What's the story with these goofball cars?
November 3, 2011 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Take a large sedan, paint it some obnoxious color, and bolt on absurdly large wheels: what is this style of modified vehicle called, and why do people think it looks cool?

There are at least half a dozen of these cars cruising around my neighborhood, and they are similar enough that it is clearly an established style. They look ridiculous to my eyes, but I would like to stop simply laughing at them and find out what their owners are trying to accomplish.

For example, if I see a pickup truck with tiny wheels and lots of fiberglass trim, I know that style is called "low rider" and that it's inspired by Southern California hot rods. Then I can look up "low riders" and see galleries of particularly excellent examples, and even if the style is not to my taste I can at least tell what its practitioners are going for.

Same thing if I see a cheap Honda with an oversized spoiler, a faux-carbon-fiber hood, and an absurdly large exhaust tip. That particular vehicle may be a rolling joke, but I can look up "street racers" and see what its owner was trying to do, and understand why a well executed specimen of that style might be appealing to someone in the appropriate subculture.

But these cars... I'm baffled. It's like they take the biggest, most ungainly, least sexy sedans they can find, then give them the biggest, most awkward wheels they can find, then paint them the strangest, most unpleasant colors they can imagine, and that's it. There doesn't seem to be anything else to it. What am I missing? What is this style called, and what subculture does it come from? Where are the canonical examples of this form? How do you look at such a vehicle so that it seems cool?
posted by Mars Saxman to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (36 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by empath at 10:37 AM on November 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

I believe the term you're looking for is "pimpmobile".
posted by Grither at 10:38 AM on November 3, 2011

or Hi Riser.
posted by empath at 10:38 AM on November 3, 2011

On non-preview, Donk is a better answer.
posted by Grither at 10:38 AM on November 3, 2011

I came to say Donk, but empath is there already.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:38 AM on November 3, 2011

Not my style either, but these are some badass rides.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:41 AM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

I actually think they look pretty cool. I would never own one but I like to look at them.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:47 AM on November 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

How do you look at such a vehicle so that it seems cool?

Essentially the same way as you look at a low-rider pickup truck or a rice rocket honda civic with primer gray bumpers and think it looks cool.

The same way you listen to "Dirty South" hip hop or 80's-esque synthy indie music or heavy metal and think it's cool.

The same way you wear chuck taylors or Italian leather loafers or 6" heels and think they're cool.

It's all just culture-specific fashion.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:48 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Scraper's seemingly another local term.
posted by scruss at 10:49 AM on November 3, 2011

The wikipedia page for "Hi-Riser" has some info. Apparently it originated with Southern hip-hop culture.

As for 'why'- well, why anything? Right now, in fashion, gigantic sweaters with little skinny leggings and heels are cool- why? Because, that's why. Because someone arbitrarily said "I think this is cool" and some other people said "yeah ok, I can see it." I try to look at stuff like this with an Ebert-esque attitude of "is this a good example of its genre?" rather than "do I, personally, 'get' this?"
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:51 AM on November 3, 2011

Right, "is this a good example of its genre" is exactly where I'm trying to go. I'm perfectly well aware that the cars must look cool to someone, that there is a culture where driving such a vehicle expresses something desirable. The problem I've had is that I am completely unfamiliar with the genre, even to the point of knowing what it is called, and I have had no idea which culture it is that likes these cars. JohnnyGunn's link is exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for - now I know what these guys are aspiring to.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:56 AM on November 3, 2011

A lot of the donks I see around Raleigh seem to have food or other commercial product art on them as well, like this Skittles donk. There is a purple Tropical Fruit Skittles donk I see all the time and some kind of breakfast cereal one, Frosted Flakes maybe?

Skittles Donk is my new sockpuppet
posted by Rock Steady at 11:01 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is also a donk-variant that includes product logos, typically candies, sweet cereals or snack foods. There is a Strawberry Shortcake donk I see occasionally in Knoxville that always gives me the giggles.
posted by workerant at 11:02 AM on November 3, 2011

Jinx! Buy me a Sprite donk!
posted by Rock Steady at 11:04 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think there's often wit in popular culture that goes undiagnosed. Like, people from snob cultures (geek subcultures, foreign film, "high" literature, certain types of ironic/camp subcultures) assume that folks from working class/prole/POC/urban subcultures look at that stuff straight up with no wit, irony or humor. "Why do they wear their pants so baggy when it looks so silly?" You know, that kind of question.

