For the most part, car doors are boring. That is because most cars have regular doors, which are boring. There are a hundred reasons to keep doors this way. But sometimes, carmakers slap on doors that unfurl wildly in a primal display of theater, all for one reason: they’re awesome.
Unusual car doors make the mundane action of getting into your car an event. They are the first part of the driving experience and inform how you feel about the rest of the car. They can make you feel like a president or a racecar driver or a VIP at a nightclub. And nothing makes you feel these feels quite like supercars — supercars have all the cool doors.
To the layman, supercars are defined by their flashy doors. Yeah they cost a lot of money, their big engines make loud noises, and they go fast. None of that really matters to the average onlooker because they won’t drive the car and they certainly won’t pay for it. But they see it. They see a door swing wide like an eagle wing extended to the sky, and that makes a powerful impression. Surely, this impression, produced by the exotic mechanical portals to a life of luxury and awesomeness, is the number one reason anyone buys a supercar.
There is a handful of unusual door types still used today, and most of them are found on supercars and the like. Some are more ostentatious than others, but they all make cars more special and we need to celebrate and encourage that.
For research purposes, I have embarked on a quest to determine which type of car door is most awesome. Under consideration are gullwing, butterfly, suicide, falcon wing, swan, and dihedral doors. Each door will be discussed and have its merits fairly appraised according to its awesomeness.
Along with some other rare and abnormal doors, I have excluded sliding doors from this exercise because they are found almost exclusively attached to minivans, which, however practical, are decidedly not awesome (Also omitted are scissor, or Lambo doors. I know they’re cool and all the rappers have them but there are currently none on Turo so get off my back about it).
I have separated the doors into two pools: Bird-related and Not Bird-related. I think you’ll agree it’s the obvious way to objectively divide them into evenly-matched groups. From each group, I have chosen a winner to battle mano-a-mano for the coveted title of Most Awesome Door.
I am taking my considerations very seriously because the stakes are high and there is no room for frivolity or frippery. Especially frippery — this contest is strictly anti-frippery.
Before we get started, let’s look at the rules. I’m sticking to three criteria to accurately determine relative level of awesomeness:
- Theater. The best doors cause a scene when opened. They declare your arrival and noisily announce the size of your checking account. Valets wet their pants a little and millennials whip out their phones to snapchat the event — both the doors and the pants.
- Functionality. Does the door allow you to get in and out of the car without having to train on the pommel horse? Good.
- Associated cars. For drama at a standstill, doors maketh the car. But the quality and overall awesomeness of the associated cars are good indicators that the doors are awesome too.
Pool 1: Bird-related
Gullwing doors are the granddaddy of cool door designs. First made famous by the legendary Mercedes-Benz 300 SL back in 1954, gullwings spread open from the roof like a seagull’s wings, if you can believe it.
In terms of theater, gullwing doors get top marks. Just look at them. Height-challenged drivers might have to reach a bit to shut the doors while seated, but that just adds to the occasion. And the cars that employ gullwings? Only sleek and low gems like the DeLorean DMC-12, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, and the Pagani Huayra. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Aston Martin’s signature door is called the swan door. It opens at a slight angle to avoid scraping on curbs. The upward angle is different enough to make Aston drivers feel like James Bond, but retains the elegance and restraint befitting a British gentleman.
Swan doors don’t do so hot in category one — their drama is purposefully understated. Instead, functionality is baked into their design. The upward angle allows you to avoid denting your precious supercar door and incurring obscene repair costs. Plus, the associated cars aren’t bad. Aston Martins exclusively employ swan doors, and Astons are always beautiful and usually fairly super.
Falcon wing doors are what Tesla calls the second-row doors on the Model X. They are much like gullwings, except because the Model X is so tall, the doors bend at a second point to avoid swinging too wide. They’re automatic and use electric actuators and torsion springs to regulate extension timing… okay they’re just gullwing doors with more hinges.
It’s a cool party trick, and falcon wing doors are surprisingly good at not hitting other cars in a parking lot. The Tesla Model X is the only car with these things, so I’ll give them some points for exclusivity but the rest of the car’s experience is relatively sterile, even if it’s quick.
In the bird-related pool, gullwings get the nod. Only the most head-turning cars can pull off gullwing doors, and as a result they don’t feel stale on modern cars like the SLS AMG. Tesla’s falcon wings are fun, but the Model X doesn’t have anywhere near the presence of the machines bearing gullwing doors. Swan doors take a swan dive to third place, but they sure look graceful doing it.
Pool 2: Not bird-related
Suicide doors are rear-hinged, meaning they open the opposite direction of normal doors. Why are they called suicide doors? Nobody knows for sure, but one explanation is that the door blocks your vision to oncoming traffic, putting you in danger of becoming someone’s unwilling hood ornament.
Today, these are most famously found on Rolls-Royces, where they allow gloved chauffeurs to reveal their very important back seat occupants without getting in the way of paparazzi photos. There’s no functional advantage as far as I can tell, but stepping forward out from the back of a Rolls sure looks like wealth.
Many pickup trucks and small hatchbacks also have a version of suicide door that requires the front, regular door to get out of the way before it can open. This half door is hamstrung by procedure and hurts the suicide door’s reputation in my eyes, though I’m sure it allows for more space or something useful like that.
Oh, butterfly doors. These beautiful babies are hinged on the roofline and open outward and upward, leaving a generous opening while simultaneously yelling for attention. Butterfly doors are a hallmark of high-end exotics, with greats like the Ferrari Enzo, Saleen S7, and McLaren F1 taking advantage of their striking looks.
Currently, butterfly doors are used to great effect by the BMW i8. With its flying buttresses and doors spread wide, it looks like a robotic insect from a distant planet. So, a good showing from the butterflies. They’re loud, they open, and they’re attached to some pretty memorable cars.
The McLaren 12C has a unique system of butterfly doors that lack a top hinge on the a-pillar or roof. This allows the car to have frameless windows, which means the 12C’s convertible version can retain its shouty apertures without sacrificing its sleek silhouette. Because of this little detail, McLaren calls the doors dihedral, not butterfly. Which seems overly pedantic — come on, they look just like butterfly doors. But dihedral doors sound like something you’d find on a transformer and the technology is actually an impressive little trick, especially when the 12C was launched back in 2011.
McLaren’s unique dihedral doors are the perfect icing on the diligently engineered treasure that is the 12C, so dihedral doors win out over its butterfly cousins and Rolls’s sideways clamshell. The practical motivation of having awesome doors on the spider version makes the innovative hinges worth the technical minutiae of calling them ‘dihedral.’ And when compared to these otherworldly portals on a real supercar, the suicide doors on a Roller just seem too ordinary.
Most awesome door
So the final matchup pits gullwing doors against dihedral. The classic flappers of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL against the McLaren 12C’s mechanical wizardry. It’s legacy vs. innovation. Spread wide open, both types of doors lend incredible presence to any car. Both make experiencing a car more exciting and memorable for both the driver and for bystanders. They attract crowds at a car meet and make every occasion more special. And yeah, both let you get inside the car.
But there can only be one kind of car door that is Most Awesome, and that door is the gullwing. It’s just too classic. Gullwing doors’ construction is easy to understand, yet they are incredibly rare in production cars. They are reserved for a select few vehicles, the ones that combine stance and grace to become revered objects of style. They command maximum attention, but their ostentation is superseded by their simplicity and elegance, and even the most conservative onlookers can enjoy the event gullwing doors create.