In 1917, John Pedersen, a talented and now near legendary designer, developed the Model 51 for Remington. Chambered in .380ACP for the U.S. market and .32ACP for the European, Pedersen had to either use a simple blowback recoil operation or find some way around John Moses Browning's tilting lock recoil system, which was still protected by patent. Pedersen came up with a unique lock mechanism known variously as a "delayed blowback," "blowback/recoil," "momentum block," or more commonly now, a "hesitation lock." This ingenious innovation allowed for the firearm to act as a simple blowback mechanism for a very short distance of the recoil after which the action was managed by a cam system. The firearm was a commercial success initially, and lauded as a very natural pointer by many experts. However, changing economies, including the Stock Market Crash and the following Great Depression, eventually saw the initial success decline into a non-profitable product and it was discontinued.
In 2014, Remington introduced the model R51, based heavily upon the Model 51, sporting Art Deco "futuristic" style, Pedersen's "hesitation lock," and chambered in the more powerful 9mm Luger cartridge. The release of the stylish new carry gun was considered by most to be Remington's foray into the Concealed Carry market, despite Remington's line of 1911 handguns, including those with "carry options." Test guns went to well known gun writers and many other reviewers were invited to shoot the R51. The handgun received glowing reviews, generated much excitement, and initial sales were brisk. But there was a fly in the ointment. Very soon, rank and file owners were reporting all manner of woes with their new R51 handguns. Problems reported included impossibly stiff and difficult or gritty and unworkable slides, magazine drop, unreliable feeding or extraction, loose sights, signs of over-pressure on spent brass, signs of bullets engaging the rifling too early as if there was no leade, rough or unpolished chambers, and even, most troubling, firing out-of-battery. Soon after vocal portions of the rank and file buyers accused the professional writers, who'd given the R51 such glowing reviews, of being paid shills and other unsavory allegations. Remington was slow to address what was quickly becoming a public relations fiasco on par with the Exxon Valdez. However, over time Remington "acknowledged" that there were some unspecified problems and slowly offered R51 owners one of three remedies. The owner could send the malfunctioning R51 back in for either 1) eventual replacement with extra goodies, including a Pelican brand hard case 2) a full refund 3) a replacement with a more expensive 1911R1. Some owners chose to take the 1911 upgrade. Some chose the full refund. Some decided to stick it out until the "fixed" gun was returned to them, whenever that might be. Some very few decided to keep their existing R51, apparently because their example was functioning well. If Remington has released publicly how many of each there were, I have been unable to find it. In January 2015, William Smalley, a Remington engineer explained that the problems were due to "Tolerance Stacking," a manufacturing problem where parts can be at the extremes of dimensional maximum or minimum, while still being barely within specification, but cumulatively the extremes "stack" to where the whole machine simply will not function. Finally, in August 2016, Remington released the redesigned and "fixed" R51. While not part of the official Remington designation, this redesign is generally referred to as "Gen 2." Throughout the whole process, Remington remained officially tight-lipped, declining to share any information about the redesign or testing process. What little information leaked out could be considered little more than hear-say and was often inaccurate, particularly in relation to the date of rerelease which was, like energy positive sustainable fusion, ever just around the corner, a fact which incurred the ire and hostility of many "Gen 1" R51 owners.
Having experienced issues with the Gen 1, I returned mine, took the 1911R1 replacement, and eagerly awaited the release of Gen 2. After two years, it's finally here.
Barrel length: 3.4"
Cartridge: 9x19mm Luger +P
With the Concealed Carry Handgun market awash in ever smaller 9mm offerings, some in the range of true "pocket guns," there have been a few of the "citizen reporters" who offer that the R51 is simply too big to be a "compact" handgun. One even suggesting that the R51 is on the cusp of being a "full sized" handgun. The truth is that these are very subjective terms. There is no SAAMI or NRA defined classes of gun size the way there are weight classes in Boxing. However, handgun aficionados with long enough memories will recall that the term really seemed to grow from the the evolution of the beloved 1911 platform, particularly with the introduction of two, reduced size, models, the Commander and the Officer's model. "Compact" was in comparison to the full size "Government" model. The Commander offered a shortened barrel and slide on the full sized Government model frame. The Officer's offered a shorter barrel and slide on a frame of reduced height. There are many variations of these two, both from Colt and from the wider "clone" community. While there certainly are not hard and fast rules, a "Compact" was generally considered to be a semi-auto pistol of around 7-8" long and 5-6" high or less, with barrel lengths of around 3.5-4.5".