Or there's an assumption that popular subcultures are all about menace, so when you see, for example, some guy with his braids in little puff pigtail things, you assume that it's supposed to be scary and you think "but that's not scary at all!"

When I look at those cars, I think that they're witty. It's amusing to see these old clunkers glossed up and given big wheels, the proportion is gently comic. The shapes are interesting.

If I had more serious cultural studies cred, I would say something about how folks from marginalized subcultures know how to code switch and already view their culture as not-hegemonic and that there's a particular kind of wit and perception that arises from this. Ie, the clunkers are more interesting precisely because they are not perfect restorations of Culturally Important Cars.
posted by Frowner at 11:06 AM on November 3, 2011 [23 favorites]

I was trying to look at JohnnyGunns link and it was taking me to a strange redirect.

Not sure if this will help, but having lived in South Florida all of my life and having seen this from the beginning is you had the expensive cars first that came with nice rims and those seemed to grow popular and flashier as time went on. Those who couldnt afford the more expensive cars started to put rims on the less expensive cars like the Impalas, Caprices etc.

The bright flashy colors are a part of the style and also I think to draw attention. I also think the style might have a lot to do with the fact that the style was born in the poorer neighborhoods and emphasis on perceived wealth with big overdone everything, and the flashier the better.
posted by heatherly at 11:16 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

A comment from Rock Steady's Sprite Donk link above:

"That is not a Donk, that is a Box Chevy. Just because a car has big rims on it dose not make it a Donk. A donk is a 71-76 Caprice/Impala, and thats it, nothing else."

posted by spilon at 11:27 AM on November 3, 2011

Aaaaahhh! I've been wondering about this! There is a Lipton Brisk Tea donk in my neighborhood!
posted by capnsue at 11:27 AM on November 3, 2011

Here in north Texas they're called "slabs". Around here, at least, their owners are not generally going for comedy. though I have to admit that is the affect on me.
posted by txmon at 11:29 AM on November 3, 2011

I've also heard them called slabs in Austin. Supposedly that stands for "slow low and bangin'" but I kind of. doubt that it actually started as an acronym.
posted by The Lamplighter at 11:40 AM on November 3, 2011

Ha, yes, one of the cars in my neighborhood is painted up blue and white with the "Oreo" logo on the side. I only saw a glimpse of it in passing and couldn't tell whether it was product placement, a racist joke, or just someone who really, really likes those cookies. Interesting that this, too, is A Thing.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:41 AM on November 3, 2011

I always thought they were called Hoopties, but it seems that also applies to junkyard cars.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 11:48 AM on November 3, 2011

'Donk' is often used as the generic term for this kind of car, but it's also used to refer to a specific body style (usually '70s models), and can be distinguished from the 'bubble' (usually '90s Caprices, Crown Vics, etc.) and the '80s version, the (wait for it) 'box.'
posted by box at 11:53 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

A Donk was originally a 70s type hi-rider car, but has become the category name. A Box is a 80s style, and a Bubble is an early 90s car. These terms come from South Florida, and "Scraper" is the Oakland (maybe West Coast) name for the whole category. Looks like Austin has a term, too.

A hoopty is always big ol' junker.
posted by rhizome at 12:13 PM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think I want to see a new beetle done like this.
posted by roboton666 at 12:36 PM on November 3, 2011

pickup truck with tiny wheels and lots of fiberglass trim, I know that style is called "low rider"

That's no low rider I've ever seen--it's not the wheels, it's the hydraulics.

And I think Donks are kinda cool.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:33 PM on November 3, 2011

Yes, in Oakland they're scrapers, however that also refers to bikes.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:52 PM on November 3, 2011

Definitely called slabs in Texas.

In Jay-Z's Big Pimping, Bun-B (south Texas rapper) raps "and you see us comin down on yo' slab".

