Once deemed dangerous, suicide doors are making a comeback on the Lincoln Continental.
Ford is celebrating the 80th anniversary of the long-lived luxury Lincoln line by making 80 cars in 2019 with the classic center-opening doors that once served as the signature of the Continental.
The doors are not just a gimmick or aesthetic flourish. By opening toward the rear of the car, they allow passengers in the rear seats to enter and exit the vehicle more comfortably. Passengers don't have to lean forward to push the door open or pull it closed, for example.
The design was featured commonly on horse carriages, hence the name "coach doors." Over time they had come to be called "suicide doors," thanks to the danger of the wind forcing the rear door open while driving at high speeds, according to automotive historians. This was particularly dangerous in the era before seat belts.
More recent takes on the suicide door have incorporated safety features such as locking the door once the car reaches a certain speed.
Apart from the coach doors, the car's wheelbase will be 6 inches longer, which Lincoln said gives the rear seats more room. The car lights up as its driver approaches with a welcoming lighting sequence. The trim is Lincoln's best quality leathers and dash materials, its Black Label, which typically offers higher-quality materials and membership privileges, such as vehicle detailing and free car washes.
Sedans are a tough sell these days. Ford said it plans to all but stop making them over the next several years, with the exception of its Mustang sports car.
But this version of the Continental is more of a specialty sedan, and sales of those are still relatively healthy, said Robert Parker, director of marketing, sales and service at Lincoln.
"I find it incredibly interesting," said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst at IHS Markit. "The Continental is a vehicle that has had weak sales in a difficult segment, for sure. So I think it is an effort to draw in some interest and create some buzz around the car."
Building a vehicle with suicide doors seems to be quite a lot of work for a car that doesn't sell well in the first place, she added. It is much more difficult than just dropping a new engine into the car. But she she doesn't think Lincoln will have any trouble selling every one of the limited run it's making.
It also seems to be part of a larger strategy Lincoln has taken in recent years of trying to reach far back into the brand's history in a nod to its roots as a distinctly American luxury label, she said. In recent years Lincoln has been carving out a space for itself in the luxury market by emphasizing service and making spacious, plush vehicles that drive comfortably, rather than the sportier luxury cars European makers are known for.
No specifics on the price are available yet, but Parker said it is safe to say it will be the most expensive vehicle Lincoln sells. That means it stands to cost more than $100,000, which is the price some of Lincoln's Black Label vehicles.
Lincoln first came out with the Continental as a custom luxury vehicle in 1939, but didn't add the coach doors until 1961.
"There hasn't been a conversation about product planning I have been in during all my time in Lincoln that hasn't involved bringing back coach doors," Parker said.