For the German Bands

Andrew Miles takes a hands-on approach. 

So taken at seeing an old flame, I forgot to zero in on the handle!

From DLOs to DRGs. Pillars, A through (occasionally) D, manufacturers and commentators spend countless hours unpicking these traits. Directives about placement, rules concerning dimensions, legislative measures, crash tests and, finally, the greasy paws of the customer. However much we admire (or admonish) a car’s looks, our first point of contact with any is that oubliette feature: the door handle.

Through an exhaustive half hour lunch break during the no longer recent summer – cobalt blue skies and the mercury nudging thirty degrees – my gaze became fixed upon the indents and recessed areas our digits seek out in order to gain automotive entry.

By luck, first porte (sorry!) of call being this Peugeot 205 (above). By far the most elderly car of this research, check out the separate flap handle and door lock. Once black, now a charcoal looking plastic moulding, one cannot believe this ductile effort looked attractive when new. Functional, lending some artistic license to the door but flimsy appears a more appropriate moniker. Yet it would seem to be operating perfectly well. The remaining door handles observed resided upon mainly new vehicles, no more than a decade old. Shapes and sizes, aplenty.

KIA Niro

First impressions count and one likes a wee flourish; this Kia Niro’s chromed affair, seated above a clothing iron-looking recess stands proudly. The reflective material breaks up an otherwise bland shape. Opposite extremes arrive in the form of the Suzuki Ignis whose circular and deep niche is bridged by a small handle. After all, a small vehicle’s dimensions require an appropriate appendage. Being so distracted, I forgot to take the picture.

Dozens of Wolfsburg’s outpourings revealed to me but two varieties of handle but their placing depends on model. The Golf and Tiguan consist of a solid looking handle, convincing the brain of some heft. Placing these almost arrow shaped designs find them on belt line creases (Tiguan), consisting of a deeper radii, or in Golf guise (Mk6) just above. This indent seems almost dainty in comparison. Similarly, the new Seat Arona has a slim affair but nothing noteworthy. 

Older cars seem afflicted by the scuffs and scratches that finger nails, rings and watches apply. Is this a paint problem? Have newer coatings done away with such vandalism? Seeking shade, what these eyes saw next could be transcribed as character lines – a private plate Mitsubishi ASX. A belt line in extremis places the old fashioned looking London transport sign, “hand bay” in no man’s land. Had the designers protractor melted? Offensive is probably too strong a description, but nor did this outcome look correct to these heat affected eyes. 

Mitsubishi ASX

Toyota’s Yaris (19 plate) surprised me. What appears as a pressing within a pressing looks fussy, over-spirited. If anyone, Toyota are usually first on improving by removing excess, thus this encumbrance does not conform with the brand, making these areas simply another dirt trap, nothing more. 

Toyota Yaris

To the Blue Oval which sees three models but only two variants. This Agate Black Focus (19 plate) contains a pleasing off-square hollow with a handle and keyhole combination. With its rain induced filth, it’s difficult to ascertain if this hardware is already quite scratched or not but the yellow dust does nothing for black paintwork.

Similar, the brand new Kuga contains five small ridges – for what exactly? This much cleaner Chrome blue, presently unsullied example with typical torpedo aping shape. But completely different is the brand new Desert Island Blue Puma. Here we see the recess is torpedo shaped. The handle has that almost arrow shape but in this heat and from this angle, your author found this similar to sketches of American fifties cars with huge fenders.

This particular handle’s girth and implied strength suggests one that will endure many a purposeful opening from perhaps disgruntled children (or adults) within a car park in sight of some Golden Arches. Should the handle prove light in feel, less robust in operating, what indeed is the point of such architectural work?

Two plain in view yet agreeable efforts lay with the Germans via the British. A private plated season three 1 series could resemble an ice cream cone with the scooped out recess. The lines flow and there are no adornments to complicate things.

Similar, yet different, this example lives on a MINI Convertible. Again, chrome in small doses appeals. This version’s circulated alcove has perhaps something approximating the top section of a Parker ball point pen. One feels this could happily be seen atop a suit or shirt pocket and with its shiny surface, does suggest to gravity on its opening strengths. These hands have never opened a MINI’s door.

The wildcard entry hails from the Japanese, sorry, Italians with this Fiat 124 spider with, dare one offer, an almost heart shaped circumference? Flamboyant enough to be different if not screaming in your face. Are sports car driver’s (and passengers’) hands different in shape to those say of a hatchback or crossover? 

