Established February 28th, 2002
February 28th, 2020


GENESIS: Creating The Ultimate Fighting Handgun


In The Beginning... There Was An Idea

While it may sound obvious and cliche, everything starts with an idea.  What is NOT so obvious, however, is the journey that first idea takes before it actually becomes reality.  The Bren Ten started with the simple idea of starting from scratch to build the ultimate combat handgun, but this would take a lot of work.  It must be remembered though, that even with all the hard work, product refinements, and smart decisions, it is still possible to fail (which Dornaus & Dixon managed to do in infamous fashion!).

This portion of the Bren story deals with the initial impetus behind the creation of the gun, and many of the 'good choices' that were made which helped get the project moving.  While we already know that in the end the Bren project failed we will deal with all the 'poor choices' that led to its demise later.

The Constant Pursuit Of Perfection

Colt Single Action Army & Sig M17

The pursuit of perfection is a journey that includes a range of successes, from 'getting better' to 'utter failure.'  If you take the 1873 Colt SAA as the starting point for modern handguns, then the Bren Ten is a firearm with over a little over 100 years of product improvement behind it.

The Colt SAA was purpose built as a military sidearm.  While it could certainly fulfill many other roles (and it did), it was not initially designed for concealed carry, target shooting, or hunting.  This need continues on today with the U.S. military's recent adoption of the Sig P320/M17.

The moniker of "combat handgun" brings with it certain specific characteristics.  Basically, a gun being used for this purpose should be durable, reliable, ergonomic, reasonably accurate, and easily maintained.  It should be easy to reload quickly, hold as many rounds as possible (without compromising ergonomics), and chamber a cartridge powerful enough to quickly incapacitate a human.  As an example, the Colt SAA satisfied all of these requirements when compared to other sidearms of the time period.

When the Bren Ten was being designed, its main competitor would have been the Colt 1911, which like it's Single Action Army ancestor, fulfilled all of these attributes.  Dornaus & Dixon, with the help of Colonel Jeff Cooper, envisioned a new pistol that would do the venerable 1911 Government Model one better by building a full-size combat handgun with a double action trigger system, higher capacity, and a more powerful cartridge.

A Handgun Like No Other

Tom Dornaus and Mike Dixon knew their dream was a big one.  Success required two simple but vital criteria.  First, the gun had to be better than anything currently available.  Second, it had to be embraced by the gun community.  There was only one person that could help them in both of these areas, and that was Colonel Jeff Cooper.

The .45 caliber 1911 Government Model had long been Col. Cooper's primary sidearm, but he was well aware that it had its limits. Unfortunately, there was no other pistol available that offered a substantial improvement over the 1911.  In 1977, however, Cooper was able to get a hold of a CZ-75.  Being from a Soviet Bloc country the gun was banned from importation into the United States, but a few copies had managed to sneek into the country via Canada.

"This new pistol from behind the Iron Curtain is possibly the most advanced 9mm service automatic in the world.  I hold no ill will towards the Czechs, a people held prisoner in communist bondage by force of arms, but it is disquieting to see them producing what appears to be a better sidearm (if one can accept its marginally effective 9mm cartridge) than anything made on our side of the barbed wire."

The Colonel was quite impressed with the Czech CZ-75, but its 9mm chambering was still a deal breaker.  (Remember that at this time hollowpoint ammunition was still in its infancy and FMJs ruled the day in semiautos.)  What Col. Cooper really wanted was a CZ pistol chambered in his trusted .45 ACP.  While this would not be the final answer for Dornaus and Dixon, it was at least a point of departure.

Col. Jeff Cooper

The Cartridge

Combat/Police Cartridge Comparison

When considering the purpose of a 'combat handgun,' the ultimate objective is to send a projectile of sufficient size and weight at a velocity high enough to render the target incapacitated as quickly as possible. This incapacitation is done by the projectile, not the firearm, and so it is important not to put the cart before the horse.

Interestingly enough, though the Bren Ten and the 10mm Auto cartridge are often discussed in tandem, the fact is that a new cartridge was NOT part of the original plan.  If you think about it, it's very possible that it should probably have been rejected as being too ambitious for a brand new company considering the work involved in convincing ammunition manufacturers to produce ammo for a single gun that wasn't even in production.  (More on this later!)

In the end though, it was the 10mm Auto that was teamed with the new Bren Ten.  While we often think of the 10mm Auto as a thoroughly modern cartridge, the idea of a powerful 'mid-bore' is not a new one. In fact you could even go as far back as 1873 when the .38-40 Winchester (.38 WCF) was introduced in the Winchester Model 1873 lever-action rifle. Recent factory loading of this cartridge pushed a 180gn, .40 caliber bullet at about 872fps out of a 6-1/2" barrel.

Jeff Cooper & His 1911

It was Jeff Cooper and his influence in the project that brought the 10mm to reality.  In his 1958 book Fighting Handguns, he describes what, in his opinion, would be the ideal personal defense cartridge.  This would consist of a 200gn bullet in .40 caliber traveling at 1,000fps.


With the .355/.357 and .451 calibers dominating the 'fighting cartridge' arena it's not surprising that there would be those would would look for something in the middle that would outperform both.  Individuals such as Whit Collins and Ralph Glaze would trail blaze the concept, producing functional firearms, but it wasn't until the Bren that such a caliber would see true commercial acceptance and success.  Though the Bren died in 1986, the 10mm would eventually be picked up by Colt, and then later adopted by the F.B.I. as its official service cartridge.


While many may point to the .40 S&W (which was superseded the 10mm as a law enforcement cartridge in the early 90s) as the final form of Col. Cooper's recipe, it should be remembered that the original loading for the .40 S&W was a 180gn bullet at around 980fps.  The SAAMI maximum pressure for the .40 is 35,000psi, while the 10mm ups this to 37,500psi.


"Fighting Handguns" by Jeff Cooper (1958)

I believe that some agencies in Alaska and Denmark may still employ the 10mm, but beyond that the cartridge has been supplanted in just about every law enforcement agency around the world.  While the 10mm Auto still boasts impressive power for a standard sized autoloader, it turns out that the answer to the question of the 'perfect' law enforcement cartridge was not one of raw energy, but bullet design.  Even the vaunted F.B.I. has dropped their Glock .40 S&W pistols in favor of 9mms now that ammunition companies are able to achieve the saught after penetration and wound channels with the smaller caliber.  The 9mm also has the added benefit of increased magazine capacity, smaller grip size, and more manageable recoil compared to the 10mm, .40 S&W, and .45 loadings.

Years ago the 10mm was supposed to be the pistol version of the .41 Magnum.  Ironically it has done exactly that!  It's just that the job description for both cartridges have changed.  Just as the .41 was supposed to be the perfect police load, but ended up finding its niche as an excellent outdoor and hunting round, the 10mm Auto seems to have followed suit.  These days the 10mm seems to be making a comeback, but manufactures appear to be more interested in its potential against four-legged adversaries rather than riding in the holsters of LEOs.