Brief History of the .38 Super Auto

The .38 super auto has been around since about 1929. It’s not one of the most popular calibers, yet it has not become completely extinct either. A number of major ammo manufacturers, like LAX Ammo, still fabricate limited supplies of the .38 super each year. So you may be wondering how this particular bullet has been able to stay relevant even though it has not become a main competitor amongst other, more popular calibers.

Was it the Gun or Bullet That Came First?

They often get confused, but you have to understand that the .38 Special has nothing to do with the .38 Super. Instead, the .38 super auto gets its name from .38 ACP cartridge which is also known as .38 Automatic, hence the name .38 super auto. John Moses Browning himself specially designed the bullet because his Colt M1900 pistol was lacking the proper feel. So the .38 super auto was born, and it sent 130 grain bullets at 1040 fps, which was more than a .38 Special, but a little less than your modern 9 MM.

Soon after, Colt released the M1911, which was coincidentally called the Colt “Super .38” Automatic. However, this gun was able to handle higher pressures compared to Browning’s Colt M1900, so manufacturers began designing a cartridge that could be fired with much more velocity. They named them the Colt Super .38 Automatic after the gun they were intended for. This is probably confusing, but today, the Sport Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute labels the .38 super auto as “.38 Automatic”, and the Colt Super .38 Automatic as “.38 Super +P”. They are completely different calibers with identical case dimensions.

Is it Really Super?

During the early 1900’s, the .38 super auto acted as a completely different bullet for handguns. Typical .45 ACP’s and .38 Specials were heavy, slow moving bullets, but the .38 super auto was smaller and traveled at a much quicker speed. It could penetrate through ballistic vests and cars, so you would think that it became popular among military or other law enforcements agencies. It didn’t thanks to the .357 magnum. The .357 magnum, while holding less ammunition, was able to fire at 1300 fps with 18 grains instead of just 130, and because of this, the .38 super auto was overshadowed.

.38 Super Auto Today

The .38 super auto became very popular among the action pistol competitions of the IPSC. Due to various velocity and weight restrictions, many people originally used the .45 ACP, until they came across the .38 Super. It met the power requirements, had less recoil, and it typically held a few more rounds compared to other handguns. But this didn’t last long thanks to the 9 MM. The 9 MM left the .38 super auto in the dust since it was more capable in almost every category. Today, the .38 super auto is primarily used for defense purposes, and even though there are limited options, it will probably survive in the shadows.