How “Suicide Doors” Got Their Name
So why are these doors called suicide doors? Did someone commit suicide with one? What’s suicidal about a door?
The theory is that the forward motion of the car could cause the door to fly open, possibly causing the unlucky person sitting next to the door to be pulled out of the car, or the door itself could be ripped from its hinges. It’s debatable as to whether this was speculation or reality, but cars of this era did not have seat belts, so there was nothing to hold a passenger in the car.
Think about it. Imagine trying to open a conventional front door while you’re driving 70 mph. It’s going to be increasingly difficult because of a simple fact of physics: air pressure. The farther you open the door as you’re sailing down the highway, the more air is going to hit the door, forcing it back. Hopefully, the end result is that it never opens far enough for you to fall out.
Now, imagine accidentally unlatching a door that opens the other way. Instead of working to keep the door shut, the road wind serves as an accelerator, helping to fling the door open and maybe you with it as you grab for the handle in a panic to close it. To add insult to injury, you’ll likely be whopped by the door as you fall out. The term “suicide doors” was therefore placed on vehicles with the rear-hinged door configuration, the theory being that anyone inside was on a suicide mission because of the design.
Another urban legend about the origins of the suicide doors maintains that 1930s gangsters liked the door design because it made pushing someone out of a moving car easier. If that were true, though, wouldn’t the correct term be “homicide doors”?
Suicide doors were favored in pre-war automobiles throughout the the 1930s. They were fairly common on many domestic and imported car makes in the 1930s. A forward-opening door — either in front or back — permitted easier access and egress — especially for women in long skirts or dresses. Hinging the front door at the rear also facilitated a more slanted windshield.
As a result, manufacturers understandably have tried hard to bury the old “suicide doors” reference. Today, you’ll find such killer names as “RAD” or “rear-access door” (Saturn), “freestyle doors” (Mazda RX-8), “coach doors” (Rolls Royce), “FlexDoors” (Opel), “scissor doors” (Lambo), “clamshell” (Toyota), and “rear-hinged doors” (preferred technical term).
Now, About That Name…
So where did the name “suicide doors” come from, then? You’ll find multiple explanations, none definitive. The fact that no historian can verify the origins of this bit of slang only adds to the mystique.