Gun Review: Remington R51 v 2.0, Take Two

After many years (decades?) of concentrating on shotguns and rifles, Remington finally got back into the business of handgun production. Today Remington makes a variety of successful handguns including a slew of 1911s, as well as the duty-size 9mm RP9 and the pocket-sized RM380.

But there was a big hiccup on the way back to handgun production for Big Green. Remington decided to resurrect the old Model 51 a few years ago as the R51. The retro-styled pistol had all manner of problems and was eventually recalled. A year or so later, the nation’s oldest gun maker brought it back as version 2.0 (see TTAG’s original review of redesigned R51 here). the  I won the latest version of the R51 a while back and put it through its paces.

The aluminum framed R51 comes from a nearly 100-year-old operating mechanism developed by John Pedersen. Yes, the John Pedersen, of Pedersen Device fame. You can read at Wiki how the R51’s unique operating system works. Anyway, the system supposedly makes the gun softer-shooting and the slide easier to rack.

When I opened the box and took out the pistol for the first time, I had very positive first impressions. I like the snag-free sights; three big, white circles easy for old eyes to see. Additionally, the grip angle, with the incorporated grip safety, and low bore axis, lends itself to natural pointing. Double-checking that it was unloaded, dry-firing brought a slight grin. The trigger broke smoothly and consistently without creep.

Plus, the gun just looks cool, like something James Bond might carry with its streamlined, vaguely futuristic lines. I could definitely see people buying this slim pistol for snag-free concealed carry. Meanwhile, southpaws will appreciate the ambidextrous mag release.

Looking it over again, I noticed how everything felt smooth on this little pistol. Possibly a little too smooth. With wet or bloody hands, it could be a slippery rascal. Your perceptions might vary.

The first time I took the gun to the range, though, it didn’t go entirely smoothly. Lots of little things made it frustrating. The R51 was hard on the webbing of my hand and I had several malfunctions as well. Some folks told me it needed more of a break-in, so a break-in it got. Since then I’ve shot it some more and gave it a good scrubbing.

Just breaking down the R51 for cleaning elicited more than a few swear words. Putting it back together brought forth a few more and a trip to YouTube for a video demonstration. In the end, I remember sighing, “That was harder than it should be.”

But sure enough, after almost 300 rounds and a good cleaning, the malfunction issues settled down. But a few minor demons remain. While none of the issues are deal-breakers, they keep me from really liking this gun.

First off, racking the steel slide on that fully-loaded magazine proved difficult. How difficult? Hard enough that it took me three tries to hold onto things tightly enough to pull the slide fully to the rear so it would catch that top round. My good friend, a retired FBI special agent and Fibbie firearms trainer had similar issues when I handed it to him.

I’ll admit I’m not 18 years old any more, nor do I look like Mr. America. But the slide proved quite a little bugger on that full magazine. It’s the polar opposite of S&W’s new M&P EZ when it comes to the ease of racking the slide on a loaded mag.

Ejecting a seated topped-off mag on a closed slide proved tough, too. I can’t imagine a lot of scenarios where I would dump a mag like that in a gun battle, but it happens now and then on the range. That’s something that may smooth out over time.

Additionally, for those of you who use the slide stop instead of pulling back on the slide to load and make ready, you may find the R51’s slide stop a tad too shallow. Especially if one you find yourself with flipper fingers courtesy of an adrenaline dump when the S hits the F.

Are any these deal-killers? No. However, they can prove pesky, especially for those without a lot of grip strength.

I shot the Dot Torture drill with the R51 just as I do with every handgun I review. It gives me an apples-to-apples comparison for how well I can shoot a given pistol compared to my everyday carry gun. By my count, I dropped 15 from perfect (50) at five yards. My typical score lately hovers around 45 out of 50.

Taking a break, then really bearing down for maximum accuracy, the R51 showed it can definitely shoot minute of bad guy at five yards. The trigger reset happens at nearly a full-release and without much in the way of sound or tactile notice.

On the whole, the R51 left me insufficiently impressed. While I like the design and the guns carry-ability, I’m left with the feeling that it could have (should have?) been done better.

Specifications: Remington R51 (version 2)

Caliber: 9mm para, +P rated
Barrel Length: 3.4 inches
Overall Length: 6.6 inches
Width: 1 inch
Height: 4.6 inches
Weight: 22 oz.
Capacity: 7+1, ships with two 7-round magazines
MSRP: $448 (street price about $385)

Ratings (out of five stars):

Reliability: * * *
Following a 300-round “break in period” and a good cleaning, the R51 did much better. It ate all but one of the (mostly Federal) 9mm ball ammo I fed it. While one malfunction doesn’t spell disaster, the gun’s previous malfunctions caused me to mark it down two stars instead of one.

Accuracy:  * * * 
I couldn’t shoot the R51 anywhere near as well as I shoot most other handguns. The gun certainly performs to within minute of bad guy specs. At the same time, if I can’t consistently put them where they need to go, all that doesn’t matter.

Ease of Use: * * 1/2
Charging the gun from a closed slide requires real effort and concentration – when it should require neither. Ejecting a full mag on a closed slide requires some effort, too. Cleaning proved to be a drag. Probably not a gun for beginners.

Trigger: * * * *
So much of the ability to land shots on target rests with a good trigger. For a factory trigger without any work, Big Green’s R51 ranks as good. I’m a bit of a trigger snob (despite an edit by my editor in a previous review), and the R51’s stands as a bright spot with this little pistol.

Value: * * *
While the gun lists for just under $450, I’ve seen them under well under $400 on the shelf, occasionally as low as three bills. Not bad.

Overall: * * *
Bottom line: Let’s not make shooting harder than it has to be, Remington. You’ve got a stylish pistol with a good trigger and easy-to-see sights that points nicely. The exotic action makes it a pain to clean without bringing any tangible benefits to the table. The magazine tension makes racking the slide on a full magazine harder than it should be.