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Making an entrance
A car door is a fairly functional part of a vehicle that’s often overlooked as a mere entry point, but for some manufacturers a door is an opportunity to make a statement.
Most of the time, ambitious doors are an expensive undertaking that rarely make it into production, so these weird and wonderful designs are often reserved for concept cars or supercars.
Nevertheless, here we’ve rounded up some of our favourite quirky doors found on classic cars and, because they are all so different, we couldn’t possibly rank them, so we’ve ordered them alphabetically for your perusal.
1. 1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept
Looking back on Alfa Romeo’s Carabo concept, it can get lost in an array of wedge-shaped cars from the ’70s and ’80s, until it’s contextualised in the 1960s.
The Carabo is often regarded as ground zero for the wedge-shaped designs that came after it.
However, it is also said to be the first car that featured scissor doors. Over the years these have become synonymous with high-performance vehicles and have been reinvented in countless ways following the same basic mechanism.
Therefore, without the Carabo, we might never have been blessed with the Lamborghini Countach, which was crafted by the same designer, Marcello Gandini.
2. 1967 Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale
What originally began as the Tipo 33 racing car, morphed into a roadgoing 33 Stradale version. Over a two-year production run, just 18 left the Alfa Romeo factory.
At the time it was one of the fastest and most expensive road-legal supercars. It was constructed with an aluminium body and weighed just 700kg.
Most notably, the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale is remembered for its oval-shaped headlights and roof-hinged butterfly doors, with window panels that wrapped around to the roof.
When the doors are closed it creates a split-sunroof illusion and an uninterrupted view.
Doors open or closed, the 33 Stradale is praised as a particularly stunning example of Italian automotive design, inspired by Alfa Romeo’s racing heritage.
3. 1979 Aston Martin Bulldog
There are gullwing doors and then there are the Aston Martin Bulldog’s massive, electro-hydraulically powered doors.
The car itself stands at a little over 1m tall, but with the doors open, it grows to nearly 2m.
The doors extend to the very bottom of the car and wrap around to include a section of floor, and its mechanism to raise the doors is reportedly based on the hood system used in the V8 Volante.
Had the Bulldog reached production, it would have been a great candidate for the time machine in the Back to the Future films instead of the De Lorean DMC-12.
In theory, the Aston Martin Bulldog was capable of speeds in excess of 200mph, but it took until 2023 for this dream to be realised at 205.4mph.
4. 1984 Bertone Ramarro concept
Crafted on the chassis of the Chevrolet Corvette, the Bertone Ramarro concept had to distinguish itself from that popular sports car.
Bucking the trend, Bertone opted for doors that swung out and forwards. The overall design was a vehicle that was shorter and wider than the stock Corvette of the time, and the radiator and air conditioning were moved to the rear where the spare tyre was usually stored.
After its reveal in Los Angeles before the 1984 Olympics, it went on tour around several motor shows
In 1985 the Ramarro was crowned with the Car Design Award for concept cars. The judges reportedly said: “its bold ideas worked into a design project which gives the Chevrolet Corvette an entirely new personality.”
5. 1989 BMW Z1
There are several directions a door can go in order to achieve the same effect, but BMW looked at every traditional mechanism and threw it out of the window with its Z1.
The car’s doors sink down into the bodywork to reveal a reasonably sized lip for the driver to climb over.
The doors work using a motorised pulley system, which triggers the window regulator to operate at the same time. A toothed rubber belt helps the door rise and fall smoothly, and the windows follow suit.
This design would only ever work on a small sports car like this, because there was enough space in the lower bodywork to house a tiny door.
6. 1959 Cadillac Cyclone concept
The space race had a significant influence on car design in the late 1950s and the Cyclone was clearly no exception.
The glass roof’s purpose was twofold: when the motorised sliding doors opened, the roof automatically lifted to give occupants ample headroom to get out, but it was also a cabriolet roof.
The bubble folded into the boot when it wasn’t in use, leaving a curved windscreen, and it closed automatically when the rain-detecting sensors recognised wet weather.
The side doors ran on ball bearings to make the motion as smooth as possible and they opened at the touch of a button.
To avoid cooking its passengers, the Cyclone’s roof was coated with vaporised silver on the inside to protect against UV rays. All very space age.
7. 1970 Ferrari 512s Modulo concept
Pininfarina’s take on the wedge design needed an innovative solution to access the vehicle without disrupting its stark lines. Instead of constructing gullwings or butterfly doors, the obvious decision was to create an entire cockpit cover that slid forward on two supports.
