By on December 14, 2018

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

What is it about suicide doors? Some 47 years after the last pair of full-size, rear-hinged doors faded from the domestic automobile landscape, we continue lusting after them. And automakers continue teasing us with sedans that open like a barn. Remember Lincoln’s go-nowhere Continental concept of the early 2000s? That’s just one of many pieces of vaporware boasting throwback doors that never went anywhere.

Next to narrow, barely-there side mirrors and ridiculously oversized wheels, suicide (aka clamshell, aka coach-style) doors are the design feature a good concept cannot go without, even though the audience has no expectation of ever seeing them in a showroom. Kia saw fit to install them on its Telluride concept. A three-row SUV, fer chrissakes. We’d probably be annoyed with them by now, were it not for Rolls-Royce’s resurrection of this vintage method of ingress/egress.

Are you as afflicted with suicide door love as this writer?

I’ll admit I love them. I want to see them return, though the declining sedan market lends serious doubt to my dream of a so-equipped passenger car generating enough volume to make them a regular sight on North American roads. Hope is everlasting, though.

In their absence, even the half-doors on the Saturn Ion quad coupe and Honda Element and Ford F-150 SuperCab give me a Chris Matthews-style tingle.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

Once commonplace in the 1920s through early 50s, the last (domestic) gasp for these doors came in the heady 1960s — Lincoln’s heyday. Ford’s luxury division catapulted them to iconic status during that decade, while its parent brand repurposed them for a little-remembered variant of the Thunderbird for model years 1967 to 1971. Seen here is a ’68 I stumbled across near the Vermont border on Labor Day.

Late Thursday, Lincoln implied we might see these doors again. It’s looking like there’s a refresh afoot for the slow-selling Continental that incorporates these doors, which seems a little like desperation on Ford’s part. If true, are we to view this decision with cynicism? It would be an attempt to mine the public’s fondness for the ’61-’69 Conti in order to fan the dying embers of a model surely destined for discontinuation. So many emotions at play right now…

But we’re not specifically talking Lincoln here. No, today we want you to describe how — and why — you feel a continued pull for these doors (assuming, of course, that you do).

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

[Images: Steph Willems/TTAC]

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42 Comments on “QOTD: Is Your Heart Open to These Doors?...”

  • avatar

    I don’t think Ford/Lincoln have the guts to do this right. The Continental ended up being so boring to look at that you can hardly tell them from any other sedan. The door handles are the only thing that give them away. That’s a damn shame given that the Continental should be *impressive*. It should make itself known.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    1) As a design flourish, I don’t really care…meh.

    2) As a matter of utility, I think they detract from the user experience. To pull the door shut from a seated position requires a VERY long reach, impossisble with a shoulder belt deployed. Gramma and Grandpa will need to shut the door when picking up the young grandchildren from school.

    3) As an an engineering solution to a B pillar too weak to hang an overweight door from (as was the case with the 1961 Continental), brilliant.

    • 0 avatar

      Good call with opening and closing it. They would probably have to find a way to make it motorized.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree, R Henry, although it wasn’t so much of a case of “Oops, these B pillars are too weak for these doors” as it was that the original design was not for a pillared sedan.

      Per Ate Up with Motor: “Engel’s original design had been a two-door hardtop coupe, about the same size as the 1961 Ford Thunderbird: 205 inches (5,207 mm) long on a 113-inch (2,870mm) wheelbase and about 76 inches (1,930 mm) wide. To make it a four-door Lincoln, Engel’s team had to stretch the original design’s wheelbase by 10 inches (254 mm) to allow room for rear doors and widen the car by 2.7 inches (69 mm). Even then, executive engineer Harold Johnson found that the close-coupled proportions made rear-seat access difficult. Rather than accept that limitation, which would have been a sales impediment, Johnson proposed rear-hinged back doors, an idea he had previously explored for the abortive four-door Continental Mark III. It was an unusual feature for a postwar car and offered another mark of stylistic distinction.”

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah. I had an Element, and operating the rear door was kind of a pain. And if the front and rear passengers disembark simultaneously you have a traffic jam. They’re OK if you don’t carry passengers in the back that often, but if it’s a regular thing I’d pass.

  • avatar

    Yeah I dig em.

  • avatar
    Paul Alexander

    Suicide doors? All I can see is sidewall. I think the modern look is too extreme in the opposite direction, but this thing looks like a brougham tractor.

