POTD: The Original Remington 51

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Below are some photos of my personal Remington 51, made between 1921 and 1923. It’s in remarkably good shape for a gun that’s over 90 years old, and is definitely the best condition Model 51 I’ve ever seen in person or in photographs (so, naturally, I had to buy it).

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My Remington 51 is in .32 ACP, the rarer caliber of the two that the 51 was offered in (the other being .380 ACP, which I frankly would have preferred). The Model 51 is a unique design among handguns, using a floating, skeletonized breechblock as both a locking piece and a piston to drive the slide rearward. It also had a few other strange features, such as the grip panels being held on to the frame by removable rivets, and the grip safety doubling as a slide lock. Of course, such a weird design could only be the product of the genius of John D. Pedersen, whom Browning called “the greatest firearms designer alive”.

If you want to learn more about the original Remington 51 handgun, Unblinking Eye has a great article on it.



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  • ostiariusalpha

    Be grateful for that .32 ACP, that’s why it’s in such good shape.

  • Tom

    A wonderful piece, such a shame that Remington moved away from those lines for the most recent iteration.

    • ostiariusalpha

      You’re kidding, they made only the barest tweeks of it’s appearance and takedown procedures. What they did do isn’t what I would consider an improvement in the pistol’s look, but it ain’t no radical change. The R51 is just a 9mm M51 that is badly machined.

      • That’s hardly the case. The R51 lacks the Model 51’s graceful, slender lines, instead having a bullish appearance.

        • ostiariusalpha

          Well, nobody seems to want to admit how shallow the cosmetic changes are on the R51. All they did was shorten the slide, open the ejection port a bit, fatten the serrations, and add that silly swoosh. Does the shortened slide really throw you all off that much?

          • If I opened a photo of a pretty girl in Photoshop and thickened her waist, stretched her face out wider, made her feet and hands huge, reduced her height, lengthened her nose, and gave her the complexion of a crocodile, would you still consider those “shallow cosmetic changes”?

          • ostiariusalpha

            You’re exaggerating now. Rebel Wilson and Amanda Seyfried may not be identical, but you aren’t going to confuse either one for a bonobo (except in jest). No one is going to confuse the R51 for a Glock or any other pistol.

          • Tom

            “No one is going to confuse an R51 for a Glock…” very true but nether is anyone who did not already know it was the ‘same’ pistol confuse the old Remington and the new Remington.

          • ostiariusalpha

            You said that before, so I actually showed the pictures to a few non-gun people at work and they didn’t have much trouble pointing out the similarities in the rear of the slide or grip shape. One of them even asked if the little notch on the top needed to be lined up with the pin on the bottom to disassemble it. None of them seemed too impressed with the looks of either pistol, but there’s no accounting for taste I guess.

          • You mean the kind of people who can’t tell a Glock from an RPG-7? I mean, there’s a certain amount of tweaking that happens to people’s aesthetic taste when they get into guns that makes them think objectively ugly weapons like the Garand are pretty in a way, but then a lot of non-gun people essentially see handguns as sideways “L”s with trigger guards and can’t differentiate them further.

            I’m not being mean, here, I’ve done similar tests to the one you describe, in one case comparing aesthetically a blued Colt 1911 to a Glock 17. Again, people couldn’t tell the difference, but someone who was paying attention would be absolutely mad to think the Glock was the better looking handgun in any way but a rude industrial sense.

            So you essentially showed a bunch of people images of things they already abstracted in their heads as “handguns” and they couldn’t tell the difference. Not a compelling case.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Ha ha! Don’t get carried away with the assumptions Nate. These ladies (yes, they’re all women, I couldn’t find any guys in the shop that didn’t own at least one firearm) may not be gun enthusiasts, but neither are they mechanically incompetent. They really did surprise me by pointing out where the two pistol designs differ and match each other. Would they know what makes the R51 a descendant of the M51 instead of, say, a TT-33 at just a glance? I wouldn’t bet on it. But they could certainly tell that it’s not a Beretta or 1911. As for aesthetic regard, one of them thought that revolvers looked “manly,” for whatever that’s worth. Different people just appreciate things differently.

          • I’m not saying they’re idiots, I’m saying non-gun people tend to quickly abstract guns as “guns” with less regard for their aesthetics.

            I obviously don’t know the people and I don’t know the exact answers they gave, but the fact remains that the Model 51 is a beautiful handgun and the R51 is not, regardless of the similarities in shape.

