The Car Door: A Portal to Awesomeness
Most of us get in and out of cars, but never really think about where they started or how they've evolved. Let me explain how..
Car doors? That's a pretty boring subject.
It may be a boring subject, but car doors are a determining factor of how cool a car is. The humble car door, as we know it, is something that many people just take for granted. The only real purpose of a car door is for entering in and out of a car and to protect the occupants from any impending natural elements. However, people soon got tired of the traditional car door design, so some automotive manufacturers decided to get creative. When Mr Karl Benz decided to make what is considered to be the first motor car, the Benz Patent Motorwagen, it did not even have doors. So, where did the whole story of car doors begin?
The Benz Patent Motorwagen - Photo: MoneyInc.com
What was the first car with doors, then?
It’s difficult to pin-point which car actually has the coveted title of having the first car doors, but it is safe to say that they were a common sight on cars from the early 1900s, say the 1920s. At this point in time, the only function a door had was to make sure that the passenger and driver didn’t tumble out, and because this was a safer time and the term "car thief" was most likely not a phrase used very often, security wasn’t on a car door’s to-do list either. During this time, doors opened in the way we still call traditional today, as shown in the detailed picture below. But, very soon car designers got tired of this bland way of opening doors towards the right. And from about the 1930s, car doors changed forever.
The traditional way to open a door - Photo: Mix Channel Plus
Car doors started being different slowly at first. Instead of all four doors being changed, only two doors started opening differently. Cue the suicide doors. A car that has suicide doors (in the case of a four-door) has the two front doors opening in the traditional rightwards fashion and the two rear doors opening in the opposite, leftward fashion. If it is a two-door, the two doors open in the leftward fashion. Suicide doors actually got their name because in the event of a crash, the doors could pop open and allow the passengers to get out and not allowing them going through the ordeal of dying. They first appeared on cars such as the Bugatti Atlantic, Ford Model B and the Fiat 600. Nowadays, it seems that only Rolls-Royce is carrying on this tradition with the Phantom, Ghost, Wraith etc.
Arguably one of the coolest types of car doors out there, the gullwing doors were named after the wings of a seagull with its distinctive top-mounted hinges on the roof (rather than the side) that mimic the shape of a gull’s wings. See what they did there? This door proposition is not very common at all. The first car that started this way of opening a door was the iconic Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing. Mercedes then later regenerated this idea with the SLS AMG. In between those two, we’ve had the Delorean DMC-12 and more recently, we’ve also had the Pagani Huayra. What do all these cars have in common? They’re highly desirable and all superbly cool. Sadly though, due to health and safety people, gullwings will become even more scarce.
We all know the manufacturer that made these doors famous - Lamborghini. The doors are hinged just below the A-pillar of a car and open up vertically. But, contrary to popular impression they were not first implemented by Mr Feruccio Lamborghini. They were actually first put on Alfa Romeo’s Carabo concept from 1968. These doors are also not very popular or practical and are usually reserved for the more expensive and exotic automobile. Apart from a few modified VWs, the only production cars we have seen them on is the Bugatti EB110 and all the flagship, V12 Lamborghinis. Out of experience, it takes some skill to manoeuvre yourself in and out of a car with scissor doors. Bum first is the only way to do it really, albeit quite undignified. But then again, you wouldn’t buy a car with scissor doors because you wanted to be dignified…
Like the gullwing doors, butterfly doors take their design from nature. They take the shape of a butterfly’s wings when expanded. Jean Bugatti (eldest son of Ettore Bugatti) designed these doors in 1939, being hinged at the top of the door frame, opening upward and rotating outward. Like scissor doors, these types of doors only appear more high-end cars. It isn’t clear which car had this design first, but it may very well have been the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale from the late 1960s. More recently, cars such as the Ferrari Enzo and LaFerrari and all McLaren models, with the exception of the 570S, have implemented this design.
Koenigsegg's take on the scissor door.
In addition to the scissor door, there is one automotive manufacturer that has put its own twist on it - Koenigsegg. The mastermind that is Christian von Koenigsegg implemented a system on his Swedish creations' doors that, according to him, was definitely a thing that wasn't thought out in a few minutes. The system is called "dihedral synchro-helix actuation", and once you study a degree in Mechanical Engineering and learn how to pronounce the name, will also know that essentially, the doors open up and outwards in one movement. The result of this is a verticle door on a very clever hinge system and potentially hitting the door on a high curb. But nevertheless, we thank you Mr. Von Koenigsegg.
Koenigsegg's dihedral synchro-helix actuation door system. Awesome, right?! Photo - Motor1.com
As you can see, a car door isn’t just a car door. Yes, all the above doors aren’t strictly necessary, but imagine how boring the world would be if we only did what was necessary? I suppose the saying “You haven’t made it until your car doors open vertically” is rather true. Most of the cars that possess doors that open in an exciting fashion are cars that we most desire to own at some point in our life, and I suppose that’s what made the proposition of designing them so appealing.