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I owned a Remington Model 51 for a number of years, a 32 Automatic, and really enjoyed shooting it for recreational target practice. It fed ammunition without hesitation and fired reliably, the pistol’s balance was good and it was subjectively a terrific looking pistol. The only reason I sold the nearly one-hundred year old Model 51 was because the cartridge was too under powered for self defense applications and I am not a collector. For me, some guns are nice to own for a while and then passed on to someone else to enjoy when they spend too much time in the safe.

Remington Model 51 Background

John Pedersen began work on the  Remington Model 51 in 1913, but the project was shelved for most of the duration of World War I. In 1918, Pedersen went back to work on the design and Remington tooled to mass produce the pistol. Parts were manufactured for the Model 51 and its variants and revisions for a period of seven years, 1920 through 1927, however, the product continued to be assembled and sold through 1934. Not a rarity even today, Over 64,000 of these pistols before high manufacturing cost, lower cost competition and the Great Depression caught up with the pistol and the Remington Company 1) 2) 3). Fortunately, both have endured, persevered and are with us today.

A first cursory look at the Model 51 had me wondering what Pedersen’s was up to. Unaware of the performance features and twenty plus patented design elements that went into the product, It seemed Pedersen spent an inordinate amount of time trying to put the mechanical systems of a common pistol type into an Art Nouveau wrapper. However, further investigation and assessment suggested the opposite as the Model 51 is loaded with practical features, making it a near pure representation of form following function.

The Remington Model 51 has a delayed blowback action, rather than a simple blowback action, which permits the use of relatively high pressure cartridges. Combined with a low mass slide, fixed barrel and low bore axis, felt recoil is modest. The sweeping narrow grip form and angle to bore axis results in the gun being held low in the hand, with a natural point and with enhanced control and minimal muzzle rise when discharged. Three safeties make it safe to carry the Model 51 with a round in the chamber and safe from finger off the trigger unintentional discharge. The patents, drawings and descriptions, are available to the public at the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, including the first with a 1913 application date and an August 1920 approval date.

It’s only a perspective, but I believe an honest perspective…

The next Model 51 generation, the R1 released in 2014, shipped with some amount of early production… fuzz. Unfortunately, the great unwashed masses of social medial did what they do best; misunderstood, overreacted and then regurgitated anything and everything critical, both factual and fabricated. Instead of Remington being treated for what it is, a historical pillar of the firearm community making a very honest attempt at reintroducing a Remington classic, it was savaged. Some of the social media comments and assessments were so erroneous, it was clear the authors were either clueless or never actually handled the firearm. Institutional gun writers, who had rendered positive reviews based on pre-production guns, immediately retreated and joined the choir. The events would have been laughable if it weren’t for the fact so many of the public comments made were obviously, deliberately malicious. And then the subject burned itself on social media and the melee moved on in search of a fresh victim. Ultimately, consumers were steered away from a good firearm that would become an excellent firearm with time and Remington would forever become Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, including narrative penance whenever presenting the R51.

I review the R51 product as it was being introduced in three part coverage, uniquely titled: Part I, Part II and Part III. Compared to the original Model 51, it appeared… familiar. I liked the look, accuracy was decent, but I dinged the R51 released in 2014 as rough in operation, not 100% in reliable cycling and tough to assemble/disassemble. My greatest concern with long term function, based on examination of subject pistol, was with the ramped contact surfaces on the breech block showing signs of galling or peening. Honestly, symptoms not much different than many new design introductions and most of the early non-Colt 1911 type pistols. However, I did not keep the pistol in continuous, extended service long enough to see if this was to be a real concern or pure conjecture on my part. 2019 production indicated this was not a real concern or changes were made to eliminate the possibility.

