The Remington R51 – Was It That Bad?

Remington recently went bankrupt, and the entire Freedom Group was chopped up and sold off. Before Remington went under, they produced a number of new designs, especially in the handgun world, that failed rather spectacularly. Why did guns like the RP9 and RM380 not gain much of a following? Well, it’s likely because the R51 failed so spectacularly and so publicly.

The R51 was a reboot of the Model 51 Remington, introduced in 1918. The gun aimed to use the rarely used and underappreciated hesitation-locked blowback system. The advantages were a lower bore axis and a fixed barrel without the recoil associated with blowback-operated firearms. It worked in 1918 and did work in the R51.

Why the R51 Failed

Sadly, not much else worked with the R51. The first generation proved to be a total and absolute failure. The gun not only had tons of problems cycling, but it constantly jammed and failed. In fact, the gun would often fire before the action was fully closed, creating a dangerous, often gun breaking out of battery detonation. Remington did a voluntary recall and then created a Gen 2 model that aimed to solve the problems of the previous incarnation.

The gen 2 was more successful but still had issues, especially with the magazines. Apparently, the gun had issues feeding with a full magazine. User-induced fixes were to trim the spring a hair, which created problems with the slide locking to the rear when the last round was fired.

The R51 got a bad rap, and people weren’t willing to try it again, so Remington discontinued the gun. I actually really wanted an R51 when they were released, but luckily avoided them. Well, until now. I recently acquired one fairly cheap on the used market and bought it for two reasons. First, I wanted a living example of the Pedersen hesitation locked system, and I wanted to see how bad the R51 really is.

At the Range With the R51

With a little 9mm and a hopeful heart, I went to the range to see how the R51 shot. After some sleuthing, I figured out my example was a gen 2. At least it wouldn’t blow up. I immediately noticed the previous owner trimmed the spring of the magazines because I was lucky if the slide locked to the rear.

Okay, well, let’s see how they feed and shoot. I’ll start with reliability. It certainly had reliability issues. It could be the gun or the hack job done to the magazines. It’s not like the magazines pop up for sale often, so I can’t get an unmolested model. I had at least one failure in every magazine. Sometimes the round dived. Other times it failed to load or eject. It’s certainly not reliable enough for daily carry.

The R51 isn’t a pleasant shooter. It’s a bit painful. I get a healthy dose of slide bite which is always fun. More than that, it seems like the grip safety pinches the hand when you fire the gun. The recoil seems to force your hand into the gap between the grip safety and the grip. It’s certainly not super pleasant to shoot in that regard.

Is It All Bad?

No, it does have a few redeeming qualities, admittedly not enough to redeem the gun-to-carry status. I will say the weapon is quite accurate. In fact, it’s impressively accurate. The trigger is stiff but short. The three-dot sights are easy to see and use. I was surprised at how well I shot the weapon. I dialed in very little groups, and it was impressive how far back I could scoot and hit a gong. Out to 35 yards, I could keep the gong moving with precision slow fire.

The weapon has a respectable level of recoil. The low bore axis is noticeable here, and the gun seems to return right back to the target almost quicker than I can register. This makes your follow-up shots easy and accurate. I also like the ergonomics. The ambidextrous magazine release is nice, the grips are heavily textured, and the slide release is easy to reach and use.

Admittedly I also like the looks of the gun. It’s got a retro-futuristic appeal to it. It’s almost as if it belongs in the Rocketeer world. I think the hesitation delay system is neat, and I’m a nerd for things that break the blowback and Browning tilting barrel design.

A Sad Story

Sadly, the R51 didn’t succeed. It’s a neat idea. I would love to say this was a great gun, but alas, it’s just not. I think the R51 was a good step that Remington rushed before it was ready. It really ruined Remington’s reputation and helped pound those nails into the coffin.

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Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. Travis has trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA-certified pistol instructor and pursues a variety of firearms-based hobbies.

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1 thought on “The Remington R51 – Was It That Bad?”

  1. I, need help..Old Vietnam Veteran. No piece held in 50+ years. Corpsman. 76 with some shakes and weakness. Mind is 100 %..missing L leg. 100% disabled. Want something with little blow back that wife and I can use. Suggestions! Cost not a Problem. Tried a little Sauyer? Had tough time pulling back slide. Was a 22! Had red light, loved it. Shook so much would have hit ctr Mass but not where aimed !
    Bob Doc Jon’s
    Meredith, NH
    [email protected]

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