There have been many seminal moments in automotive history: the dawn of Henry Ford’s assembly line concept and higher daily pay rates; the onset of seatbelt and airbag requirements; DeLoreans traveling through time. There are design milestones too, the most important of which — and this is not up for debate — is the introduction of suicide doors on the 1961 Lincoln Continental. I’ll allow that the birth of the 911 and E-Type (or possibly the addition of side strakes to the Testarossa and maybe any Aston Martin you can mention) also qualify as monumental touchstones of beauty, but nothing eclipses the elegance of rear-opening slab doors on one of the bar-none best looking cars that will ever exist.
Which makes the heavily-substantiated rumor that Lincoln is bringing back the suicide door literally the best news (concerning ultra-specific details on under-purchased, premium-grade luxury cars) I’ve read in recent memory (read: the last couple months). Indeed, it’s been a rocky week for Lincoln news — just a few days ago, it was reported that the Continental was being axed due to slow sales. Now, with this firmer news that it’ll instead be continued with rear-hinged doors, I’m elated. The company shared its plans to build cars with rear-hinged rear portals at a meeting with Lincoln dealers over the weekend.
Here are some additional truths: the new Continental, introduced last year, really is one of the best premium cars you can purchase today. It’s a massive leap forward for the brand, which had been flailing for decades before its recent reinvention. Indeed, the new Continental flagship, with its vastly improved tech, superior cabin appointments and lovely driving dynamics, paved the way for the equally astounding Navigator SUV. At launch, the only I found lacking in the new Continental was its styling, which is decidedly retro-modern like the rest of its siblings but relatively conservative to the segment in general, especially in contrast to what I had been hoping for. I had been hoping for suicide doors.
The Continental had been teased for years, most plainly with a V12-powered concept car at the 2002 Los Angeles Auto Show. It featured suicide doors. Later, in 2015 and 2016, the brand began teasing a total comeback, which it desperately needed, partially with another Continental concept car. That one didn’t have suicide doors. But, as a lifelong Ford fan, I held out hope for a vintage callback to see its way into dealerships, even as my brand loyalty began to wane. Considering the forward-thinking designs promised by the 2002 show car, my hopes couldn’t have been higher. So when the new Continental finally debuted, I was very excited; that it more closely resembled the 2015 car left me a little disappointed. I firmly believe that had Lincoln returned to market with suicide doors on their sedan, they’d have won the American luxury war, hands down. The brand has been doing well, but a perfect car could have surged them to the top of the heap and beyond.
So the new Continental we got was only a 90 percent effort, nearly 100 percent of which is great. Adding suicide doors now, after the fact, will help boost the car’s standing in its segment, but I’m not convinced it’ll become as good as it initially could have been. That said, the only other maker on the road boasting production-car rear-hinged doors is Rolls-Royce, which is itself a bit of a vintage callback: decades before the ’61 model, the Continental was a direct competitor, and in some cases more expensive than, Rolls-Royce cars. The new Lincoln costs at most about 25 percent what a decent Roller brings.
Lots of folks will call this a gimmick, but I truly don’t see it that way. I see suicide doors on a Continental as reclaiming the car’s mojo, as getting its groove back. There were Contentials before the ’60s, but the car didn’t become an icon until then. This is the proper retro-modern engineering detail the company needs to stand out.
Read my review of the 2017 Lincoln Continental here.
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