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Unblinking Eye
Remington 51 Prototypes

 

Remington 51 Prototypes

by Ed Buffaloe

Prototype breech block showing original extractor design and cartridge guide lug.

Prototype breech block with tail.

Production .380 breech block.

Prototype receiver with helical grooves
and no ejector.

Production receiver with holes for barrel
pin, and pivoting ejector.

Prototype barrel.

Production barrel.

This article is an effort to document some of the known prototypes of the Remington 51.  Five of the known prototypes are in the collection of J.B. Cargile, who has very kindly allowed me access to them.  The definitive source of information and history on the Model 51 is an article by Donald M. Simmons, Jr. in the 1979 Gun Digest entitled “The Remington Model 51.”  At the time of writing of that article, there were only 3 known prototypes:  one was in the collection of Sidney Aberman of Philadelphia, one was owned by Mr. Simmons, and the third was a cutaway at the Remington Arms Company.

Mr. Aberman’s gun is now in the J.B. Cargile collection, along with three other .380 prototypes and one .32 prototype.  Mr. Cargile also has a cutaway .380 in his collection that differs somewhat from the one at Remington.  I do not know what became of the prototype that was in the possession of Mr. Simmons, but his description of it leads me to believe it is very similar to other .380 prototypes in the Cargile collection.  Also known to exist is a .380 prototype with an external hammer, also originally in the Aberman collection and now in the collection of Mr. Charles Doty.

Characteristics of Prototypes and Variants

One feature appears on all known prototypes:  the cartridge guide lug opposite the extractor on the breech block (and its corresponding extra notch in the barrel).  One feature does not appear on all known prototypes:  the magazine safety.  Additionally, none of the known prototypes has proof marks either inside or outside.

The earliest design for the breech block had a feature that did not make it into production guns, but which appears in some prototypes--a tail that prevented the slide from snagging the top cartridge in the magazine when it was moving backward during recoil.  This little piece, which easily fell out of the breach block when the gun was disassembled, made assembly very difficult and was way too likely to get lost during cleaning.  The slide and breech block were both redesigned somewhat and a shorter, thicker, fixed tail was added to the breech block.  Four .380 prototypes (including Mr. Simmons’) and the known .32 prototype have the removable tail.

The original design for the extractor, utilizing a spring and plunger, was never actually used on a production gun but appears on three of the .380 prototypes and on the .32 prototype.  The other two .380s have standard production extractors.

Pedersen’s original design of the gun called for a barrel with helical lugs on the bottom that fitted into helical grooves in the frame, and three of J.B. Cargile’s prototype pistols are made this way, as was the prototype owned by Mr. Simmons.  Several Browning-designed guns have this feature, but the lugs and grooves are not helical and the tolerances are not nearly so close as in the Pedersen design.  These prototypes are so tightly fitted that they can sometimes be a bit difficult to take apart--if Pedersen had stuck with this design I believe he would have had to make cuts in the front of the barrel to allow a better grip for twisting it out of its grooves in the frame (as Browning did on his pistols).  According to Simmons, the prototype barrel bushings are threaded and can be removed with a special wrench, but without this wrench the barrels cannot be removed.  Production pistols have the bushing swaged into place, but the barrels are removeable from the rear once the breach block and firing pin are removed.

The original design for the barrel called for a step at the muzzle end a few thousandths of an inch larger than the rest of the barrel which allowed for a very tight fit in the bushing at the end of the slide.  As far as I can tell, this step was retained in later barrels, but a series of concentric grooves was added behind it--this was required because with the pinned barrels it is necessary to pull the barrel out about a half-inch in order to lift the breech block out of its locked position on the frame when removing the slide.

Two of the .380 prototypes and the .32 prototype have no grip rivets--the grips are held on by dovetail grooves on a pair of overhanging sections on each side of the grips.  All production guns, and some prototypes, have a steel plate riveted to the back of the grips with a continuous overhang toward the front and a pair of overhangs in the rear.

All but two of the prototypes are missing the concentric rings on the magazine release button.  Simmons states that the buttons with no concentric rings are also missing a groove in the locking section.  He speculates that the grooves were added to aid in assembly and disassembly of the release button.

