To anybody of a certain age, the opening chords of the theme song are instantly recognizable: Singer/songwriter/narrator Waylon Jennings was fixin’ to give you another episode of them Duke Boys. Both the song and the series ended up enjoying enormous popularity, such that it sustained seven seasons between 1979 and 1985. The nominal stars of the show were Tom Wopat as Luke Duke and John Schnieder as Bo Duke, but as any fan will tell you, the show was actually dominated by two others: Katherine Bach as Daisy Duke and a hotrod 1969 Dodge Charger known as the General Lee. At the time, Daisy was clearly the more interesting of the two, but, sadly, we are only here to talk about the Dodge.
As most folks reading this will know, the plots were very loosely the same: Bo and Luke were probationers from having run moonshine, but they fought local criminals and corruption there in fictional Hazzard County, largely by driving rings around them. They were former stock car racers, as so many actual moonshiners were to begin with, and they put those skills to use by bombing down dirt roads at insane speed, pulling outrageous power slides and, of course, most of all, doing severe jumps to save the day.
As it turns out, you can’t actually do that. Well, I mean, you can, but not with anything intact, let alone salvageable, at the end of it. Subframes buckled and broke, floorpans ripped, A-arms blew, tie rod ends exploded, tires went catastrophic, rocker panels twisted. But as a result of this unsustainable behavior, the series was wildly popular, ending up as many as 21 million viewers (a now-still-huge number, but then, an outrageous one), thus supporting 147 episodes. And in the process, the franchise devoured at least 309 1969 Chargers, and perhaps as many as 350 — sources vary. As the seasons progressed, ‘69 Chargers became hard enough to find that the film crew began taking ‘68’s and modifying the grille and taillights to look like ‘69’s. Bottom line: damn few survived.
Which inevitably brings us one of North America’s most rabid movie car gurus: Brian Grams. Brian knows more, in almost shocking encyclopedic detail, about more movie cars than very few people ever will. But he came by it honestly, because he owns them. Or, well, chicken-and-the-egg: He owns them because he knows. Hell, you get the idea. He is the third generation in a family that owns a place, now nationally-known, as the Volo Auto Museum, located unsurprisingly in Volo, Ill.
In a family known for scooping up, restoring and displaying collectors’ cars, he brought a new facet to it. He wanted movie cars. Now, honey hush, that wasn’t just his profession. It was his pathological obsession, which is a good thing, because it accrued to the lasting benefit of the rest of us. He relentlessly hunts down the cars he wants, then documents them to the point where the rest of us collapse from hypoxia. And in the process, he is one of the nicest, unassuming guys you could ever meet.
It turns out that the history of many if not most movie cars ends up as a detective story. Post-production, generally, nobody cared. They were crushed, scrapped, parted out, buried, given away and, in odd and improper cases, re-VIN’d and sold. The story of Brian’s General Lee certainly has flavors of that. But for full context, we have to go back to Georgia in 1979
They started the Dukes in Georgia, budget less than anybody might like. They filmed the first five episodes there, and built only six cars to do it. Between success and money, they then decided to move the filming to the land of the San Andreas fault. Once there, the car-build changed, more expedient. But the Georgia cars were different: real, hand-painted graphics. Real Dixie horns. Lots more attention compared to what followed.
Three of those original six cars went west. The sixth one didn’t. Warner Brothers owed money to their “Transportation Coordinator” and instead of just cutting a check, they gave him General Lee No. 6. Anyway, within a year, 1980, he put it on Auto Trader, probably the first-ever real General Lee ad. Rumor is that the guy who bought it got the deal of the century at $4,400. It went from him to another guy, then to Brian, who gave it a loving home.
The car is in its unrestored condition, as built by the Georgia crew. It is the only surviving Georgia car. Besides the immaculate paperwork, Brian personally interviewed five people involved in its built, just to be sure. Because, well, Brian.
From a tech side, it’s pretty straight forward: It was originally 1969 Dodge Charger 318 car, and for the filming Warner Brothers swapped in a 360. Yes, not our preferred big-block or Hemi, but for what they were doing, it didn’t have to be. And most critically, it’s authentic. Brakes are Dodge original drums all the way around. Not good, but good enough. As to chassis, it looks like it has a real six-point bar. Turns out that Brian figured out that when Lee One hammered in — and it had a real system — they torched out the key segments and just cosmetically pieced them in to this one.
What could possibly make this any better? One word: Daisy. It turns out, that out of the blue, the actual, no-kidding Daisy Duke called Brian to ask if she could join him in a meet-and-greet event he was hosting. Brian to Brian: “Is this a trick question, or what?” Well, as Waylon might tell us, right there, you might as well quit. Life simply doesn’t get better than having Daisy Duke asking to join you and your original General Lee. For even more info, check out volocars.com. Also, 1969 was a good year for cars. Be sure to check out our feature on the 1969 Yenko Nova.