The Colt Detective Special was the most famous member of the Colt line of D-frame revolvers. It was manufactured from 1927 to 1986 and again from 1993 to 1995. The first Detective Specials were essentially cut-down Police Positive Specials, and among the first purpose-built concealable revolvers in what was then a major caliber, .38 Special (though DSs were made in several other calibers, including .38 S&W & .32 S&W).
The First Generation lasted until about 1946, when it was replaced with the Second. Improvements included a thicker frame and improved ejector rod. Production carried on until 1966, when the "Generation 2½" was introduced. The major modification was a fairly radical shortening of the grip frame, to bring it in line with its aluminum-frame siblings, the Agent and the Cobra. The factory stocks kept the grip the same length, but allowed the user greater flexibility with respect to aftermarket grips to increase concealability.The Third Generation was introduced in 1972. The biggest change was that, for the first time, the ejector rod was enclosed by a shroud.
For all of the first three series, three-inch barrels were offered, though these are vanishingly rare.
Production stopped in 1986 in the face of stagnant sales and Colt's labor dispute with the UAW, which resulted in a four-year strike, one of the longest in American history, leading to Colt's bankruptcy and reorganization in 1992, when production resumed with what some termed the Fourth Generation. The major change was that the DS was offered in stainless steel for the first time, while the nickel finish was discontinued. Production continued until 1995, when the SF-VI was introduced as its replacement. While the SF-VI (short for Small-Frame, six-shot), later renamed the Detective Special II, was externally similar to the original Detective Special, the internal lockwork was different, as was the barrel profile.
Along with all other Colt double-action revolvers, the last descendant of the Detective Special was discontinued in 1999.