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A Brief History of the Gull-Wing Door

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A vintage luxury vehicle constructed with a gull-wing door configuration
A vehicle with gull-wing doors is always a cool thing to see
Photo: pixabay via CC

There is perhaps no vehicle component more simple and recognizable than the humble door. In most vehicles, the doors work the same: you grab the handle, pull away from the car, and swing the door open on a horizontal plane. However, any fan of unique and high-end vehicles knows that this isn’t always the way it works. This is the history behind the iconic — and undeniably awesome — gull-wing door.

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The ins and outs of the gull-wing door

Ever since their inception, gull-wing doors have been known by a number of different names. Whether you call them “falcon-wing doors,” “up-doors,” or even “butterfly doors,” the basic concept behind these doors is the same. Essentially, any type of wing-style door is defined as a vehicle door that hinges on the roof as opposed to the sides of the vehicle. Instead of opening horizontally, they open vertically.

The first gull-wing-door vehicles date back to the 1950s. The design was chosen to give higher-end luxury vehicles a unique feel that set them apart from the competition. In order to get these doors to work, a great deal of engineering was required. Opening a door upwards carries with it a lot more problems than simply opening one to the side. Special springs were developed to counter gravity, and keep the doors open instead of crashing down on the poor soul trying to get into their car.

Why so rare?

Over the years, the basic idea of the gull-wing door has remained largely the same. Multiple vehicles today still use them, but they’re not nearly as common as one might expect. So why aren’t there more commercial vehicle’s driving around with gull-wing doors?

Aside from an industry desire to keep them largely restricted to premium sports cars and luxury rides, there are practical reasons why more cars don’t have these doors. One is the engineering required to manufacture them, which is considerably more involved than a simple side-to-side door. Furthermore, while gull-wing doors offer good looks and a “cool factor,” they do have their downsides. If, for example, a car were to roll over and end up on its roof, it would be impossible for the doors to open. While modern gull-wing vehicles have compensated for this with new tech, it’s still undoubtedly a design flaw.

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In the end, the true appeal of the gull-wing door lies in its uniqueness. Seeing a vehicle with doors that open like bird wings has lost none of its punch, and these vehicles are tailor made to fascinate and create lasting memories. Just ask anyone who’s ever seen Back to the Future.