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Delahaye Type 135

A suicide door (also called a rear-hinged or coach door) is a car door that is hinged on the edge closer to the rear of the vehicle, known as the trailing edge.[1][2][3][4] These doors are rarely used on vehicles in modern times because of their numerous problems.

Contents

Origins of the name

The name reflects the increased danger of the door falling open if it becomes unlatched while the car is moving.[1][2][3] The problem arises while driving at high speed: if the door opens even a little, it will catch the fast-moving air like a sail and open, potentially being damaged from the force of the air.

On a conventional car, if the door becomes unlatched, the fast moving air around the car, which is going rearward relative to the car, will outweigh the pressure difference with the interior even when the windows are closed and the venting at the front is open, and hold the door closed. With suicide doors, this pressure difference holds the door open.[1][2] This danger is compounded if the occupant is not seat-belted.

Mazda RX-8 uses clamshell door design to avoid suicide door safety problems

This problem is greatly increased when driving around a bend. Lateral G-force combined with the low-pressure air moving around the car will fling open an unlatched door, and the occupant could be thrown out if not wearing a seatbelt. In reality, this is very unlikely to happen because the locks and latches for suicide doors are built to withstand greater forces than most locks and latches. Most modern cars with rear suicide doors have front doors which overlap the rear doors so the latter cannot open unless the front door is open, commonly called "clamshell doors".[2] An example of this is the Mazda RX-8 sports coupé. Another safety device is a lock that prevents the rear doors being opened unless the vehicle is stationary, such as used in the Rolls-Royce Phantom and in London cabs. By using this electronic safety, the doors can be opened independently.

Some believe that the name stems from the fact that if, in an emergency, the user exits the vehicle while it is moving forward, the door will hit them upon exit.[5] Others assume the name stems from a weakness inherent to body design. In a heavy, rear-end collision, the lead vehicle has a tendency to fold up (accordion) at its weakest point. This fact is well known to auto body technicians and mechanics. This weakest point is assumed to be at the leading edges of suicide doors, just in front of occupants, instead of behind them with conventional doors. This assumption is based on the small amount of structure required to latch, but not needed to support the hinges and weight of the doors.

Use of the term

Because of the term's negative connotations, it is avoided in major automobile manufacturers' promotional literature in favour of terms such as "rear-hinged doors",[2] "coach doors" (Rolls-Royce),[4] and "freestyle doors" (Mazda).[4] However, the phrase "suicide doors" is familiar to many English-speakers and is often used openly in the custom-car trade.[6]

History

Suicide doors were not uncommon on cars manufactured in the first half of the 20th century.[2][7] They were especially popular in the gangster era of the 1930s because "It's a lot easier to shove somebody out with the wind holding the door open", Dave Brownell, the former editor of Hemmings Motor News stated.[8]

Post-World War II examples are almost universally the rear doors of four-door cars. The most well-known use of suicide doors on post-World War II automobiles was the Lincoln Continental sedan from 1961 through 1969,[3][4] and on the unique Lincoln Continental four-door convertible[4] from 1961 through 1967 (the last four-door convertible built in the United States prior to the introduction of the 4-door Jeep Wrangler in 2007.) Many people are familiar with a modified version of the 1961 Lincoln model 74A convertible, known as SS-100-X, in that it was the vehicle in which President Kennedy was riding when he was assassinated. Another example of this vehicle can frequently be seen in episodes of the TV show Green Acres, as one was owned by the main character, Oliver Douglas.[9] Since the four-door Lincoln convertible did not have a center "B" pillar, the rear door glass was designed to electrically retract a few inches when the rear doors were opened in order for the weather-stripping to clear the front door glass. This meant that if the battery was dead, the only way out of the back seat was to crawl over the front seat.

Modern use

A Lincoln concept car reusing classic "suicide door" styling first seen in 1961. Note total lack of B-pillar.

For a time, the last true, independently opening suicide doors on a mass produced car were fitted on the Ford Thunderbird four-door sedan from 1967 through 1971. The 1971 model was the last American production automobile to feature rear suicide doors, because after this time, safety concerns prevented their use.[10] More recently, rear suicide doors that cannot be opened until the regular front doors are opened have been appearing on a number of vehicles,[2] including extended cab pickup trucks, the Saturn Ion QuadCoupe, the Honda Element, and the Mazda RX-8.[2] In 2003, true independent suicide doors reappeared, this time on the new Rolls-Royce Phantom. The Spyker D12 officially presented in 2006 also has suicide doors. The Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe four-seat convertible, based on the 100EX show car also has suicide front doors.

Rear passenger suicide doors had been a constant feature of Hackney carriages, otherwise known as Black (London) Cabs. However, with the replacement of the Austin FX4 by the new TX models, suicide doors were replaced with standard hinged doors.

Suicide doors are used on the Carbon Motors Corporation E7 concept car, a purpose built police vehicle and features rear suicide doors to help officers get handcuffed individuals in and out of the back seat.

Suicide Doors are also becoming quite popular for those with limited mobility to improve their independence. Companies like Scissor Doors Inc. are making vehicle specific kits that are also offered with remote control upgrades to make life easier for the disabled.

Advantages

  • Rear-hinged doors make entering and exiting the vehicle much easier. The occupant can enter in a natural way; walking forward towards the vehicle, and then turning as they go to sit, and exit by stepping forward out of the vehicle.
  • Rear-hinged back doors (especially with front-hinged front doors) make it easier for a person in the front seat such as a chauffeur to exit and reach the handle of the back door to open it for the passenger. Austin FX4 taxi drivers were able to reach the rear door handle through the driver's window without getting out of the vehicle.

Disadvantages

  • While the vehicle is parked in the same direction as the traffic, such a door could hide an entering or exiting passenger from the view of passing cars travelling the same direction as the parked car, which is why this had been called a suicide door.
  • Conventionally hinged doors in front and suicide doors in the back make it difficult for passengers to exit from the front and rear seats simultaneously due to the limited space between the front edge of the rear door and the rear edge of the front door.
  • If the user exits the vehicle while it is moving forward, the door will hit him or her upon exit.[5]
  • Although a latch or lock usually ensures the door remains securely closed, human error can prevail. Consumer Reports reported that the door on a Subaru 360 they were testing opened into the wind while driving with the door partially latched.[11]

Models

Lloyd LT 600 van with a front suicide door

Here is a list of some cars that use suicide doors. For a more complete list, see List of cars with suicide doors.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c [1], Suicide door definition.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h [2], Suicide doors on Diseno-Art.
  3. ^ a b c [3], Suicide doors simply explained on Everything2.
  4. ^ a b c d e [4], Don't Call Them Suicide Doors.
  5. ^ a b [5], Automotive door styles.
  6. ^ Martin Zimmerman (September 15, 2007). "The Garage: Focus on autos - 'Suicide doors' resurrected by car designers despite safety concerns". Business (Los Angeles Times). http://www.latimes.com/classified/automotive/highway1/la-fi-garage15sep15,0,5887067.story?coll=la-class-autos-highway1. Retrieved June 11, 2009. 
  7. ^ Suicide doors on Urban Dictionary.
  8. ^ Mayersohn, Norman (2003-07-11). "DRIVING; Don't Call Them Suicide Doors - The". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F00EEDB103DF932A25754C0A9659C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=2. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  9. ^ Internet Movie Cars Database: Image of Oliver Douglas' Lincoln Convertible, http://imcdb.org/vehicle_235295-Lincoln-Continental-74A-1967.html, retrieved 2009-09-15 
  10. ^ [6], Suicide doors on Auto Brevity.
  11. ^ Consumer Reports April 1969

External links

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