The latest trend in car customizing is to raise big 1970s-era American sedans high into the air by stuffing huge chrome rims and low-profile tires under the wheel wells. These “skyscrapers” and “high-risers” will be featured in a special display during the April 7-10 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The exhibit will share the Showcase Garage with “Beauties and Beasts” from General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler and American Motors Corp.; a street-legal Radio Flyer wagon; a Legends of Drag Racing NHRA display and a collection of electric and hybrid cars.

The Rise of the ‘High-Riser’
Chevrolet built millions of full-size sedans and coupes in the 1970s, making used Impalas and Caprice Classics easy to find and inexpensive to personalize. Most came with V-8 power and seating for six, making them ideal party cruisers. Unfortunately, those old Chevys rode on skinny 14-inch steel wheels with cheap-looking hubcaps – not exactly what a rap star would consider “bling.”

Legend tells that customizers catering to Miami’s early 1990s southern hip-hop culture put the first 22- and 24-inch (diameter) wheels on sloped-roof 1971-’76 Impalas and called them “donks.” One explanation for the unusual name says it was a playful reference to the Impala’s leaping-antelope logo, suggesting the animal resembled a donkey. Or perhaps the donkey imagery came from the fact that early donks were set up to ride higher in the front than in the rear, causing them to sit like a loaded beast of burden.

Other big Chevys received the skyscraper treatment and were given their own descriptive nicknames. Square, upright 1977-’90 high-risers were called “boxes;” jellybean-shaped 1991-’96 models were known as “bubbles.” Soon the eye-catching fashion statement extended to all manner of American land barge, including Lincolns, Cadillacs, Chryslers and Ford Crown Victorias, although any large rear-drive model can be transformed no matter the manufacturer.

The amount of time and money required to build a skyscraper depends on how high the owner wants his car to ride. According to Benji Gault of Dreamworks Motorsports, a customizing shop in Roxboro, N.C., that has been building donks, boxes and bubbles since 2001, some vehicles can be jacked up with minimal suspension upgrades. Dreamworks Motorsports is coordinating a special skyscraper display for the April 7-10 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Every car is different,” Gault said. “A lot of our customers start by putting $6,000 to $10,000 into a set of 24- or 28-inch wheels, then add our standard five-inch lift to raise the car. A typical box has maybe $15,000 in its conversion before any other changes the owner might want to make. If he wants to go higher, that involves a lot more fabrication to make the suspension and rear axle function right. Anything up to five inches usually doesn’t require a driveshaft change.”

For many skyscraper fans, the lift is only the beginning of the project. It is not uncommon now to see $100,000 cars at shows with 700-horsepower engines, custom interiors, scissor door treatments, mega-watt stereos, and crazy paint schemes.

Food Lion AutoFair
Hours for the April 7-10 Food Lion AutoFair are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $10 per day for adults or $25 for a four-day pass; children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5. For more information on the four-day event, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.