Gun Review: Remington R51

By: Nick Leghorn

I was excited when Remington announced they were creating a redesigned Model 51 handgun. I was looking forward to seeing what Remington could do with the Pedersen Action concept, formerly lost to the mists of time. But the redesigned R51 stumbled out of the gate. Badly.

To its credit, Big Green recalled the gun. Rather than consign the R51 to the history books again, Remington went back to the drawing board. At the same time, they addressed the quality control issues bedeviling the gun. There were good reasons not to abandon the design.

John Pedersen created the original Remington Model 51, using a unique operating mechanism to cycle the action. Instead of relying on a tilting barrel design to lock the action during the firing process, the Model 51 uses a tilting breech block as the lock.

This allows the slide to start moving backwards (almost like a direct blowback gun) while keeping the case firmly seated in the chamber until the pressure drops to a safe level. The design creates less force for the recoil spring to soak up, which makes the R51 easier to rack and a softer shooting firearm. At least in theory.

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Looking at the firearm’s exterior you can see where that Pedersen action comes in handy. A standard tilting barrel handgun needs a taller slide to accommodate the barrel, the recoilspring and guide rod — parts which need to stay aligned with the frame of the handgun to work properly.

Today’s R51 has a fixed barrel surrounded by the recoil spring. The barrel becomes the guide rod, reducing the side’s height by a few millimeters. That’s a definite benefit for buyers looking for a slim and sleek concealed carry pistol.

The original R51’s sights were rudimentary at best. (Pedersen claimed his gun was so ergonomic that it was “self aiming.”) Remington mounted traditional three-dot sights on the R51 Gen 2 (Gen 3?). To make it easy to pull the handgun from a holster or pocket without snagging, the sights are rounded. But there’s still a ledge on the leading edge of the rear sight so you can rack the gun against your boot or belt.

Unlike its eighty-year-old predecessor, the new new R51 lacks a manual external safety. Remington has done away with the manual safety, relying solely on the grip version (and responsible gun handling). That’s more than enough — I never used the manual safety on my Model 51 anyway.

Other notable differences: the R51 sports a skeletonized trigger, an ambidextrous magazine release (that’s much easier to actuate its forebear’s) and a slide release lever. The original Model 51 didn’t lock back when empty.

The disassembly process remains the same as the previous iteration. Note to those of who think a GLOCK is too complicated to strip and clean: the R51 might not be your firearm of choice. The R51 has more moving pieces than a Ted Cruz/JFK assassination conspiracy theory. Getting it right takes some practice.

This is where the differences between this most recent R51 and the originally released “new” R51 I tested in 2014 begin.

The first R51 required the shooter to ensure that the slide stop was placed underneath the retaining spring in the frame of the handgun during reassembly. Get that step wrong and the gun would lock open with rounds remaining in the magazine.

I have deliberately tried to re-assemble the Gen 2 R51 incorrectly in the same manner. It can’t be done. Remington either redesigned the assembly to be harder to screw up or corrected a machining issue that allowed incorrect re-assembly. Either way, result.

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Remington also seems to have improved its machining processes, especially when it comes to the barrel and slide assembly. The previous model felt gritty and rough when racked, much like gliding sandpaper over rough metal. The new new R51 isn’t perfect, but it’s much smoother and has less hesitation when the slide slams forward.

The magazine has also been improved. In the previous incarnation the mags were designed to be as unobtrusive as possible. The magazine’s buttplate sat flush with the edges of the mag well. The problem was that to properly seat the mag, the shooter had to pay extra attention to pressing it up the gun. Slam it home like most other guns and it might not stay.

The new mags’ extended floorplate stands slightly proud of the magazine well. Shooters can easily and firmly slam the mag home. We’re talking about an extension of only about 1/8th of an inch, but it makes a world of difference.

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Out on the range I ran everything I could grab through the gun: hundreds of rounds of standard Winchester white box ball ammunition, a smattering of hollow point rounds, and a selection of +P ammo. I didn’t encounter a single mechanical failure. Zero failures to feed, no issues with firing out-of-battery (as the previous model did), and no “locking back when still loaded” gremlins. In short, the new new R51 works.

