The R51 9mm
Remington’s New Pocket Auto Is An
Updated, Modern Version Of The Early
Pedersen-Designed Model 51.
John D. Pedersen was one of the world’s most prolific and revered gun designers. His name is best known for his invention of the WWI “Pedersen Device” to convert the Springfield M1903 into an autoloading rifle with a capacity of 40 pistol-sized cartridges. Associated with Remington from 1903 to 1941, Pedersen designed their Model 10 pump shotgun, Model 12 pump .22 rimfire, Models 14 and 14-1/2 pump high-power rifles, Model 17 pump shotgun, Model 25 pump rifle and what is considered one of the finest autoloading pistols ever invented—the slim, trim, Model 51 pocket pistol.
Sold from 1919 to 1926 and chambered for the .32 and .380 ACP cartridges, the Model 51 was one of a family of popular pocket pistols, which included the Colt 1903/1908 and the Browning 1910/1922 hammerless models. The pocket pistols were all slim, trim and well rounded without sharp lines or prominent sights. Pocket pistols might have blended into your attire if you were wearing heavy wool, pleated front, winter pants or maybe even a large pocket holster, but I suspect the term “pocket” referred primarily to a coat, raincoat or overcoat pocket where the wee pistols could indeed pull off a disappearing act, and did it quite well in fact. I can speak from experience.
Several features built into Pedersen’s design set the Remington Model 51 apart from and above its competition. Foremost was Pedersen’s delayed blowback, locked-breech action, which could handle pressures only dreamed about by its straight blowback competition. It’s a complicated design incorporating a fixed barrel and separate, moving, locking breechblock, not simple to machine or time, but then again Pedersen was noted for his “engineering complexity.” Anyone who has disassembled and reassembled a Model 51 will confirm this.
The grip angle and full-length grip of the Model 51 proved ideal in the hands of most shooters and were the result of hundreds of experiments carried out by Pedersen. The Model 51 was a natural pointer. Lying low in the hand and perfectly balanced, the Model 51 minimized barrel flip for fast repeat shots while the delayed blowback action smoothed out felt recoil. It featured both a full grip safety, a magazine disconnect safety and a small thumb safety, and I suspect most owners ignored the thumb safety when carrying.
One of the interesting concepts of the Model 51 was it was built to a 6x4x1 proportional design. That’s 6 inches long, 4 inches high and 1 inch thick.
The Model 51 was somewhat pricey, selling for $36.30 when introduced in 1919. One of its prominent boosters was well-heeled, Gen. George S. Patton, who is pictured carrying a Model 51 with four silver stars inlaid into its right grip during WWII.
Well, the 6x4x1 pistol is back in the Remington lineup, and with a model designation of R51, you know it has to have a distinguished pedigree. Chip Klass, director of handgun product management at Remington, assigned research engineer Adam Walker the job of updating the Pedersen design so it could accommodate 9mm, 9mm+P and .40 S&W ammunition while adhering, more-or-less, to the Pedersen’s original 6x4x1 proportions.
Walker’s mission was to design the new R51 while maintaining the personality and shooting characteristics of the original Model 51. An interesting subset to that mission was to design the slide system of the R51 so women would have no problem racking the slide.
The overall mission proved to be quite a challenge, and Walker admitted to me he developed a much greater appreciation for the design genius and engineering complexity of John Pedersen.
Following on the heels of Remington’s recent introduction of their Model 1911 R1’s, the new R51 is a remarkable achievement and Chip Klass told us, “You haven’t seen anything yet” when it comes to Remington and new handguns.
With a case in the air, notice the lack of muzzle flip of the R51.
Ammunition testing at 15 yards was done from a steady rest.
While it appears to be much beefier than the Model 51, the R51 maintains the approximate 6x4x1 proportions of the original Pedersen design. The frame is aluminum with fully melted styling. There isn’t a sharp edge anywhere on the snag-free frame to get hung up on while you’re drawing from your coat pocket or holster, making it a great CCW design.
The grip angle of the R51 is a perfect 20 degrees, making the pistol a natural pointer and an accurate extension of your shooting arm. In fact, on silhouettes at 15 yards, I never even had to look at the 3-dot sights. I just pointed and shot with perfect shot placement. The grip is also a hand-filling, full-length grip so your pinky is not waving around out there in mid-air.
The front of the grip strap is checkered at 25 lpi, offering great control when drawing or shooting and added security if your hand is a bit sweaty or wet. The stock grip panels can be changed out with Remington rubber, wood or fashion designs or with larger panels for larger hands.
The new frame is nicely undercut behind the triggerguard, lowering the pistol in your hand. This low bore axis design of the R51, combined with the Pedersen-style breechblock, absorbs recoil energy and dramatically reduces felt recoil and muzzle flip. The R51 in 9mm+P is the most manageable sub-compact 9mm I’ve ever fired. As you can see from the rear angle photo of me firing the R51 with 9mm+P ammunition, there’s a spent case in the air and the muzzle is nearly level, facilitating accurate follow-up shots if needed. Mechanically, the R51 action cycles unusually fast as well.