          • ostiariusalpha

            So, your subjective sense of beauty is objectively correct? Fact? Reminds me all too much of those music critics that can’t stand that regular people won’t appreciate the superiority of whatever their favorite indy bands happens to be, if only everyone was as experienced & knowledgeable as they. There are inevitably people of the gun that might prefer, for their own reasons, the look of the R51 over the M51; I’m not one of them. I don’t waste a lot of time trying to understand their decision, and I’m certainly not going to trouble myself to look down on them for it.

          • Don’t be a turd in the punch bowl. You’re the one who came in here and said this:

            “Well, nobody seems to want to admit how shallow the (admittedly not charming) cosmetic changes are on the R51. All they did was shorten the slide, open the ejection port a bit, fatten the serrations, and add that silly swoosh. Does the shortened slide really throw you all off that much?”

            You don’t have think the Model 51 is the better looking handgun, but you are trying to shame others who do think so, just to feed some petty feeling of superiority through equivocation.

            No, we actually do like the Model 51 better, and we have reasons for thinking so. If you don’t have the same aesthetic sense, fine, but don’t whine about how everyone who disagrees with you is wrong.

          • ostiariusalpha

            I have repeated several times, very clearly, that the M51 is the more beautiful gun in my opinion. Read what I write with your mind, not your emotions. I. do. not. like. the. R51. Neither in appearance or operation. But, I’m not blind to it’s form & functional lineage, indeed I judge it more harshly on that basis. I’m not trying to shame anyone at all. I merely pointed out that the design could have been (and maybe should have been) much more radically changed in appearance than it was if they couldn’t leave it well enough alone. The designer was, in my opinion and claimed so by Remington, clearly trying to evoke the earlier pistol while making it’s look seem more modern. The fact that you & I feel that he failed to make a attractive pistol doesn’t negate that. The poster here, Jack Burton, seems to feel that the R51 is at least an interesting looking change. I don’t entirely agree with that, but I’m not going to tell him he’s objectively wrong to feel that. Though he is. ?

          • A worthwhile clarification, alpha. For me, the discussion ends there, I took what you said incorrectly. Having said that, I’d take a second look at what you wrote if I were you, because I think it wasn’t just me who misinterpreted it.

          • ostiariusalpha

            LOL! It is my fault. I was trying so hard not to rant about how could Remington have screwed up a Pedersen so much with out even changing (to my mind, YMMV) all that many details from the originals, that I came across as dismissive of how consequential those details are for the pistol’s appearance. Mia Culpa.

          • Yeah, I mean, I didn’t say you’d try to photoshop the girl’s personality away or nothing. That would be absurd.

            The Model 51 is one of the most attractive semiauto pistols ever brought to market. The nicest thing you can say about the R51 is that with the laser attached it kind of looks like a prop from Stargate.

            Equivocating the two is silly.

          • ostiariusalpha

            LOL! Ugh, one of my exes, more than some people, her whole personality seemed dependant on how comfortable she felt about how her clothes presented her.

        • Ryan

          Just had to chime in on this one because I’m one of those people who bought the first one in my town only to send it back due to the tolerance stacking issues (still waiting on the replacement that may never come). While I agree that the inspiration is obvious; the original had an elegance that’s not quite captured in the update. The original has a natural flow and almost melted effect which is lost in the ergonomic upgrades. I think the new guns will probably be more practical due to the changes to sites, ejection port, frame indent behind mag release and serration spacing, enlarged trigger guard, but were these changes really needed? Did the original have issues clearing spent cases (I don’t know); do we need tactical sites on a gun that will never be fired beyond 10′ in real world; do people really have trouble hitting the mag release on a gun this small/thin; will this be the gun I carry when bundled up with thick gloves; and did they need that extra slide geometry to cycle the higher pressure load??

    • M.M.D.C.

      A significant change, IMO.

      • M.M.D.C.

        What the new design reminds me of:

      • Tom

        I think if someone did not know you would never think of them as the same pistol. Of course since the 9mm Para ones were so crumby maybe that’s not a bad thing.

      • sam

        Next position to the right: Hi Point 380.

      • Giolli Joker

        I could tolerate the “modernized” look… if it was reliably and safely working as supposed.

    • sam

      Very pleasant looking, that bent grip.

      • It’s an extremely comfortable and natural-pointing grip, as well.

    • Jack Burton

      The shame is Remington’s inability or unwillingness to make the current iteration reliable. I actually find the nu-51’s appearance a breath of fresh air compared to the increasingly extraterrestrial striker-fired pistols being rolled out every other year now. Immediately brought to mind some of the classic HKs and Walthers the first time I saw it.

