Porsche recently made news by announcing that they are working on the Mission E, an extremely high performance electric car (EV) with dozens of state-of-the-art features. One feature that is decidedly not state-of-the-art, though, is the rear “suicide doors.” For those who aren’t familiar with suicide doors: Suicide doors are car doors with the hinges at the rear of the door. This means the door opens “backwards.”
The first suicide doors actually appeared on horse-drawn carriages in the 1800s. The reason is likely because rear-opening doors allowed people to enter and exit carriages easily. This feature made just as much sense on the horseless carriages so it soon appeared on the early motorcars. By the way, no carmaker has ever called rear-hinged doors “suicide doors.” That would have been a pretty dumb marketing move. Some sources point to a safety issue as the suicide door’s name: If a rear-hinged door unlatched at speed, the wind rushing could violently throw the door backward.
The tendency to use suicide doors in car designs was extremely popular in the 1920s and 1930s but started to slow down before WWII. After the war, a few brands continued them. These included Ford, Mercury, Lincoln and Studebaker. By the late 1940s, the design was beginning to be seen as antiquated and very few cars were built with them.
A few notable examples since the end of WWII:
1948 Tucker – Preston Tucker packed his vision of a modern postwar car with dozens of practical ideas and he thought center-opening doors would be best for passenger access.
1957 Cadillac Brougham – The limited-production Eldorado Brougham was one of the most advanced cars of its day, yet Cadillac gave it suicide back doors purely for design reasons.
1961 to 1969 Lincoln Continental – Probably the best-known postwar car with suicide doors. The ’61 was a strikingly good looking car and would influence American luxury car design for years. The front and rear suicide doors gave it a dramatic effect.
1967 to 1971 Ford Thunderbird – When adding a back seat sent Thunderbird sales soaring in the late 1960s, Ford figured that doubling the door count would help too, so they added a rear set of suicide doors.
According to CDJR Mopar Parts, a popular on-line retailer for Mopar parts, very few cars offer suicide doors anymore, possibly for safety reasons more than anything else but some still do for the sake of design. For example, Rolls-Royce uses what it calls “coach doors” on current models. The company’s explanation for fitting these doors crosses into the realm of pompousness. This comes right from the company’s own sales materials: “The rear passengers do not merely “get out” of a Rolls-Royce, but rather stand and disembark as if from a Riva motor launch onto a glamorous private jetty in Monaco or on Lake Como.” Yup, that’s what we thought too when we saw our first set of suicide doors.