Fat Pat (Houston rapper) in Tops Drop raps about "coming down, wrecking the slab".
posted by stovenator at 3:28 PM on November 3, 2011

Also, Houston rapper Slim Thug talks about slabs with the Houston Chronicle
posted by stovenator at 3:31 PM on November 3, 2011

It's really a trend started by wheel shops. I mean, with those ridiculous, thin-as-a-rubber-band tires, if you run over a housefly you're gonna bend a rim. Ka-ching!
posted by xedrik at 4:31 PM on November 3, 2011

My friend actually drove a "rice rocket" -- his term, not mine; he is Asian -- in high school as a sort of ironic joke, so I think Frowner is spot-on. It was a beat up Honda with a few additions, most notably an exhaust so huge we used to describe it by saying "you could stuff a cat in that." He, and the rest of us, got a big kick out of his car precisely because of the whole gilding a turd thing he had going.

These are all the things that went into his decision:
- He really did like souped up cars.
- He really did like the exhaust he put on his car.
- He knew he wasn't going to be able to get an actual nice car "worth" putting any fancy work into it.
- He wanted to do what he could anyway, for fun.

If you put all those together, you ask yourself, "What if I did all this stuff to my shitty car anyway?" And you realize that would be hilarious. And then you think, huh, it would be fun and hilarious, and I can afford that much, so why not? He also thought it was funny to do a stereotypically Asian guy thing, and I think it helped him feel less like a stereotype to not do it exactly like the stereotypes dictate; if he wasn't taking it as seriously, then he didn't feel as generic. Every time we'd ride in his car, he would really go all out and drive pretty crazy with the windows down blasting rap music (which he liked), and every time he heard his exhaust he would crack up. If anyone who didn't already know why he did it asked him why he would do that to his car, he would say he had to because he's Asian, or else they would immediately say something about OMG how Asian he is, and he would be gleeful. All the mixing up of stupid ideas and stereotypes made his car funny.

Post-college he's an actuary and drives a Camaro, so he finally got to have a "legit" nice car. But when you're poor, having an absurdly souped up piece of crap car is great. I also think Frowner is on-target about code switching, because I grew up poor and white and we'd sometimes do exaggeratedly tacky stereotypical white trash stuff just because, well, it can be fun to own the stereotypes. If people are going to target you with negative stereotypes, it's empowering to do something out of the box with the stereotype to give the stereotyper pause, which in turn makes the act of stereotyping more difficult for them; if you recognize part of a stereotype, but there's this whole other weird thing that's confusing, then it makes you think "wait, I don't get this, why...?" That forces you to think here is a person that I want to stereotype, but doesn't fit the stereotype exactly, and you have to acknowledge that you can't pigeonhole them that easily. Then, even with the people who stereotype anyway, it's at least fun to know you confused them or wasted their time making them wonder about your behavior. And it's gratifying when other people find it funny. When we'd ride around in my friend's car, it was just really entertaining to see people's expressions.

So whenever I see a ridiculous looking car, my assumption is actually that the owner does enjoy cars, but also purposeful absurdity.
posted by Nattie at 4:57 PM on November 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

Here in Oakland they are (as mentioned above) called scrapers.

They were the inspiration for scraper bikes (previously and previously on the Blue).
posted by Lexica at 8:04 PM on November 3, 2011

Is "Donk" entymologically derived from "reDONKulous?"
posted by porpoise at 8:51 PM on November 3, 2011

The tradition of gaudy paint jobs is as old as cars themselves. The ridiculously large wheels came from the drive to put larger and larger "rims" on one's car. This made low-profile tires popular, since they were necessary to accommodate the larger wheel size within the wheel well ("dubs"). Eventually, people began to get lift kits on their cars to make 24, 26, 28, and even the monstrous 30-inch rims possible.

Long story short, it's a niche trend driven by the desire for the largest rims on the block.
posted by Willie0248 at 11:26 AM on November 4, 2011

Is "Donk" entymologically derived from "reDONKulous?"

From the Wikipedia article it comes from "donkey," from the Impala logo.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:46 AM on November 4, 2011

(I wonder if the logo thing is a back-importation of putting wrappers in the wheels of scraper bikes?)
posted by en forme de poire at 2:07 PM on November 4, 2011

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