While Remington's offering certainly isn't the smallest 9mm Concealed Carry handgun, it definitely slips in well below the confines of a "Compact" handgun.
The fit and finish of the Gen 2 seem to be perfectly fine. For contrast, my Gen 1 had an enormous bur still hanging off of the Pedersen block; a sliver of steel around 2mm long, which I broke off. While the inside machining of the Gen 2 is certainly not polished perfection, it is clean and there are no obvious flaws. The exterior finish is equally "non-offensive." While plain, there are no obvious flaws, scratches, or mottling. The black finish on the steel slide is uniform and matte as is the black anodized finish on the aluminum frame. This is simultaneously good news and disappointing. The good news is that this is a $400 price point gun. At this price point, it is often expected that the finish might be a bit sketchy. But it isn't. It's uniform flat, unreflective, black; which is good in a carry gun. On the other hand, one of the draws of the R51 is the "ray gun" design. It honestly looks as if Remington might have swiped the external design after watching Buster Crabbe defeat Ming the Merciless and then cliff-hanger until next week's thrilling episode. Honestly, the lines of the R51 alone make it nearly worthy of BBQ Gun status. Remington will be offering rosewood grip scale replacements, which will definitely dress up the gun a bit. But a flat black finish is always going to be a flat black finish. While there's something undeniably sexy about that, in a Modern Sporting Rifle kind of way, it still lacks "bling."
Magazines are seven round single-column. The Gen 2 Magazines are slightly redesigned. The Gen 2 has a thicker baseplate which allows more sure seating in the magazine well. The follower has been redesigned and now has an additional "ramp" on the front of the follower at about a 5 or 10 degree incline. One Gen 2 owner reports that a Remington tech assured him that the Gen 1 magazines were fully compatible with the Gen 2 R51 but also advised him to only use them for range sessions, not for carry duty.
Over the course of three range sessions, I put 500 rounds through the R51, using the two new magazines and the one original magazine I kept. I experienced two feed failures, both of which were with the original magazine. The worst of those was a feed-in-front-of-extractor. I had no feed errors at all with the new magazines. I used PMC Bronze FMJ, Federal FMJ, Independence FMJ, and my own reloads with 115gr HC Coated bullets. I conclude that the advice to not use the original magazines for anything except range spares is spot on. Like the Gen 1, the Gen 2 R51 is rated for +P ammunition, which was indistinguishable from standard pressure on the Gen 1. Unlike some compact semi-autos, the brass was not thrown into low-earth orbit. Spent brass is ejected fairly reliably about two feet to the immediate right. Once I figured out where it was throwing the brass, I moved to stand beside the shooting table on its left and set my range bag on it. About 50% of the brass was ejected directly into the bag and I was able to pick up most of what missed. I did witness 4 failure-to-eject errors after loaning the pistol to another gentleman to shoot. He gripped the pistol very low and did not keep his wrists locked, instead letting them act as a "shock absorber" for the pistol, bleeding energy needed to ensure the slide properly reciprocates (aka "limp writing").
Before I took it to the first range session, I broke it down and cleaned & lubed with Breakfree CLP. After about 200 rounds, the action got "sticky" feeling cycling. I had a tube of some brand of CLP I got on promotion which I keep in my range bag. A few drops on the rails returned the gun to smooth cycling. I don't know if the gun just didn't like the variety of ammo I was feeding it at that moment, if some of it is dirtier than others (Independence maybe?), or if extended shooting on a miserably hot August day just dried out the lube. Breakfree CLP usually doesn't do that to me, but it was extra hot that day. From then on, the gun gets grease on the rails and other surfaces which slide against mating points.
