Gun Digest

What Killed the Bren Ten?

Bren Ten Handgun
The Bren Ten, designed by Jeff Cooper, enjoyed a lot of buzz in the 1980s. However, the 10mm pistol was a bulky and expensive product in a market full of small and cheap alternatives.

Massad Ayoob recalls the history of the Bren Ten. This handgun popularized the 10mm Auto.

The Bren Ten was the handgun story of the early- to mid-1980s. The pundits drooled and salivated. It was predicted that the new cartridge that came out with it, the 10mm Auto, would take over the law enforcement market. It was not to be. Today, the 10mm is popular only among handgun cognoscenti.

The Bren Ten itself has long since languished on the ash heap of firearms history. Its creator, the living legend Jeff Cooper, wrote in his column in the April 2004 Guns & Ammo: “The Bren Ten was a concept of mine, and while I am not ashamed of it, I admit that this concept was not entirely sound.” The words had the ring of a eulogy.


Col. Cooper inspired the Bren Ten as surely as he created the Scout Rifle concept, and for a while, the pistol became his trademark. Indeed, his trademark was on the pistol; the Raven emblem of Jeff ’s famous shooting school Gunsite was prominently emblazoned on the frame of each Bren Ten.

Gun writers of the time raved about the gun. Accuracy! Power! Total reliability! Double action or cocked and locked single action carry optional to the shooter! To hear the gun magazines tell it, all other handguns had been rendered obsolete by the coming of this new and wonderful sidearm.

Many who might have carried them never did, because of the limited production and the even more limited availability of magazines. The good colonel certainly led the charge, but precious few soldiers were behind him.

The Bren Ten literally carried Jeff Cooper’s “brand.” His Gunsite Raven trademark was prominently displayed, and used with his permission on the Bren Ten.

Some experts of the period were polite about it, but gave the gun short shrift. Chuck Taylor, who until shortly before had been Jeff Cooper’s right hand man at Gunsite and apparently had some input into the design, blasted the Bren Ten thoroughly in his review of the actual pistol in SWAT magazine.

Another contemporary expert, Wiley Clapp, would write twenty years later, “For reasons of business, the Bren Ten did not prosper in the marketplace…I don’t know why a larger company hasn’t picked it up, but I suspect it’s because they simply don’t feel it’s a viable product. I owned one for a time and found it to be a decently accurate pistol that tended to the big-and-heavy side…in the long run, the design failed because it was a big, heavy, complicated and expensive service pistol in a market full of small, light, simple and cheap ones.”

The “Bren Ten cartridge,” the 10mm Auto, would draw more interest…just in different guns. As both a champion shooter and one of the top 1911 pistolsmiths, Mark Morris became a huge fan of the cartridge in the subsequent Colt Delta Elite pistol.

So did Ray Chapman, the first world champion of IPSC, who finished up his match days with an Ed Brown-tuned Delta 10mm before hanging up his competition guns in retirement.

Jerry Miculek, uncontested as the world’s fastest double action revolver shooter, once told me the gun he kept at bedside was a Smith & Wesson 10mm auto he won at the Second Chance shoot. Chuck Karwan, in many ways the most vocal and articulate champion of the 10mm, had great praise for the S&W Model 1006, and greater for the Glock 20 in the same caliber.

The latter gun is the choice of rock star and shooter Ted Nugent, both for self-defense and for much of his hunting. Other famous handgun hunters partial to the Glock 10mm are Jim Cirillo and Paco Kelly, both of whom used handguns for much more serious purposes in law enforcement.

Shooting the Bren Ten

I shot only a few Bren Tens, but found them reliable except for the .45 caliber conversion unit, and reasonably accurate. The solid steel weight of this well-made pistol helped make up for the muzzle flip that came from its powerful cartridge and its relatively high bore axis. Trigger pulls were smooth, and workmanship was generally quite good.

Criticism of the gun’s “complexity,” even from Jeff Cooper, stemmed largely from a cross-bolt safety run through the slide to act as a firing pin block, which rendered the gun drop-safe. This was necessary, developers Dixon and Dornaus apparently felt, for safety and liability reasons.

Time has proven them right. I never heard of an accidental discharge lawsuit resulting from a dropped Bren Ten. Operating the dual safety mechanism was no trick; the inner edge of the median joint of the thumb pressed inward to release the crossbolt on its way down to press the thumb safety into firing position.

Only a very small fraction of a second was lost, and if it confused gun experts, it most certainly would have done its job in confusing someone who snatched the on-safe Bren Ten from its legitimate user.

The broad and versatile array of 10mm Auto ammo made available since the 1980s is a legacy of the Bren Ten.

The “Bren” in Bren Ten comes from Brno, the center of the Czechoslovakian gun industry, and real shooting complaints about the Bren Ten come from its CZ-based design. As on the 9mm CZ 75, the safety is higher than it should be for most hands and shooting grasps; the slide, buried within the frame instead of outside it, leaves too little of that critical moving part for the actuating hand to grasp; and the trigger sits altogether too far forward for maximum leverage in single action, let alone double action, shooting.

In addition, lacking a decocking mechanism, the Bren Ten encouraged the dangerous practice of lowering the hammer on a live round by hand.

In the Glock and S&W incarnations, the 10mm auto is simply a standard model that kicks a little more in return for hitting a little harder. In the 1911 style, the best bet is the installation of a high-efficiency recoil compensator. This slows down the slide velocity and saves the mechanism, as well as the shooter’s hand, from buffeting.

I have a Colt Delta Elite “Carry Comp” so rebuilt by Mark Morris. The muzzle jump is so reduced that it almost feels as if it is kicking downward, and it shows no signs of excessive wear despite thousands and thousands of full power 10mm rounds in training and competition.

How you load your 10mm is obviously important. The downloaded, subsonic FBI round – known as the “minus-P” in the circles of the 10mm fans – has the same power as the .40 S&W cartridge that Cooper dubbed “the 10mm Short.” If that’s the power level you’re comfortable with – about the same as a 19th Century black powder .38/40 revolver – you’ll get more bullets and a smaller package with a gun chambered for .40 S&W rather than 10mm Auto.

With the full loads, the 10mm does in fact exceed the .357 Magnum. That caliber’s most proven antipersonnel load is a .357-inch diameter 125 grain bullet at 1450 fps; you can get a .400-inch diameter 135 grain bullet going the same speed out of a 10mm.

The .41Magnum thing, however, is an exaggeration for the most part. The only comparison in which that is true is in the Winchester Silvertip line. The 10mm Silvertip is a 175 grain JHP at 1290 fps and 649 fpe, while the .41 Mag Silvertip is a 175 grain JHP at 1250 fps generating 607 fpe.

However, it must be kept in perspective that the Silvertip is among the hottest loads ever factory produced in 10mm Auto, but is slightly downloaded in the .41 Magnum round. Thus, it may be said that while the 10mm Auto poaches into the .41 Magnum’s territory, it does not conquer it.

This article is excerpted from the book, Massad Ayoob's Greatest Handguns of the World, Volume 2.

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