It’s 1978 and a stuntman launches a 1969 Dodge Charger up a ramp and over a police car for a scene on a TV show. No wonder the car is a total loss. But the 25-foot, 5-foot jump makes for a memorable moment in television history. The vehicle is the General Lee, arguably one of television’s most famous cars, and the show is “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
The CBS network television series would run from 1979 to 1985 and featured approximately 329 General Lees, a car as famous as the show’s Daisy Dukes, the name of the short, tight cropped jeans Catherine Bach wore in her role as Daisy. Duke.
Dodge creates an icon
The Dodge Charger debuted in 1966 as a sportier two-door version of the mid-size Dodge Coronet. The hardtop coupe had a fastback roofline, hidden headlights, and an interior with bucket seats and a center console.
Dodge’s long-lived 230-horsepower 5.2-liter V-8 was standard, but buyers could choose a 265-horsepower 5.9-liter V-8, 325-horsepower 6.3-liter V-8 with dual exhausts, or a 425 horsepower 5.2-liter V-8 with dual exhausts. 7.0-liter Hemi V-8 with dual four-barrel carburetors and dual exhausts. All engines came with a three-speed manual transmission. A four-speed manual or three-speed TorqueFlite automatic were optional.
The Charger didn’t change again until 1968 when it was redesigned along with Coronet as its sportier sibling. Now with rounded sheet metal below the car’s beltline, the new “fuselage” style would be used on all Chrysler Corporation models well into the 1970s. For the Charger, it gave the car a simpler look, one that worked well with the Coke bottle waistline. It retained its trademark hidden headlights, but now had a flying buttress roofline, which replaced, but still remembered, the ungainly fastback of the previous model.
Sales improved dramatically, reaching 96,100 units, much more than the 1967 total of 15,788. Engine choices remained the same, except for the addition of a 375 horsepower 7.2-liter Magnum V-8. Power steering, power brakes, power door locks, heavy duty differential, cruise control, air conditioning, tilt/telescopic steering, dual exhaust, an AM radio, tachometer and a vinyl roof were among the options.
The only major change to the Charger for 1969 was the inclusion of the Charger Daytona, a vehicle designed to steal Ford’s NASCAR championship. It sported a 60 cm long extended nose cone, a 90 cm high rear wing and curved rear window. The other change was the option of a 145 bhp 3.7 liter Slant Six, although only 500 were sold.
But it was the star of the show on the Dukes of Hazzard that made it a cultural star.
It’s not high art
The premise of the show is well known. Cousins Bo and Luke Duke (played by actors John Schneider and Tom Wopat, respectively) are in constant trouble with the officials of fictional Hazzard County, Georgia, led by corrupt Boss Jefferson Davis Hogg and his sidekick Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane. The Duke boys have their fair share of help from their cousin Daisy and Uncle Jesse.
But it’s the car chases, a staple of 1970s moviemaking, that prove to be an important part of the show, and the star was General Lee, an orange 1969 Dodge Charger with a Confederate flag on it. the roof, a horn that says “I Wish I Was in Dixie” and the numbers 01 on the doors. Inside, a Citizens Band Radio keeps the boys in touch with Uncle Jesse.
The series was created by Gy Waldronwho had written and directed a schlock action movie called “Moonrunners” in 1975. In it, Grady and Bobby Lee run moonshine for their Uncle Jesse. Like the later TV show, country singer Waylon Jennings is the balladeer. Sounds familiar?
The car everyone remembers
Throughout the series’ seven seasons, the 1969 Chargers were decade-old used cars, not collectibles, and since Dodge built 89,700, they were easy to find, at least in the beginning. Each car was equipped with a roll cage, heavy-duty shocks and springs, and custom brakes to easily allow for a 180-degree “Bootleggers’ Turn.”
But when producers destroyed their stock of Dodge Chargers because of stunt work, they created a shortage of 1969 Dodge Chargers in the final years of the series. So, in a fit of desperation, producers went looking for 1969 Dodge Chargers in parking lots and asked owners if they wanted to sell them. It did not work.
So producers switched to using orange AMC ambassadors or shooting miniatures.
Nevertheless, General Lee proved popular. During the show’s initial run, the car received about 35,000 fan letters a month, quite a fan base for an inanimate object.
Why the car was popular
The Charger survived into the 1970s and became a personal luxury coupe as its performance and popularity declined, a trend that began with a disastrous redesign in 1971. It was replaced by the Magnum for 1979, the year “The Dukes of Hazzard” debuted . By then, high insurance costs and government regulations had relegated the muscle cars of the 1960s to history. The American landscape was changing.
Proof came in 1981, when the Dodge Charger ignominiously resurfaced as a subcompact three-door hatchback powered by a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that produced just 84 horsepower. The name was retired in 1987 and resurfaced in 2005 on a rear-wheel drive sedan. The same year it became a movie starring Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, Jessica Simpson, Burt Reynolds, Willie Nelson and Lynda Carter.
For Charger fans, General Lee upheld traditional values in a transforming American landscape, a charming cultural relic of the 1980s. To others, the show was racist for its use of the Confederate symbols, be it the Confederate flag, the “Dixie” car horn, or names like General Lee and Jefferson Davis. The controversy was sparked by a white supremacist who in 2015 murdered nine worshipers at a historic African-American church in South Carolina while carrying a Confederate flag. The massacre sparked a wave of protest as Confederate symbols became a cultural abomination. As a result, the show’s reruns on cable network TV Land were cancelled.
But the show still has fans, including Schneider, whose replica of the General Lee was badly damaged by Hurricane Ida earlier this year.
“That car is me,” he told The Daily Mail.