The basic function of the car door is to allow you access and exit into a vehicle.
By far and away, the most common type of door you’ll find on practically any vehicle is the front-hinged door.
But did you know that the way a car can open its doors is wide ranging? There are some truly amazing ways car doors can open.
These doors aren’t just designed to open and close elegantly. There’s some rationale behind their engineering. The major determining factor for how a car door open is the location of the hinge.
Let’s take a moment to consider the different types of doors for cars. You’ll likely never look at car doors the same way again.
1. Suicide Doors
These are rear-hinged doors that open outward toward the back of the car.
Popularized on cars like the 1960s Lincoln Continental. Suicide doors even found their way onto trucks in the mid to late 90s.
Suicide doors are also a feature you’ll find more commonly on show cars like low riders. They’re also known as coach doors since they were inspired by the doors on horse-drawn carriages. They first appeared on Ford Model B and Dodge vehicles of the 1930s.
Where did coach doors get the pet-name suicide doors?
The origins are rather macabre. You see, eventually, the safety of these doors was called into question.
The fear was that as a rear passenger exits the car, a motorist could hit the rear-hinged door injuring or even trapping the exiting passenger – hence the name suicide doors.
2. Scissor Doors
These doors swing upward.
Also referred to as Lambo doors, these doors are hinged to the front of the car and swing straight up so you can enter and exit the car.
The first vehicle ever to feature scissor doors was actually a 1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept car. Designed by Marcello Gandini, the scissor door was inspired by his desire for an innovative design. And more practically, to resolve his concern about the Carabo’s exceptionally bad rear visibility.
But the first production car to popularize the concept of the scissor door as we all know is the legendary Lamborghini Countach.
Here too the scissor door was adopted to resolve the Countach’s poor rear visibility. Since the Countach is hard to see out of when backing up. The idea is that you open the scissor and lean your body outside of the cockpit as you back the car into its parking spot.
While not the most elegant way to reverse a car, it’s effective. As such, the scissor door has been a design staple of the Lamborghini brand featured on the Diablo, Murcielago and Aventador.
3. RAPTOR Doors
Do you want Lamborghini doors but don’t want or can’t afford a Lamborghini?
Similar to scissor doors, Recoil Actuated Pivoting Torsion Orbital Retractor doors are front-hinged and pull away from a car and pivot upward to allow occupants in and out.
Rather than being exclusive to any automobile brand. It’s a conversion kit you can apply to pretty much any vehicle.
They’re hinged at the front of the car like most car doors. The RAPTOR design uses a combination of geared rotational pivots to achieve a similar opening style to Lamborghinis.
4. Gullwing Doors
Also referred to as falcon-wing doors, these doors open upward and outward.
Hinged this time at the roof of a car. Gullwing doors open upward and outward like the wings of a bird.
The latest car to feature gullwing doors is the Tesla Model X. And while they were popularized by the 80s DMC Dalorean, the first car I ever saw with gullwing doors was a 1950s Mercedes-Benz 300SL.
Other cars that have featured gullwing doors include a Canadian concept car from the late seventies named the Bricklin SV-1.
Like the Delorean, the car was noteworthy for its gullwing doors. Made of acrylic resin bonded to a fiberglass substrate, the Bricklin looks like the Nissan Z cars of the day. Until you open the door, of course.
Even Pagani adopted gullwing doors for the beautiful Huayra.
5. Sliding Doors
Yeah, this was a thing.
It makes no use of hinges at all. Instead, like any sliding door (like the kind you might find in and around your home) these car doors are suspended on a track where they slide horizontally to open and close the car.
Can you tell why this manner of opening and closing a car door might be deemed unsafe?
The BMW Z1 featured sliding doors that open and closed vertically. The doors slide into the car’s body. Although the high sills do offer an extra layer of protection in cases of a side impact. Can you imagine driving at high rate of speed and the door latch malfunctions?
Now, when it comes to vans and buses, maybe it’s because we’re used to sliding doors on these vehicles. The concept works.
The first production car to feature sliding doors was the 1964 Volkswagen AG.
6. Swan Doors
The first time I heard the term swan doors used to describe the doors on a car. I must admit I had a hard time imagining what they look like.
But when I saw how it worked on the Aston Martin DB9, I thought it was quite clever.
The hinges are fixed higher than on a normal car door with idea being to clear curbs of any kind.
The driver and passenger doors open at a more aggressive angle than the usual car door. When both doors are open a car like an Aston Martin looks like a swan with its wings up.
Some say that it makes getting in and out of the car in a tight space more difficult. But I disagree.
Sure, the doors open up higher than a conventional door. But the design doesn’t allow the door to take up more space than a car with the type of hinge we’re all more used to.
7. Canopy Doors
The first car I ever saw with canopy doors were the Sterling Kit Cars of the 1970s. And some of the cars featured on a kid’s cartoon show from the early 90s called, Heroes on Hot Wheels.
Inspired by jet fighters, the windshield, sides and roof are one integrated unit that move in unison.
The hinge(s) are located between the hood and dashboard. This allows the canopy to slide forward like Batman’s car or rise vertically.
In the case of a car like the Messerschmitts KR200, the hinge is placed on the side of the right side of the car and the canopy top opens to the right.
Another manufacturer to adopt this design is Ferrari in Pininfarina’s concept design of the 512 S Modulo. And Saab with its Aero X concept car.
One of my favorite cars to feature canopy doors is the Maserati Birdcage. This concept car utilizes an extended canopy system to allow passengers in and out of the cockpit.
8. Dihedral Synchro-Helix Doors
This is one of the coolest ways to open a car door I have ever seen.
Dihedral doors push out from the car and slide forward as they rotate up. They do all this in one slick motion. Its something you have to see in action to understand how futuristic it looks.
They’re hinged at the front of the car like the doors on most cars. Developed and designed by Christian von Koenigsegg, it was revolutionary when it first appeared on high CC prototype in 1994. To me, it demonstrates one of the reasons why Koenigsegg is the man in the current automotive design and engineering landscape.
Diehedral synchro-helix doors are designed to be high enough to clear most curbs. Low enough to avoid most garage ceilings. And it doesn’t take up much space when you open it, which comes in handy for parking in tight spaces.
9. Butterfly Doors
These doors open upward and outward. To me they’re a different take on the scissor door.
They’re hinged in several points along the A-pillar.
Look how well they add to the exotic shape of this McLaren. The first car to feature butterfly doors is the 1967 Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale where butterfly doors were commonly used in Group C cars.
Butterfly doors can also be found on other high-performance cars like the BMW i8 and the Porsche 911 GT1.
By stationing points along the A-pillar, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren is one of the few open top cars to feature butterfly doors.
To maintain the fluid shape of their hypercar, Ferrari wisely adopted this door opening type for the beautiful LaFerrari.
Although their coolness factor is undoubtable, I feel they’re less practical than scissor doors when parking in tight spaces due to the fact that they open much wider.
10. Front-Hinged Doors
Besides a bus, what other road going vehicles allows drivers and passengers to enter and exit through the same opening?
All the doors we’ve mentioned have a unique way of opening to be sure. But the way the door opens on this BMW Isetta 600 is all its own – it takes the trophy for originality.
The door is hinged to the left side of the car, and you enter through the front. As you open the door the steering wheel and dashboard swing out of the way for easy entrance and exit.
It’s hard to think of any vehicle on the planet that shares this design.
What happens in the case of a front-end collision? Are you trapped inside? Certainly not. Just pull back the sunroof and your free to escape.