The R51 is about as accurate you’d expect. I shot roughly two-inch groups with the gun last time around. Neither I nor the firearm have improved since then. The R51 is good for “minute-of-bad-guy” accuracy, which is more than sufficient for the average self defense scenario.

That said, I still have some issues with the gun.

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The original Model 51 sported a tactile and audible reset: a little click you could hear and feel when releasing the trigger after firing the gun. That let you know the trigger was ready to go again. The R51 doesn’t have a discernible reset. You have to let the trigger all the way out before pulling it again.

Many gun owners (including this writer) “ride the reset.” They let out a handgun’s trigger just enough for it to reset it before firing again. Anyone who uses this technique who carries an R51 will have to retrain their brain to use the trigger’s full range of motion. Otherwise, they’ll find themselves “short stroking” the R51, pulling the trigger before it’s ready to rock.

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The original Model 51 was sleek and svelte. Much like the American public in the intervening years, the R51 has gained some weight. Looking at the excess material around the barrel and the indentations in the magazine, it appears the modern R51 was designed to expand into larger calibers, .45ACP and .40S&W no doubt.

That said, the excess material isn’t entirely a bad thing. The original Model 51 had an issue with the breech block splitting with regular use. In that sense, the new R51’s extra material is a feature not a bug. And I’d love to see a .45ACP version of this gun.

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One last item worthy of mention: Remington’s customer service.

When the first new R51 came out in 2014, independent gun bloggers and journalists gave it poor reviews. Remington initially denied the problems, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. They eventually changed their tune, and made a solid effort to make their customers happy.

Remington asked R51 owners to return their guns, and gave them a choice: exchange it for an R1 1911 or get some extra goodies when R51 Gen 2 version was ready. Remington sent R51 owners the revised handguns before anyone else. I’m pretty happy with that level of customer service.

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The Remington R51 is getting close to being an ideal concealed carry handgun. I love the grip safety. It gives a level of peace of mind that my GLOCK 43 “safe action trigger” doesn’t. The overall size, while larger than some, is good for a compact single stack 9mm handgun. It’s slim and short with rounded edges that ease everyday carry and make it quick to get into action.

The R51 isn’t exactly easy to clean. And that trigger, with no reset and some side-to-side wobble isn’t what it could be. But for the price this is a good, reliable little gun. I’d love to see some aftermarket parts, specifically a threaded barrel (no Neilsen device needed!) and a better trigger option. But at this point the new new R51 doesn’t have many rough edges to smooth out.

Specifications: Remington R51 

Caliber: 9mm para, +P rated
Barrel Length: 3.4 inches
Overall Length: 6.6 inches
Width: 1 inch
Height: 4.6 inches
Weight: 22 oz.
Capacity: 7+1, ships with two 7-round magazines
MSRP: $448 (street price about $385)

Ratings (Out of Five Stars):

Accuracy: * * * *
Minute of bad guy. For a sub-compact $448 concealed carry handgun, it gets the job done.

Ergonomics: * * * * *
Feels pretty great in the hand. It slides beautifully into a pocket or a holster, too.

Ergonomics Firing: * *
You’ll feel it when it goes bang, much like other compact handguns, and there’s no tactile trigger reset. But +P ammunition isn’t much stiffer than standard 9mm range ammo, which is an interesting and welcome change of pace.

Ease of Maintenance: * *
I’d rather detail strip my 1911 than field strip this thing. It’s certainly not in Ruger Mark III territory, but it’s no fun to take apart and put back together.

Reliability: * * * *
Over the standard 500-round testing protocol the firearm performed without a problem. Even after disassembling and re-assembling it on the firing line multiple times it continued to function flawlessly. I’d like to run a couple thousand more rounds before making a final judgement, but so far, so good.

Customization: *
There is exactly one holster available so far, but be patient. Given how hard Remington is marketing this thing there will be plenty of new gear available soon. Hopefully one of those options will be a replacement trigger.

Overall Rating: * * * *
As-is, the gun works. It’s slim and feels good in the hand, and more than accurate enough (especially for the price point). Reliability is excellent. The R51 is slightly larger than the G43 and other competitive single-stack nines, so it’s not quite as concealable. I’m knocking one star off for a) the lack of a trigger reset, and b) the difficulty in stripping the gun for cleaning. Otherwise it’s a nice piece of engineering. Finally.

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