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Preview – Remington R51 Old Is New Again

Remington Resurrects a WWI Design. George Patton Would Approve.

Photography by Kenda Lenseigne

The late 19th and early 20th centuries were a golden age of firearms design. The self-contained metallic cartridge was the spark that fired up the imaginations of engineering luminaries, such as Maxim, Mauser, Spencer, Lee, Hotchkiss, and Henry, to name but a few. And then there’s the man described by John Browning as “the greatest firearm designer in the world.” That man was John Pedersen and had he lived today, in addition to being fabulously wealthy, he would no doubt have his own reality TV show.

Let’s see, first wife a decorated war hero and model who was a published author and broadcaster? Check. Son a Marine officer who bought a racehorse to use as an ammo carrier in amphibious landings during the Korean War? Check. Designed a cartridge that should have replaced the .30-06, as well as a conversion unit that turned the M1903 Springfield into a submachine gun? Check and check. You can’t make this stuff up. Pedersen may have been the unluckiest gun designer ever, constantly thwarted by a combination of fate, bad timing, and politics. Perhaps his most successful design, the Remington Model 51 was overshadowed by simpler blowback alternatives that, while inferior in terms of engineering, did have the notable advantage of being cheaper. And when you’re trying to sell in guns in the Great Depression, every nickel counts.

It was this design that Remington looked to when it wanted a single-stack 9mm to cater to the concealed carry market — although there are no parts that interchange with the earlier model, the lineage is readily apparent.


Armed Ancestry
Pedersen’s delayed blowback action is unique among the operating systems that have been crammed into a handgun. At the moment of ignition, the bullet starts moving down the bore, and (if you recall high school physics) an equal and opposite force is exerted on the breech face by the case head. In Pedersen’s design, the breechblock and the slide are two separate parts, locked together by a pair of lugs. The two travel backwards about .020 inch before the breechblock hits a ledge in the frame and its rearward travel then comes to an abrupt halt. When the block stops, the slide continues backwards and, as it does, forces the breechblock’s lugs out of engagement, unlocking the two components and sending the slide on its merry way to eject the empty case and pick up a fresh one.

The distance that the slide and breechblock travel while locked together is critical. Too little and the slide doesn’t pick up enough velocity to cycle; too much and the gun beats itself to death in short order.

Although Browning’s system of locking slide to barrel via either a swinging link or a cam surface on the barrel under-lug has been copied by just about everyone and his dog, prior to Remington’s engineers dusting off his blueprints, Pedersen’s locking system had been used in exactly three models — which is a shame, because it offers some very real advantages.

Chief among these is its exceptionally low bore axis. By placing the pistol’s barrel close to the centerline of the shooter’s wrist, perceived recoil and muzzle flip are greatly reduced. Put one next to a Glock and you’ll see a noticeable difference in grip to barrel height; in comparison to HK or SIG SAUER designs, the R51’s bore is lower than a politician’s morals. Because the R51’s barrel doesn’t need to move vertically in order to unlock, it can be fixed to the frame. While that vertical unlocking distance is comparatively small in the grand scheme of things, it still counts. And because the barrel is static, the recoil spring can be wound around it, again freeing up space that would otherwise be occupied by a guide rod and dropping the bore even further. The net result is a 9mm that recoils like a locked-breech .380 and recovers onto the target almost as fast as a compensated gun.

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