The first attempt at the modernized Model 51 was a failure in almost every regard. It was possibly the biggest boondoggle in the modern firearms industry. When announced in 2014, it was much-publicized and highly anticipated. As the story goes, in the haste of Remington’s top brass to get it to market, it wasn’t ready. Pre-production prototypes were shot by media, which gave its reliability, accuracy and shootability glowing reviews.
However, once the R51 shipped and people bought them off the shelf, it was found to be none of those things. The complaints piled up and were thankfully reported by the new gun media‑blogs, YouTube, etc.
Unfortunately, I never got my hands on one to shoot, so I can’t speak firsthand. There were reports of slides that, when hand-cycled, felt as smooth as trying to walk on the beach with a crack full of sand, along with malfunctions galore. Many demonstrated on YouTube that they couldn’t even shoot a full magazine without a malfunction, and some wouldn’t shoot at all. And then, the safety concerns came out. Some of the guns would fire while out of battery, causing ruptured cases. Remington addressed the problem that July with a self-imposed recall. Anyone who wished to return the R51 would be given a replacement R51 for their trouble, in addition to a Pelican case and two additional magazines, and all postage would be paid by Remington.
The replacement was supposed to be out that October. But it didn’t come. It was again supposed to ship in June 2015. Then, it was pushed back to September of that year. September came, and still … nothing. The R51 kept digging Remington into a deeper and deeper hole with its customers. Finally, Remington announced the R51 Gen 2 was ready, and in August of this year, the R51 was scheduled to ship. When news of the re-launch of the second-generation R51 reached my inbox, I was both happy and relieved: Happy, because I’ve wanted one since they were first launched in January 2014; relieved, because after not hearing anything for a couple years, I was concerned it was a dead project. A quick call to my local gun shop, MJ Gunshop, and the owner said he could get me one. Three days later, I had one in my hand.
I want to stress that this is not one sent to me from Remington for media. It is a personal, off-the-shelf purchase. Remington had no way of knowing the gun was going to the editor of Gun World.
A few of the items that have been enhanced for the version 2 include an improved extractor for a more-positive grip on the case rim for authoritative ejection. It goes without saying how important this is—if you can’t get the old case cleared, you can’t load a new one. The R51 Gen 2 also has an enhanced recoil spring for more-affirmative cycling of the slide, as well as a secure lock-up when in battery. The hard chrome barrel bushing is another improvement. The horrendous slide operation has been addressed with re-worked internals for improved performance and smoothness.
“Something else I appreciate is that the slide doesn’t require a lot of effort to charge.”
The most prominent design element of the pistol is the Pederson block. Most handguns have the firing pin housing block milled into the slide and rely on lugs to keep the slide and barrel together until chamber pressure reaches a safe level before cycling. The Pederson block serves a similar function. The rear of the block locks up with a lug at the rear of the frame, just in front of the hammer. As the gun is fired, the slide and Pederson block move about 1/10th inch, and then the rear of the Pederson block moves up and out of the way of the lug, unlocking it, as the slide continues to move rearward. Despite its outward appearance, the R51 is not striker-fired. There is an internal hammer hidden by the rear of the slide.
The retro looks are spot-on. This is what initially drew me to the R51. It feels good in the hand; I like the heft. The textured front straps have really good purchase, and the side panel plastic grips are pretty decent. It would be nice if the backstrap had texture. However, I’m not sure how that would go with the grip safety. The slide is far better than what I’ve read the Gen 1 was, but I wouldn’t call it smooth. But further inspection shows that this is caused by the barrel takedown serrations and the recoil spring. When I disassembled it and checked the frame-to-slide fit, it’s smooth.
“Despite its outward appearance, the R51 is not striker-fired. There is an internal hammer hidden by the rear of the slide.”
While at my desk, I feel the trigger and was initially a little leery. I can hold it in my hand and wobble it from side to side. Squeezing it, it feels unique—kind of weird—but not bad. In fact, in many ways, it’s good. The takeup is only about ¼ inch, but it’s very spongy. Then, it hits the wall, and it just “pops” as it breaks. It feels very different from any other trigger I’ve fired, but it does feel good and has a clean break. Mine averaged 4.94 pounds. When I was actually at the range shooting it, all the negatives went away, and all I felt was the crisp break.
However, the reset on it is not good. It resets at about the halfway point, but there’s no audible or tactile indication that it has done so. I normally ride my reset pretty hard, but when I tried to do that without the indicator, I got very sporadic results. Sometimes, I hit the reset fine; other times, I missed, and it didn’t fire.
The Pederson block serves to dampen felt recoil, making the R51 easier to shoot than other subcompact 9mm pistols. In addition, it has a very low bore axis for reduced muzzle flip. My Glock G43 has a bore axis of about 0.8 inch, which is low, but the R51 has a bore axis of about 0.5 inch. That’s incredibly low. It’s this low, because the recoil spring wraps around the barrel, so there’s no spring and guide rod under the barrel. It has almost no muzzle flip—all recoil goes straight back into your hand. This is great for getting back on target for follow-up shots.
The R51 has a grip safety and no manual safety. Simply grab the gun, and it’s ready to go; there’s no need to fumble with a safety. It also has an ambidextrous magazine release. This is accomplished primarily by the recoil spring being placed around the barrel instead of under it. Something else I appreciate is that the slide doesn’t require a lot of effort to charge. (My mother often has a difficult time pulling the slide to the rear, as do a lot of people who lack hand strength or who have arthritis. The solution for that has always been a revolver. But this is not so with the R51, which opens the door to semi-autos.)
