The Search for General Lee

From January 1979 until February of 1985, American TV watchers were treated to The Dukes of Hazzard, an action-packed sitcom centered upon two fun-loving cousins, Bo and Luke Duke. The Duke boys, despite the fact that they’re basically petty criminals, are the good guys. The authorities in Hazzard County, Georgia — Commissioner Boss Hogg and Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane — are crooked, and the Dukes are, more often than not, rebelling against that corruption. Episodes were somewhat formulaic: The Dukes would catch wind of the bad guys’ scheme, do something to thwart it, and then hop into their car in hopes of getting away. 

And that led to the best part of the episode: the car chase. 

The Dukes’ car — named “the General Lee” — was a character in its own right. The General Lee, pictured above, was a 1969 Dodge Charger, painted bright orange with the numbers 01 on its side as if it were a racecar. On its roof was a Confederate flag and the horn played the first few notes of the unofficial Confederate anthem “Dixie.” The doors were welded shut and the Dukes would enter the vehicle by hopping in through the window. Then they’d slam on the gas and drive away, going as fast as the General Lee would take them.

But getting away from the authorities wasn’t ever that easy. The Dukes typically had to drive recklessly to escape, and in almost every episode, that involved an ill-advised jump over a ditch, small cliffside, etc., as seen above. Being a television show, the “don’t try this at home” stunt would go perfectly; the General Lee would land just fine, with those inside safe and sound, and able to speed away. It made for great TV.

It did not, however, make for great automotive health.

While the General Lee on the screen survived all of its jumps, the real cars used during filming were typically damaged, and significantly so — the cars were being wrecked after almost every jump. Over the course of the 147 episodes, depending on whose episode you go by, the producers ran through at least 200 cars, and perhaps as many as 400. And that led to a problem. The latter seasons of The Dukes of Hazzard were produced in the mid-1980s, fifteen years after the 1969 Dodge Charger came and went. The studio was able to take parts from the junked cars to make some serviceable replacements, but eventually, they simply ran out of cars. 

So they went to the skies.

Producers had already scoured used car lots across the nation, buying up whatever stock they could find. That had run out, but they had hopes that some old Chargers had found homes in rural areas — literally off the beaten path. Searching areas of low population density is time-consuming, though, so they came up with another idea: they rented planes. As Screen Rant explains, the crew “went as far as conducting aerial searches to find as many Dodge Chargers as they could,” taking a birds-eye view. Once a suitable car was spotted, the producers dispatched someone to either find the owner or, if none was to be found, they simply left a flyer on the windshield inquiring about the car’s availability.

Most likely, this tactic worked. When CBS canceled the show in 1986, the producers just abandoned the set, per Mental Floss. They left behind everything — including sixteen Dodge Chargers that they never got to wreck.


Bonus fact: Not that you would but, please, do not try to jump a 1969 Dodge Charger over a ditch on your own. The Dukes of Hazzard used professional stunt drivers. And even then, they needed to use modified cars — the Charger is way too front-heavy to make the jump. As the above-linked Mental Floss article explains, “the General’s trunk was filled with sand or concrete to keep it from tipping on its nose when airborne.” 

From the Archives: How a Strange Car Accident Turned Out A-OK.