General Lee (car)

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The General Lee
ManufacturerChrysler Corporation
Production1969
ClassMuscle car
Body style2-door coupé
PlatformFR B-body
Transmission3-speed TorqueFlite automatic
 
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The General Lee
ManufacturerChrysler Corporation
Production1969
ClassMuscle car
Body style2-door coupé
PlatformFR B-body
Transmission3-speed TorqueFlite automatic

The General Lee is the Dodge Charger driven by the Duke cousins Bo and Luke in the television series The Dukes of Hazzard. It is known for the chases and stunts, especially high jumps, in almost every episode, and for having the doors welded shut, leaving the Dukes to climb in and out through the windows. The car appears in every episode but one ("Mary Kaye's Baby"). The car's name is a reference to the Confederate General Robert E. Lee and it bears a Confederate naval jack on its roof and has a horn which plays the melody from the first line of the song "Dixie".

The idea for the General Lee was developed from the bootlegger Jerry Rushing's car, which was named for Lee's favorite horse, Traveller. Traveller was also the name of the car in Moonrunners, the 1975 movie precursor to The Dukes of Hazzard.

Contents

History

Although the estimated number of General Lees used varies from different sources, according to Ben Jones ("Cooter" in the show), as well as builders involved with the show, 256 General Lees were used to film the series. Others claim about 321 were used in the series. Approximately seventeen still exist in various states of repair. On average, more than one General Lee was used up per show. When filming a jump, anywhere from 500 to 1,000 pounds of sand bags or concrete ballast was placed in the trunk to prevent the car from nosing over. Later in the series the mechanics would raise the front end of the car to keep it from scraping against the ramp causing it to lose speed, thereby providing a cushion for the driver upon landing. Stunt drivers report enjoying the flights but hating the landings. Despite the ballast, the landing attitude of the car was somewhat unpredictable, resulting in moderate to extremely violent forces, depending on how it landed. On many of the jumps the cars bent upon impact. All cars used in large jumps were immediately retired due to structural damage.

From 1979 to 1985, 1968 and 1969 model-year Chargers were sourced and converted to General Lee specifications. Despite popular belief, no 1970 models were used, according to all builders involved over the years. Obtaining cars was not a problem until later years. By that time, the car was the star of the show and Warner Brothers moved building of the cars in house to keep the cars consistent in appearance. Later in the show's run, when it got too hard and/or expensive to continue procuring more Chargers, the producers started using more 'jump footage' from previous episodes. In the final season radio-controlled miniatures were occasionally used to the chagrin of several cast members.

Episodes 1 to 5 were filmed in the Georgia towns of Covington and Conyers in November and December 1978. Georgia episode cars consisted of 6 Dodge Chargers. The first General Lees were built by Warner Brothers (WB) and shipped to Georgia where John Marendi (picture car coordinator) labeled the first 3 cars LEE 1, LEE 2, and LEE 3 in no particular order for film editing purposes. LEE 1 was a 2nd unit car with a full roll cage. It is a 383 V8-powered 1969 Charger equipped with air conditioning (A/C). It was originally code T3 Light Bronze Metallic with tan interior, 3 speaker dash, and chrome rocker trim. After the now-famous jump over Rosco P. Coltrane's police cruiser by stuntman Craig Baxley, it was stripped of its front seats and 1969-specific grill and taillight panel. LEE 1 was used once more as the "Richard Petty" tire test car in the fourth episode Repo Men LEE 2 was also a 2nd unit car with a full roll cage and tan interior. It was used for the opening scene in One Armed Bandits. In this scene, Bo and Luke were chasing Rosco's police cruiser with the General after Cooter stole it; during this chase, LEE 2 is shown making a jump (the first that Baxley performed).

LEE 3 was the first unit 1 close-up car and the first General Lee built by Warner Brothers; it's seen in the first publicity photos. It was originally a F5 Medium Green Metallic R/T SE (Special Edition) model. It was powered by a 440 Magnum V8, 375 hp (horsepower) 3671 lb., and also had A/C with power windows and a wood grain dash. This car had a tan interior and a removable roll bar that allowed installation of a camera for in-car shots. This car was painted 1975 Corvette Flame Red with a special basecoat; the basecoat was used after they found LEE 1's paint appeared to be blotchy due to the direct application over factory paint. Eventually the first 3 General Lees started to show visible damage, so the crew had to start making more. The first General Lee built in Georgia was a 1968 Charger converted to look like a 1969; the tail light panel, front grill, and front seats taken from LEE 1 were used. The paint used on these cars was Chrysler code EV2 or "Hemi Orange". Interiors not originally tan were sprayed with SEM brand "Saddle tan" Vinyl dye. The first 3 Georgia Lees had a set of crossed flags (a Confederate flag and checkered flag) on the panel between the rear window and trunk lid. Although 4 sets were created, only 3 were used. They were discontinued due to the continuity of the General Lee graphics, making it one less thing to be used. The 3 surviving cars went back to California and had the crossed flags removed upon reconditioning. The wheels were generally 14X7 inch American Racing brand "Vectors" throughout the show and were mainly mounted on P235/70R14 B. F. Goodrich Radial T/A tires with the blackwall side facing out.

