The Pick of the Day, a 1951 Mercury Eight sedan, got me thinking about suicide doors. They’re kind of cool, right? And quite a few concept cars are shown with rear-hinged doors. But why are they called suicide doors, and whatever do they have to do with ending one’s life?
As you can see from the photos, this Mercury sedan has so-called suicide doors in the rear, which add to the sleek styling that made these premium cars so popular at the time, along with the similarly designed but upmarket Lincolns.
“The ’49-51 Mercury was the first post-war-designed car for the automaker and was a huge sales success with its smooth appearance and variety of body styles,” according to the Orlando, Florida, dealer advertising the sedan on ClassicCars.com. “With its streamlined styling and fender skirts, the car also developed a huge following in the early days of hotrod culture.”
But why call them suicide doors? According to everything I’ve read on the topic, the main reason is because when the vehicle is traveling down the road, if the rear-hinged door comes unlatched for whatever reason, it would be dragged open with much force by the air current, possibly dragging out whomever is sitting adjacent to the door.
Not a pretty picture. Still, this was before the widespread use of seatbelts, and a person wearing one would be unlikely to get sucked out. But having the door slammed back by a 60-mph wind would still be mighty unpleasant.
Other reasons for the suicide label: in the event of a crash, an unbelted person would be thrown forward and, if the door got sprung open, could be catapulted out of the car and onto the pavement. And if when parked an unwary person opened the door into traffic and it got struck, it would smash directly into that person, which would be especially bad if he or she were halfway out of the car.
Yet I’m of the opinion that calling them suicide doors is unnecessarily harsh. I prefer the term clamshell doors, which describes how they look when both front and rear doors are open and has nothing to do with killing yourself.
Anyway, this Mercury looks like a lovely example of a well-preserved car in good condition, powered by its correct flathead V8 engine and 3-speed column-mounted manual transmission. Those clamshell doors add to the allure, setting it apart from the conservative-looking sedans of the day.
“This mostly original-spec Eight sedan is finished in a charming light shade of yellow and has all its brightwork intact,” the seller says in the ad. “The wide, low-placed grille gives the car the menacing stance that made it so popular.
“Open the doors and you are welcomed into a cabin that is quite well-appointed for its time. The bench seats are finished in cloth and vinyl offering comfort to however many passengers you can squeeze in.”
These are nice-driving cars with the smooth V8, rated at 112 horsepower, and it’s nice to see such a nice one in factory condition that has not been street rodded or updated with modern components.
The asking price is $34,000. Just be sure to fully latch those back doors. And make sure your rear passengers fasten their seat belts.
To view this vehicle on ClassicCars.com, see Pick of the Day.