Fiat 124 Spider

Does any of this matter? Naturally, to some more than others. Before starting my lunchtime quest, I had barely given even my own door handles much thought, leading me to now to believe that Volvo actually do. The chrome surrounds, almost genteel, surround a weighty looking, if plastic grab which simultaneously elicits strength and lightness.

One’s thumb automatically locates the square, grasping digits requiring little effort for the job (ahem), in hand. And this works on both sides of the car. The tiny puddle light underneath requires searching for and has been a godsend in the darker months. An exercise in restraint, design wise. And for an operation lasting but a second, a delight to use. And no key really required – inasmuch the fob is somewhere near your person – no scratching here. 

The author’s own Volvo S90, aka Nimrod.

My minuscule cross-section really has only scratched the surface. Aside from costs, the design of the car handle is handled by someone in a studio but all too sadly dismissed as the remainder of the sides generate more column inches. Anyone know a door handle designer out there? Or are they locked in a cupboard, brought out only to fill in the missing blanks? I feel for them, and appreciate their efforts. Now, to sanitise the ole German bands…

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

34 thoughts on “For the German Bands”

  1. Door handles! One of my favorite items as it is indeed as you suggest the first thing you touch on a car. The Kuga’s five ridges are probably there to indicate a keyless entry system.

    The latest door handle that intrigued me can be found on the BMW iX.

    I don’t want to ruin your weekend so I won’t post photos where you can see the rest of it. What intrigued me is that it’s just an opening where you can stick your hand in and pull it to open the door. It needs electronics to operate of course and make sure that you are the rightful owner (or should that be key fob holder), but it reminded me of the simple solution Renault used on the inside of the door of the R4 to close it.

    How’s that for something that looks so similar, yet is so different: outside vs. inside, expansive vs. low cost, electronics vs. no electronics, agressive car vs. non agressive car.

  2. I just thought that maybe one can classify door handles based on the way they operate:

    Turning (Ford Model A)
    Horizontal flaps (Citroën DS)
    Vertical flaps (First Generation three door Range Rover)
    Pull out handles (like your Volvo)
    pull up handles (Saab 9-3)
    Button type (NSU Ro80)
    Push (VW Xl 1)
    Opening (BMW iX)
    Flush handles manually operated (Fiat Barchetta)
    Flush handles electronically operated (Tesla Model S)
    Hidden lever in the handle (Volkswagen Golf Mk2)
    Hidden lever behind the door (Renault Twingo)

    I wonder If I missed something.

    1. A really interesting theme, Andrew, thanks for the enlightenment. And thanks for the list, Freerk. One to add: the Saab 96v4, having a small flap over the keyhole; to keep the snow and ice out, obviously…

    2. There were also some TVR models that had no doorhandle at all but rather a button hidden under the doormirror.

  3. Good morning Andrew. What a brilliantly geeky topic for a Saturday morning, right up my street!

    Seriously though, exterior door handles, in their appearance but, more importantly, operation, are important in that they send subliminal signals about the quality of the car’s engineering to the user. Here are the door handles from my 981-generation Boxster and my partner’s F56 Mini:

    The Boxster handle is a surprise when you first use it in that it hinges upwards like the horizontal flap-style handles. That said, it feels pleasingly solid and robust in use. The handle and back plate are made of some type of plastic. They seem pretty resistant to scratches and remain unmarked. I notice that, on the latest Boxster, Porsche has dispensed with the back plate and the handle is mounted directly onto the door skin. It looks cleaner and is, presumably, a cheaper solution. Does it expose the recess in the door skin to a greater risk of being scratched, though?

    The mini handle looks great but feels light and is a bit wobbly (up and down) when you pull it out to open the door, which undermines its visual heft somewhat. The earlier generation new Minis (R50 and R56) had similar looking handles but they were fixed rigidly to the door and had a squeeze trigger behind them, a more pleasing arrangement from a tactile perspective.

  4. Regarding the Toyota Yaris handle design, which has been used on other Toyotas such as the Avensis, is the oval pressing around the handle done to make the door skin more rigid in that area, to improve the feel of the handle in use? Otherwise it seems unnecessarily fussy.

  5. My Chrysler Alpine ( bought new in ’79 as a company car) had stainless steel flaps which were fixed – there was a hidden pull-up plastic handle behind them. Looked good and worked well – until the nylon dried after a few years and became brittle. Stripping an Alpine door is fairly easy though.
    In the 50s, cars generally had chrome-plated mazac handles which soon developed white pock-marks on any areas not “oiled” by contact with human hands.
    I remember the early-adopter who gave me a spin in his Tesla S in Chicago some years back. He explained that when the pop-out handles failed to pop-out he had to phone Tesla careline to get in. I never asked if it was raining…

  6. It was with great pleasure that I discovered today that I am not entirely alone with my occasional interest in the design of door handles on automobiles. Beyond their function, for me they are always a kind of tactile signature of a vehicle. In my opinion, they have a great influence on the impression that is particularly generated when approaching an automobile for the first time.

