A suicide door is a car door hinged on the trailing edge, the edge closer to the rear of the vehicle. Such doors are rarely used on vehicles in modern times because of their disadvantages.
Although the term is often used in the custom car trade, it is avoided by major automobile manufacturers in favour of terms such as "coach doors" (Rolls-Royce), "FlexDoors" (Opel Meriva) "freestyle doors" (Mazda), "rear access doors" (Saturn Ion), and "rear-hinged doors".
Suicide doors were common on cars manufactured in the first half of the 20th century. In the era before safety/seat belts, the accidental opening of passenger doors, especially the front ones where the passenger's body was adjacent to the door, meant that there was a greater risk of falling out of the vehicle, than with front hinged doors where the airflow pushed the doors closed rather than opening them further. They were especially popular in the gangster era of the 1930s – supposedly because "It's a lot easier to shove somebody out with the wind holding the door open", as Dave Brownell, the former editor of Hemmings Motor News stated.
After World War II, this design was applied almost exclusively for the rear doors of four-door sedans, if it was used at all. The best-known use of suicide doors on post-World War II automobiles was the Lincoln Continental sedan from 1961 through 1969, and on the unique Lincoln Continental four-door convertible 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, because 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. 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.
However, in 1956, the Italian automaker Fiat introduced the Fiat 600 Multipla mini MPV and later, in 1963, the Spanish automaker SEAT launched the SEAT 800 city car, which were both four-door cars featuring front suicide doors and rear doors with a conventional opening. This meant that all four doors were attached to the B-pillars.
Modern use Edit
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. More recently, rear suicide doors that cannot be opened until the regular front doors are opened have been appearing on a number of vehicles, including extended cab pickup trucks, the 2nd generation Saturn SC, the Saturn Ion QuadCoupe, the Honda Element, the Toyota FJ Cruiser, and the Mazda RX-8. 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 that features rear suicide doors to help officers get handcuffed individuals in and out of the back seat. Another concept car that features rear suicide doors is the Kia Naimo concept electric vehicle, announced at the 2011 Seoul Auto Show.
Suicide doors are showing a resurgence in popularity in the after market and mobility sector with many companies supplying 90 degree and 180 degree suicide door hinge kits that are used to adapt vehicle with conventional doors to open in reverse.
- Rear-hinged doors make entering and exiting the vehicle much easier. The occupant can enter in a natural way, walking forward toward the vehicle and turning to sit, and then can exit by stepping forward out of the vehicle.
- Rear-hinged back doors (in combination with front-hinged front doors) make exiting easier for the driver, who can then 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.
- Conventionally hinged doors in front and suicide doors in the back made 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.
- Although a latch or lock usually ensures the door remains securely closed, human error can prevail. Consumer Reports reported in 1969 that the door on a Subaru 360 they were testing opened into the wind while driving with the door partially latched.
- Suicide doors pose more danger than traditional doors when exiting the vehicle towards the street. If a passing vehicle inadvertently hits the open door, it will fling closed, possibly crushing the exiting passenger, rather than simply knocking the door off the vehicle.