    • 0 avatar

      This example is far from best of breed. It’s a late-life-cycle example that’s picked up some Iacocca-era flourishes. It’s as if an exurban developer put some of his “high-end finishes” on 860-880 North Lake Shore Drive or the Seagram Building. (FWIW, the 1965-1980 public loved that crap, just as people love giant wheels today.)

      I’m no fan of whitewalls for whitewalls’ sake, but cars like this look best with their original wheels and wheel covers and a period-correct thin whitewall. (On Hemmings and such, you often see cars from dealers who’ve gone with an overly wide whitewall on ’60s and ’70s Cadillacs, Lincolns, and Imperials.)

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    “It would be an attempt to mine the public’s fondness for the ’61-’69 Conti.”
    And just how many of the ‘public’ who longed for a ’61 to ’69 Continental are still buying new cars?

    As to the majority of new car purchasers, they either don’t know what a ’61 to ’69 Continental looked like, don’t care, or have zero interest in Lincoln as a brand.

    As for the utility of suicide doors, they were designed to be used by owners who had a driver. Someone to open and close the doors for them. And suicide doors were perceived (probably correctly) to allow ladies a more decorous exit from a vehicle.

    So for me, a non-starter in modern vehicles.

    • 0 avatar

      While your average new car buyer doesn’t remember much (or any) of the 60s, there’s still lingerings of the Mad Men-driven appreciation for mid-century aesthetics (which, the Conti is probably the most evocative automotive example of that sort of design). Plus, the suicide door Continentals are like old Grand Wagoneers in that their pop culture representation far outweighs their actual ubiquity, so they frequently show up in prominent roles in tv and movies.

  • avatar

    I would think Ford is going to try and implement this on a SUV and not a sedan. Would not be worth it to evoke the nostalgia for half a sale. That given, will younger folk even give a hoot about sui-doors? I like the doors myself but it would not be a priority to have them. I am not sitting back there anyway : )

  • avatar

    I have a soft spot for them but partially that’s due to old pictures of my parents wedding. A member of the wedding party had one of those 4 door Thunderbird’s with suicide doors and landau irons on the vinyl top. He got drafted to ferry the new couple from the church to the reception. (It was 1975 when they got married FWIW.)

  • avatar

    I want to love them and I did until I owned a 2008 Element with the half doors. They are a PITA to deal with on the daily in our modern world. Want to put your gym bag in the back seat and you are in a parking lot with someone right next to you? You have to open the drivers door, squeeze yourself and your bag into the space where the open door is (keep in mind, the car next to you is making it so you can’t quite open the drivers door open all the way), then open the back door and try to work it open past you and your gym bag while you are smashed against the open drivers door.

    • 0 avatar

      I like the look but–

      My wife has an Element (earlier one) and the doors are good anyplace but a parking lot. Its kinda the same thing as when the extra cabs had the half doors- you end up having to go through a routine to get in and out. They dont work well in parking lots.

      How about gullwing or sliding ?? (I dont see that happening)

      • 0 avatar

        In a way the doors on minivans are a modified suicide door.

        I know it would have turned consumers off even more but it would be great if the Flex had rear sliding doors like a minivan. Very practical for a family hauler.

    • 0 avatar

      There’s a difference in that true suicide doors can be opened independently of the front doors. I agree that the rear-hinged doors on pickups are a royal PITA in parking lots, almost to the point of making the rear area of the cab unusable.

      • 0 avatar

        So the ones available recently are really only “assisted suicide doors”?

      • 0 avatar

        Nah, you’re wrong, suicides on pickups are made for parking lots, the tighter the better! They swing to 90 degrees without striking the cars on either side, meaning milk-crate size boxes can be easily loaded, sideways if need be.

        I’ll load myself and my gear/tools from one spot, one shot.

        They’re a frickin’ godsend! With both doors swung open, I’ve got an instant changing room at the parking lot/structure, trail head, etc (parked next to an SUV). I have to drive hours to meetings, drive there in shorts/tees comfort, and show up in a fresh-pressed suit. I’ll get out of there and back into shorts/tees for the trip back.

        Driving 1,000+ miles in one shot means excessive coffee, Coke and energy drinks, and therefor a few unscheduled pit-stops. Roadside plus clamshells/suicides means instant relief, no need for rest areas. No one even suspects.

        • 0 avatar
          Tele Vision

          I don’t know if it was engineered as such but, to get out of my truck, I only have to open my front doors as far as my rear F-150 SCab doors protrude whilst fully open. Ergo: If I can get out of my truck – the rear doors will open fully. Amps on the floor and guitars on the bench. Easy.