Engineer Walker showed me pictures of a muzzle flip test comparing the R51 to the S&W Shield and the Ruger LCR using a Ransom rest. The R51 muzzle rose 13.67 degrees, the S&W 16 degrees and the Ruger 19.34 degrees. Those tests confirmed what I experienced empirically on the range.
True to his mission, Walker came up with a slide design most women can probably rack back without a struggle. He also did away with Pedersen’s wart of a thumb safety. The R51 features a full-length grip safety so you simply don’t have to think about releasing a thumb safety during moments of high stress. There is also an internal hammer block safety, but Walker thankfully eliminated the Pedersen magazine disconnect safety.
The R51, single-action, 2-stage trigger has to be experienced to be appreciated. I taped down the grip safety, chucked the pistol in a bench vice and brought out my Lyman electronic gauge. The trigger pull averaged a crisp 6 pounds, 11 ounces. It feels lighter.
Fieldstripped, the R51 breaks down into 6 parts for routine cleaning.
How does the R51 shoot? Well, this was the fun part. Courtesy of Brian Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Gun Shop in Tucson, Ariz., I had on hand an original Model 51 in .380 ACP for comparative handling purposes. Given the superior performance levels of today’s .380 ACP and 9mm ammunition, either caliber is suitable for personal defense purposes.
For checking out the R51, I fired Remington UMC 115-grain FMJ, Remington Ultimate Defense 124-grain, brass jacketed hollowpoint (formerly called “Golden Saber”) and Barnes 115-grain TAC-XPD +P hollowpoint. For the Model 51, I had some S&B .380 ACP FMJ on hand.
Both the Model 51 and the R51 magazines hold 7 rounds. One feature missing in the Model 51 is a loaded chamber indicator. In the R51, there is an observation port visible on the top of the slide, which reveals whether or not there is a case in the chamber. It could also serve as a gas vent.
First, the Model 51. Same easy slide racking as the R51. Creepy trigger. Minimal fixed sights. Slim, trim, excellent feel in the hand. Instinctive pointer.
At 15 yards, 3-inch to 4-inch 7-shot groups at the point-of-aim were the norm. The sights on the Pedersen are tiny, little nubs. You are virtually point-shooting with this pocket pistol so those generous groups didn’t surprise me one bit.
Next, the R51. Highly visible, Novak-style, 3-dot sights, windage adjustable. Instinctive pointer. Smooth, light trigger. Bulkier feeling in the hand.
Test ammo included 115-grain Remington/UMC FMJ, Barnes
115-grain TAC-XPD +P and Remington 124-grain Home Defense JHP.
Remington’s Home Defense and Barnes TAC-XPD delivered
6-shot groups under 2 inches at 15 yards.
At 15 yards, the Remington/UMC produced a 7-shot group of 4 inches, the Remington Ultimate Defense, 3 inches but with 6 shots in 1-1/2 inches and the Barnes TAC-XPD, 3-1/2 inches but with 6 shots in 1-7/8 inches. The groups hovered around the point-of-aim and about 1/2-inch left-of-center, which is easily corrected by drifting the front sight left or the rear sight right. I was extremely pleased that the factory sights were zeroed while those 6-shot groups of 1-1/2 and 1-7/8 inches were a testament to the R51’s inherent accuracy. It’s a bloody good pistol. Well done, Engineer Walker!
One of the really commendable sides of Remington’s roll-out of the R51 is the lineup of accessories already available to the buyer. Alternative grip panels are available from Remington. Threaded, suppressor-ready barrels are available from Remington or Storm Lake. Laser sighting systems are available from Crimson Trace, LaserLyte and LaserMax. Night sights are available from Novak, Kensight, XS Sight Systems and Trijicon, while holsters and magazine holders are available from Galco, Fobus, CrossBreed and Comp-Tac.
Maybe the best part of the story is that Remington is bringing the R51 to the market with a price of $420. Looks like the company has another winning Pedersen in their stable.
The Pedersen Firing Cycle
Since the heart of the R51 is the Pedersen action,
here in Remington’s words is the Pedersen firing cycle:
1. Slide & breech block held in battery by a spring encircling the barrel.
2. At the shot, the slide and breechblock move together initially (blowback).
3. When the breechblock contacts the frame, it stops momentarily
to dissipate energy from the slide, allowing the slide to
continue rearward by momentum.
a) The period of hesitation from the breechblock is called “dwell time.”
b) Dwell time is what controls the slide velocity.
4. At a given point during the slide’s rearward motion,
the slide picks up the breechblock, unlocking it out of battery.
5. The ejector hits a point on the slide, ejecting the cartridge.
6. At the end of the cycle, the spring brings the slide and breechblock
forward, eventually dropping the breechblock down, locking it back into battery.
By Holt Bodinson
Photos By Robbie Barrkman
Barnes Bullets, LLC
38 N Frontage Rd, Mona, UT 84645
2019 West Quail Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85027
Maker: Remington Arms
870 Remington Drive
P.O. Box 700
Madison, NC 27025
Action Type: Delayed blowback, locked breech
Caliber: 9mm (.40 S&W soon)
Barrel Length: 3-1/2 inches
Overall Length: 6.6 inches
Weight: 21.9 ounces empty
Finish: Black, anodized
Sights: 3-dot, Novak-style, windage adjustable
Grips: checkered polymer