The car door is something most people don’t think twice about. You pull a handle and the door swings out, allowing you to get into the car. While that door design works great for most (boring) cars, there are much cooler ways to get in and out of your ride.
Scissor doors rotate vertically at a hinge located at the front of the door on the bottom of the car’s A-pillar, which causes them to move like a pair of scissors. These doors have been a popular design for exotic cars ever since Lamborghini first debuted the design on a production car with the Countach. Since then, most Lamborghinis have come equipped with these, with other companies like Koenigsegg and Spyker following suit.
Scissor doors actually have a major benefit beyond just looking cool. By having the doors rotate vertically to open, the owners of these low-slung supercars don’t have to worry about whacking their doors on a curb, which could result in thousands of dollars of damage. Also, this type of door gives the driver more visibility while reversing. Another benefit is that scissor doors remove the possibility of denting other cars with the door. Wouldn’t it be great if every car had this door design? No more door dings in parking lots!
Butterfly doors are very similar to scissor doors, but with one key difference. Like scissor doors, butterfly doors open vertically, but the hinge is located on the A-pillar instead of at the bottom of it. This means that the doors open upwards and outwards, allowing for easier entry and exit. This is very beneficial for races with required driver changes, because the faster the new driver gets into the car, the less time is wasted in the pits. This is why many companies with racing heritage – for example, McLaren, Porsche, and Ferrari – have used butterfly doors, beyond the fact that they look exotic and prevent the owner from hitting the curb with the door.
On the downside, this type of door requires more space to open than scissor doors, and unlike a normal car door, you really have to open the door fully in order to get out. Make sure you don’t park in any tight spots!
Gullwing doors are hinged at the roof, allowing them to open upwards, evoking the shape of a seagull in flight. This design was first implemented in the Mercedes-Benz 300SL as a means to ease entry into the vehicle, which had a very high doorsill due to the way the chassis was optimized for racing. The door design also requires less space to open the door than a normal car door, which is why a version of the gullwing door has been implemented on the Tesla Model X. Other famous cars with gullwing doors include the Mercedes Benz SLS AMG, the DeLorean DMC-12, and the Pagani Huayra.
Due to the fact that they open upward, the main concern with gullwing doors is that the doors are unable to open in the event of a rollover. Mercedes remedied this problem in the SLS AMG in a very “007” way – by using explosive bolts to blow the doors off in a rollover.
Suicide doors are like conventional outward-opening doors, but they open backwards. Made famous on large sedans like the Lincoln Continental, suicide doors allow for nearly effortless entry and exit compared to a standard door. This is why Rolls Royce uses suicide doors on all of their current models – if you’re the kind of person who owns a Rolls, nothing in your life should be a struggle, including entering and exiting the car. Suicide doors are also often used for half-doors on extended cab pickup trucks, and in vehicles like the Mazda RX-8 and Honda Element.
Suicide doors get their name from the fact that there are some safety issues with them. It is easier to fall out of an open suicide door at speed than a conventional door, and it’s easier to be killed by a passing vehicle as well. Furthermore, if for some reason the door hinge failed, a suicide door would be forced open by the airflow around the vehicle at speed.
Swan doors look a lot like conventional doors, but instead of opening straight outward, the door opens outward and slightly upward. This provides the same curb-safe benefit that gullwing, butterfly, and scissor doors provide, but in a way that feels more subtle and elegant. This feature was introduced by Aston Martin with the DB9, and has been implemented in all Astons since.
Obviously, sliding doors slide, but not always like you’d expect. The BMW Z1 has doors that retract vertically into the sills, and the Kaiser Darrin’s doors slide into the front fender. Of course, the most popular application is in common minivan, where the doors allow parents to load their kids more easily, and prevent kids from dinging other people’s cars in parking lots.
By far the most ridiculous door design is the canopy door. The canopy door opens the top or front of the car like a fighter jet, allowing the occupants to get in. Only two production cars ever really implemented this design: the BMW Isetta microcar, which had a door on the front, and the Bond Bug, a three-wheeled microcar where the entire top of the car rotated upwards and forwards. The canopy door has also appeared on many concept cars, but it’s just too impractical to work for most production cars.