  • Dolphy

    I momentarily thought it was a TT.

    • Sianmink

      I just got the greatest idea.
      A modern .38 Super TT.
      I promise it won’t explode.

      • I don’t see why it would. They’re just as strong as 1911s.

        • Sianmink

          I was obliquely referencing the R51 debacle.

        • ostiariusalpha

          Well, just so long as Cerberus/Freedom Group/Remington Outdoors isn’t manufacturing it.

        • Giolli Joker

          And they fire a higher pressure round.

  • roguetechie

    considering how much effort Pedersen put into things like the grip angle, graspable but thin serrations, and low bore axis specifically to make a gun that is a natural instinctive shooter….
    Yeah what Remington did, is very major and stunningly stupid honestly.
    I mean pedersen did ergonomic studies before that was even a thing!!
    I mean you are talking about a guy who is pretty much the sole reason the U.S. was able to successfully have many companies building the same gun for ww2 and yet the parts are shockingly interchangeable!
    Because in addition to being an amazing gun designer and engineer, the man actually INVENTED a field of engineering which literally makes the modern age possible…
    PRODUCTION ENGINEERING
    btw Nathaniel, can you dig up his paper detailing that?
    it has charts and information tables that would be invaluable to many of us to this day!

    • Tom

      An underrated (at least in the general sense) genius.

      All Remington had to do was take that old pistol and put it in 9mm, Pedersen did all the work for them (hell he even made one in .45!) but they had to go and balls it up.

      I wonder what would of happened had WWI not broke out when it did, would the Navy have adopted the .45 Pedersen and the Army followed suit? Would the 1911 have become a sort of curiosity known by only a few and written about only in the darkest corners of the internet?

      • Ryan

        I believe that .45 was a lot bigger. the pressures in 9mm parabellum (over 35K psi in +p) vs. .380 acp (low 20K psi) plus the added mass of the bullet (124gr vs. 95gr) probably required more mass in the slide to cycle properly. I’m no engineer but this would all have to be worked out with newer lighter, stronger steels further changing the mass of the slide.

        ultimately i agree they could have kept the aesthetics, but i think it would have been a little bit of work.

        • Ben

          Not to mention that .45 is a similar PSI to .380 (21,000 at SAAMI spec). This would make it easier to scale the parts for that caliber conversion, as the stresses are consistent.

        • roguetechie

          While the .45 was larger, it’s still a gorgeous gun that the Navy was very foolish to pass on. I can just see promo pics of the seals with double stack 9 model 53’s instead of the p226 or embarrassing HK socom thing.

      • ostiariusalpha

        The balls up has a lot to do with the nature of the M51 and modern manufacturing. Labor costs are higher now while machining is more automated. The hesitation lock of the Pedersen required less machining though more hand fitting than other pistols from back in the day, especially on the camming surfaces, but it wasn’t a problem because labor costs were low. The automation of machining is only becoming faster and more precise, meaning that the need for skilled labor is devalued. Remington tried to cut corners by neglecting the need to do at least a little hand fitting and polishing on the R51, instead just depending on the machines to maintain the proper fitment so they could keep the price down on the production units. It obviously hasn’t gone well.

        • Tom

          I am no engineer but as I understand it modern CNC machine are far more accurate and consistent than the older laths to less hand fitting is needed in general. Of course there is a quality to being hand made but (again as I understand it) in terms of fitting the greater accuracy of CNC machines should remove a lot of the hand fitting so I am not sure these is a reason for the general bulls up that is the modern 51. I think its more a case of Remington rushing it out without proper testing to determine what changes needed to be made to take into account a larger and higher pressure cartridge.

          • ostiariusalpha

            You’re very right. Modern CNC has vastly reduced, thankfully, the need for much hand fitting over the older tooling machines. But, not completely eliminated it, especially on camming designs like the Pedersen. Something the executives at Remington had refused to take into account, in addition to disrupting their work force by moving the factory and cutting back on QA. Those didn’t help either.

  • Ryan

    And is it entirely necessary to put the model number in large ugly font on the slide? Why can’t we leave the poor slide alone?

    • ostiariusalpha

      Lots of old pistols have model #s and all kinds of stuff on the slide. The Remington M51 was kind of unusual in having both sides of the side clean and sleek.

    • Tom

      Could of been worse, something like “dangerous read owners manual before use”.