The General Lee is the 1969 Dodge Charger driven by the Duke cousins Bo and Luke in the television series The Dukes of Hazzard and the subsequent films. It is known for performing wild 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 all but one episode of the series (the third broadcast, Mary Kaye's Baby). The car's name is a reference to Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and indeed the vehicle embodies the Southern United States, as it bears a Confederate Battle Flag on its roof and a horn which plays the first 12 notes of the song "Dixie".
The idea for the General Lee was developed from the famous bootlegger Jerry Rushing's car, nicknamed Traveller, after General Robert E. Lee's horse. Traveller was also the name of the Hagg cousins' car in Moonrunners, the 1975 movie from which The Dukes of Hazzard was originally developed for television.
The General Lee from The Dukes Of Hazzard TV Show
In 1976, Bo was just getting out High School and Luke was getting out of the Marine Corps. Excited about one of Boss Hogg's road races they wanted this to be the year that they 'break the streak' and win the race. They had the souped up engine, now they just need the car. Together they buy an old black Dodge Charger at a junk yard in Capitol City. They bring the car back to Hazzard County Garage, where Cooter helps them drop the engine in and restore it. Cooter also supplied the unique orange paint (it was all that he had, in a quantity sufficient enough to paint a car with).
It was orange with a rebel flag painted on the roof, the words "GENERAL LEE" over each side window, and the number "01" on each door. In the first episode ("One Armed Bandits"), a Confederate Flag crossed with a checkered racing flag can be seen behind the rear window. The name "GENERAL LEE" refers to the Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Since it was built as a race car, a rollbar was installed, the doors were welded shut, and the windows were always left open for easy access in and out of the car. Throughout the run of the show, an estimated 309 (the "LEE 1" website says 321) General Lees were used. At least 23 are still known to exist in various states of repair. A replica was owned by John Schneider (Bo), known as "Bo's General Lee". In 2008 Schneider sold "Bo's General Lee" at the Barrett-Jackson automobile auction for $450,000. The show also used 1968 Chargers (which shared the same body design) by changing the grille and taillight panel to the 1969 style, and removing the round side marker lights. These Chargers performed many record-breaking jumps throughout the show, almost all of them resulting in a completely destroyed car. The Duke boys had added a custom air horn to the General which played the first 12 notes of the song Dixie. Warner Brothers purchased several Chargers for stunts, as they generally destroyed at least one or two cars per episode. By the end of the show's sixth season, the Chargers were becoming harder to find, and more expensive, so the producers used radio-controlled miniatures or recycled stock jump footage. The third episode, "Mary Kaye's Baby", is the only episode of the entire series' run (barring the opening and closing credits) that the General Lee does not appear in. In that episode, Bo and Luke drove around in a blue 1975 Plymouth Fury that they borrowed from Cooter (which unbenownst to them he'd loaded with moonshine to deliver for Boss Hogg, a slip-up that could have wrecked their probation) that Luke later blew up with a stick of dynamite during a duel with some mobsters.
Although the exact number of General Lees used varies from different sources, according to Ben Jones (Cooter), as well as builders involved with the show, 256 General Lees were used during filming. Others claim about 321 were used. Approximately 23 still exist today in various states of repair. On average, more than one General Lee was used per episode. 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 nose diving. Later in the series, the mechanics would raise the front end of the car to keep it from scraping against the ramp upon impact, which would cause a considerable decrease in speed. 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 (on a DVD player, using slower playback settings will reveal that on many of the jumps, the cars' frames bent upon impact.) All cars used in large jumps were immediately retired due to structural damage.
From 1979 to 1985, both 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. Also, a list containing a Vehicle Identification Number for each Charger used as a General Lee was given to Wayne Wooten of the Dodge Charger Registry; no 1970 models were listed. Obtaining cars was not an issue 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 became too hard and/or expensive to continue procuring more Chargers, the producers started using more jump footage from previous episodes (something that had only been done sparingly in earlier seasons), and in the final season, according to various interviews and segments on the DVD releases, radio-controlled miniatures were occasionally used to the chagrin of several cast members.
The first five episodes of the show were filmed in the Georgia towns of Covington and Conyers during November and December 1978. For the Georgia episodes, six Dodge Chargers were purchased. The first General Lees were built by Warner Brothers and shipped to Georgia where picture car coordinator John Marendi labeled the first 3 cars LEE 1, LEE 2, and LEE 3 in no particular order for film editing purposes. LEE 1 was a second unit car with a full rollcage. It was powered by a 383 V8 and was equipped with air conditioning. It was originally painted Code T3 Light Bronze Metallic with tan interior, had a three speaker dash, and chrome rocker trim. After the now-famous jump over Rosco P. Coltrane's police cruiser in front of Seney Hall at Oxford College (performed by stuntman Craig Baxley), it was stripped of its front seats and 1969 grille and taillight panel. LEE 1 was used once more as the Richard Petty tire test car in the fourth episode Repo Men, and afterwards was retired to a junkyard in Georgia. It was later bought and miraculously restored to its original condition. LEE 2 was also a 2nd unit car with a full rollcage 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 after Cooter had stolen it. During this chase, LEE 2 is shown making a jump (the second that Baxley performed). LEE 3 was the first unit close-up car and the second General Lee built by Warner Brothers, and can be seen in the first publicity photos for the series. It was an R/T SE (Special Edition) model. It was powered by a 440 Magnum V8 and also had A/C with power windows and a woodgrain 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 realizing that Lee1's paint appeared blotchy because it was applied direct over factory paint. Eventually the first three 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 taillight panel, front grille, and front seats were taken from LEE 1. The paint used on these cars was Chrysler EV2, aka Hemi Orange. Interiors not originally tan were sprayed with SEM brand "Saddle tan" vinyl dye. The first three 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 four sets were created, only three were used. They were discontinued due to difficulty with continuity of the General Lee's graphics, making it one less thing to be used. The three surviving cars went back to California and had the crossed flags removed upon reconditioning. The wheels on all Lees throughout the entire series were 14" x 7" American Racing Vectors rims and were 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 2nd season into the 4th 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 (TV series 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 a 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 an issue: 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 looked too fake. 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 Motion Picture
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 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). In an era of Political Correctness, the Confederate flag on the roof is made an object of conflict in the movie 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 flips them the bird. Mystified, Bo and Luke slide out of the windows so they could sit on the windowsill to look at the roof and, to their horror, discover the flag. In the second incident, the Dukes wind up with coaldust 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 twenty-four 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 are 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. Overall the cars resembled an average General Lee clone car from the late 1990s to early 2000s, but the overall flavor of the General Lee is still obvious.
