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November 11, 2020

Bren Tens: History and Development

By Ryan F. Sullivan

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More Bren Tens Will Be For Sale in Future Auctions

‌‌Standing alongside many also-rans and too-soon ideas, the Bren Ten managed to earn a lot of hype for itself in a reasonably short time.‌

A Brief History of the Bren Ten

A collaboration between Thomas Dornaus, Michael Dixon and noted weapons and training expert Jeff Cooper, the Bren Ten design was first developed under the working name “Combat Service Pistol 80” as a .45 caliber alternative to the vintage 1911A1 and the rising “Wonder Nine” automatics on the American market.

Lot 550: Dornaus & Dixon Bren Ten Standard Semi-Automatic Pistol

At heart, the CSP-80 traces its lineage to the CZ-75 pistol, but upsized and reinforced to handle larger rounds. To this, Cooper added a twist, specifically an insistence of using what was then dubbed the “.40 Special,” a cartridge drafted by Cooper himself that would give better range and flatter arc than the .45 ACP and better stopping power than the 9mm Parabellum. With this cartridge, the CSP-80 could bring something truly new to the table, and fill a niche as a combat/defensive pistol that wasn’t fully served by the competition.

Redubbed the Bren Ten and the 10mm Auto, respectively, both the pistol and the cartridge merited a great deal of attention when they arrived on the scene in the early 80s.

The True Star of Miami Vice

The pistol in particular received even greater public visibility when it was selected by the producers of the hit show Miami Vice to be the signature weapon of protagonist Sonny Crockett. For the show, Dornaus & Dixon Enterprises supplied two customized Brens, hard chrome finished and chambered for .45 ACP, which were then shown on televisions throughout the United States.

Don Johnson in Miami Vice with his signature Bren Ten pistol.

Quotes from season 1 Miami Vice at the shooting range:

Kern: New Bren-10's pretty nice, ey Burnett?
Sonny Crockett: It's all right.
Kern: Got the Eagle inside, you want to try it?
Sonny Crockett: Some other time, Kern.

But a high profile does not guarantee success. To quote Wiley Clapp, “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 was a big, beefy pistol, and the price of the 10mm’s striking power was a recoil and muzzle blast well in excess of typical defensive pistol rounds, making it something of a niche item.

Were Bren Tens Used by the FBI?

Dornaus & Dixon only operated from about 1983 to 1986, during which the firm found itself struggling to maintain quality while keeping up with demand, and in the end could not manage the buying public’s expectations, resulting in complaints, returns, and cancelled orders. Total production is estimated at about 1,500.

The 10mm Auto cartridge had a brighter career. While the Bren Ten stumbled out of the gate, other manufacturers took notice, and started evaluating the cartridge for their own product lines. A year after D&D closed their doors, Colt would bring the Delta Elite 10mm pistol to market, and Smith & Wesson would introduce their Model 1006 automatic in 1990.

Lot 885: Scarce Bren Ten M&P Semi Automatic Pistol

In turn, the FBI would take an interest in the 10mm, having decided that they needed greater firepower in the aftermath of the 1986 Miami Shootout Incident. In addition to buying pistols from S&W, they also experimented with a 10mm Thompson variant, and sourced a 10mm MP5 variant from H&K that would be a signature FBI SWAT/HRT weapon to the present day. Finding the recoil of the 10mm to be excessive for the average agent, the FBI engaged in its own tinkering with the round, developing a reduced power loading for the cartridge.

When examined, it was found that this reduced load could fit in a shorter casing, bringing the total cartridge size down much closer to the dimensions of a conventional 9mm Parabellum round; this reconfigured round would be the .40 Smith & Wesson.

Why are Bren Tens Valuable?

While the 10mm cartridge had much higher barriers of entry to manufacturers, who had to design and manufacture a significantly longer frame to handle the cartridge, virtually any manufacturer with a .45 ACP or 9mm Parabellum product could adapt with much less fuss.

This resulted in a very rapid adoption of the round in general production, and while not delivering the same level of power as the full size 10mm, it did get much closer to achieving Cooper’s original mission statement of providing a valid alternative to the .45 ACP and 9mm Parabellum.

Lot 883: Scarce Bren 10 Marksman Special Double Action Pistol

The initial moves made by the Bren Ten were critical in setting the course that would lead to the .40 S&W, and every .40 S&W pistol and carbine can trace its lineage to the Bren. Though short lived, the Bren Ten had a massive impact on the modern sporting and defensive handgun market.

The combination of scarcity and importance make the Bren Ten a very important American handgun, as well as a rock solid collector piece. The limited number of Bren Tens on the market are actively sought by both shooters and collectors.

Bren Tens

As always, please contact Rock Island Auction Company for any questions regarding any of the information, models, or future auctions listed in this article. For more information about consignment, frequently asked questions, or registration, please follow this link!

A Few Bren Ten's Sold at RIAC:

August 2020 Online Auction: Dornaus & Dixon Bren Ten Standard Semi-Automatic Pistol Lot 550

April 2009 Premier Auction: Scarce Bren Ten M&P Semi Automatic Pistol Lot 885

April 2009 Premier Auction: Scarce Bren 10 Marksman Special Double Action Pistol

Bren Ten Spec's:

  • Manufacturer: Dornaus & Dixon Enterprises, Inc.
  • Produced: 1983–1986
  • Number Built: 1,500
  • Barrel Length: 5 inch standard, 4 inch compact
  • Cartridge: 10mm .45 ACP
  • Magazine Capacity: 8 or 10 rounds
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