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What Are Donks?

Jesse McGraw

A Hi-Riser is a customized body on frame American sedan rolling on large wheels with low profile tires, but donks are more specific in this car culture.

Huge Wheels and Ridiculous Customization

Nissan Hi-Riser - Tremayne Simons on YouTube.com
Nissan Hi-Riser - Tremayne Simons on YouTube.com

You either love Hi-Risers or you wonder why they would spend so much to make a car look like one. Hi-Risers are old body on frame, rear-wheel-drive, American sedans that feature a lift kit with some low-profile tires on a set of dubs (wheels that are 20-inches or more). The wheels are flashy, the paint jobs are bright, the exhausts are loud, polished chrome is a necessity, and sometimes there’s spinners. These cars stick out like a sore thumb and that’s exactly what their owners want. You don’t make a Hi-Riser unless you want all eyes on you.

But not all Hi-Risers are built the same. Another word you may have heard in reference to a Hi-Riser is the term “donk”. No, it’s not a butt (at least not in this interpretation). A donk is a car subculture to the Hi-Riser crowd that are a very specific in make, model, and even year. So, what are donks?

Why Are They Called Donks?

1975 Chevy Caprice Donk - WhipAddict on YouTube.com
1975 Chevy Caprice Donk - WhipAddict on YouTube.com

The term donk has slowly gained traction as an alternative term to Hi-Riser by some, but the only true donks are any Chevrolet Impala or Caprice from 1971 to 1976. These Chevys don’t necessarily need to of had the Hi-Riser treatment to be considered a donk, but the two have gone hand in hand since being popularized in Miami, Florida back in the ’80s and ‘90s. As for why they are called donks, you can get a couple of different answers depending on who you ask.

The first interpretation is that the classic Impala logo featuring an antelope that looked like a donkey. Another is that people think the actual setup of the ‘70s Chevy with the huge wheels resembles a donkey in stature. Then there are some that say the rear-end of the vehicle bounces around like a badonkadonk. Trying to pinpoint the true origins of the name is kind of like finding how many licks to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.

What Cars Are Donks?

1973 Chevy Caprice Donk - WhipAddict on YouTube.com
1973 Chevy Caprice Donk - WhipAddict on YouTube.com

So, donks are Chevrolet Impalas or Chevrolet Caprices from 1971 to 1976, but why? These were made with GM’s large B-body platform, which had similar luxury styling, features, and ride to Cadilllac models of the same time. There was also a lot of them sold and the used market was getting cluttered with them when the Hi-Riser scene started to gain traction. Why pay the extra premium for a Caddy when you can get a used Impala or Caprice on the cheap and then outfit it with more customizations to suit you? That’s kind of the idea that started donks. You’d get one of these and then make sure everyone knew you could throw money around by making it a one of a kind Hi-Riser.

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The Chevrolet Impala and Caprice came in plenty of different forms back in the day – coupes, sedans, convertibles, and even station wagons, but they’re all considered donks. The most popular of the body styles is coined a “glasshouse”. A glasshouse is a 2-door hardtop sedan that featured an extensive amount of rear window glass, hence the name.

1976 Chevy Impala "Glasshouse" Donk - Jason Parde on YouTube.com
1976 Chevy Impala "Glasshouse" Donk - Jason Parde on YouTube.com

Donks also had plenty of engines to choose from, but commonly sported a big-block V8 under the hood. These Chevrolet big-blocks found in donks are either upgraded with aftermarket parts and performance tuned, otherwise they get swapped in favor of a new crate engine or even a Corvette’s LS engine. Why have all the custom exterior gimmicks and huge wheels if you can’t have the performance gimmicks too, right?

Donks Are Not for Everyone

1972 Chevy Impala Donk - bat96chevy on YouTube.com
1972 Chevy Impala Donk - bat96chevy on YouTube.com

Classic car purists hate donks since they desecrate classic cars with aftermarket accessories and customizations that aren’t related to the period specific design. Performance tuners look at them with confusion, because they could get so much more performance out of their large engines if they put better wheels, with a some more tire profile, and a lower suspension on the cars. Even members of the Hi-Riser community see them as elitist and pointless since the same modifications can be done to almost any car.

But donks are doing their job then. You noticed them and are faced with recognizing them for what they are. Gaudy, eccentric, custom designed Impalas and Caprices that are driven by owners who could buy any car they want straight up, but decided to mold a donk into a rolling show piece because they wanted to. Don’t hate on the donks, just appreciate.

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Jesse McGraw
Jesse McGraw

Jesse's life-long car obsession began when he started collecting Hot Wheels as a child. He’s constantly keeping up with the latest car news and diving deep into automotive history. His automotive journey began with a rusty ‘99 Dodge Dakota held together by zip ties, only recently replaced by an impeccable 2014 Kia Soul. You can find him modifying and racing cars in video games when he’s not playing paintball or writing about cars.

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