16 October 2015

Secrets of the General Lee

The General Lee of “Dukes of Hazzard” fame continually ranks as one of the most popular and beloved screen cars of all time and is in large part responsible for the immense popularity enjoyed by the 1969 Dodge Charger as a collectible. Die-hard Mopar fans are hard to stump, but for the rest of us, here are some trivia bits about the General Lee.

  1. The General Lee appeared in all but one episode of the series. Tom Wopat and John Schneider were under the impression that they were the stars of the show, but the car actually appeared in 144 out of the 145 episodes while Wopat and Schneider appeared in 126 (they were briefly replaced by a pair of lookalike “cousins” during a contract dispute).

  2. The doors really were welded shut. Not just because Bo and Luke looked cool climbing in and out, but because of “racin’ rules” as the Duke boys explained. In the early days of NASCAR, there was a fair amount of commonality between cars that ran around oval tracks and cars that ran shine. Ironically, the standard B-body Dodge Charger of 1968-70 wasn’t very successful on the NASCAR circuit and it was up to the Charger 500 and Charger Daytona to uphold Dodge’s honor in those days.

  3. An astounding number of Chargers were sacrificed during filming. The show was produced between 1979 and 1985. In the early days of production, now-classic Chargers were just cheap and plentiful used cars. Cars were often scrapped after relatively minor damage from a stunt (usually an outrageous jump). Depending on who you believe, the number was anywhere from 250 to 350 cars. By late in the show’s run, cars were getting tough to source and astoundingly, the production company rented a light plane to do aerial reconnaissance in rural areas to find cars.

  4. The wheels are nearly as famous as the car. As every fan knows, the wheels on the General Lee are not Mopar items – they’re aftermarket American Racing Vector “turbine”-style wheels. American Racing still sells them, in large part because of the demand created by the General Lee.

  5. Actual surviving General Lees are rare. While replicas likely number in the thousands, actual surviving, documented production cars are extremely scarce. Again, depending on the source you believe, the number is fewer than 20 and documentation is always challenging. Before the studio took General Lee production in-house, several fly-by-nighters were involved in sourcing and building cars.

12 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Dave Booth New York October 21, 2015 at 17:00
    Thanks for the article
  • 2
    Mvs Mi October 21, 2015 at 17:47
    National car and truck museum in Auburn has an original. In original from the show condition. And you can imagine that condition lol.
  • 3
    Nick Washington October 21, 2015 at 20:21
    That's no lie. When the show got close to the end of the series, if you drive down the hill in Burbank and looked at the lot, you saw plenty of wrecked General Lee cars. One of my customers worked for the studio and said most had broken in the middle after a jump.
  • 4
    Buffalo Bill Northern California October 21, 2015 at 21:34
    I was working for a national independent claims agency back when the show was on, and our guys in the south said that when The Dukes was filming on location they would rent a local body shop for a week and bring in their own crew to repair all the wrecked cars at night and have them ready for filming the next day. I once did an inspection on a Ford Torino that had formerly been used as a "Starsky and Hutch" car. Worst jury-rigged and cobbled together repairs that I ever saw.
  • 5
    yes here October 21, 2015 at 22:17
    These are secrets?!?!?!?! YAWN!
  • 6
    KDD Oregon October 22, 2015 at 16:47
    Obviously the Chargers that were destroyed throughout the show's run weren't all #1 cars- or even #2s.However, to lose that many out of the finite number that exists seems kinda sad. Maybe worse than those characters that dropped the Jersey barrier on a #1 Porsche 911 recently. P.S.- I always thought the Duke's were 'way too hard on what, at the time, I thought was the only one!!
  • 7
    D. Smith Los Angeles October 23, 2015 at 02:37
    The "fly-by-nighters" you refer to (at least the Georgia crew) were actually some very skilled welders, painters, and fabricators. However with the demands of fast and loose tv production schedules, they seldom had time to do concours level work. Paint 'em, patch 'em and get 'em ready for the next day's shoot.
  • 8
    Reggie Charlotte October 23, 2015 at 07:40
    I lived in Atlanta when the series started and was at Godfather Vans one day when this orange Charger with a rebel flag painted on the roof came rolling in. They had them install this "horn" on the car. We all thought they were a bunch of rednecks only to find out they were filming a series out East of the city. Who knew?
  • 9
    Randy Syracuse NY October 25, 2015 at 07:00
    In the first episode they mention Luke's car but it is never shown or mentioned again. There is no General Lee in episode 2. Some 68 Chargers were converted to 69's. The front and rear were changed but the round turn signal indicators were not changed to the rectangle version. Eventually they removed the indicators altogether. There is one episode where Luke can be seen shutting the passenger door as he enters the car. Its very quick and you can only see part of the door. The first few cars had a rebel and checkered flags crossed between the rear window and the trunk lid. The trunk needed to have weight in it for the car to fly level .Most of the landings on the big jumps are skillfully hidden or edited, but if you slow down the landing on some of the jumps you can see the rear of the car collapse. Towards the end of the series they used scale models for some of the stunts.
  • 10
    John V. Louisiana October 29, 2015 at 16:45
    A friend of mine runs the Dodge Charger Registry and was able to get all of the remaining 19 Chargers from Warner Brothers in about 1989. Mopar Collector's Guide magazine did a feature article on the story and the cars being transported to their new owners. The semi driver admitted that he had to drive at night and sleep all day because he'd get impossibly delayed at every fuel or food stop with a car carrier full of General Lee's. My friend still owns one of the cars, and yes it is a cobbled together, really rough example of a Charger! It started life as a 68 but had the side marker lights removed/filled over, and has the 69 grille and taillights added (the taillights are held in place with heavy wire!). Randy (above) is correct and my friend's car had the crossed flags on the rear filler panel between the trunk lid and the rear glass. My friend's car also does not have the doors welded shut, and most all the other General Lee's actually didn't. Most of the cars were quickly patched & painted so that they'd be ready for the next day's filming activities, but they also had a "hero" car that was concours quality for the close up shots and the under-hood shots.
  • 11
    Glenn A. Hunt Texas November 7, 2015 at 19:18
    Well, the whole idea is that these remaining cars are to be the property of real everyday hard working folks and not go out to people trying to exploit them for their own gain. I compliment everyone who has built a duplicate, copy or show a car as long as they are honest and not trying to make a buck off of a fake pretend trailer queen car. I own one of the originals through the Dodge Charger Registry deal worked years ago. Myself and Wayne have been long time friends since we met in 1985 when the whole idea was being developed. There have been many true stories published and many just published for money. I will state for the record, that only a couple of the cars I personally inspected on the load mine was on, was even a possible runner. Most were hammered pretty hard and needed everything except the main body. On several that was all that was there, a shell with faded cracked paint and rough body work. A couple had drive train, but a turn key and run only, stripped wiring. For all the folks out there, these cars were rough, several have been restored/ rebuilt to make them a running car. But don't fool yourself and think of the real one as: a gloss dripping trailer queens that look better than even a new Charger did from the dealer did. The cars left from the real series are real cars and show there scars and rough bodywork etc. Reflect back to the old shows for a moment and think of Uncle Jesse? We are now living in those days gone by. That is the reality of the true history.
  • 12
    John phillips Charlotte NC January 25, 2016 at 22:26
    Is there any way I could contact someone with registry to verify a general Lee I am looking at is one of the six built in Georgia if so does anyone have there contact info,thanks

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