The idea of car doors that retract away from sight, underneath your car might sound like a neat idea, but there are several good reasons this type of magic disappearing door never caught on.
Thanks to Youtube suggestions or reposters on Reddit, a popular ad showcasing Jatech Retractable doors on a black Lincoln Mark VIII shows up on your feed or subreddit every so often. It’s a revolutionary take on the simple door hinge, an ancient technology that’s been around since 1600 B.C. and on car doors since they invented cars.
Three minutes long, with fancy music, and with some impressive narration, a Lincoln Mark VIII pulls up to a cheatau and four passengers exit the Lincoln without swinging a door open, the door disappearing into the underbelly of the car. It’s magic.
Here’s the video in question.
Jatech LLC, and this disappearing car door technology first emerged in the early 1990’s with a lot of interest, most notably, from the Ford Motor Company and General Motors. A handful of prototypes of this rotary retractable door were made for the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Corvette, and of course, the Lincoln Mark VIII.
Lincoln executives were concerned about the heavy and wide doors on the Mark VIII in the early 1990’s especially in large cities with tight parking spots. They were toying with the idea of a Mark VIII that had doors that disappeared beneath the car which would require no additional space for the doors to swing open in order to allow the occupant to exit or enter. Back in the day, the major auto makers would sub-contract their concept designs to other engineering firms who specialiazed in auto concepts and executions. In this particular case, this Lincoln Mark VIII was shipped over to Joalto Design Inc. near Detroit.
Joalto Design Inc. created this amazing, one of a kind concept car and shipped it back to Lincoln for executive approval. Be sure to click on the video below to watch the door miraculously disappear underneath the car – you will be shocked and amazed. Unfortunately, the Ford Motor Company executives did not like the design and ordered the car (and the concept) to be sent to the junkyard and destroyed.
Obviously, that car never got destroyed.
That same for-sale ad sheds a lot of light on just how technical and complex these disappearing doors really are. From outside, they look rather simple in operation, but in reality, there’s a complex ballet of operations going on in the trunk, through the car, and underneath the vehicle to make it all work.
First, there’s the retrofitting of the original vehicle. Check out these photos of the underbelly and trunk of this Lincoln Mark VIII. In a normal RWD coupe, the underside would be relatively simple, a driveshaft sending power to the rear wheels, suspension, and a wiring harness along with fuel and brake lines shielded from the elements.
The entire structure of the Lincoln Mark VIII is modified to accommodate this new disappearing door. A whole sliding and protective tract is shaped, installed, and molded to the underside of the Mark VIII. For the brief instance where the door is open, this is where the door rests until being brought up.
In the trunk is a complex gas and electric setup which includes a CO2 tank, which, presumably you must fill up from time to time if you want your doors to work, and a supplemental electric power supply.
Although just a prototype, the finished product and all its ancillary equipment impedes into available trunk space, not to mention added complexity, but we’ll get into that later.
In the company’s now shut down website still available thanks to Archive.org, Jatech supposedly puts several claims to rest. For instance, supposedly these doors are safer than regular doors, are easily escapable if the cars rolls onto its side, and can be opened manually in the event of a power failure.
So, if this is a proven technology, why don’t all cars use this?
The simple answer is these disappearing car doors are too expensive and complex for a convenience that’s only marginally better than traditional doors.
First, there’s the complexity. There’s a reason hinged doors have survived for over 4,000 years and counting, they’re simple and they work, repeatedly. Look at the construction of any car door hinge today and the design hasn’t changed much over the years.
Go to any junkyard and, even on the most rusted and oldest jalopy on the lot, the doors will still open (given the car hasn’t been in an accident.) Take that same protype vehicle and let it rot in the sun for decades, I wouldn’t bet on those doors opening without some serious intervention.
Then there’s the complexity. I’m sure pneumatics, electronics, and technology has advanced more since the mid-90’s so lots of the disappearing door componentry can be slimmed down but there’s still a lot going on, and dozens of moving parts behind the scenes for this door to work.
Maintenance on hinged doors? If you crack open your car manual, most will recommend a light lubrication of the hinges every so often. 99 percent of car owners never do that and car doors still work just like they should.
Then there’s the price. Cars are already mind-numbingly complex and expensive these days that adding disappearing car doors would only increase the price even further.
I can see these as optional on higher end cars though.
Finally, there’s the design. Adding these doors removes the B-pillar, an important structural component of traditional cars. Optioning for disappearing car doors would change the dynamics of the car, something people spending six digits and above on their cars probably don’t want.
When you buy a car, doors should be the least of your worries and that’s why traditional hinged door designs are still popular today.