The Remington R51 in the 2019… another look

The R51 is described by Remington as a fixed barrel, delayed blowback, single action auto-loading pistol. Subcompact in size, it is chambered for the 9mm Luger round, +P ammo approved.  The Model R51 is based on a J.D. Pedersen design, Patent No. 1,348,733, application filed on July 30, 1915 and awarded August 3, 1920. The R51 is not a Browning design derivative and not one of the many variations of striker designs. This is important to keep in mind when examining the pistol as its function and norms are different from the others noted. The R51 is Pedersen’s hybrid. It combines blowback and locked breech features where the pistol discharges, drives a breech block into a locked position against a stop shoulder in the frame, until the slide cam releases the breech block and cycles as bore pressure drops to zero.

The Petersen design provides practical advantages as it moves the recoil spring from a traditional guide rod position below the barrel, to around the barrel, which allows the bore centerline to be moved down closer to the shooter’s hand. This change provides increased shooter control with recoil coming almost straight back to the hand, barrel leverage on the grip is reduced and the ability for it to create muzzle rise. In the case of the new R51, Remington took this one step further by undercutting the trigger guard, which brings the shooting hand even closer to bore centerline. The increased duration of a locked breech, not lock time, improves overall ballistic performance by maintaining pressure in the bore longer.

The subject firearm, as received, was filthy and heavily used. In the best lemons to lemonade analogy, I would rather look closely at an example that has been heavily flogged and disrespected to judge a firearm’s future fortunes than look at something shiny and brand new that offers very little insight into how well it will age.

Externally, the Remington R51, remains as introduced; a pistol with very clean lines and control placement, advantageous to concealed carry and operation. The billet aluminum frame offers a structure and substantial feel not found with polymer auto-loaders. Contributing to a high hold, low gun achievement is the undercut trigger guard that gets more fingers on the checkered front strap and closer to the bore axis.

All of the surfaces are tucked in including the grips, slide and frame. The sights are anti snag and low, but with a very serviceable profile. The ambidextrous magazine releases pass below an extended trigger finger, avoiding accidental release, and the slide stop is only a thumb’s reach away. Racking the slide is easy, especially for what is classified as a subcompact, a size autoloader that typically has an overly enthusiastic recoil spring.

My acid test for… rackability… no, that is not rockabilly, is to hand the pistol to my wife and let her try. When she feels effort is excessive, and she is pretty strong, she hands the gun back to me and goes on about her day. When effort is not excessive, she takes the gun and ammo to shoot and I can’t go about my day until she returns. In the case of the R51, she left with the pistol and ammo, came back and got more ammo.

Eventually, it was my turn…

The Remington R51 was field stripped and cleaned so I could get a close look at bearing surfaces and general condition. The R51 is an easy firearm to disassemble/assemble after living through the experience once or twice. It is one of those “Hold the barrel by the muzzle with the right hand, pull the slide forward and off with the left hand… while holding the breech block with the other right hand…” exercises, aka handgun Twister. Again; once or twice through, it is easier than the same on a 1911.

Accepting I may not be as fastidious a gun clear as portrayed, and ignoring the minor remnants of gunk, no signs of excessive wear were apparent. The marks on the various loaded, lifting surfaces were only contact burnishing and not surface defects. The barrel ramp and barrel were similarly pristine, as were the frame and slide rail surfaces. Lubricated to the manual’s instructions, the feel when manually cycling the gun was slick. There were no signs of the 2014 R51 release’s hanging at half slide travel.

Perforated pulp and outdoor recreation

 

Remington R51

Company Remington
Point of Manufacturer Huntsville, Ala
Order # 96430
Type of Action  SA Delayed Blowback
Caliber 9mm Luger
Capacity 7+1
Barrel Length 3.4″
Barrel Material 416 Stainless Steel
Rifling rate of twist
1:10″
Slide Material Stainless Steel
Slide Finish FNC
Frame Material 7075
Frame Finish Matte Black Anodized
Grip Inserts
Poly – Removable
Front Sight Dovetailed – Single Dot
Rear Sight Dovetailed – Two dot
Actual Weight
22.6 Oz
Trigger Pull Actual
6 Lbs 14 Oz.
Overall Length 6.68″
Overall Height 4.63″
Width 1.08″
Safety Grip
Mag Disconnect No
Chamber View Port Yes
MSRP $448