The sights are pretty good. Point of Impact (POI) was "Combat" or "Military Center Hold" instead of traditional Target Shooting hold, which I found to be the same as on the Remington 1911R1. If you try to aim by putting the bottom edge of the bull on the top of the front dot, everything will go just below the bull. Instead, place the center of the dot at center of the bull. When the sights are lined up, the hits will go right in the front dot and accurately so. Accuracy with the Gen 2 R51 was quite good. Some of the Gen 1 R51's had very loose sights, which would be pushed out with a thumb. Predictably these would not stay in the dovetail during firing. The Gen 2 sights are tapped on the top and use a set screw to fix them in place. While not a common method of fixing sights in place, it is not entirely unheard of either. In any case, the sights remained where the factory had put them. One often noted advantage of the R51's rear sight is its swooping "snag free" rear with the flat-faced front. The rear allows for a more sure draw with less chance of catching on clothing. The flat front allows for the slide to be manually reciprocated ("jacked" or "worked") with one hand by placing the front of the rear sight against a resisting surface such as a table or perhaps the users belt, then pushing forward. As of this writing, I have not found any after market manufacturers which are offering tritium sight replacements, however I believe they cannot be far in the future.
There is a "Loaded Chamber Indicator" which consists of a small witness hole on top of the slide, allowing the user to view the top rear of the chamber and, theoretically, see the rim of a cartridge. It is strictly visual, not tactile, and therefore vulnerable to vagaries of poor light or dark colored ammunition cases. That said, there are many who do not appreciate a tactile loaded chamber indicator. They believe that it is simply another thing which could break and shouldn't be depended upon in any case. While I appreciate the effort, I found that the witness hole was a bit small and the light had to be perfect in order to see a round in the chamber. I conclude that a traditional "Press Check" is a more sure way of verifying a loaded chamber on the R51.
Both Remington and the original professional reviewers claimed that the felt recoil on the R51 was mild, "muzzle flip" was minimal, and it was a fairly comfortable gun to shoot, particularly given the compact size and comparatively light weight. I found this to be true with both the Gen 1 and the Gen 2. Felt recoil is pleasant. Some "citizen reporter" reviewers have complained that the backstrap stings or is unpleasant. I have soft computer professional hands and I didn't have that problem. I could have shoot many hundreds of rounds without discomfort. Follow up shots are easy. The felt recoil really is low. However, you can't cheat physics. Recoil is still there, but the low bore axis directs it more straight back than flipping up and the Pedersen "hesitation lock" spaces out the recoil impulse a tiny bit, making the appearance of a lower recoil while also making it more comfortable.
The plastic trigger looks cheesy. As reported elsewhere, there is indeed a very small "wiggle" to the bottom of it. That worried me. However, it did not impact shooting in the least. The break on the trigger is crisp. There is a slight "take up" and then a "wall" where the trigger breaks cleanly. While not overly heavy, the trigger is not overly light either. The R51 is a Single Action Only pistol with a completely enclosed hammer. Therefore the trigger pull is noticeably lighter than on some Double Action Only competitors, such as the Kel Tec PF9. No, there is no "tactile reset" to the trigger despite what was apparently reported at SHOT 2015. That or, if there is, I couldn't feel it at all. The trigger pull is decent even if it's not "awesome." I think an aftermarket trigger would be desirable. With that in mind, I contacted Galloway Precision who tells me that they will be working on a product soon.
