For people of a certain age the Dodge Charger 440 R/T "General Lee" will undoubtedly elicit a warm, fuzzy nostalgic glow inside. Back in the 1980s, time for 10 and 11-year-old boys (and it almost always was boys) would stand still for a while every Saturday afternoon. A familiar guitar intro preluded the smoky tones of Waylon Jennings singing ‘Good Ol’ Boys’, as a lurid orange American car seemingly bereft of headlights sailed into slo-mo view. The latest episode of The Dukes of Hazzard had begun, and all was well with the world.
We all had our favourite characters (usually cited in the playground the following Monday as the eye-poppingly leggy Daisy Duke), but for many of us, the real star had the fewest lines, but the best moves the 1969 Dodge Charger 440 R/T, better known as the General Lee.
Dodge has had a long relationship with the big screen over the years, what with the white Challengers in Vanishing Point and Death Proof, and the black Chargers in Bullitt and, er, Death Proof (again). The General Lee is different, though late 1960s Chargers always seem to be mired in serious, moody movie storylines, but the TV General was almost a comic character, leaping hither and yon at the drop of a stetson and driving everywhere on full opposite lock, bootlid-mounted whiplash CB aerial bouncing wildly.
Over 300 Chargers are thought to have been used throughout the series’ near-eight-year run but fewer than 25 are known to have survived the pounding the repeated jumps inflicted upon them. The most famous of these – LEE 1 – was the very first General Lee to appear on TV, and made the famous leap over Sheriff Roscoe P Coltrane’s police cruiser at the end of the opening credits.
The Warner Brothers film studio built most of the cars, apart from a brief spell when they were built by the Veluzat brothers and then a specialist called Ken Fritz, and while cars in the earlier series were routinely retired after one or two jumps, later cars were recycled as much as possible when sources of donor cars began to dry up. At one point, WB got so desperate that it experimented with radio controlled miniature models for the jump scenes, and apparently even re-used jump footage from earlier episodes.