Simmons states incorrectly that “...no prototypes have the characteristic matted top surface between the sights...”  This may have been a typo, as all the prototypes I have encountered (including the Aberman prototype examined by Simmons) have the matted top surface.  Four are not engraved with the usual company name and patent information, though two are so engraved.

Remington 51 prototype originally in the Sid Aberman collectionThe Aberman .380 Prototype

I called this gun “spot” while I was photographing it (since at the time I did not know it was the Aberman prototype) because it has several areas of pitting where the blue is missing.  This is the only prototype I am aware of that has an ejector in the frame rather than on the magazine.

Distinguishing Characteristics:

  1. No serial number.
  2. No barrel pin.  The barrel has helical-cut lugs that mate with corresponding grooves in the frame.
  3. No concentric grooves near end of barrel (to aid in disassembly of pinned barrels).  There is a step about .27 inches deep where the end is of a slightly greater diameter than the rest of the barrel.
  4. No caliber marking on barrel.
  5. Barrel has two notches, one for the extractor and one for the cartridge guide lug.
  6. No grip rivets, i.e., no metal plate on back of grips.
  7. No magazine safety.
  8. No concentric rings on magazine catch.
  9. No engraving on top of slide.
  10. This gun has an ejector (unlike other prototypes).
  11. The magazine may have had its ejector filed off.
  12. The breech block is of the early type with a  tailpiece (to prevent the slide from snagging the topmost cartridge in the magazine).
  13. The breech block has a cartridge guide lug opposite the extractor, as shown in patent drawings.
  14. The breech block has a prototype spring-and-plunger extractor, as shown in patent drawings.

Remington 51 prototype with missing grip.380 Prototype - Grip Missing

This gun has the left grip missing.  J.B. Cargile says he has the other grip, but they are not the correct grips for the gun.  In any case, the missing grip an easy way for me to distinguish the gun.  This prototype appears to be identical with the one owned by Mr. Simmons.  It differs from the Aberman prototype in that the ejector is on the magazine.

Distinguishing Characteristics:

  1. No serial number.
  2. No barrel pin.  The barrel has helical-cut lugs that mate with corresponding grooves in the frame.
  3. No concentric grooves near end of barrel (to aid in disassembly of pinned barrels).  There is a step about .27 inches deep where the end is of a slightly greater diameter than the rest of the barrel.
  4. No caliber marking on barrel.
  5. Barrel has two notches, one for the extractor and one for the cartridge guide lug.
  6. No grip rivets, i.e., no metal plate on back of grips.
  7. No magazine safety.
  8. No concentric rings on magazine catch.
  9. No engraving on top of slide.
  10. Ejector is on the magazine (as in most other prototypes).
  11. The breech block is of the early type with a tailpiece (to prevent the slide from snagging the topmost cartridge in the magazine).
  12. The breech block has a cartridge guide lug opposite the extractor, as shown in patent drawings.
  13. The breech block has a prototype spring-and-plunger extractor, as shown in patent drawings.

Remington 51 prototype with brown grips.380 Prototype - Brown Grips

This gun has many of the characteristics of a production gun, such as a pinned barrel, standard extractor, and grip rivets, but it does not have a serial number in the usual location on the left side of the frame, it does not have an ejector in the frame or a magazine safety, nor does it have any proof marks.  There is a number stamped on the back of the grip tang.

Distinguishing Characteristics:

  1. Has the number 6360 on the back of the grip tang, but no PA prefix.
  2. This gun has a pinned barrel.
  3. There is a step about .27 inches deep where the end of the barrel is of a slightly greater diameter than the rest of the barrel.  The barrel also has concentric grooves behind the step extending for .35 inches.
  4. No caliber marking on barrel.
  5. Barrel has two notches, one for the extractor and one for the cartridge guide lug.
  6. The grips are brown, with darker stripes, and have two rivets on each grip which hold a metal plate onto the back (as on all production guns).
  7. No magazine safety.
  8. The magazine catch has concentric rings, as on most production pistols.
  9. The gun has the standard engraving for an early pistol on top of the slide.
  10. Ejector is on the magazine (as in most other prototypes).
  11. The breech block has a cartridge guide lug opposite the extractor, as shown in patent drawings.
  12. The breech block has the production flat spring camming extractor that was standard on .380s.
  13. The thumb safety lever appears to have had its grooves ground or filed off.