The R51 shoots 9mm +P ammo for a little more oomph, and it also comes with a match-grade barrel. I shot two five-shot, 0.9-inch groups at 10 yards—one with Black Hills 124-grain JHP +P and the other with SIG V-Crown 124-grain JHP. It did shoot about 1¼ inches low.
“It has almost no muzzle flip—all recoil goes straight back into your hand. This is great for getting back on target for follow-up shots.”
Next, I like the no-snag design, in particular, the sights. The rearward edge of the front and rear sights are rounded and snag proof, so they’re not going to snag on the draw. But the front edge of the rear sight is flat—a must-have for catching it on a firm surface for one-handed operation of the slide. The slide stop is also designed to be snag proof. Nevertheless, it did get in the way while I was shooting. (More on that later.)
Another design feature I find remarkable is that there are only 25 parts, not including the magazine. That’s incredibly few parts. Unfortunately, almost one-third are taken apart during the field-strip.
Lastly, I like how the controls operate. There’s no manual safety—which I like. Where other companies have then chosen to counter this with the heaviest and longest trigger pull they could muster, Remington didn’t do that; instead the company chose the grip safety. Just as with a 1911, I found myself grabbing the gun and not even giving the grip safety a second thought. That’s just the way it is meant to be.
“The most prominent design element of the pistol is the Pederson block.”
Field-stripping is more complicated than on any other gun I own—in particular the part about pulling the barrel forward to disassemble, and the part about getting the slide stop spring over the tab when installing the slide stop. I feel as if I’m trying to align the moon and the stars! It takes a lot of hand strength to pull the barrel and slide off the frame, as well as to pull the barrel and bushing out of the slide.
This is a concern, because Remington makes it a point that the R51 is great for people who have a hard time pulling the slide back on other handguns. Those same people will have a hard time field-stripping it.
That’s all good, but naturally, I wanted to know how the R51 performs. I invited Gun World contributor Ryan Weidenmeier to join me at the range. We fired 700 rounds in fewer than 90 minutes. It was hot. I wanted to shoot 1,000, but after 700 rounds, it was so hot that I felt our range tasks were quickly turning from a reliability test into a torture test. My intent was to test reliability in everyday use, not experience a range day of 1,000 rounds. I started off with seven stoppages in the first six mags but then realized it was my thumb hitting the slide stop lever. There isn’t a lot of real estate for my strong-hand thumb on the frame, and its natural position is dead-on the lever. After I adjusted my thumb position to outside of my weak-hand grip, that problem was resolved and only came up two other times when Ryan was shooting.
Out of 700 rounds, there were four failures to feed. For two of these, the round lodged above the chamber, and the other two lodged into the feed ramp. All were with hollow points (two with SIG and two with Black Hills). And out of 700 rounds, there were two failures to eject. In both instances, the slide went back without pulling the fired case out of the chamber, and it tried to load the next round. It should be noted, however, that both happened between round 670 and 685, and both happened with PerFecta ammo. By that point, the gun barrel and slide were too hot to grab. We set it down for 10 minutes to cool and then finished up the last two magazines.
One other minor thing I noticed: I had carbon residue on the web of my hand. I was not sure if there was a little bit of gas venting out the back of the seam between the slide and frame. It didn’t have any bearing on anything, and didn’t hurt at all. I point this out only because one issue I read about regarding the initial R51 was that a gas jet came out this same area and left a slight sore on the shooter’s hand. The other side? This gun is very shootable. There’s almost no muzzle flip, so follow-up shots are fast (they would be even faster with a proper trigger reset). Recoil is light and goes straight back. I would say that comfort wise, this is comparable to a Glock G19-sized pistol. We each put about 350 rounds through the R51.
We took turns: One of us would shoot, and the other would load the magazine not being fired. After about 300 rounds, I started to get a little rub blister on the web of my hand, but nothing terrible. At a leisurely pace, this would be an all-day range gun—it’s that comfortable. With most single-stack carry 9mms this size, I would shoot a maximum of about 100 rounds. But while testing the R51, I shot 350 very quickly and could have shot more. As Ryan said, “I completely did not expect such a small gun to be that comfortable to shoot. I thought it would be painful to shoot so many rounds.”
It appears that the Remington has addressed the issues that plagued the R51—at least, the one I have: the improved extractor. I had only two failures to extract and no failures to eject (stovepipes). The failures to feed I don’t think can be linked to the reported issues that plagued the original R51. So, there you have it; there were six total failures. The slide stop issue is a different issue, which can be overcome with training.
I have to give props to Remington for making the R51 different. It seems there are two pistols that about 95 percent of all pistol designs are based on. The R51 steps out of that box. GW
Manufacturer/Model: Remington R51
Caliber: 9mm +P
Action type: Semiautomatic – Pederson block
Slide: Chrome Moly steel
Frame: Aluminum alloy
Magazine capacity: Seven (comes with two magazines)
Trigger: Listed at 4.5–6.5 pounds (as tested: 4.94 pounds)
Sights: All-metal, three dot
Height: 4.63 inches
Width: 1.08 inches
Barrel length: 3.4 inches
Overall length: 6.68 inches
Weight: 22 ounces (with empty magazine)
MSRP: $448 (I purchased one for $375, right off the shelf)
Black Hills 124-grain JHP +P
SIG Sauer V-Crown 124-grain JHP
SIG Sauer 115-grain FMJ
American Eagle 115-grain F
HotShot Elite 115-grain FMJ
|PerFecta 115-grain FMJ||
All testing was done by Gun World Editor Robb Manning and contributor Ryan Weidenmeier. Special thanks to MJ Gunshop for getting me the R51 so quickly. No writer can do his or her job without the help of a great gun shop. Also, thank you Range of Richfield for a place to shoot.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2016 print issue of Gun World Magazine.