 

Seven typical types of factory ammo were run through the R51, some standard pressure 35,000 psi standard pressure and 38,500 psi +P rated ammunition. Functionally and from a handling standpoints there were no differences. The Remington R51 cycled completely 100% of the time, locked open on empty every time and fired every time. Numerical performance…

 

Ammunition Bullet
Type
Bullet
Weight
Grains
Rated
MV
FP
Actual
MV
FPS
American Eagle TSJ 115 1050 1065
Remington HTP +P JHP 115 1250 1149
Speer Gold Dot +P JHP 124 1220 1137
Black Hills +P JHP 124 1200 1104
Remington UD BJHP 124 1100 989
Remington UMC FMJ 124 1100 981
Grizzly +P JHP 147 1120 1004

The SAAMI standard length for the 9mm Luger cartridge, including +P ammunition, is 4″, where the Remington R51 barrel length is 3.4″. The standard barrel length is used to derive the manufacturer’s rating, with few exceptions.

The subject gun had seen thousands of rounds, however, I shot only hundreds of rounds. Other than checking for evidence of excessive wear and tear, I have never seen the point of reviews that report “a stove pipe jam at round 1506 and a failure to eject at round 1812”. Without the cause of the failure identified; firearm, ammunition or shooter, the findings have no relevance. It is not as though anyone would purchased the firearm and would experience the same failure at the same time, AKA, “Why did you sell your pistol, Chuck? Oh, I shot it 1505 times and wanted to get rid of it before it stove piped on me”.

If you want to create a life test for a firearm, build an automated firing fixture, control the intervals and rate of discharge to exclude the human factor, control and record the environment, and collect as much ballistic and mechanical reliability data as possible with each event. Then find someone qualified to analyze the results and package the data so it is of consequence to the consumer. Otherwise, testing through long runs is mostly an opportunity to create a technical presence where none exists and to promote a brand(s) of ammunition.

Is there justification for the Remington to exist?

For the heck of it, I checked one wholesale firearm distributor for a count on only 9mm Luger chambered auto-loaders. The result was 35 manufacturers, producing 367 models, in 957 configurations, within 6 action types. 128 were steel frame, 608 were polymer, 178 were alloy, and 43 were defined by manufacturers as something other than. Most of the differentiation within the population, with the exception of action types, was hardly worth noting. Made me dizzy. The Remington R51, however, is unique in a number of significant ways.

Looking at the R51, size is a “Three Bears” scenario; not too small, not too large, but just right so that an adult has enough purchase to control the firearm and get a good grip, with comfortable trigger reach and angle. The pistol’s slab sided profile aids concealment considerably, then add to that no exposed hammer and low profile, no snag sights.

The Pedersen delayed blowback action and close to the hand bore axis reduce recoil noticeably as well as recovery time between shots fired. The passive grip safety provides… safety, but without distraction.  The barrel encircling recoil spring makes for an easy actuating slide, which makes the pistol useful for any adult stature person.

The Remington R51 was rock solid reliable and accuracy by any autoloader standard was very good. Shooting from a two hand hold, keeping five shots in the confines of a playing card at seven yards or so was easy. Resorting to a steady rest, five shots across all ammo types indicated could be reliably placed under one and one-half inches.

The fit and finish of parts was very good. A nice clean, uniform finish, FNC and anodized. Neither of the finishes were quick to wear off. The R51 is a terrific alternative to a plastic fantastic or oversize for cartridge 1911 type. Understanding that MSRP is almost never the typical purchase price, the R51 is easy to find below $400.

Is there anything I would like to see changed? I’m pretty much all set as there are Tritium and light pipe sights available and a good variety of holsters. I would not complain, however, if Remington knocked a pound or so off of the R51’s trigger pull. Nice pistol. Glad it is still around.

 

.1) Remington Arms & History, By Bill West – First Edition 1970
.2) The History of Remington Firearms, By Roy Marcot 2011
.3)  Standard Catalog of Remington Firearms, By Dan Shideler 2008