Movie car list:
- 001 - 1968 - 2nd Unit - Tilting Arm
- 002 - 1968 - 1st Unit - Hero - Hemi (TV series "close-up" car owned by Warner Brothers)
- 003 - 1969 - 2nd Unit - Remote Drive Vehicle
- 004 - 1969 - 2nd Unit - Buck
- 005 - 1969 - 2nd Unit - Stunt Driver
- 006 - 1969 - 2nd Unit - Sling car
- 007 - 1969 - 2nd Unit - Go mobile
- 008 - 1970 - 2nd Unit - Buck
- 009 - 1969 - 1st Unit - Hero Car
- 010 - 1969 - 2nd Unit - Stunt Driver
- 011 - 1968 - 2nd Unit - Sling Car
- 012 - 1969 - 1st Unit - Pre Cooter - Hero
- 013 - 1969 - 2nd Unit - Remote Drive Vehicle
- 014 - 1968 - 1st Unit - Pre Cooter - Hero A/C
- 015 - 1968 - 2nd Unit - Jump Car
- 016 - 1968 - 1st Unit - Hero Car
- 017 - 1969 - 2nd Unit - Soft Jump Car
- 018 - 1968 - 2nd Unit - Buck
- 019 - 1968 - 1st Unit - Pre Cooter - Hero
- 020 - 1969 - 2nd Unit - Stunt Driver
- 021 - 1969 - 2nd Unit - Stunt Driver
- 022 - 1969 - 2nd Unit - Pre Cooter
- 023 - 1969 - 2nd Unit - Stunt Driver
- 024 / #50 - 1969 - 2nd Unit - Buck
- 025 / #51 - 1970 - 2nd Unit - Jump Car
- 026 / #115 - 1969 - 2nd Unit - Parts Car
- 027 / #126 - 1969 - 2nd Unit - Spare
- 028 / #127 - 1970 - 2nd Unit - Sling Car
Eleven of the cars used for the movie had been purchased from the Luedtke Auto Group. Many of the cars needed extensive restoration and most had been cut up to allow for inside camera views.
Two of the Lees (a 1969 R/T SE and a 1970 that was converted to 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. In the outtakes featured on the DVD release, one other car is seen making a nose dive onto the freeway and going into the guard rail. That car DID NOT make it into the final cut of the movie. Barton's car makes a nearly 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 the crew needed a car that was already distresed looking, and since it would be shot from the rear only, it could be incorporated with other scenes in the movie. Both cars were returned to Barton. The 1969 remained in its original condition after filming wrapped, with the exception of parts that were swapped to and from other General Lees.
Engines in the TV show General Lees varied. 318, 383, and 440 CID V8s were used. However, the close-up Lees were powered by 383s. The special purpose built "ski car" (the car that was used for stunts involving driving on the left 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 and longer jumps. Also, though early sound effects lead 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 383 with a 426 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 for safety reasons. 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 climb in through 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 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 glasspack. The sounds came from the exhaust systems fitted to the close-up cars. The parts used were Blackjack headers, dual exhausts, and the aforementioned Thrush mufflers. However, the sounds were dubbed in after the scene was filmed.
Tires used on the General Lees were mainly supplied by Winston. The tire model was the Winston Winner. Some BF Goodriches were noted as being used from time to time, but Winston Winners were the main tires used on these vehicles, primarily because Winstons had the best warranty. When the Lees performed their massive stunts, they would take quite a toll on the tires. Winston's warranty stipulated that if ANYTHING happened to the tires, they were replaced free of charge.
For the Winston and BF Goodrich tires, the most common size was P235/70R14 and/or P235/70R15.
Salvaged LEE 1
LEE 1 was salvaged out of a Georgia junkyard in August 2001 by Travis Bell, president of the North American General Lee Fan Club, and Gary Schneider. The car has since been fully restored to its original screen condition. It was officially unveiled to the public November 11, 2006 with John Schneider behind the wheel.
- 1969 Dodge Charger R/T 'General Lee' at www.imcdb.org
- Georgia Era Information at dukesofhazzardhistorian.com
- Facebook site by Dukes of Hazzard County
- David Barry: The General Lee: Brawny, tough, sleek, macho, muscular - and smashed every week, TV Guide, May 1, 1982
- 2005 Dukes of Hazzard Thrillbilly Zone at www.01fun.net