All about those suicide doors

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Suicide doors, as they are often called, are just awesome. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Suicide doors, as they are often called, are just awesome. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

While the term “suicide doors” makes the auto industry cringe somewhat at the grisly connotations, the rear-hinged doors are seriously cool. While there have been some furtive attempts at revival, they have not unfortunately made the kind of comeback they really deserve – because they’re awesome.

Suicide doors are a pillar of great car design

Suicide doors – which are now, according to a 2007 Los Angeles Times article, referred to by different names by the auto industry such as “clamshell” doors – aren’t too complicated. They are made by putting the hinge at the rear of the door instead of the front and then removing the “B” pillar.

What is the B pillar you ask? Well, it’s pretty simple. See the bits of a car that join to the roof? The ones behind the hood that the windshield sits over is the “A”pillar, the B pillar is in the middle, and the C pillar is the one that joins the trunk and the roof and has a rear windshield on it. However, if a car is a hatchback or a wagon, there’s an additional one, the D pillar.

To have the doors, the B pillar is taken out and the front and rear doors catch at about the same spot. When opened, the door swings away and behind the person disembarking the vehicle. It also makes exiting a vehicle much more stylish and damned if they don’t look good.

By any other name

The term “suicide doors” really doesn’t fit anymore, because the conditions that led to the moniker in the first place don’t really exist anymore. Back in the era when the doors were commonplace, seat belts didn’t exist yet. As a result, a person could fall out of a moving vehicle much more easily, making riding in the rear seat a riskier proposition and thus, “suicide” doors.

Also, by virtue of removing the B pillar, occupants were at much greater risk in side impacts, as there was a lesser degree of structural rigidity. Also, the things could fly open if the vehicle is struck hard enough, potentially ejecting passengers.

However, today’s versions are much safer. Automakers incorporate door latches on rear doors that won’t open unless the front door is opened first and chassis designs have advanced by leaps and bounds in the intervening decades since suicide doors were a thing, making even small cars of today’s era safer than some land barges from decades ago.

The return

Suicide doors went out of style in the 1960s, as safety features became a much larger concern over time. Some of the vehicles that featured them were some of the classiest rides of all time, such as the Lancia Aprilia, a number of Rolls Royce vehicles and of course, the Lincoln Continental, a pinnacle of American design and easily the most gorgeous thing Lincoln has ever produced.

Modern iterations are largely in the guise of third doors on coupes and pickup trucks; such doors are featured on vehicles such as the Mazda RX-8, Ford trucks, the (recently discontinued) Toyota FJ Cruiser and the MiniCooper Clubman. (Mini calls them club doors, which is odd because there’s no bouncer…unless maybe you hit a pothole.) Rolls Royce has shown off some concept coupes with them and the sight was a beauty to behold; they also bestowed the 2008 Phantom Drophead Coupe with them.

Reportedly, Lincoln is bringing back the Continental. The last iteration was a Ford Crown Victoria with a different nameplate; perhaps the Conti will get the old-school method of egress to go with the name? It would certainly lend a touch of class.

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