Favorite Guns – Remington R1 Goes from Standard to Elite


huntforeverfavoritegunR1cmpltThere’s a lot of truth in the old saying, “It’s good to have friends in high places.” It’s even better when you have family in high places. A bit of history is needed here to explain how this one-of-a-kind custom Remington pistol came to be.

Gun manufacturers are no dummies. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the greatest semi-automatic pistol to ever serve in peace and war, almost every gun manufacturer got involved. For one glorious year in the world of ‘Gundom’ 21st century space-age polymer pistols took a backseat to the 20th century heavyweight champ, the 1911 real steel blaster in .45 ACP.  And sales went through the roof.

During the 2011 NRA Convention, I attended a day at the range event hosted by Remington. They naturally had their brand new R1s there for the press to shoot. The R1 stock pistol is a no frills, honest rendering of the original Colt 1911A1.

I ran several magazines through the pistol with absolutely no malfunctions or other problems. Carlos Martinez, Remington’s R&D Manager, asked me my opinions and when I learned I could purchase one of the range guns at the gun writer’s discount, I jumped at the chance. I wasn’t sure what or when I’d get to work on the gun for publication, but would never turn down an opportunity to add another 1911A1 to my collection.

By the time I got around to the Remington, it was too late to ‘scoop’ the gun industry so I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I decided the next course of action was to build it into a true custom pistol. I kept huntforeverfavoritegunR1slidefittaking it apart and examining the major components and decided it was worthy of the attempt. The challenge then became to not just make it into a custom pistol, but the very best Remington R1 that could be built, using my criteria, but not necessarily with my quite rusty pistolsmithing skills.

With most of the plan in place, I now needed to turn to my brother to make this project a reality. Wayne Novak is not my brother because we had the same birth parents. Our relationship began in 1975 in a bar across the street from Colorado School of Trades Gunsmithing School.  After the introductory walk-through and going across the street for a beer, Wayne asked me If I’d understood a word the instructor had said. I confessed I didn’t know the difference between a screwdriver and a lathe. I think he said he was unsure of the screwdriver part. We’ve been close ever since.

Wayne has gone on to be with little debate the pre-eminent pistolsmith, designer, and consultant for all things dealing with semi-automatic pistols, with special emphasis on 1911A1s. Today Novak Sights are the finest, most successful, and copied fixed sight system for pistols in the world. I, of course, went on to be a gun writer. Go figure.

Wayne and I talk daily on the phone. When my project idea was

Perfect and precise checkering on both front and back strap ensure a secure grip.
Perfect and precise checkering on both front and back strap ensure a secure grip.

unveiled, I went from brother to crazy older uncle. He laughed and agreed, although he wasn’t sure about the Remington as his usual choice is the Colt.

After studying other custom 1911s, the plan was to make this Remington totally unique.   And in the world of so many 1911 type options available, it’s no easy task to choose the ones that fit to provide the greatest accuracy, total reliability, and good looks.

The next step was easy: Call Brownells. This company is to a gun nut what the world’s largest shoe store is to women. If Brownells doesn’t have it, it probably doesn’t exist, or isn’t worth existing. When I got into this business I dealt with Bob, and then his son and great friend, Frank. Now Frank’s son Pete has taken the reins. Integrity, fast service, and a deep dedication to gun owners is much more than a slogan to this family.

I ordered a number of components, in some cases double because I didn’t know what problems we might run into regarding fit and function with this project. Larry Weeks, their man who deals with the whims of the gun writers, was quick to accommodate, although he must have wondered what is Mitchell up to this time.

Sitting with Novak at his shop a few months later, I laid out various 1911 components. His eyes rolled more than a few times and there was a grumble or two. One of the things I wanted on the Remington was one of Wayne’s ambidextrous safeties. Wayne doesn’t prefer huntforeverfavoritegunnovakanswerthem on his personal carry guns. That’s akin to someone who doesn’t smoke inventing the ashtray.

For many years the most reliable ‘ambi’ was designed and built by the late pistolsmithing pioneer Armand Swenson in the early 1980s. They proved quite popular with shooters. Other companies began making models of slightly different design to avoid infringing on the Swenson patent. Most proved to be less reliable and the Swenson remained the hallmark.

The problem inherent with ambidextrous safeties is how the bar blocks the sear and then connects to the safety lever on the right side of the slide. Wayne realized that if his clients requested an ambi on one of his custom pistols, there had to be a better design. So the Novak shop designed and now makes their own model that is pretty much foolproof. Wayne’s version is a one-piece bar that blocks the sear and has a flat on the end that joins the safety lever on the right and held in place with a roll pin. A flat on the hardened steel bar mates with another flat on the right safety lever. No amount of recoil will push that pin out.

The other component I insisted upon was Wayne’s “Answer.” The two most common elements that lead the 1911 type pistols to malfunction are bad magazines with bent feed lips or a ‘weak grip’ (grip safety is not depressed sufficiently to release the safety) and prevents the pistol from firing. The 1911 series 70 Colt and earlier models have three safeties: grip safety, half-cock hammer, and thumb safety. The Series 80 also has a pin and spring plunger additional safety located in the bottom of the slide.

The Answer system is a one-piece backstrap that replaces and eliminates the grip safety and mainspring housing. It must be fitted to each gun at Novak’s, but completely eliminates any possibility of failure to fire because the grip safety is not depressed the proper amount.

The Remington R1 was also fitted with a Kart National Match barrel and bushing. In addition to Novak’s three-dot Trijicon fixed front and rear sights, I also ordered Crimson Trace’s 1911 Laser wraparound grips. There is an on-off switch, but this grip eliminates the need to add the bulk and size of a separate laser device. I can see the fixed Novak front sight in low light, but the luxury of having the option in darkness of the Crimson Trace laser could well be a lifesaver in a lethal confrontation.

While the Remington frame is well made, this was a very early model. We found the holes for the hammer seemed to be off just a few thousandths. We tried four different military and commercial hammers without a perfect fit until we tried the Kimber. It fit perfectly. Now the final fitting could be accomplished and the pistol was topped off with a perfect 3 ¼-lb drag-free consistent trigger pull.

The Remington R1 is now a beautiful custom pistol, but more importantly, it is highly accurate, totally reliable, and extremely durable. This is a pistol that could be carried in harm’s way in the 21st century with no reservations or displayed proudly in any 1911 owner’s collection. The stock Remington R1 is a reliable, durable, and accurate pistol for the purpose it was made right out of the box, but it is also a solid candidate for upgrading to custom status.– Jack Mitchell

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