Remington is charging into the handgun market with serious intent, and the company’s latest pistol, the subcompact Remington R51, is a real game-changer in the concealed carry sector. It was only a couple of years ago that Remington decided to start making handguns again with the 1911 R1 and R1 Enhanced. These represented a return to the company’s World War I and II military pistols, but brought up to date with modern manufacturing and designs.
The new Remington R51 also looks to Remington’s past for inspiration, and the company found it in the unique Remington Model 51, made from 1919 to 1926. This pistol was designed by John Pedersen, who may best be known for developing the rare Pedersen device that turned a 1903 Springfield rifle into a pistol-caliber, high-capacity semi-auto. The Model 51 was no less revolutionary, and Remington sought to preserve what made that pistol so exemplary while bringing the design into the 21st century.
The new Remington R51 is a single-action (SA), hammer-fired, semi-automatic pistol chambered in 9mm +P with a 7+1 round capacity. It uses a redesigned and much stronger Pedersen breechblock mechanism for its operation, which combines blowback and locked-breech styles. Essentially, the action is held closed by the recoil spring pressure alone, and the pistol acts as a pure blowback operated gun for the first tiny fraction of an inch.
“Remington decided to make the new R51 a true defensive pistol and redesigned the Pedersen block to be much stronger to handle 9mm +P ammunition…”
When the breechblock and slide travel backward together, the cartridge is partially extracted from the chamber; however, the slide still shields the partially exposed case. The breechblock is stopped in its movement by the frame, so the action stays locked at that point, allowing chamber pressures to drop. Momentum forces the slide to the rear until it unlocks the breechblock so the cartridge can be extracted and ejected. This system could be described as a delayed blowback, but it is really more than that.
The advantages of the system are significant. By combining blowback and locked-breech operation, the Remington R51 offers a smaller profile that can handle higher pressures. It also has a significant recoil-reducing effect. The barrel is also fixed with the recoil spring around it, helping to create both improved accuracy from a fixed barrel and an extremely low bore axis, which also significantly reduces recoil. Another advantage is that a lighter recoil spring can be used, making the slide much easier to manipulate, especially for women or those with weaker hand strength. According to Remington, the R51 has “the lightest slide racking force in its class.”
The original Model 51 was chambered in .32 and .380 ACP, although a .45 ACP prototype was developed and tested by the U.S. military. It was a favorite carry pistol of General George S. Patton. Remington decided to make the new R51 a true defensive pistol and redesigned the Pedersen block to be much stronger to handle 9mm +P ammunition. A .40-caliber version will also be available, but possibly not until late 2014.
A single-action-only, hammer-fired pistol (the hammer is internal) with no thumb safety may make some leery, but the Remington R51 does have a very positive grip safety that can be heard when it engages. There is also a trigger bar disconnect safety, so the pistol will not fire unless the shooter has both a firm grip on the gun and intentionally squeezes the trigger. The design is as safe, if not safer, than many striker-fired handguns. The SA trigger itself has also been redesigned for improved safety, but it is still a fairly light trigger at 6.5 pounds and with only about a quarter-inch of travel. The trigger reset takes a bit of getting used to, as it is completely imperceptible. You have to make sure to completely let the trigger go forward to ensure it has reset.
“This is a subcompact pistol, but not a micro-pistol one would typically carry in a pants pocket…”
The steel slide has a matte black finish and is topped off with drift-adjustable, three-white-dot front and rear sights. These use standard dovetails, so they can be replaced with aftermarket night sights if desired. The rear sight has a distinct reverse arc, with the actual sight placed at the front of the unit. This is to provide the pistol with a very smooth profile for an easy draw, although it does slightly shorten the sight radius. The entire pistol has had all of its edges smoothed or rounded for comfort and concealment. The slide also features a lowered and flared ejection port for reliable ejection and operation.
The barrel is made from 416 stainless steel and features some odd-looking grooves cut around the outside, about a quarter-inch from the muzzle. These are actually intended to aid in disassembly, which is a bit different than most shooters may be used to but is easily mastered and accomplished. The barrel does remain fixed in position during operation, but it comes off the frame with the slide during disassembly. A threaded version for use with a suppressor is in the works.
Interestingly, Remington decided to go with a lightweight aluminum frame instead of the now more common polymer. While polymer is cheaper and lighter, the aluminum frame allowed faster production and, with no flex, should help improve accuracy. The triggerguard has an undercut allowing a higher grip on the frame, and the pistol also features a fully functional slide lock/release and an ambidextrous magazine release. The magazine release is oversized to allow for ease of use, and the magazines drop free aggressively.
The 20-degree grip angle is designed for superior ergonomics and controllability while also helping to reduce perceived recoil. On the sides of the grip frame there are removable panels, which allow the user to customize the pistol with different colors or materials or wider grips for a better, more hand-filling feel. Standard, thin aluminum grips are included, and a Crimson Trace laser is an option as well.
At the front of the grip frame there is 25-lines-per-inch (lpi) checkering to provide a better gripping surface. The rear of the grip houses the smooth grip safety. Users should train with this device, as a loose grip will not be sufficient to activate it. When the grip safety is engaged, an audible click can be heard. With a proper grip, this occurs instantly.
This is a subcompact pistol, but not a micro-pistol one would typically carry in a pants pocket. Remington sought to keep the dimensions close to the original known as the “6-4-1” category (6 inches long, 4 inches high and 1 inch wide). The pistol’s unloaded weight is just 22 ounces, making it very comfortable and concealable. As mentioned, the Pedersen design also allows for a very compact action with a low bore. This allows the Remington R51 to have the same height as comparable subcompact pistols but with a larger grip that allows for a higher capacity and a full four-finger hold with the standard flush-fit, seven-round magazines. That also helps in reducing perceived recoil and improving controllability and shooter comfort.
I had the opportunity to test-fire more than half-a-dozen early samples of the R51 during an event at the Gunsite Academy where a group of shooters put more than 3,000 rounds through the guns provided. I found that the slide is indeed extremely easy to manipulate, and the ergonomics were outstanding, as the gun fit well in my hand and had a natural pointability. However, what impressed me most was the gun’s recoil impulse. I have never fired any full-sized or compact 9mm pistol with less felt recoil and less muzzle climb than the R51.
I later received a test pistol for additional evaluation and review. Firing it right out of the box, I did experience several malfunctions, such as a failure to feed, a failure to eject, a double feed, and twice the magazine simply dropped free. The blame doesn’t lie with the R51, however—I may not have had the magazine fully seated. Because the magazine fits perfectly flush with the grips, it is important to make sure that it is completely seated. After about 100 rounds, I switched magazines, and whether it was the new magazine, my attention to fully seating it or an initial break-in period, I experienced no further issues.
For accuracy, I tested the R51 at 7 yards from a sandbag rest, and the results were very good, with an average spread of about 2 inches across all ammunition types. My best result measured less than 1 inch using Liberty Ammunition’s 50-grain 9mm +P ammo. This round travels at a very high velocity, close to twice that of a standard 9mm round, but its fragmenting design helps stop a threat and prevent overpenetration. It did have a great deal of muzzle blast, however.
They say that a concealed carry gun is one you carry a lot and shoot very little. Not so with the R51, which allows the user to both easily carry and regularly train with their handgun. Remington fully intends to become a major competitor in the handgun market, and the R51 is certainly a game changer that will have many folks taking a good look. For anyone who may be recoil sensitive but still desires a subcompact, full-power handgun for concealed carry or personal protection inside the home, the R51 is ideal.
For more information, visit http://www.remington.com.