A “donk” is the nickname for a customized 1971-76 Chevrolet Caprice or Impala.PHOTO BY CLINT DAVIS
We’re guessing your first question is, “What the heck is a donk?” Let us explain.
Specifically, “donk” is the nickname for a customized 1971-76ChevroletCaprice orImpala. Many folks erroneously use it to describe any custom car with big wheels. To be clear, flashy wheels aren’t required, but if you want a showstopper, they certainly help.No one is certain where the term came from. Some cite the Impala logo, which sort of looks like a donkey. Others swear that when the rear end of a Chevy is raised up and bouncing, it reminds them of the pack animal. Still others say it’s from the slang term for, ahem, a woman’s rear end. We’ll let you decide.
The Z06 Donk can outrun a Z06 Corvette, according to Thomas. We have no reason to doubt him.PHOTO BY CLINT DAVIS
The trend began in the 1990s in South Florida and has since fanned out across the country. Donks now have dedicated shops, clubs and car shows around the U.S., and the trend isn’t slowing, according to Randy Cabrera, president of Riding Clean, a production company that’s finishing up “DONKumen-tary,” a film on the subject.
“The trend used to be about height, and the term was ‘hi-risers,’” says Cabrera. “Now it’s all about clean. Everything is flush-mounted.”
So then, let’s build one.
First we need to find a car. A search of eBay Motors will net you a ton of results, with the cheaper donor cars starting at around $7,000. Pre-built donks get up into the $30,000 range, and some complete cars eclipse $100K.
“The trend used to be about height, and the term was ‘hi-risers,’” says Cabrera. “Now it’s all about clean. Everything is flush-mounted.”PHOTO BY RIDING CLEAN/RANDY CABERA
“You’ll want something clean, (with) a good foundation,” says Sage Thomas, aka Donkmaster, of In and Out Customs in Charleston, South Carolina. “You don’t want something that’s been sitting for years.”
Thomas has a six-figure 1971 Chevrolet Caprice convertible known as the Z06 Donk because of its powertrain (an LS7), interior and brakes, all sourced from America’s Sports Car. Thomas used to do these types of builds himself in the same way most learn: trial and error. Now he spends most of his time traveling around the country, spreading the good word and drag-racing when the mood strikes. His turbocharged Z06 donk can outrun its namesake in the quarter-mile with a 9.80 E.T. Next, we need some wheels. Lots of the popular manufacturers make them, including Forgiato, Asanti and Lexani, in sizes up to 32 inches. Tire Rack will set you up; so will CARiD and AutoAnything. Prices range from $1,000-$3,000 for a set, but again, these things can go up into the stratosphere.
The Z06 trim extends from the engine bay to the interior.PHOTO BY CLINT DAVIS
After the wheel choice, the sky’s the limit. These cars sometimes get widened (aka tubbed) wheel wells for more clearance and can be channeled—where the floor is cut and the body is lowered around the frame—painted, reupholstered and/or powered up.
The Donkmaster has put $60,000 into his car’s powertrain alone.
And that’s the most important thing about do-it-yourself. Just like Japanese tuners, giant pickup trucks and bombed-out rat rods, donks have their fans and their detractors. But when you’re doing it yourself, you’re also doing it for yourself. That means if you want a candy-apple-red paint job, do it. If you want 20-inch wheels, 24s, 32s or 13s, you can do that, too. Slow or fast, flashy or plain, racy or floaty, it’s all good. Just don’t call it a donk if it’s not a Chevy made between ‘71 and ‘76. Connoisseurs hate that.