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Why Did It Take a Century to Put Barn Doors on a Pickup Truck?

Weird tailgates are a growing trend in full-size pickup trucks. It started last year when the all-new 2019 GMC Sierra was unveiled with its available MultiPro tailgate, which offers six different tricks like load stops, steps and even a desk. Now Ram has responded to the MultiPro tailgate with a trick tailgate of its own. Ram calls it a multifunction tailgate with two doors that swing open 88 degrees — but what everyone else has been calling this revolutionary design for the last century or so is "barn doors."

Seeing this new tailgate just reminded me of the old Chevrolet Tahoes and Suburbans from the 1990s that seemed to be very common with barn doors, as opposed to a more traditional lift gate. Then I wondered: how long have big SUVs been available with barn doors? As far as I can tell, barn doors on the Chevy Suburban go back as far as the 1950s.

Pickup trucks as we know them have been around for more than a century now — so what took the auto industry so long to give a pickup truck barn doors? It seems like this is something that used to be a popular option on big SUVs, but just kind of went away. Barn doors can still be found on commercial vans like the Ford Transit and Ram’s own ProMaster line of vans — so why is this ancient technology just now being brought over to pickup trucks?

I think the answer is a simple one, and it’s cost. I’m sure this isn’t the first time a major truck manufacturer has thought about adding some variety to its tailgate — but over the years, everyone just kind of agreed to stick with the nice, low-cost, swing-down tailgate that’s been the default since the dawn of pickup trucks. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

Well, now pickup trucks have become lifestyle vehicles, where people will pay big money for luxury versions — so they’re no longer just bare-bones work haulers. So GMC has been able to justify the cost of spicing things up — and Ram has answered the call to compete. It makes me wonder how long Ram has been holding on to a design like this, and is now finally using it to compete with the industry-exclusive MultiPro tailgate.

But the real question is: is this tailgate-mania we’re seeing unfold just a fad, or can we expect some kind of gimmicky tailgate from every truck manufacturer going forward? We’re at the point where General Motors, Ram and even Honda have some sort of unconventional tailgate that does more than just swing down. Will Ford, Toyota and Nissan follow suit — or will we look back on this era as that time when automakers experimented with weird tailgates? Either way, I hope the long-overdue pickup truck barn doors endure.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. It’s weird that it only opens 88 degrees. I can think of plenty of scenarios where you’d want to go almost 180 or even 270 to have it open almost to the bed sides so you could backup almost flush to a loading dock or something. Hinges that do this are old hat for the vans and such you mentioned.

  2. You might have forgotten about the 2002-03 Lincoln Blackwood, but in all fairness most truck shoppers forgot about it too.

  3. I just really can’t think of a scenario where a barn door tailgate would be necessary or more practical than a standard one. While I find GMC’s new tailgate overly complex, I understand how it may be helpful at times. 

    • standing flat-footed on the ground and reaching items that are all the way forward in the bed, the extra 18-20 inches created by the tailgate folded down makes this impossible.  The advantage is even more dramatic when you have a topper, crawling up underneath because you can’t reach the front of the bed with the tailgate down. 

  4. I honestly am not sure what is the hubbub about barn door tailgates… are they really much more practical than a swing down version?  The Lincoln Blackwood had it, but the truck bed was lined with carpet….

    • The Honda ridgeline has a multidirectional tailgate where you can either have it swin down or swing curbside… again… not sure why you would need both methods…..maybe loading into the bed is easier when there isn’t the additional length to push your cargo in???

    • Yes, they are practically speaking as they make it much, much easier to load cargo in the truck bed. Think about it, everything you put in a truck you have to push past the tailgate and now you don’t have to. It’s probably the best advancement in pickup trucks for utility in a long time. You still need the pull down as well for long cargo items like wood/etc. Now they can do both it’s best for all. 

    • I spent some time working in the building and lumber department at Home Depot. Barn door tailgates would have been amazing for loading things into the bed with a forklift

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Eric Brandt
Eric Brandt is an author specializing in Oversteer content, new car reviews, and finding the best car, truck, and SUV deals each month. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Eric can often be found exploring the north woods on his 1983 Honda Gold Wing when the weather allows it. Father of four, husband of one, and unapologetic minivan enthusiast. Eric mastered driving stick by having a 3-cylinder Chevy... Read More about Eric Brandt

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