The Veluzat era

Andre and Renaud Veluzat built General Lees for WB from the second season into the fourth season. Viewers can also see two "Georgia" cars used often up into the early second season. LEE 3 and a specially caged car never appearing (but built) in Georgia were used heavily in early California episodes. The Veluzats were somewhat inconsistent in how they built the cars, so this is when the most variations from specification are found. The paint was GM code 70, Flame Red (still orange, just the name of the color), but there does appear to be some variance here: interiors were mostly dyed brown and occasionally SEM Saddle Tan. According to some sources, the Veluzats charged WB $250 a week per car for rental and a lump sum of $2000 to $3000 upon destruction of the vehicles; this included police cars as well. WB mechanics had to maintain the cars at company expense.

The money generated by building General Lees financed the Veluzat family project of restoring Gene Autry's Melody Ranch; it had burned in the 1960s. This ranch is where many classic Western films were shot as well as the television series Gunsmoke. Today, it is a fully functional movie ranch where shows like HBO's Deadwood are filmed.

The Warner Brothers era

By 1983, Warner Brothers turned total control of building General Lees to a man named Ken Fritz because the Valuzets were caught selling wrecked cars that had received cosmetic repairs and forged VINs. Fritz didn't have the job long before he too was fired and at this point Warner Brothers moved full production in-house. The General Lee was now the highlight of the series, and WB received enormous amounts of Lee-specific fan mail that nit-picked the inconsistencies of the cars. Because of General Lee's fame, WB had their staff mechanics build the cars to a specific appearance, even underneath. All graphics had to meet specifications, all side markers and rocker panel chrome trim were removed; and roll bars and push bars had to meet an exact specification. However, some changes were made before the specifications were laid-out: the push bar became wider, the interior became a light beige color, and the roll bars were covered in black foam padding. During this period, the only true way for fans to distinguish the 1968 conversions from the 1969 originals is by the shape of the dashpad.

As the WB era rolled on, finding the cars became difficult: Piper Cubs were hired to search for 1968 and 1969 Chargers amongst the populace; the jumped cars were now no longer scrapped after one jump if deemed salvageable, and were repaired and used until they could no longer function; and, as last resort, miniature radio-controlled models were also brought in toward the end of the series to replace most of the big jump stunts, thereby saving more cars - something that proved unpopular with many episode directors (including Tom Wopat) who felt that the models did not look realistic. By this time, there was also a rivalry for "TV's greatest car" with the Knight Rider series, leading to the models being used more and more for greater jumps to try and out-do that series. Taking full control also saved some money as now WB had the ability to buy cars, recondition them, and use them without paying daily rental fees.

The General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard feature film

At the beginning of the movie, the General was a faded orange with a hand-painted "01" on the doors, black steel wheels, standard front bumper, and no Confederate Naval Flag. Midway through the film, Cooter repairs the General after it's vandalized by Boss Hogg's hirelings. He repaints it a bright orange and adds the well-known trademarks (American Racing "Vector" 10-spoke "turbine" wheels, octagonal "01", black grille guard, Confederate flag on the roof, "Dixie" horn, and "General Lee" above the door window openings). However, Cooter didn't fix the doors and get them to open claiming he "Didn't have time to fix everything". In the film, the Confederate flag on the roof is made an object of conflict on two occasions. In the first occasion, the Dukes are stuck in an Atlanta traffic jam. During this time passing drivers make remarks towards them that alternate between cheering the South and condemning them as practicing racism, leaving the Duke boys puzzled; the last to comment says, "Nice roof, redneck! ... Join the rest of us in the twenty-first century?!" and displays obscene hand gestures. Mystified, Bo and Luke slide out of the windows so they could sit on the windowsill to look at the roof and discover the flag. In the second incident, the Dukes wind up with coal dust on their faces, giving them the appearance of driving around in blackface; they stop at a traffic light and some African American youths notice this and the Confederate flag on the General. The youths come to the conclusion that the Dukes are making a racist statement and are about to give them a physical opinion of their roof graphic and facial appearance. Just as the youths were about to assault Bo and Luke, two black police officers show up and throw the Dukes in jail.

The movie General not only flies and makes controlled landings, but also drifts with the aid of professional drifter Rhys Millen. During jump scenes, some stunt cars were jumped under their own power by stunt drivers; others had their engines and transmissions removed. The engineless Chargers were then launched without drivers by a gas-driven catapult similar in principle to those used on aircraft carriers. Approximately 24 1968 to 1970 Chargers were used in the film.

