Let’s go back to 2014. I was quite excited about the inevitable release of the Remington R51. In my head, I had built this gun up to be awesome. It would be my new carry gun. It had made a big showing at SHOT, and it was the talk of the town. Thankfully, I was too poor to rush out and purchase one as soon as it was released.
The gun’s legacy and ultimate failure had an effect on the gun culture that’s still felt to this day. Before we dig too deep into its faults and failures, let’s explain why I and many others were so excited by the pistol.
Early Origins of the R51
This wasn’t a new design. In fact, Remington was just reviving an old design and bringing it to the forefront once again. Remington produced the Model 51 in 1917, and it came in either .32 ACP or .380 ACP. The original pistol was designed by John Pedersen, a man who deserves his own article. The Model 51 was interesting because of its hesitation-locked system.
The design was novel and offered an alternative to the direct blowback guns of the era. The system works like so. The breech block sits forward just slightly in front of the locking shoulder in the frame. When the user fires the gun, the bolt and slide move rearward much like a direct blowback gun. When the breech block meets the locking shoulder, it locks, and this has the effect of locking the breech.
This keeps the breech locked long enough for the bullet to leave the barrel and for pressure to drop to a safe level. The slide moves rearward. The breech block unlocks, and the gun cycles. The main benefit of this system is that the gun’s slide can be lighter, and it doesn’t require a stiff recoil spring. When fired, it generates less recoil than a direct blowback weapon and allows you to use calibers like 9mm without excessive slide weight.
While the original Model 51 used .32 ACP and .380 ACP, the new Model R51 would use 9mm. Nerds like me were excited to see this gun come back with its hesitation-locked system.
The New R51
The R51 would keep the hesitation-locked action, but there were plenty of changes made. The biggest was the switch to 9mm. The second was an aluminum frame with grip inserts to provide traction. The sights were a modern three-dot variety, and the gun ditched the thumb and magazine safety but did retain the grip safety.
Overall the gun kept the same general shape and size of the original but leaned into modern cuts and trims to make it more modern. The art deco design of the gun made it quite eye-catching. If Remington’s goal was to break the blocky look of modern guns, they did that in spades.
So What Happened?
Remington released the gun, and it was not quite the hit they expected. In fact, it was a dismal failure in the hands of reviewers. The gun was meant for concealed carry and defensive use, but it choked through magazine after magazine. Reviewers at TTAG, Recoil, and The Firearm Blog all reported reliability issues.
Additionally, the guns were firing out of battery, meaning the slide wasn’t fully closed before the round ignited. This can create a hazardous situation where the gun goes kaboom. Outside of the reliability and danger issues, the gun was reported to be uncomfortable to fire and a massive pain to take apart and clean.
Customers and the internet weren’t happy. However, what changed in gun culture was this massive difference between the internet and user experiences and reviews from gun magazines. A lot of these reviews were glowing and preached as if it was the second coming of John Browning.
This created a certain distrust in both gun magazines of the era and new-release guns. Gun people quickly learned not to be beta testers. Remington offered a voluntary recall on the gun and promised a fix.
Slowly more information leaked out, including Remington engineers leaking to the press that they thought the gun wasn’t ready for general release. Remington then erased any information about the gun from their website, and it was all quiet until 2016. Remington quietly released the second generation of the R51.
The Gen 2 Fix
Gen 2 was an improvement, but it was far from perfect. The gun wasn’t dangerous anymore and didn’t fire out of battery. The gun became more reliable but still wasn’t that reliable. The magazines had issues, and several people came up with fixes. Shooters could trim the spring one loop, and apparently, they’d work fine, but then would often fail to lock the slide back to the rear.
The Gen 2 didn’t sell much better, and the gun was quietly discontinued.
How Does It Handle?
It took until 2023 for me to finally get a Remington R51. I saw it for sale for a very low price point and, out of curiosity, picked one up. At the first shot, it was easy to see why the gun failed. The best thing it does is look cool.
Every magazine had at least one failure to feed. The slide rarely locked to the rear at the end of the magazine. While recoil wasn’t bad, the gun eats your hand. Not only are you getting slide bites, but the grip safety seems to pinch your hand. It gets old quickly and painful even quicker.
While the gun sucks overall, it has some high points. The ambidextrous magazine release is quite nice. The grip feels nice in the hand—well, it does prior to firing it. The sights are good. In firing, I found it to be very quick to return back to the target. I’m not sure why, but outside of non-reciprocating slides, the R51 has the easiest-to-track iron sights ever. Maybe it’s the low bore axis or high grip. I’m just not sure.
The trigger is odd. It’s very light but fairly stiff. It works, and the gun is also surprisingly accurate. I could shoot the gun very quickly and very accurately. If it was reliable and didn’t chew my hand up, it would be tough not to love.
The Last Hope
The Remington R51 is gone and not likely to ever be revived. The public has no trust in the design. I’m glad I finally got one, and I’m glad I paid less than $200 for it. It’s still a neat and novel gun, but it made me really want an original Model 51. While it won’t happen, I’d take a Glock-sized R51 with a 15-round mag and a red dot. It won’t happen, but damn, it’d be cool to have.
Sadly, that’s the last hope I have for the Remington R51 and Model 51. It’s sad the gun failed so hard and likely killed the art deco comeback for guns and the hesitation-delay system.