By Patrick Rall
The American muscle car scene created a handful of legendary cars such
as the Chevrolet Camaro, the Dodge Challenger, and the Ford Mustang.
40+ years later, those high performance street machines are still
highly sought after. Not only do collectors pounce on the chance to own
the vehicles, the entertainment industry has featured them prominently
in movies and television as well: the 1976 Ford Gran Torino on Starsky
& Hutch or the 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am in Smokey and the
Bandit. Those cars are well known and often replicated, but no movie or
television vehicle has stolen the hearts of gearheads the way a 1969 Dodge Charger named General Lee did when it roared through every episode of The Dukes of Hazzard.
The Dukes of Hazzard debuted in 1979, based on a 1975 movie, The Moonrunners. Creator Gy Waldron used a similar close-knit family of free spirited moonshiners, with the key development idea to feature the Dukes boys using a race prepared 1969 Dodge Charger to evade the long arm of the law. There was much deliberation over the look of the General Lee (the name actually preceded the car itself), but the bright orange paint, confederate flag on the roof, and unusual 01 on the doors proved to be a good choice, as the legendary scheme is often copied by would-be collectors. The most common scene in the show’s 147 episodes featured Bo (John Schneider) and Luke (Tom Wopat) tearing along unpaved country roads and soaring across unfinished bridges, which Hazzard County, Georgia seemed to have plenty of.
A few details of this fabled muscle car are well-known to fans: the
doors of the 1969 Dodge Charger were welded shut (actually false) and
that there was a padded roll bar between the front and rear seats. A
fact many do not know is that there was not one General Lee Charger,
but 309 of them. The first five episodes of the show used 6 Chargers,
and repairs were made after each filming to keep them looking good
enough to use. But after that, Warner Brothers knew that a great many
more General Lee’s would be needed for this popular show. The 2nd,
3rd, and 4th season cars were produced by Andre and Renaud Valuzet, who
were also responsible for producing the police and chase vehicles
during those seasons. After the 4th season, Ken Fritz produced some of
the General Lee’s because the Valuzet’s were caught selling damaged
cars from past episodes to the public. However, Fritz was fired after
only a short time and Warner Brothers ordered all modifications to the
vehicles be done in-house.
One of the most popular aspects of the General Lee Dodge Charger is the
horn that plays the first 12 notes in the song Dixie; no replica is
complete without the familiar tune. Along with the Confederate flag on
the roof, the look and sound of the General Lee remained popular with
those residing in the southern United States as a sign of “rebel
heritage”. The background behind the tune is interesting; this key
feature was not considered during the planning of the series. While on
location, the production crew encountered a group of teenagers driving
along a back road that honked as they passed, their horn blared Dixie.
The production crew was so taken by this that they turned around and
followed the kids until they stopped. After being shown how the horn
worked, the crew members offered larger and larger sums of money until
the owner of the car agreed to remove the horn for the members of the