As a mid-engined supercar concept, there was enough room in the front to accommodate this contraption and no risk of excess heat warping the panels.
But there wasn’t any risk of this anyway, because its 550bhp 5-litre V12 engine never ran – that is, until recently.
The American film producer James Glickenhaus bought the concept car in 2014, and had it restored and put on the road.
Although he had a small fire when driving it in 2019, it has, apparently, been fixed and is back to its former glory.
8. 1958 Firebird III concept
GM’s Firebird concept cars were immediately recognisable for their jet-like design and interesting cockpits.
The Firebird III, of 1958, featured a double-bubble canopy that was accessed through a set of doors that tilted up and forwards.
When the doors were closed, the transparent rear quarter-spherical panels joined with the door glass to create two capsules for the driver and passenger.
In keeping with the aviation theme, the Firebird III had nine fins across the bodywork and was controlled inside with a joystick.
This was the lightest and most fuel efficient of the Firebird cars, thanks to its glassfibre bodywork.
It was powered by a GT-305 Whirlfire engine, but required a second unit to power the self-levelling suspension, air conditioning and power steering.
9. 1964 Ford GT40
Although the Ford GT40 has close-to-conventional side-hinged doors, the extra roof cutout makes all the difference.
Designed as a racer through and through, the GT40’s door outline was purely functional: it made it easier to get in and out of the car with a helmet on.
In such a low car, entry and exit can be a challenge at the best of times, but with a helmet on and wanting to do it as fast as possible mid-race called for inventive thinking.
10. 1938 Graham Type 97 Sharknose
The Sharknose’s doors are the ultimate interpretation of suicide doors.
The rear-opening, cantilevered mechanism uses a pivoting swing hinge that keeps the 1.3m doors suspended parallel to the vehicle at all times.
Cabriolet versions were fitted with double retractable windows, where the larger rear part wound down first before the smaller, front-triangle section.
A drawback of this door system was the windows had to stay in their respective positions until such time as the doors were closed again, to grant access to the interior window winder.
The Sharknose pictured was coachbuilt by Paris-based Jacques Saoutchik who created several cabriolet examples – only two of his are thought to survive. This one was sold at auction for $770,000 in 2017.
11. 1969 Holden Hurricane
In overcoming the incredibly low stance of the Holden Hurricane, its designers weren’t content with the idea of occupants awkwardly rising to their feet to hop out of the sports car.
As the hydraulically powered clamshell canopy opened, the seats simultaneously lifted slightly and titled forwards like a motorised armchair.
This strange opening allowed for an uninterrupted view out of the front thanks to a pillarless Plexiglass windscreen.
Rearward vision was non-existent so the Hurricane has a rear-mounted camera, something that’s still seen as a luxury on modern cars today.
It was clear this car was never intended for series production, but for the late ’60s this was a revolutionary concept that gave a glimpse into the future.
12. 1988 Italdesign Aspid concept
Later we’ll see Lancia’s reimagining of the windscreen, but the Italdesign Aspid takes it a step further to include the side windows and sunroof.
Although it’s one of the few cars on our list with conventional doors, these are entirely useless without the curved glass roof.
Italdesign says: “The starting point for the Aspid project was the possibility of moulding windows with double curvature (made out of glass that was not cylindrical in cross-sections but spherical) on an industrial basis. The new technique meant that the designers could incorporate the glazed surfaces into the flowing overall lines of the car’s shape without having to introduce discontinuities.”
However, there is a central seam where the two passenger compartments are joined together.
13. 1954 Kaiser Darrin
Unlike some of the clunky sliding doors of this period, the Kaiser Darrin offered a sleek alternative to a standard hinged affair.
The glassfibre-bodied sports car had enough space built into the front wings to hide the doors, while its occupants climbed in and out.
In the UK or Europe, it would be a challenge to find a car long enough to house a door behind the front wheel, however the American market was ideal for this.
Unfortunately, the Darrin’s sliding doors didn’t catch on – the idea relied on clean tracks and a well-maintained mechanism. Without this, owners would jump in and out over the doors, or leave them open all the time, even on the road.
14. 1967 Lamborghini Marzal
The Aston Martin Bulldog arguably achieved greater fame than the Marzal, especially in recent years, but Lamborghini perfected the oversized gullwing door more than a decade before the Bulldog’s debut.
The Marzal’s door panels were largely glass, save a structural strip down the middle to transition between the upper and lower door.
