, 2011

I have 3 of these beauties and love them. I am so pleased to hear Colt is going to start to produce them again. Last fall at the Colt Collectors show, I spoke to the VP of Colt and told her they needed to be making a .380. She answered with a twinkle in her eye, "Watch for a surprise next year". These are just nice sized and balanced guns

Bill wrote:
April 19, 2011

Back in probably the 70's,Colt came out with a Gov.based small PONY .380. I looked at one marked Colt and in a Colt box. Then I went up the road to check out a model 36 S&W. Got back for the Colt 20 minutes later and it had been sold,but he had a F.I.identical from Florida which I bought for the same price.The slide showed where Colt had been polished off and F.I. put on and I peeled the label off the box which read COLT. A quality firearm. Sold it a few years back and regret it.I also held and almost bought a CZ COLT in Phoenix a few years back. Should have.I have a Llama .22 and a buddy has a Llama .380 and a F.I. .380.

Greg wrote:
April 19, 2011

I have a blue Gov mod. Series 80. I love this gun and was thinking of getting another but the collector value made it expensice and using it could decrease the value. It is my favorite concealed carry pistol. Good news about the re-release. I will be at the gunshop in June asking to see one!

jimmyjet wrote:
April 18, 2011

"It was 1996, more than a decade before the American .380 pocket-pistol boom." The author obviously was not around in the early 1970's when the REAL .380 pocket pistol boom took off. Back in 1971,2,3 etc., the .380 pocket gun was the hottest thing out, particularly if it was a double action or stainless. Llamas, H&Ks, Walthers, Astras, Berettas and a host of lesser names were all kings of the hill and didn't taper off much until the early to mid 80's when the 9MM craze hit.

RB wrote:
April 18, 2011

+1 on the Llamas. The models made in the 1940s were fine guns in the exact miniature of the Colts, where the Colt 380s had a totally different fire control section.

Garry Owen wrote:
April 18, 2011

I purchased a scaled down Llama .380 modled after the M1911. Big mistake - jammed often and very difficult to disassemble for a through cleaning.

Dano wrote:
April 18, 2011

I have a blued Gov model I purchased new in 1991 and am surprised at how much the value has increased. With the reintroduction will the values drop or will they hold their value?

TWOGUN wrote:
April 18, 2011

I skimmed the article twice but saw no brief mention that the Spanish firm of Llama made a scaled down model of the 1911 in .380. Had one but sold it. It seemed inaccurate to me..

Ron wrote:
April 18, 2011

I have the Mustang, but in Stainless; I thought the pocketlite was a little too light. My good friend opted for the pocketlite. Purchased new around 1995...Also, the Series 80 Gold Cup enhanced. Won't part with either. ;O)

doc wrote:
April 18, 2011

be aware that colt has two 9mm offering on the market, a defender and the new agent. both are excellent for a carry gun with a slightly more powerful and available round.