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Many automotive subcultures exist in America, from muscle car builders to low riders and JDM collectors. However, one distinctive trend stands out just as much or more than any other: donk cars. You’ve likely seen them slowly cruising streets all over the country, and they demand attention. So what are donks, and are the Chevrolet Impala and Caprice really the best platforms for the big-wheeled high riser builds?  

Can any car be a donk?

You could call your 1983 Volvo 240 a donk car, but we both know you’d be a bit off. According to GQ, the term refers to a pair of Chevrolet models from 1971 to 1976. As a result, the subculture is a narrow niche that accommodates a limited number of vehicles from a very specific timeframe. 

While enthusiasts and purists might horde the term, many builders get around the issue by calling their cars “high risers.” It’s self-explanatory; MotorTrend says a high riser is an “American sedan with a body-on-frame construction that is highly customized, characterized by large-diameter wheels and a high ground clearance.” Moreover, high risers can blanket more than just the one term; there are also “boxes” and “bubbles.”

What is the best car to turn into a donk?

Traditionally, the only cars fans can turn into donks are Chevrolet Caprice and Impala models. Furthermore, purists assert that those cars should be early to mid-1970s models. However, in the same way that enthusiasts are flexible with terms like ‘sports car,’ the term often refers to brightly-colored, big-wheel cars. 

For instance, many owners use other Chevrolet models like the Monte Carlo as a canvas. Moreover, a cursory (and interesting) internet image search will unveil pictures of Cadillac Escalades, Chevrolet Camaros, Dodge Challengers, and even a limousine or two riding high on massive wheels.   

Why are Impalas called donks?

Fans refer to the Chevrolet Impalas from the early to mid-1970s as donks due to their appearance and badge. For instance, Autoweek reports that one popular explanation is the classic Chevrolet Impala badge, which some fans say resembles a mule. 

A donk car Chevy Impala, like the Caprice, shows off its high riser big wheels and bright color.
Classic ‘high riser’ Impala | Lyle Setter, Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Alternatively and more whimsically, some fans say the term refers to the high-riding and bouncy demeanor of the cars, not unlike the beast of burden. 

What year of Caprice is a donk?

Like the Impala, the full-size Chevy Caprice models from 1971 through 1976 are traditional donks. However, the Caprice is a popular platform for the high riser treatment with big wheels and flashy liveries in more than just the early to mid-1970s models. 

Later model Caprices often get the high riser treatment, but they have different labels. For instance, a 1977 to 1990 Chevrolet Caprice is commonly referred to as a “box” due to its boxy styling. Moreover, fans often refer to the 1991 to 1996 Caprice, another common high-riser candidate, as a “bubble.” The bubble high riser terminology refers to the rounded design language of the early to mid-1990s models. 

Who started donks?

Many fans assert that the automotive subculture got its start in Miami, Florida. Builders in the 1990s would acquire the Chevrolet models from the specific timeframe and outfit them with big, flashy wheels and bright, eye-popping liveries. 

What do you think of the automotive subculture? Tell us in the comments below!


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