    The decisive factors here are shape and material. I personally very much appreciate it when you can still hold real metal in your hands. Something that has largely disappeared from automobile production these days.

    For me, one of the best handles to date was installed in the Mercedes-Benz W116 (and R107 until its facelift). These were the first U-handles of this brand, which were made of metal at the time and thus perfectly met the (former!) standards of this manufacturer in terms of safety and high quality. In all subsequent models, the handle shape was retained, but then (presumably for cost reasons) always made of plastic.

    I still remember the great disappointment I felt when I had to find out at a premiere event of the first Rolls-Royce Ghost that the door handles (in contrast to the Phantom), which in themselves were very pleasant to the touch, were made of plastic. It was not until the facelift years later that they were replaced by metal. This suggests that a lot of feedback from customers and stakeholders helped the responsible managers (presumably borrowed from the Bavarian parent company) to find the only appropriate way forward.

    Speaking of BMW: A few days ago I had my first direct approach to the new iX. And I promptly noticed (among quite a few other highly questionable design solutions) these slots that are now supposed to be used to open the doors. Unlike other commentators on this page, my enthusiasm at this point is kept within very narrow limits. This may come from the fact that this is also the case for the entire vehicle with me (I could not help but ask the BMW representative present to what extent a seeing-eye dog will be part of the accessories program). I already find it psychologically distressing when customers are forced to put their hands in dark slots (we know this effect from the Bocca della Verità (“Mouth of Truth”) in Rome. Apart from that, none of the brand representatives could explain how to make an emergency opening of the door in case of an accident without any brackets.

    1. Mercedes door handles were the result of relentless search for better safety. Metal pull-out handles helped to open jammed doors but could break in a roll over accident. Later Aramide fibre handles weee break-proof but could still snap off completely in the door in their early form like W123/126. W124 handles were the first with a recess in the door skin so they could sit flat in the surface without risk of breaking or snapping.

  7. I’m glad the door ‘andles have pulled people together…

    But before I get my coat, to add to the extensive lists and fellow interested parties mentioned above (many thanks) more recent research has found the 2nd generation Renault Twingo having a separate lock on the bodywork away from the handle.

    The currently available cars with flaps opposed to handles being most Dacia’s and the Suzuki Jimny.

    A car Wearing more angles than a yesteryear school geometry set, the Lamborghini Urus wears the least angled door handle which could derive from the Škoda parts bin. How disappointing.

    Let’s hear it for the handles!

  8. Does anyone else remember the door handles on the Ford Escort Mk2, Capri Mk2/3 and Cortina Mk3? They were slim horizontal chromed bars fixed to the door, below and behind which was another bar you had to squeeze/pull upwards:

    I remember them as having a rather stiff and awkward action, not at all satisfying to use.

    1. A bit like the ones on the Simca 1308? My dad had a 1308 GLS for a couple of years. I have very little memory of it, as he traded it in when I was six, but the door handles, yes I do remember those.

    2. Yes, I remember them vividly, as they were the first handles of which I became aware. Naturally this means I regard them as the definitive 70s door handle…

    3. These Ford door handles were similar to the ones of late DS, GS and SM. You had a slim chrome strip that you pushed upwards to the backside of the long chrome strip above it.
      The Simca door handles worked like the ones on late Renault 2o/21/20 with a black plastic plate you pulled towards you at the backside of the shiny metal plate.

    4. Thanks, Dave. That’s exactly how I remember the 1308’s door handles, except I thought the plate was light grey in our case, about the same shade as the bumpers.

  9. The doorhandles Voisin used back in the days have always been one of my favorites.

  10. A couple of observations: As a former Peugeot 205 owner, I can attest to the durability of the doorhandles. Admittedly, they may not have lent a satisfying sense of material heft or had one opening and closing the doors for sheer tactile pleasure of the act, but they worked well and like most things attached to the 205, felt a little flimsier than they in fact were.

    Speaking of perceptions and a sense of flimsiness, the door handles attached to ‘our’ 2013 Jaguar XF did not make much of a first impression, but have remained solidly attached in the interim.

    Nice Kitty? Jaguar XF 2.2 Premium Luxury

    By contrast, a 2019 encounter with a very early Jaguar XJ40 was striking for a number of reasons, one of which being the lovely and quite delicate action of the exterior door handles. Sadly, I’m informed they did not stand up well to brute force and careless use.