While there are several safety features on the R51, it should please many that a Magazine Disconnect is not among them. There is a trigger disconnect which ensures that the sear will only be released if the trigger is deliberately pressed as well as a Hammer Block. The only external safety on the R51 is a full-length grip safety on the backstrap. Unless the grip safety is fully depressed, presumably by a hand gripping the gun, the trigger will not travel and the sear will not release. It feels different from the grip safety on a 1911. It feels more "positive." Engaging the grip safety is both tactile and audible. That said, it is not very much of either. If you pay attention, you can feel a subtle "click" of the safety engaging. There is also a "click" you can hear. But you can only hear it if the sound isn't being muffled by a hand gripping the gun. A few feet away, I doubt anyone who did not have "super" in his title could hear the grip safety engaging. However, lacking any other safety, such as frame or slide mounted lever or the second-trigger-on-the-trigger so popular now, a grip safety is comforting, especially considering the lighter Single Action Only trigger weight. Under the right conditions, it may be possible to unintentionally depress the grip safety. This makes it critical to safe carry by using a holster which completely protects the trigger.
The R51 is comfortable to carry. I stoked it with some Hornady Critical Duty and have been carrying it in a Don Hume JIT 59 for OWB and a Desantis Sof-Tuk for IWB/Tuckable. The Don Hume JIT 59 has a tight and secure fit. It held the R51 secure and in place while I sprinted 30 yards back and forth to my van, through a storm deluge, because I'd left my windows down. The Desantis Sof-Tuk keeps the R51 securely in place. The R51 is light enough for comfort. Further the rounded and "dehorned" design means that there are fewer sharp bits which can dig into my side, a problem I've had with some other pistols.
Despite what has been reported by some others, there are numerous holsters being made for the R51 and many others reputed to fit. CrossBreed takes the top spot by a wide margin with the vast majority of their pistol holsters, both inside and outside, having R51 options. CrossBreed has dozens of options. DeSantis easily takes a well earned second place with their web site listing no fewer than 11 holster models fit for the R51.
Holsters for Remington R51:
Don Hume JIT Slide model 59 (made for the Makarov)
Talon Tuckable Remington R51 IWB Holster
AlienGear has at least 4 models
CrossBreed (most models)
Desantis (at least 11 models)
The Gen 2 is harder to disassemble and reassemble than the Gen 1. This is almost entirely due to a heavier recoil spring. I believe that Remington added a heavier recoil spring to address the issues some reviewers of the Gen 1 had of the pistol not fully returning to battery, requiring a little "bump" on the heel of the slide. This makes the gun more challenging to take apart and reassemble. That's not entirely fair. What makes the R51 challenging to field strip and reassemble is the unusual action. While detailed, the users manual is not the most clear on the process. Remington has published a video online which makes it easy. It is not as intuitive as some semi-autos, nor is it particularly the same as the beloved 1911. Yet it is not as daunting as the Ruger Mark series. The field strip is, well, "different." It takes a little getting used to but once understood is, honestly, no more trouble than any other and less than some. One element which is improved seems to be the Takedown Pin. Like the 1911, the takedown pin is also the Slide Stop. On the R51, there is a notch on the slide stop side of the pin which must link below a spring which is captive in the frame. This spring presses the slide stop down and prevents it from engaging unless pushed up by the pressure of the magazine follower engaging the last round hold open lever. On the Gen 1, it was very easy to accidentally get this notch above the captive spring, which would cause the firearm to malfunction. On the Gen 2, I found that I could not intentionally make the notch engage above the spring. Without having the Gen 1 and Gen 2 parts to compare, I speculate that this part was redesigned to fix this problem. I hope this is the case.
The Gen 2 Remington R51 is a joy to shoot. It is comfortable, points naturally, sights easily, is accurate, and allows easy follow up shots. The R51 carries comfortably and there are a number of decent options for leather or kydex in all price ranges. It is an attractively styled gun which I suspect after market parts and coating jobs will only help to bling up. On my example, Remington has certainly fixed all of the failures of the Gen 1, making a reliable and comfortable gun. Finally, the price point is right. Street prices of below $400 are common and it is hard to beat that dollar figure for a U.S. made, aluminum & steel handgun, particularly undercutting a certain Austrian single-stack 9 "Tupperware" gun by a good 20%. Go rent or borrow a Gen 2 R51; shoot it and see. But bring an extra $400 with you because I predict a lot of you are going to be leaving with your own R51.