Remington 51 prototype with S/N PA 23.380 Production Prototype - Serial Number 23

This gun has many of the characteristics of a production gun, but still does not have an ejector in the frame, a magazine safety, nor any proof marks.  It is very unusual in that the barrel has the .380 CAL marking of a late production gun, but the breech block has a cartridge guide lug and the barrel has an extra notch for it.

Distinguishing Characteristics:

  1. Shows serial number PA 23 in the usual place on the left side of the frame.
  2. This gun has a pinned barrel.
  3. There is a step about .44 inches deep where the end of the barrel is of a slightly greater diameter than the rest of the barrel.  The barrel also has concentric grooves behind the step extending for .28 inches.
  4. The barrel is marked as .380 CAL.
  5. Barrel has two notches, one for the extractor and one for the cartridge guide lug.
  6. The grips have two rivets on each grip which hold a metal plate onto the back (as on all production guns).
  7. No magazine safety.
  8. The magazine catch has concentric rings, as on most production pistols.
  9. The gun has the standard engraving for an early pistol on top of the slide.
  10. Ejector is on the magazine (as in most other prototypes).
  11. The breech block has a cartridge guide lug opposite the extractor, as shown in patent drawings.
  12. The breech block has the production flat spring camming extractor that was standard on .380s.

.32 Caliber Remington 51 prototype .32 Prototype

This is the only .32 prototype I am aware of.  It has all the characteristics of a very early prototype, indicating that Remington was planning to produce a .32 version early-on.

Distinguishing Characteristics:

  1. No serial number.
  2. No barrel pin.  The barrel has helical-cut lugs that mate with corresponding grooves in the frame.
  3. No concentric grooves near end of barrel (to aid in disassembly of pinned barrels).  There is a step about .25 inches deep where the end is of a slightly greater diameter than the rest of the barrel.
  4. No caliber marking on barrel.
  5. Barrel has two notches, one for the extractor and one for the cartridge guide lug.
  6. No grip rivets, i.e., no metal plate on back of grips.
  7. No magazine safety.
  8. No concentric rings on magazine catch.
  9. No engraving on top of slide.
  10. No ejector in frame.  This gun does not have its original magazine.
  11. The breech block is of the early type with a tailpiece (to prevent the slide from snagging the topmost cartridge in the magazine).
  12. The breech block has a cartridge guide lug opposite the extractor, as shown in patent drawings.
  13. The breech block has a prototype spring-and-plunger extractor, as shown in patent drawings.  This gun does not have the standard .32 extractor.

Don Simmons’ .380 Prototype

I have not examined this gun, but I can note the attributes listed in his article in order to make comparisons with the other prototypes.

Distinguishing Characteristics:

  1. No serial number.
  2. No barrel pin.  The barrel has helical-cut lugs that mate with corresponding grooves in the frame.
  3. No concentric grooves near end of barrel (to aid in disassembly of pinned barrels).
  4. No caliber marking on barrel.
  5. Barrel has two notches, one for the extractor and one for the cartridge guide lug.
  6. The grips have two rivets on each grip which hold a metal plate onto the back (as on all production guns).
  7. No magazine safety.
  8. No concentric rings on magazine catch.
  9. No engraving on top of slide.
  10. The gun has no ejector.  The original magazine is missing.
  11. The breech block is of the early type with a tailpiece (to prevent the slide from snagging the topmost cartridge in the magazine).
  12. The breech block has a cartridge guide lug opposite the extractor, as shown in patent drawings.
  13. The breech block has a prototype spring-and-plunger extractor, as shown in patent drawings.

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The guns in this article are from the J.B. Cargile Collection.
J.B. Cargile seeks to buy Remington 51s, lever action Winchesters,
Colt SAAs, and other rare and collectible guns.
He can be contacted at any
Saxet Gun Show or via email.

 

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