TBT: How Station Wagons Influenced Ford’s Tailgate Innovations

Sep 21, 2023

Ford’s Pro Access Tailgate option on the new 2024 Ford F-150 is expected to bring an end to the so-called “tailgate wars,” a competition that has always brought out the best new ideas and innovations from Ford designers and engineers. 

Before pickups became the bestsellers they are today, though, station wagons were the hotbed for tailgate innovations. Ford’s first factory-built station wagon, the Model A of the late-1920s, featured only a tailgate. But as the wagon wars of the 1950s began to heat up, the tailgate took on an added importance. First came a push-button liftgate-tailgate, and then there was a one-piece tailgate with a retractable window. But perhaps the biggest advance during this time was Ford’s “Magic Doorgate.” 

Launched in 1966, Magic Doorgate opened horizontally like a door or vertically like a traditional tailgate. “It swings open for people … and swings down for cargo,” read one Ford ad from the period. Already the leader in station wagon sales at the time, Ford patented a set of hinges that made this all possible. One hinge had twin pins for lateral or vertical pivoting action, while another came unhinged when the tailgate was being used in a conventional manner. A third hinge functioned as both a hinge and a door latch. The revolutionary feature became standard on Fairlane and other Ford station wagons, and optional on Falcon. It was paired with side-facing rear backseats for an improved experience. 

“Whether you’re loading lumber, parcels or a carload of kids, Ford’s exclusive door and tailgate doubles the pleasure of owning a wagon,” read another advertisement.

Magic Doorgate was later refined to allow for opening or closing in door fashion with its window rolled up or down. The 1982 Granada took things a step further with a liftgate that could be opened as one piece or only the window. 

Modern adaptations to the cargo area include an optional fold-out picnic table complete with cupholders on the then-new Ford Taurus in 1986. Lincoln offered an optional power liftgate on the Navigator in 2003, and more recently, Ford launched the hands-free liftgate on the Ford Escape. The gesture-based technology combined sensors and leg motion to open the rear hatch without using a finger. 

Pickup tailgates remained relatively untouched, with the exception of a center-located latch in the 1960s that enabled one-handed operation. But by the 1980s, as the trucks became more mainstream and the F-Series had become America’s best-selling vehicle, additions such as removable tailgates and bumper steps were added. A concept pickup, 1997’s Ford Powerforce, went to the extreme with a power liftgate capable of lowering all the way to the ground in order to ease loading and unloading of large objects. 

Ford added Tailgate Assist in 2004, which utilized a built-in torsion bar that made it much easier to open and close. Further innovations over the decade included an integrated fold-down tailgate step (2006) and a stowable bed extender (2008). The latter maximizes hauling flexibility by holding cargo, whether groceries or lumber, in place and then hiding out of sight when not in use. Ford further facilitated access to the pickup bed in 2019, with the launch of remote tailgate release. 

Ford is reinventing the customer experience again with the available new Pro Access Tailgate. Opening from the driver’s side, it gives F-150 the only 100-degree fully opened integrated swing gate, allowing operation even when the pickup is being used for towing. Click here to read more about the new 2024 Ford F-150 with available Pro Access Tailgate.

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