A glass lower door panel would be a recipe for disaster with any normal door, but the gullwing mechanism meant there was no chance of scuffing a boot on the inside of it.
From the outside, the large transparent space looks as if there’s an x-ray view of the car’s internals at all times.
The Marzal’s doors are so large that the rear occupants lack dedicated windows or doors, because the glass extends far enough back to perform these functions, too.
15. 1970 Lancia Stratos Zero concept
Lancia’s Stratos Zero concept is a combination of a door and windscreen redesign.
There are classic cars aplenty where the windscreen pops out slightly to act as an additional form of ventilation, but usually if it protrudes to this extent, something has gone horribly wrong.
However, the Stratos Zero’s windscreen was intended to be utilised as the access point to the two seats. In fact, conventional doors would have been an impossibility for this car.
Clearly not willing to be constrained by traditional automotive construction, Marcello Gandini embraced the wedge shape and built a car around it.
As is true of several of these quirky door designs, they capture moments in time when safety and practicality weren’t necessarily paramount.
16. 2006 Loremo LS concept
Describing the entry point of the Loremo LS as a door feels like an insufficient term.
Its smooth lines were achieved with an intriguing absence of conventional doors. Instead, the front of the car’s bodywork, including the windscreen, tips forward like a clamshell bonnet to reveal enough of an opening to clamber inside.
The concept likely stems from the company’s ethos ingrained in the name Loremo, which stands for Low Resistance Mobility.
Fewer seams for door panels marginally reduce drag and improve aerodynamics. And weight saving and streamline-design measures weren’t just for aesthetics – the company claimed the turbodiesel engine would deliver 157mpg.
Even more bizarrely, this LS is a 2+2 with rearward-facing back seats which are accessible via a boot-like opening.
17. 1992 McLaren F1
Inspired by the Toyota Sera, the McLaren F1 brought butterfly doors into the mainstream. The story goes that Gordon Murray drove past a Sera everyday and couldn’t shake the idea that these doors would be the right solution for the F1.
Focused on making the car perfectly balanced, the central seat posed a challenge for traditional doors. Unless the designer was content with the driver having to do an undignified shimmy to get out, a side-opening door would not do.
The Sera’s doors meant there was a portion of roof removed at the same time as the door opening, making it far easier for the driver to climb out. Murray borrowed a Sera to study the mechanism and eventually, with the help of Bruce Mackintosh, mocked up the door design that would go on to be an iconic facet of the McLaren F1, far surpassing its inspiration’s status.
18. 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300SL
It wouldn’t be a comprehensive list of quirky door designs without featuring the godfather of gullwings.
Credited with being the first-ever car with gullwing doors – to the extent that it is often simply called ‘the Gullwing’ – the Mercedes-Benz 300SL’s most famous features were born out of necessity.
The height of the car’s lightweight (50kg) tubular spaceframe meant that, quite simply, conventional doors wouldn’t work.
This was also the first series-production Mercedes-Benz with a fuel-injected engine.
19. 1956 Mercury XM-Turnpike Cruiser concept
Although the XM-Turnpike has conventional doors, it also has transparent butterfly roof panels that automatically raise and lower as the doors open and close via electric actuators.
From above, it looks like an early T-top design or a split sunroof.
Ghia created a single prototype using a 1954 Ford F250 chassis which reportedly cost around $80,000.
The Mercury XM-Turnpike then toured around America in a custom-built glass-panelled trailer, making appearances at the 1956 Cleveland Auto Show, as well as the Detroit, Chicago and New York motor shows.
The prototype was painted the factory colour Persimmon and finished with a Pearlescent top coat.
While the concept had several ambitious, futuristic elements, the Mercury Turnpike Cruiser made it into production for the 1957 model year, a slightly simplified version of the show car.
20. 1973 Mohs SafariKar
The name SafariKar perfectly explains what this vehicle was intended for and the doors make a lot of sense when the rationale is laid out.
Inventor and entrepreneur Bruce Baldwin Mohs identified a gap in the market for a luxury game-hunting vehicle to transverse African Safaris.
It was based on a 1969 International Travelall four-wheel-drive chassis with a 6.3-litre V8 and an automatic transmission.
In the front it had three seats, and at the rear was gun storage and a back bench that folded out into a bed. The idea behind the large rear sliding doors was so occupants could target game on the move.
The entire exterior was padded with polyurethane foam and wrapped in black Naugahyde.
It seems the SafariKar never got the opportunity to be used for what it was intended – just three prototypes were made, two of which are known to have survived.