Unlike the TV show era Lees, the movie cars used aftermarket graphic kits. The movie gave them new credibility and is no longer considered to be an inaccurate choice. Otherwise, except for the white letters on the Goodrich Radial T/A tires, the exterior of the movie's "close-up" General Lees varied little from the TV show cars. The paint was Big Bad Orange (an American Motors Corporation color) rather than Corvette Flame Red; the interior headliner was black instead of tan, an actual roll cage was used; a 3-spoke Grant wood-trimmed steering wheel replaced the standard wheel, an AM/FM stereo radio with Compact Disc player was installed in the dashboard; and the interiors were a custom color vinyl fabric made to look like the dye/paint used in the later eras of the TV show. One still can differentiate the '68 Chargers by looking at the dash pad, but now 1970 Chargers were thrown in the mix. The cars somewhat resembled a late 1990s to early 2000s (decade) General Lee clone, but the overall flavor of the General Lee is still obvious. On all of the cars, the back-up lights and side marker lenses were removed, the openings filled in.

Eleven of the cars used for the movie had been purchased from the Luedtke Auto Group. Many of the cars had been cut up to allow for inside camera views.

General Lee #020 was the drift car used in the drifting scene around Lee Circle and was also the car racing the black Shelby at the end of the movie. It was one of the few (perhaps only) 4-speed equipped cars and was the backup to car #005. The car contains a unique emergency brake handle near the shifter that allowed the stunt driver quick access to locking the rear brakes at will. Though it did sustain some damage during filming, it is fully road worthy and is privately owned by Troy Martinson in Minnesota.[citation needed]

Two of the General Lees (a 1969 R/T SE and a 1970 made to appear as a 1969) were temporarily sold to Warner Brothers by Everett "J.R." Barton of Wichita, Kansas. The 1970 Charger was used to make the "freeway jump" during the police chase after Bo and Luke escaped from their Atlanta Police Department escorts; it had made the longest jump of any Lees that appeared on screen and fairly survived and is the only car seen making that jump. In the "outtakes" one other car is seen making a nosedive into the street and going into the guard rail. That car did not make it in the movie. J.R.'s car makes a fairly perfect landing; but then it veers off to the left into the center divider wall. This particular General Lee is once again in running condition and moving under its own power; it still wears its battle scars and can be seen at auto shows in the Midwest. The 1969 model was 'said' to have been used in one of the field driving scenes by the transportation director, because they were needing a car that was already distressed looking and it would be shot from the rear only, and could have been incorporated with the filming of the movie. Both cars were returned to him. The '69 in its original condition after filming wrapped, with the exception of parts that were swapped from his '69 R/T to and from other General Lees.

Engines

Engines in the TV show General Lees varied; 318, 383, and 440 CID V8s big blocks were used. None of the TV series cars had the 426 Hemi. However, the "close-up" Lees (except for the first one) were 383-powered. The special purpose built "Ski Car" (the car that was used for stunts involving driving on the left side or right side wheels with the opposite side wheels in the air) had a 318, as it was lighter weight. Most of the 'workhorse' stunt cars had 318s and 440s. The stunt drivers tended to prefer 440s (a higher performance engine) for jumps, so 440-powered stunt Lees were often saved for the higher bobby and longer jumps. Also, though early sound effects led many people to believe otherwise, only a handful of Chargers had manual transmissions; most had 727 TorqueFlite automatic transmissions. Also, in The Dukes of Hazzard motion picture, Cooter replaced the General's original engine with a Hemi.

Exit and entry

The General Lee, except in the beginning of the movie, does not have opening doors. In the TV series, it is explained that racing cars have their doors welded shut, and this was often used for comedic effect when Uncle Jesse or Boss Hogg required help to squeeze through the window. (In one episode, Sheriff Rosco hires a bounty hunter [Jason Steele in the show] to create a fake General Lee and trick the Dukes into driving it, at which point he promptly orders their arrest for auto theft. The fake car was easily identified because its doors opened.) In the movie, the car has been repaired after being trashed, but the doors could not be fixed fast enough. The driver and passenger must slide in the window (as in NASCAR). For a running entry, Bo and Luke also slide over the hood rather than walk around the front of the car. However, in the prequel The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning, the left door was welded shut while the right one was not.

Exhaust systems

Exhaust systems were basic: some had glasspack mufflers, but most had standard exhausts with the pipe cut just before the rear end. The exhaust sound that can be heard on most of the California-era episode General Lees is from a Thrush brand glasspack. The sounds came from the exhaust systems fitted to the "close-up" cars; the parts used were Blackjack brand headers, dual exhausts, and the aforementioned Thrush mufflers. However, the sounds were dubbed in after the scene was filmed.

Tires

Tires used on the General Lee varied, but the best known make and model was the B.F. Goodrich Radial T/A. The most common size was P235/70R14; P235/70R15 was also used. Winston Winners were also used. Movie cars had the white lettering on the outside, while TV cars had the white lettering reversed.

References