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What is the General Lee Car?

By Autolist Staff | March 11, 2019

The General Lee car used in the popular TV series Dukes of Hazzard was a 1969 or 1968 Dodge Charger. It was bright orange with a black ’01’ emblazoned on the side. It was known for crazy stunts and welded-shut doors, which required the Dukes to get in and out through the windows. The car was as much of a character in the series as the actors themselves and it appeared in every episode except one. It was named after famous Confederate Civil War general Robert E. Lee. It also featured a Confederate battle flag on its roof. The body style was a two-door coupe built on the FR B-body.

History of the General Lee Car

There are various estimates on how many versions of the General Lee car were used during the course of filming the show. Builders and a former cast member put the number at 325. Some other sources say it was around 255. Around 17 of the cars still exist with various states of repair or disrepair. Generally, more than one version of the car was used in each episode. This was due to all the stunts that destroyed quite a few cars. For example, the car constantly performed long jumps and during such a stunt, up to 1,000 pounds of concrete or sand would be placed in the trunk to balance it out. This was because the Charger had a disproportionately heavy front end that would cause it to nose-dive during jumps. Later in the series, engineers raised the front end of the car to prevent it from scraping the ramp, which caused it to lose speed. It also gave somewhat of a cushion for the landing. Stunt drivers often said the flights were fun, but the landings were not so much. Despite all the precautions, the landing of the jumps was always unpredictable. All versions of the cars used in long jumps were retired immediately due to frame damage.

Versions of the General Lee Car

The show used both 1968 and 1969 Chargers and they were converted to the General Lee styling. Builders on the show said that it wasn't difficult to find the vehicles they needed until the later years of the show. Other than in the 2005 movie, there were no 1970 Chargers used in the original show. As the show went on, it became too expensive to keep buying more Chargers to replace damaged ones. Show producers started to use old jump footage and even resorted to using radio-controlled miniatures at the end. Episodes one through five consisted of six Chargers and the first three cars were called LEE 1, LEE 2 and LEE 3. The LEE 1 car was in the second unit and it was a 1969 Charger with a 383 cubic-inch V8 engine. Its original paint was light bronze metallic and it had a tan interior. This particular car had a bad repair job done on its left quarter panel, so the chrome rocker trim was left on to cover it. It was also missing trim in some other areas. Because of this, subsequent General Lee cars were modified to match this car. LEE 2 was much the same, but it had an original blue paint job and black interior. The LEE 3 car was actually the first version built by Warner Brothers and was the one seen in press photos. Its original color was a medium green metallic. It had a 440 Magnum engine. The LEE 1 car was eventually sold for $110,000 at an auction in 2012 to professional golfer Bubba Watson.

General Lee Engines and Transmissions

The engines used in the General Lee varied. The 318, 383 and 440 cubic inch engines were used, while none of the engines in the original TV show used the 426 Hemi. In the 2005 movie, the Cooter character replaced the General Lee's engine with a 426, but the close-up cars used had 383 engines. The specially built "ski car" used a 318 engine because it was lighter than the others. The main stunt cars had either a 383 or a 440. The stunt drivers were known to prefer the 440 for jumps in particular. The sound effects in the shows gave the impression of manual transmissions, but the truth was that most had 727 TorqueFlite automatics. Only a few of the cars used actually had manual transmissions.

General Lee Entry and Exit

Another quirk of the General Lee car was that it didn't have working doors. The TV show explained it by saying that race cars featured welded shut doors. The quirk was also used for comedic effect when certain characters couldn't quite fit through the windows. It was highlighted in a particular episode when Sheriff Rosco has a fake General Lee made and tricks the Dukes into driving it. The fake was identified by its opening doors. One fun fact is that the welded shut doors weren't actually planned at the start, but during the first chase scene, the passenger side door handle got damaged and couldn't be opened. This caused one of the characters to climb in through the window, and the director liked the scene so much that he decided to go with it. This is also why the LEE 1 and LEE 2 cars had full roll cages, but all the other versions of the car just had roll bars. The bars allowed the actors to get in and out easier.

Exhaust System and Tires

The exhaust system on the General Lee car was usually pretty basic. Some versions had glasspack mufflers, but most were just standard with a cut pipe just before the rear end. Most of the California episodes feature a version of the car with Thrush brand glasspacks. The exhaust systems were on the cars used for close-ups and the sound was dubbed in later after the scene was filmed. The tires on the General Lee were also fairly varied, but the most common one was the B.F. Goodrich Radial T/A. The usual size was P235/70R14, but P235/70R15 was also used as well as Winston Winner tires.

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