When Cultures Clash: Coach Door Edition Conti Triggers Folks Worried About Suicide
Considering they’re only making 160 of them, the suicide doors on the eighty Coach Door Edition Lincoln Continentals to be sold next year have garnered quite a bit of attention.
The use of rear-hinged doors on vehicles dates to the horse age. It seems that sometime in the 1930s the moniker “suicide doors” was applied to them, apparently due to people’s propensity for falling out of cars in the decades before Ford introduced the seat belt (as an option in 1956). There’s also, at least according to something frequently reproduced online, a connection with gangsters pushing people out of cars — though to my ears, that would be more like homicide doors.
I’m not convinced, though, it’s any easier to fall (or be pushed) out of a car with such doors, other than the fact that aerodynamics will help keep the door open while you’re falling (or being pushed).
In any case, rear-hinged doors became known as suicide doors, though it seems to have originally been applied to cars with front doors that were hinged at the back, usually two-door coupes or convertibles, like the current Rolls-Royce Dawn and Wraith, not the back doors of a four-door sedan. People aren’t particularly careful about the meanings of words, so in time the term also came to include what were originally called coach doors.
Again dating to the horse age, “coach doors” are when a four-door vehicle has front doors hinged at the front and back doors hinged at the rear. In a horse drawn coach without a car’s B pillar in the way, when both side doors are open, that creates a huge opening and easy entry into the passenger compartment, particularly if you’re a woman wearing a bustled dress with petticoats and skirts.
While the truly iconic 1961 Continental had no B-pillar, for just 80 cars, Ford wasn’t going to completely reengineer the unibody, so the 2020 Coach Door Edition Continental would still hamper a lady wearing a hoop skirt. But, as you can see from the model name, even though the term is in common use, Lincoln’s avoiding the S word.
Even before today’s hypersensitivity, no car company run by sane people would have used the term “suicide doors,” with good reason. Rolls-Royce doesn’t use the term for their production cars and no recent concept vehicle with coach doors has called them suicide doors.
Though no official communications from Lincoln or Ford use the term “suicide doors,” just about every news report on the new Conti called them exactly that. Autoweek, Road & Track, used the term in their tweets about the car. CNN, Fox News, and CBS News all used “suicide doors” in their headlines. Since few people these days seem to actually read, the Twitter mob was provoked by the headlines to inveigh against the automaker for being insensitive about suicide, even though Lincoln isn’t using the word.
Horrible nickname for this feature: “Lincoln Continental bringing ‘suicide doors’ back in a special, limited-edition model. https://t.co/5QilLomxZm
— Diane Tuman (@dianetuman) December 17, 2018
‘Suicide doors’ are back on the Lincoln Continental @CNN https://t.co/k0S0hKYzTK
WHY? Did they think we lacked suicides or something????
— Anne Zanoni (@ninja_CE) December 17, 2018
Lincoln Continental “Suicide Doors” in an age where we don’t accept certain terms. Yep I’m going to take offence. Thank you
— (@danielhortonseo) December 17, 2018
Some implicitly criticized the auto industry for the design itself, due to its supposed association with suicide.
And I’m sure there’s a reason why they became known as “suicide doors,” that would also have led to this design being phased out in the first place. https://t.co/pwUfDYOUO0
— David Hutchison (@dhdt) December 17, 2018
I’m tempted to say these are an example of Poe’s Law, but I’m pretty sure these guys were joking.
I suggest rebranding suicide doors as “life doors” https://t.co/z9QildtaHE
— John Stoll (@johndstoll) December 17, 2018
Umm I don’t like how they are called suicide doors. They should be called positive reinforcement doors.
— FallingIntoLove (@LoveCanCreate) December 17, 2018
Interestingly, none of the folks outraged about Lincoln’s non-existent faux-pas used their tweets to mention that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 (800-273-TALK).
[Image Lincoln Motor Co.]
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I'm 65 yrs old, and my dad was a auto mechanic in the 50s and 60s. I can remember as a small child, asking him why they called them suicide doors. He explained that if someone was exiting the rear seat on the traffic side, and a car came from behind and hit the door, then you would be hit by the door. Lose a foot? Decapitation? Conversely, if the door is the usual swing and a car hit the door, it would swing away from the person. Made sense to me.
Ford didn't introduce seatbelts, Nash did, in 1949. Ford offered them as an option in '55, Saab was first to make them standard, in '58, and Volvo first offered modern 3-point ones in '59 as standard equipment. I've also seen photos of 20's and 30's Duesenbergs with lap belts. Of course they could've been retrofit later, and all that I can say is these cars otherwise look very period-correct.