One of the most popular American muscle cars that appeared in television is the General Lee or the modified orange 1969 Dodge Charger that was driven by the cousins Bo and Luke Duke in the hit television series “The Dukes of Hazzard” that ran from 1979 to 1985.
General Lee is known for the chases and stunts, especially high jumps, in almost every episode. With the doors welded shut like a NASCAR race car, the Duke boys had to climb in and out of the car through the windows. The car’s name is a reference to the Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee and it embodies the Southern United States, bearing as it does a Confederate naval jack on its roof and a horn which plays the melody from the first line of the song “Dixie”.
During the seven seasons of the show’s filming, between 256 to 321 Dodge Chargers were used in the series with more than one car wrecked per show. When filming a jump, anywhere from 500 to 1,000 pounds of sand bags or concrete ballasts were placed in the trunk to prevent the car from nosing over. Stunt drivers reported 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. All the cars used in large jumps were immediately retired due to structural damage.
Obtaining Dodge Chargers was not a problem in the early ’80s until later years. By that time, the General Lee has become the star of the show and, in 1983, Warner Brothers controlled construction of the cars in-house to keep the cars consistent in appearance. Later in the show’s run, when it got too hard and/or expensive to buy more 1968 to 1970 Dodge Chargers, the producers started using more jump footage from previous episodes.
Currently, only about seven of the original TV series General Lees exists. One of the original cars was salvaged out of a Georgia junkyard in August 2001, restored to its on-screen appearance, and was unveiled in November 11, 2006 with actor John Schneider, who played Bo Duke in the original TV series, behind the wheel. The fully restored and autographed General Lee was sold at the Barrett-Jackson auction in March 21, 2008 for $450,000 or about P22.5 Million.
As a car-crazy teenager when the TV series was being shown in the Philippines in the mid-80’s, I dreamed of someday owning a General Lee. In 1993, I came close to my dream when I was able to drive, but cannot afford, an orange 1969 Charger, albeit with a puny slant 6-cylinder instead of a monster Hemi 426 V8 motor. Nowadays, finding a 1968-70 Charger and converting it into a General Lee is a very expensive proposition. But if you really MUST have a General Lee, it would be more feasible to have the next best thing – a scale model replica.
I was able to get an ERTL “American Muscle” 1:18 scale die cast model of the General Lee (a 1969 Dodge Charger R/T) by trading another model car with a friend who was more into collecting scale model European sports cars than American movie and TV cars. The ERTL model car came without a box because my friend had the General Lee displayed on his shelf. You can still actually buy 1:18 General Lee models that are made by other manufacturers such as Joy Ride, but these will have a tan interior instead of the black ones that ERTL models like mine have.
ERTL faithfully replicated the original TV car from the orange color to the “01” numbers on the doors down to the front black bush bar or ram bar, which we Filipinos always refer to as the “bull bar“. Like the TV car, the doors of the model car cannot be opened. The wheels are replicas of the TV car’s American Racing Rocket Vector mag wheels but they’re a bit too shiny for my taste. The Confederate flag on the roof is accurate as the font of “General Lee”, but the script is a bit bigger and longer in scale compared to the letters on the actual car. If this model had a horn that blasts “Dixie”, it would have been a collector’s dream.
Inside, the black interior includes two front bucket seats, the rear bench seat and a roll bar, just like in the original TV General Lee. The dashboard replicates the instrumentation of a high-end Dodge Charger R/T model with the padded 3-spoke steering wheel and the 4-speed stick shift. It’s actually a little disappointing under the hood where there’s what appears to be a 440 Dodge V8 with a large silver air cleaner that looks like a cold air induction unit that gets air from near the base of the windshield. The ignition distributor looks barren and incomplete without the spark plug wires while the alternator looks like its a chrome aftermarket part. But these minor lapses are nothing that a meticulous model car hobbyist can’t fix in a lazy afternoon under ECQ – except I am not that meticulous hobbyist. I just want to look at my model cars and enjoy them.
So, there you have it – my ERTL American Muscle 1969 Dodge Charger R/T also known as (aka) the General Lee. It’s been more than 30 years since I’ve dreamed of having an actual General Lee in my garage. After the opportunity of driving a ’69 Charger back in 1993, I realized that it’s a big, long and bulky American car. I guess having the next best thing – this 1:18 scale die cast replica – is one way, albeit a cheaper way, of realizing that dream. And it’s one that you can just park on a shelf.