Collins was born in Hallsville in Harrison County in East Texas. He graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas. In 1989, Collins was inducted into the Woodrow Wilson High School Hall of Fame the same year it was created in celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the institution. Collins graduated thereafter from Southern Methodist University in University Park (a part of Dallas) and from Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Collins then entered the United States Army, having served as a lieutenant in the Third Army of General George S. Patton, Jr., during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.
Collins was first elected to the U.S. House in a special election caused by the death in 1968 of Democratic U.S. Representative Joe R. Pool. In the general election that fall, he received 81,696 votes (59.4 percent) to 55,939 (40.6 percent) for Democrat Robert H. Hughes. His victory was part of a strong trend toward the GOP in north Dallas; this district has been in Republican hands without interruption since then.
Barbara Staff, later one of the three co-chairmen in Texas for the Ronald W. Reagan challenge to U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, Jr. in the 1976 Republican presidential primary, worked in Collins' campaigns and in the congressional office for a time. As the president of the Council of Republican Women's Clubs of Dallas County, she had launched a successful membership program known as "I Believe" and was known in particular for her conservative political views and organizational skills.
At sixty-six in 1982, Collins relinquished his House seat to challenge the entrenched Texas Democratic U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, of Houston, at sixty-one a political icon in Texas. The conservative Collins won the Republican primary for senator by defeating an even more conservative rival, Walter Mengden, also of Houston. As a state senator, Mengden had been an advocate of instituting the initiative and referendum in Texas, two reforms never implemented. Collins polled 152,469 (58 percent) in the primary to Mengden's 91,780 (34.9 percent). A third contender received 7.1 percent of the vote.
Collins subsequently lost the general election by a large margin. Bentsen polled 1,818,223 (58.6 percent) to Collins' 1,256,759 (40.5 percent). The 1982 elections ended the political careers of both Mengden and Collins, but they represented a triumph for Lloyd Bentsen, who led his party to victory in all statewide races that year, including judgeships, the last year thus far that Democrats have swept all statewide races, including judgeships, in Texas.
Collins' son-in-law, Richard W. Fisher of Dallas, who married Collins's daughter, Nancy Miles Collins, worked for the Independent presidential campaign of H. Ross Perot in 1992. In 1994, five years after Collins' death, Fisher ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic nominee against freshman Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who emerged as Bentsen's long-time Senate successor.
Collins was succeeded in Congress by fellow Republican Steve Bartlett, who had defeated future U.S. Senator Hutchison in the GOP primary in 1982. Bartlett left Congress in 1991, when he was elected mayor of Dallas. Bartlett was succeeded by current Third District Republican Representative Sam Johnson, a popular former POW from the Vietnam War.
Collins is interred at Restland Memorial Park in Dallas. His grave marker reads "God, Family, and Country".