What is a Donk?

All donks are hi-riser style classic cars: lifted to make room for enormous rims. Some people even refer to all hi-riser cars as donks. But purists insist that the word “donk” describes a very specific type of hi-riser classic car: a fifth-generation Chevrolet Impala or Chevrolet Caprice car restored in the “hi-riser” style.

What is a donk?

Purists insist a true donk is based on a 1971-76 Chevrolet Impala or Caprice. They can be convertibles or hardtops. These classic cars are then lifted to make room for very large rims. Often donk-builders paint their cars custom colors and hot-rod up the engines for drag racing.

A blue 1971 Chevy Caprice donk car sitting in a parking lot.
1971 Caprice donk | Hoonigan via Youtube

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Donks are very much defined by their huge rims, sometimes up to 30-inches in diameter. Some donks even wear spinner rims. Donk builders must lift their cars and cut out much of the fenders to make room for these rims. Racing with such a high center of gravity requires numerous suspension upgrades.

Many donk builders choose to lift the front end of their car higher than the back. This rake accentuates the sloped rear window of the Impala coupes. It gives the donk a slightly “squatted” stance, like some custom trucks.

What is a hi-riser car?

A hi-riser car, or SUV, has been lifted to make room for huge rims wrapped in low-profile tires. Hi-risers can be classic cars or newer cars. Donks are a type of hi-riser. Many purists define donks as fifth-generation (1971-76) Chevrolet Impalas or Caprices that have been built into hi-risers.

1971 Chevy Caprice donk car cruising through downtown Los Angeles
1971 Caprice donk | Hoonigan via Youtube

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Most hi-riser cars are full-size sedans with rear-wheel-drive and body-on-frame construction. This makes lifting them much easier. In addition to donks, there are several distinct generations of hi-riser cars.

Hi-riser fans refer to cars from roughly 1973 through the 1980s as “box” style cars. This is because of their squared-off front and rear fascias. In addition to donks (fifth-generation Impalas or Caprices), popular “box” high-risers include classic General Motors cars such as the Buick centurion, Buick Regal, Oldsmobile Cutlass, El Camino, Pontiac Grand Prix and the Bonneville.

Hi-riser “bubble” cars are 1990s-modern cars. The name “bubble” refers to their rounded body styles. These cars can be anything from a fourth-generation Caprice to a Ford Crown Victoria, to a brand new Mustang or Camaro.

What is donk slang?

Like many automotive subcultures, donk enthusiasts have their own lingo. They call convertibles “verts.” They also refer to their Impala logo as a donkey or “donk.” They also have special lingo for communicating the model year of their car.

1971 Chevy Caprice donk car drag racing.
1971 Caprice donk | Hoonigan via Youtube

Instead of referring to their classic Chevrolet Impalas or Caprices as a 1971, 1972 etc., donk owners call them a “sem-one,” “sem-two,” “sem-trey.” Sometimes they shorten this to “one,” “two,” “trey,” “four.” Other times they might use playing card lingo, saying “ace,” “deus,” “trey.”

For example a “trey vert” is a 1973 Chevy Impala convertible that has been turned into a hi-riser donk.

The Youtube channel Donk Planet has an excellent explainer video on donk slang. Founder Ree of Miami takes viewers on a tour of his shop and shows works in progress that include a 1971, 1972, and 1973 Impala. He also shares that 1976 Impalas make popular donks and have become hard to find in south Florida:

Linny Jones is a Florida-based car photographer and donk fan. He also defines a donk as a 1971-1976 Impala or Caprice. In his “What is a donk?” video he actually takes viewers to a hi-riser car show to show the difference between different eras of hi-riser cars, including donks:

Hi-riser car culture, and donk car culture, originated in the South of the United States. It is still popular in cities such as Atlanta Georgia, Miami Florida, and Los Angeles California.

As donks and hi-risers have picked up popularity, custom car builders from around the world have begun to experiment with similar modifications. The enthusiasts at Hoonigan even built their own take on a donk: a 1971 Caprice with a race-ready, supercharged V8. See the Hoonigan donk in the video below:

Many donk builders keep their beloved classic cars to car shows and parades. But some donk fans build cars designed for drag racing.

Drag racing a donk creates several unique technical challenges. Firstly, the car’s huge rims increase the amount of rubber on the pavement. That said, its low-profile tires do not offer the flex (and thus traction) of drag-racing tires with a higher sidewall. Finally, the car’s high center of gravity is less of a hindrance in a straight line than around a corner. The speed of drag-racing donks may surprise you.

Vice News covered hi-riser and donk drag racing culture in Reynolds, Georgia. Check it out in the video below:

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