If you’ve ever had a weird reaction to some pills you found in a wet paper bag on the sidewalk, then you probably know that when you disassemble a car by hand in a deep, trance-like state, you end up with a lot of parts. So when I see a detail on a car that can eliminate even one part, I’m impressed. Like this door handle.
I mostly only know these handles from Renaults, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them on other cars — though, today, for some reason, I’m having a hell of a time trying to think of one. I know I’ve seen them on Renault 5/Le Cars, Fuegos, even Alpines. Beyond that, I’m not sure. I could keep looking all day, I suppose, but I’d rather just talk about these for a moment.
See, the thing I love about these door handles is that, really, they’re an absence of a door handle. I suspect the initial motivation for this design was simple, brutal cost-cutting, but I can respect that. This type of door handle, which I’ve always called a ‘cut-out’ handle in my head, completely eliminates the exterior door handle unit.
Instead, there’s the usual locking mechanism inside the door, but instead of a handle, there’s a shallow pressing in the adjacent body panel to accommodate your fingers, which can reach around the edge of the door to find a release latch, and pull using the edge of the door itself.
It seems so clever and elegant that I’m surprised it never caught on more. it leaves a nice clean line on the side of the car, with only the recessed little fingers-notch and not some bulky handle assembly. There’s less parts to make, less to break, every time I’ve opened a car with one I’ve found it comfortable and natural. Which is more than I can say for many clunky, pinchy door handles I’ve used in my time. I’m looking at you, big flat AMC handle.
Wait— I just remembered another car that has these handles — a Lada Oka, the Lada supermini from the late ‘80s-’90s. So maybe Renault had some design patent on these and only the Soviets didn’t give a shit?
Maybe that patent thing has some truth — there is a US patent for a recessed door handle that could be it?
Maybe these never caught on because they really only work well for 2-doors, or cars with B-pillars wide enough to have the finger recess. Maybe people found them too plain. I don’t know. What I do know is that this strikes me as a very clever bit of reductive engineering, and I think it deserves a comeback. I even cribbed it for my New Beetle idea. Hell, with modern keyless entry systems, you wouldn’t even need a keyhole anymore, and can simply have a nice tidy little cutout.
So, unnamed designer of the handle-less door handle, here’s to you, and your fantastic editing skills!