What Car Had the First Gull-Wing Doors?

Many unique designs have shown up here and there throughout automotive history, which has often excited the driving public. From rear-mounted engines to customizable body panels, automakers have designed and produced some pretty interesting vehicles. Mercedes-Benz was one of those standouts with its popularization of the gull-wing doors.

Was the Mercedes-Benz 300SL the first car with gull-wing doors?

A 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL model with gull-wing doors
A 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

According to Jalopnik, The Mercedes-Benz 300SL was the first vehicle to produce over a thousand cars with the gull-wing door design. Between the years 1954 and 1957, the automaker built 1,400 of them, to be exact. 

The reason for the gull-wing doors was an afterthought of sorts. The body was inspired by the W194 racers that were built off of a tube-frame chassis. Because of that, there was little room to install standard doors on the vehicle. 

So, Mercedes-Benz had to develop another design that would work for the structure they already had. In the end, the designers decided to extend the door up the roofline, hence the gull-wings that we see on the 300SL. However, this Mercedes-Benz came after two other vehicles with the same kind of doors. 

What inspired the Mercedes-Benz design of its wing-like doors?

There were two models before the 300SL with the same winglike doors. The difference is that neither of them was ever produced in any significant quantity. One of them was the 1945 Jamin-Bouffort JB, which was the creation of an aeronautical engineer named Victor-Albert Bouffort. This vehicle was a three-wheeled structure that was designed with an aircraft in mind. All the mechanical features were in the car’s front, so the rear had what was termed a ‘tail-dragger design.’ 

This car only seems to have had about three of them built, but with some slight differences between them. All three, though, had winglike doors. To this day, only one of the models seems to have survived, but it looks like it’s seen a couple of restorations and different paint jobs. 

The vehicle that might have been the original winglike door design was the Bugatti Type 64. In 1939, Jean Bugatti drew up plans for a vehicle sporting winged doors, which the French called Papillon or butterfly doors, instead of the gull-wing that we know them as today. However, it never really saw production. 

A collector, Peter Mullin, got his hands on the chassis decades later, which he had restored to the original sketched design. It was finished in 2012.

Other vehicles that sport the same gull-wing type doors


6 Reasons You Rarely See Gull Wing Doors Anymore

The gull-wing design has been seen a few times over the years. One of them was the De Tomaso Mangusta, which is the Pantera supercar. This vehicle was a blend of American V8 power and European exterior style. It was produced in the late 1960s. According to Hot Cars, the unique part was that the wings opened up to where the engine was located, not where you entered the vehicle. 

Then there is the Apollo IE, which was the first model produced after the automaker changed its brand name from Gumpert Sportwagenmanufaktur to Apollo. It’s known as an over-the-top hypercar with insane performance and superb styling.

Mercedes-Benz used the gull-wing design again with its SLS AMG model, a German supercar from 2010. It was a nod to the old 300SL version built decades earlier. Mercedes-Benz used many of the same styling points but put a modern twist to it.

Tesla’s Model X is our modern-day gull-winged door vehicle. Of course, with Tesla, it’s not known as a gull-wing design. The automaker uses the term ‘falcon wings’ instead. What’s unique about it is that it’s a four-door vehicle and the wings open up on the rear doors instead of the two front ones. However, the wing doors bring some unfortunate problems, like not being able to get in the car when parked in a busy parking lot.