Sun Sentinel (MCT)
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. —
Like a slow-cruising yacht, the 1970s lime green General Motors sedan with sparkling elevated rims pulled into a Davie, Fla., parking lot on a recent Friday night. Heads turned.
A donk had arrived.
Rolling out of South Florida’s urban neighborhoods for more than 10 years, donks are candy-colored, old-fashioned sedans such as Chevrolet Impalas and Caprices with rims that lift them to SUV heights. You can see them every Friday at the weekly car show in Davie or cruising along State Road A1A on weekends.
“Everywhere the car goes, it’s an attention-getter,” said Erik Carrera, 26, a Hollywood, Fla., auto restoration specialist who has a fire-red 1971 Cheverolet Impala convertible with 26-inch rims and a used Cadillac engine.
The donk car culture is said to have started in Florida in the mid- to late 1990s by car enthusiasts tailoring their 1970s Chevys.
“Surrounding states in the South soon followed,” according to Evan Yates, an editor of RIDES magazine, which also publishes an annual themed issue called “Donk, Box & Bubble.” This year’s issue profiles these elevated cars from Palm Beach to Miami-Dade counties, as well as local businesses that cater to donks.
With tax refund season and May and June music and car events coming up, this is among the busiest times for vehicles to be donked at local shops.
“When you build a car, it’s an expression of yourself that you let a stranger see vs. somebody that you care about and invite to your household,” said Bobbie Jo Lewis, co-owner of I-95 Motorsports in Hallandale Beach, Fla., which specializes in altering these autos.
As she spoke one morning at her shop, three donks sparkled outside: a bubblegum-pink 1973 Chevy Caprice, a baby-blue 1975 Caprice and a burgundy 1971 Impala. Each had 26-inch rims. The trend started with 22-inch rims, but has risen to ever-higher proportions, including 28, 30 and 32 inches.
“Some people want to ride and shine, and some people really understand that this is the next line of classic cars,” Lewis said.
The reasons given for customizing these vintage cars aren’t any different than those a proud car owner gives: style, attention, individuality. To these auto aficionados, the older and bigger the car, the better. Enthusiasts search online sites such as Craigslist.
Carrera, the auto restoration specialist, said he found his in New Hampshire four years ago. His donk “went from being a $3,500 car to a $40,000 car. It’s not like a new car that anyone can go to the dealer and buy. It’s clean, classy and not too over the top.”
The costs associated with these elevated rides depends on the size and brand of the rims and how much is needed to modify the vehicle’s frame and suspension. A set of four 22-inch rims and tires runs about $4,500, while larger rim and tire packages can run about $15,000.
“Most of the cars that you see, the rims cost more than the car,” said Lewis, of I-95 Motorsports.
Donk riders define their genre as 1971-76 Caprices and Impalas, but their stylized oversized-rim look has spread to other vintage large sedans such as the Buick Skylark, Mercury Grand Marquis and Ford Crown Victoria.
“They may not be donks, but it’s part of the game of customizing old cars with bigger wheels,” said Michael Ayala, a sales manager at Coast To Coast Customs in Plantation, Fla., where a 1973 sea-green Impala was being fitted with 30-inch rims recently.
Why are they called donks? No one knows for sure.
“Some say because the Impala symbol looked like a donkey, others say because of the big, low rear end-like (of) a donkey, and others say it comes from dunk” like a slam-dunk, according to Yates.
These rejuvenated GM cars have spawned a community of car lovers who are featured in DVDs and attend local events. Some vehicles were featured at Miccosukee Resort & Gaming in Miami for this month’s 11th annual Kruisin’ Krome Car, Truck and Motorcycle Show.
Throngs of donks will also cruise South Beach streets for Urban Beach Week this month, and others will roll into the Miami Beach Convention Center on May 19 for the Street Kings Exotic and Custom Auto Show.
The cars also are popular because they are longer than newer sedans. And the oversized rims are akin to auto jewelry.
“It’s like a bling thing,” said James Anderson, an auto instructor at Sheridan Technical Center in Hollywood. “The overall attraction is that they like the big car, and most of the modern cars today aren’t big like that.”
But not all such modified cars may have legal ground clearance.
Florida state law bumper height restrictions are based on a car’s weight. For example, if the car weighs less than 2,500 pounds, the maximum height allowed by state law for the front and rear bumper is 22 inches off the ground. If the car weighs 2,500 to 3,500 pounds, the maximum height is 24 inches in the front and 26 inches in the back, said Sgt. Mark Wysocky of the Florida Highway Patrol in Broward County.
“It’s not an aggressively enforced statute, but we really don’t know how many of those cars are actually out there,” Wysocky said.
Still, these car owners enjoy putting a new spin on something old.
“Not everybody can afford a $150,000 car, but you can kind of create your own luxury automobile,” said Billy Breedlove, who sits high in his apple-red Chevy Caprice with 22-inch rims.
The Miami cook, 36, bought the car six years ago for $600. He has shelled out $15,000 in modifications, including leather seats and an eight-cylinder engine.
“You may find somebody with the same model and year but it will be totally different,” he said. “Your styling is totally individual.”