  • avatar
    Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

    I like the style and look of suicide doors, mostly because they’re something different. That said, I seriously doubt Ford is going to invest a dime to substantially re-engineer (and re-crash test) an unpopular vehicle that’s already all-but fated for cancellation just to rein in a handful of nostalgia-minded buyers.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d also add that I don’t think the current Continental is unpopular because it’s a bad vehicle. It’s unpopular because (1) it’s in a shrinking segment and (2) there are critical masses both within the enthusiast community and the general public who will crap on Lincoln or Cadillac no matter what they do.

      The Smoking Tire’s One Take on the Continental is pretty interesting and prompted this exchange between a commenter and Matt Farah:

      Commenter: “I feel like no one actually watched the video and are just here to trash Lincoln.
      “I think this is a very nice looking design and the interior/features seem to really match it’s price (according to this review anyway).”

      Matt Farah: “[Commenter,] it is super nice and a very good value. Lincoln’s brand is so shot though that no one even wants to see that and just hurls sh*t at Lincoln.”

      • 0 avatar

        not sure how committed Ford is to Lincoln. Back in 2013, I tried to test drive an MKS (I really wanted one; time to replace my ’01 Conti). NONE ON THE LOT. I went to two Lincoln dealers here in Austin. Each and ONE on the showroom floor and didn’t particularly feel like taking it out for a test drive.

        Gave up and tested a Lexas and an Avalon. Frankly, the Avalon was put together better than my Conti. Sold.

      • 0 avatar

        Americans like to talk down and throw sh*t on their own country or anything American. Chinese, Germans, Japanese and others are not like that. Just read answers on – everyone hates America and America is the worst country in the world and cause of global warming and all evil in the world while China is the kindest and most caring nation that leads humanity to bright future without America. It is funny that Chinese are only people who still like American cars.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    One thing to remember with these doors; it won’t work on a vehicle with a wheelbase so short that the rear door curves over the front edge of the rear wheel opening. The old Conti had more than enough wheelbase to accommodate a normal-sized rear door with an almost-square lower rear door edge. The current Roller also has a mile-long wheelbase, so it’s no big deal.
    But any vehicle with the rear-door “wheel cutout” would make suicide hinging problematic. Both hinges would have to be up high, which would require a lot of gusseting to make it work reliably.
    Besides the Roller, the only modern “cars” I see with no rear-wheel cutouts are the Suburban, Yukon XL, Navigator, and the Traverse, which is surprising because it’s a FWD platform. So I’m guessing that Lincoln’s suicide-door “teaser” might end up on a big fat station wagon like the Navigator and not a sedan.

    • 0 avatar

      I suspect you are correct. So the question is whether the suicide doors will make it easier for overweight Americans with bad backs and bad knees to get into the rear seat of a Navigator. I don’t know. I’d need to see how they’d be set up.

      They’d need to close the door by turning and reaching behind instead of just reaching out front, for one thing, which will be awkward and painful for some. If you can’t get into a normal car, I can’t imagine that this maneuver would be easy. So you’d need some kind of pull handle to make that easier. Alternatively, you could make them self-closing so they wouldn’t need to twist and pull?

    • 0 avatar

      Thinking this through, I don’t think we’re going to see these doors. No way.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah that is why if they do see the light of day they won’t be on a refreshed version of today’s Conti. Their rear door cut is almost a straight line at a ~60 degree angle and they would need to add several inches of wheelbase to get it vertical enough to have a pair of hinges in line.

  • avatar

    This goes under: a little different, maybe “cool”, but about as useful as tits on a bull in day-to-day terms. Trying to get two people into the car quickly on the same side? You can’t – you have to take turns, and I would imagine constant banging into each other. Especially in a parking lot.

    Sure, as a Maybach alternative, knock yourself out. Having any kind of daily practicality? Forget it.

  • avatar

    I won’t argue they don’t have their drawbacks, but at curb-side they’re a huge advantage.

  • avatar

    There’s an often overlooked utility available with suicide doors. A friend of mine had a late ’40 Chrysler with such doors. He’d have the rear seat passengers pop ’em open at speed every once in a while to allow the 50 or 60 mph air to blow all the crap out of the car (soda cans, fast food containers, etc.). The downside was that the doors became speed brakes and would markedly slow the car down…

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