From 1979 to 1985, a television spinoff of the movie Moonrunners, starring Tom Wopat as Luke Duke and John Schneider as Bo Duke, became very popular – not for the actors but for the car used in the series.
The “General Lee”, an orange/red 1969 Dodge Charger with the Confederate battle flag painted on the roof, named after the famed Confederate general, usually stole the show.
The car would jump rivers, roads, hills, and other cars, and land perfectly to race off at high speeds. In reality, the jumps would damage the cars so severely that they had to be scrapped, usually at least one or two cars per episode.
In the beginning, a couple of cars were wrecked by flipping over during a jump until ballast, in the form of sand bags or concrete, was put in the trunk. It is believed, according to Road & Track, that more than 300 1969 Dodge Chargers were totaled during the run of the show, many because of bent frames from jumping.
If, by some chance, a stuntman actually lost control, the film of the accident was written into the show. Because of the number of cars that were destroyed, the producers had people going through parking lots and flying over residential homes offering to buy any 1969 Dodge Chargers that were found.
AMC Ambassadors were redone to look like Chargers for some episodes. It got to the point that 1968, 1970, and 1971 Chargers were modified to look like the 1969 version; cars that would have normally been scrapped were fixed just enough to jump them again — some even had the engine and transmission taken out and were pushed into the jump; old footage was used; and finally, some jump scenes were filmed using miniatures, which was not supported by the actors. Some of the wrecked cars were cut up for interior shots but more than 200 were crushed in junkyards.
When the Dukes of Hazzard was canceled, there were still 18 General Lees on the CBS lot. They sat for about five years until someone had the idea of selling them off.
All but one were sold to private collectors. In 2001, the original General Lee was found in a junkyard, bought and restored, and sold to a professional golfer, Bubba Watson, for over $100,000.
Watson displayed the car at various functions. When he announced that he would be painting over the Confederate flag on the roof, the director of the Volo Auto Museum in Illinois, Brian Grams, offered to buy the car from Watson but was turned down.
Warner Bros. stopped manufacturing toy General Lees in 2015 due to the flag — once seen as a symbol of rebelliousness and a quest for independence — having gained a negative association with slavery and hatred in recent years.
The creation of the battle flag was to differentiate between the two armies in battle because the actual flag of the Confederacy looked too much like the Stars and Stripes.
According to Ben Jones who played “Cooter” on the show, “I think all of Hazzard Nation understands that the Confederate battle flag is the symbol that represents the indomitable spirit of independence which keeps us ‘makin’ our way the only way we know how.”
According to Tampa’s News Channel 8 website, John Schneider remarked “I take exception to those who say that the flag on General Lee should always be considered a symbol of racism. Is the flag used as such in other applications? Yes, but certainly not on the Dukes.”
Jones has founded a chain of stores, Cooter’s Place, in Nashville and Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Luray, Virginia selling Dukes of Hazzard memorabilia, clothing, toys, and household goods as well as Confederate flags, clothing, and other items.
Jones also organizes events featuring the cast from the television show and the music of Tom Wopat and Whey Jennings (son of country music star Waylon Jennings). Jones is currently working on a documentary about the making of the Dukes of Hazzard television series.
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No matter what your stance on the flag controversy on the car, it is impossible to deny that a 1969 Dodge Charger with the doors welded shut made quite an impact on American culture.