    And finally, further to Dave’s observation regarding the 916 Alfa Spider/ GTV, the original Boué Renault 5 was also ‘sans’ exterior handles – only a recess, and a button. The door itself was the handle.

    1. The original Renault 5 had push buttons standing proud of the door skin and usable in any weather opposed to the flush fitting buttons of the 916s that were useless in winter when they invariably froze shut with water from above.

    2. Thanks Andrew, how lovely to see a splendid 205 Gti 1.6,
      with its fine “pepperpot” wheels. And thanks Eóin, for
      “but they worked well and like most things attached to
      the 205, felt a little flimsier than they in fact were.”
      I had 11 years of working those flaps, always without a
      quiver of distaste. But then I also liked having a separate
      lock, putting the key in the lock to begin or finish a drive
      has more gravity, seems more polite, than banging the
      door and flouncing away with an inane gesture of the hand,
      back turned on the faithful machine.

  11. Congratulations Andrew- a fine essay one something so often overlooked. For me, the way a doorhandle feels and operates is comparable to the handshake of someone you meet: either a limp or a wrench-like one is not an ideal first introduction and as they say you only get one chance to make a first impression.
    Some I like are the Infiniti Q45 (first generation):

    Made of steel they feel nice and cool and have a quality- positive operation.

    The Citroën CX was also very good and nice and clean in its styling; I much preferred these to the ones on the post-1971 DS that looked nice but felt a bit flimsy at times and were ergonomically suboptimal:

    The Chevrolet Corvette C3’s flush doorhandles looked good and worked better than you’d think considering
    their unusual placement:

    Finally, the Lincoln Continental “Coach Edition” with its suicide doors did not save the nameplate but its
    doorhandle treatment looked rather nice (although I have no personal experience of operating them):

  12. I see the Citroen CX door handles showed up. They are bravely rectangular and vastly nicer than the rather disappointing and overly complex ones on the otherwise fab XM.
    Putting the 205 at the top immediately attracted my attention. I had a 205 and can report that these flaps worked. The whole car worked very well, despite its flimsiness. I´d rather like to try another drive in one of those to see if it was as good as I recall.
    For the months around Spring 2004 I worked on a door handle at an OEM. It was hateful work but they ended up using the doorhandle on a lot of their cars for a long time afterwards so I think that many millions of my tiny bit of CAD modelling might exist now. I probably said that already. When I see the car I point the door handle to the cost centres who are always impressed.

    1. I’ve always wondered about the door handles on the XM. They seem like a huge step back from what Citroën put on the CX. Furthermore I always thought they looked a bit out of place on the XM, not blending in with the rest of the car.

      The XM is a car I still haven’t driven. Been a passenger in it, soon after it launched, but that’s about it.

      I would love to see the door handle you designed.

  13. VAG used the ‘trigger’ handle pretty much across the board until the arrival of the Audi 100 C3.

    It was a poor – or possibly cost-cut – design which sheared at the fulcrum with around 50K miles of normal use in northern European climates, unless the entire mechanism was meticulously and regularly lubricated.

    At least it was cheap and easy to replace.

  14. Good morning, all. I love these kinds of posts! Door handles, both exterior and interior, and pull handles too, are important points of contact with the car. You can make everything else light, cheap, and flimsy, but if you provide a sturdy, solid feeling door handle, it helps make the entire car feel that way.

    One of the best exterior door handles I’ve experienced in a modern car was that on a 2017 Ford Focus I hired in Gran Canarias Island. It was a pull-type handle, sturdy and with a large, almost oversized cross-section, all of which gave it a solid feeling. Every time I got in the car, that sensation lingered on for a while.

    On the other hand, the interior pull handle of my previous Peugeot 308 1st gen creaked and squeaked whenever I pulled on it because the various plastic bits rubbed against each other when pressed by my hand. It felt cheap, which wasn’t helped by the worst-sounding door slam of any car I’ve owned. Door slam sound, now that’s another subject we could visit here!

  15. Waay back, mate of mine worked saturdays at the local bike emporium, which also sold Reliants.
    Most popular sale? Door handle and a packet of Isopon please….

  16. Good morning, all. Wonderful post! It made me reflect on the subliminal importance of door handle design in the cars I have purchased over the past 30+ years: 1984 Peugeot 208 GTi (nearly identical to the 1989 model in the opening picture), 1985 Ford Bronco II XLT, 1995 Chevrolet Tahoe, 1997 Jaguar XJ8, 1999 Chevrolet Suburban, 2004 X-type. Common design point in this admittedly odd series of purchases? The upward opening flap handles!

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