In July of 2016 Remington reintroduced one of the most controversial firearms ever manufactured. The R51, originally released in 2014, was first met with a lot of anticipation because it was a lightweight, compact, +P capable, single action, 9mm handgun, built on a metal frame, with a very low bore axis, and a contoured profile optimized for concealed carry.
Due to production problems, it didn’t take long for public opinion to turn. What initially looked like one of the most innovative new defensive handguns became the root of a deep controversy—one that tarnished Remington’s reputation and cast a shadow of uncertainty on the integrity of gun magazines and those who contribute to them.
In December of 2013, the R51 made its début at Gunsite Academy and journalists in attendance communicated high praise. I wasn’t there but conducted the first independent field test of the R51. I was impressed and in my July 2014 article called it the “best new compact 9mm handgun on the market.” What I didn’t know was the pistol I’d received was a pre-mass production model. When the R51 began hitting shelves, bad reports surfaced. This wasn’t too unusual. Often journalists receive pre-production firearms and, just as often, initial mass-produced firearms have issues. Pre-Internet, these problems were fixed, and most never knew they existed.
What happened next was unusual. A blogger, who’d been passed over for employment by the publisher of the magazine my article appeared in, called my integrity into question. He even insinuated gun magazines lie to make manufacturers happy and earn advertising dollars. This led to an Internet firestorm. You would’ve thought Remington unleashed 10,000 pieces of junk and the gun magazines lied while knowing they didn’t work.
First, let’s address Remington’s mistakes. It wasn’t prepared to mass-produce the R51 with its novel architecture. Its mechanics were unique enough to prevent standing quality control procedures to detect or limit production issues. This resulted in just over 3,000 potentially problematic R51s being shipped. The second mistake was not taking swift ownership of its bungle.
By not announcing a reliability recall immediately, Remington left consumers to speculate that trusted firearms journalists had deceived them. Several loyal readers contacted me wondering how I could endorse a pistol with so many problems. My only defense was that I could only report on the pistol I’d received. Incidentally, my R51 review occurred only a few weeks after my clairvoyant powers had left me. When I tested the R51, I had no way of knowing what was to come.
As for lying gun writers and gun magazines, which are allegedly bought and paid for by advertisers, this is patently false. As in any profession, I know charlatans exist in mine. Might some writers lie on occasion, or even more often? Without question. Your loved ones lie to you too; dishonesty is an unpleasant fact of life. However, given the editorial checks and balances in print publications, I’m sure lying occurs on the Internet at a higher frequency. I know this because I’ve worked in both venues for more than a decade. Something that occurs even more often are gun writers refusing to report on products that just plain suck.
Remington finally acknowledged the problem. In July 2014, they voluntarily recalled the R51. Remington offered unsatisfied R51 consumers three options: First, they could accept the aforementioned return in exchange for a new R51, with two extra magazines, and a Pelican case.
Second, they could exchange their R51 for a 1911 R1 at no additional cost.
Third, they could return their R51 for a refund at the full-suggested retail price.
This was an unprecedented step. Had I been one of the unsatisfied, I’d have opted for the more expensive R1 and purchased another R51 when the bugs were worked out. But my R51 worked just fine; I didn’t want to send it back. I carried it often.
All this occurred while Remington shifted manufacturing from North Carolina to Alabama. Complicated with the implementation of some of the most stringent quality control processes ever instituted in the industry, this took time. I’m sure some felt Remington had abandoned the R51 and the replacement offer. In truth, they were just making sure they got it right. I’m certain Remington has spent so much money fixing the R51 they’ll never recoup their investment. When I asked Remington’s new CEO, Jim Marcotuli, why the company went to such great lengths, he said, “We are America’s oldest gun maker; it’s a matter of pride.”
After touring the new Remington factory at Huntsville, Alabama, and watching the R51 being made, I spent some time on the range with one. It worked. While addressing quality control and mass production issues, Remington tweaked the design slightly. They engineered a new disconnect, installed set screws in the front and rear sights, hard chromed the action spring bushing and switched to a force-balanced recoil spring, designed a new extractor, and modified the magazines. It’s still the same pistol, operating on the same unique Pedersen design; it’s just better.
Remington shipped me a promised production gun, a ton of magazines, and 1,000 rounds of ammo for an in-depth test. Results are found in Table 1, but I’ll summarize. The first 50 rounds were 124-grain Federal HSTs. The first shot stovepiped, and attempts 37 and 42 failed to feed (50 additional rounds of HST were fired between shots 484 and 630 with no issues). Attempt 69—Remington 124-grain Golden Saber—failed to feed. There were no stoppages in the next 1,015 rounds, which included nine different loads. Based on this, a 100-round break-in for the R51 seems advisable.
The new R51 exhibits all the features that made it so desirable initially. Its low bore axis keeps muzzle rise down. It also changes perceived recoil; the gun kicks just as hard, but recoil is directed straight back. The trigger was crisp and consistent at 4 pounds. Trigger reset was not audible but could be felt and was natural. I had no trouble firing seven shots into a 10-inch kill zone at 3 yards in just over a second.
I did not conduct bench rest accuracy testing for two reasons. One, it seems to be a ridiculous exercise for a defensive carry pistol. Secondly, after firing more than 1,000 rounds through almost every conceivable defensive handgun drill, I was confident the pistol was plenty capable of providing better than adequate precision.
I had one complaint: At 10 yards, the pistol shot about 1.5 inches low and to the right of my point of aim. The rear sight is adjustable for windage, but there’s no end-user solution for elevation. At 20 yards, this offset was double, but inside 10 yards, where most of the shooting was conducted, the offset was inconsequential. This didn’t negatively impact testing. A Crimson Trace Laser Guard can be purchased with the R51, and for most shooting this was the primary sight.
Two years after the initial launch, the Remington R51 might not be the “best new compact 9mm handgun on the market,” but I think it’s certainly one of the top choices. This pistol has a suggested retail price of $448, but street prices are about $100 less. After a short break-in period, it proved perfectly reliable, and in the arena of affordable, concealed carry handguns, it has a lot to offer. I now have two R51s, and I trust them both.
Caliber: 9mm Luger +P
Barrel: 3.4 in.
Height: 4.63 in.
Width: 1.08 in.
Length: 6.68 in
Weight: 21 oz. (without magazine)
Finish: Satin Black Oxide
Accessories: Two magazines, lock, and owner’s manual
MSRP: $448 ($648 with Crimson Trace Laser Guard)
Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from the September 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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