Lamborghini opening side doors

When it comes to cars, a door is a door, right? You open it, get in or out, then close it. They are functional and unremarkable.

Or are they? Some cars are fitted with doors that don’t simply open. They sweep up, or out, or forwards, or all three. Here are five cars that are almost as beguiling to climb into as they are to drive.

The gullwing (Mercedes 300 SL)

Mercedes 300 SL with side-opening door

These doors were born out of function rather than form. Mercedes designed its 1950s 300 SL to be a racer for the road. To achieve that the car had to be light, which required a special chassis. Trouble was, this enveloped the passenger compartment so much that traditional doors would have been impossibly narrow. The answer was doors that hinge on the top, rather than the leading edge. This style was christened ‘the gullwing’.

These doors didn’t just help the world realise Mercedes could build sports cars as well as staid saloons, they made the 300 SL a motoring icon. Today, examples are worth around £1m.

The butterfly (McLaren 650S)

McLaren 650S with side-opening door

The butterfly door isn’t vastly different to the scissor (below). Both hinge on the windscreen pillar but the real difference is that butterfly doors swing out as well as going up, scissor doors simply pivot up.

Frequently used on long-distance racing cars because they allow for easier access when making driver changes during an endurance event, butterfly doors are a fixture of British firm McLaren’s range of exotic supercars.

Dihedral synchro-helix actuation (Koenigsegg Regera)

Okay, so it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. But that shouldn’t detract from the coolness of Koenigsegg’s door system. The Swedish maker of million pound-plus supercars has also come up with a unique, if predictably pricey, way of opening the doors. Touch the handle and an arm allows the doors to come away from the car without hinging. They then pivot forwards so that they end up proud of the car at 90 degrees to the ground. And all that happens in a synchronised ballet of effortless movement.

Great for showing off, not so great if you’re opening them next to a kerb…

The suicide (Rolls-Royce Phantom)

Rolls-Royce Phantom inside with side-opening door

It’s not just a bad-taste name, this style of opening is really known as a “suicide door”.

Doors that hinge at the back originated from a time when carriages were horse-drawn. As soon as these doors were fitted to a car and the popularity of motor transport started to boom, their failings became apparent. If you’re getting out of one of these on the road side of a car, not only is it difficult to see behind but if a car drives into the door, the results will be - at the very least - extremely painful. In the time before seat belts, a door that could be blown open by the wind also made it easier for people to accidentally fall out of cars.

And cars with suicide doors are said to have been popular with mobsters in 1930s America due to the ease with which their hapless victims could be pushed out of them. The over-riding impression then, is that doors like these aren’t good for the health. Cars now fitted with suicide doors, such as the £260,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom, feature extensive safety features to prevent any of the above happening.

The scissor (Lamborghini Countach)

Lamborghini Countach with side-opening door

Back in the 1960s, health and safety had barely been heard of. But car drivers still had to see behind if they were reversing. So when legendary Italian designer Marcello Gandini came up with a car that had zero rear visibility, his solution was simple: a door the driver lifted up and leant out of to see behind. The scissor door, hinging at the bottom of the windscreen pillar, was born. The first production car to feature them was Gandini’s 1974 Lamborghini Countach, hence why scissor doors are frequently called ‘Lambo doors’.