The Greatest Generation marks time by V-J and V-E Day. Baby Boomers by the first time they saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. For Gen X’ers, it’s the first time they heard the opening chords of Waylon Jennings’ guitar on the first episode of The Dukes of Hazzard, which first aired on CBS 40 years ago this week. We’ve put together eight interesting highlights from the show:
The Entire Show’s Premise Was a Rehash of a B-Movie
Screenwriter and director Gy Waldron created The Dukes of Hazzard, but six years before, he created and directed a drive-in B-movie called Moonrunners. The elevator pitch for the movie went like this:
An unseen Balladeer (Waylon Jennings), introduces and narrates the story of two cousins, Grady and Bobby Lee Hagg, who run shine for their uncle Jesse Hagg of Shiloh County.
Cousin Bobby Lee is named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Cousin Grady runs a 1955 Chevy stock car (named “Traveler” after General Lee’s horse). They race against other local good ol’ boys, including a guy named “Cooter.”
The Hagg boys run afoul of the county boss, Jake Rainey, who owns the local bar and brothel, The Boar’s Nest. The Boss hassles the cousins through Sheriff Rosco Coltrane, to harass the cousins. At the same time he uses Zeebo, and Reba (Jake’s wife who is having an affair with Grady) to goad the boys into a trap. To avenge Uncle Jesse’s death, the cousins — who are on probation and cannot own guns — use a bow with explosive arrows to put Jake Rainey’s moonshining factory out of business.
That story seems familiar, but we just can’t place where we’ve heard it before. Moonrunners was remarkable not only for this, but for starring James Mitchum, son and doppleganger of his father, Robert Mitchum, with whom he starred in another classic ‘shine-runner flick, Thunder Road.
Somewhere Between 230 and 330 1968 to 1969 Dodge Chargers Were Destroyed In The Series
The Dukes of Hazzard ran from 1979 to 1985. During that time, the production used somewhere between 250 and 355 1968 and 1969 Dodge Chargers. Of those, only 17 are accounted for. The production used up about a car an episode during the jumps and stunts.
The General Lee Charger was a 1969 model year, but during the course of production, car builders used 1968 and 1969 Chargers, and often mocked up the cars with 1969 model year grilles. No 1970 Chargers were used until the 2005 film reboot.
At the beginning of production, the oldest 1968 to 1969 Chargers were only 11 years old, and were pretty much considered just used cars. Today, the Hagerty Price Guide puts the average value of a 440-powered 1968 Dodge Charger at $49,100. When actor John Schneider — who played Bo Duke in the series — sold his Charger that had been used in the show, bids went up to $10 million.
The General’s Secret was Sand
If you’ve ever had a car off the ground — and who hasn’t — you’d know that an American car with a cast-iron engine will nose-dive, thanks to uneven weight distribution.
With as much as 60 percent of its weight shoved right up front, a 1968 Charger’s nose would’ve landed long before the wheels ever touched the ground. To combat the issue, jump cars had somewhere between 500 and 1,000 pounds of sand or concrete ballast in the trunk to help the cars fly a little more predictably.
Even then, cars would dig in. In slow motion, you can see fenders creasing. Cars used on the big jumps immediately went out of service due to major structural damage.
The Charger That Famously Jumps Rosco Coltrane’s Police Cruiser Showed Up in Another Episode
In the opening credits, the General Lee jumps Rosco P. Coltrane’s police cruiser:
That was the original “LEE 1” second unit car, with a full roll cage. That car was stripped of what was left of its grille, the front seats and the rear taillamps and surround, and ended up being used again in Episode 4 of the first season, entitled “Repo Men.”
The First General Lees Were Different
The first few General Lees were slightly different than the cars that came later, and they were revised over the next few seasons to make the cars easier to reproduce.
You can just make out two of the biggest differences in this photo: The most obvious is the vinyl roof trim at the base of the C-pillar. These cars originally had vinyl roofs, which were removed and painted, but the vinyl roof trim stayed. Chargers that didn’t have vinyl roofs would not have had that chrome trim strip.
It’s faint in the photo above, but these first few cars also had crossed-flag decals on the valence panel between the rear window and the decklid. You can see the trim better in this model of the first episode car:
There’s a Starsky & Hutch Ford Torino in Episode 1, Season 1
In that scene where you can see the vinyl roof trim and the crossed flags, there’s a car made famous in another TV series, the Ford Torino from Starsky & Hutch.
There’s no official story on the car, but a lot of hearsay and speculation suggests that it wasn’t one of the original cars from the popular TV show. That show was produced in Hollywood, while the original episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard were produced in Conyers, Georgia.
The “Striped Tomato” Ford Torino was wildly popular with show fans, to the point that Ford “announced a limited production run of 1,000 Starsky/Hutch 1976 Gran Torinos, each finished in 2B Bright Red with a white vector side stripe, dual racing mirrors and a deluxe bumper group,” according to the Hemmings Blog.
A total of 1,308 of those Starsky & Hutch cars were built, and the suspicion is that this was probably one of them, recruited from a crew member on the shoot in Georgia.
General Lee Rental Fees Paid To Restore Gene Autry’s Ranch
From the second season to the fourth season, General Lees were built by Andre and Renaud Veluzat. Confounding to Dukes of Hazzard fans, these cars are the ones that have the most inconsistencies. The Veluzats charged Warner Brothers $250 per week to rent the cars they built, plus $2,000 to $3,000 per car that was completely destroyed.
It was a pretty substantial paycheck in the Malaise Era, and the Veluzats put it to good use. They used a lot of the proceeds to restore Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch, a 110-acre estate in Placerita Canyon near Newhall, California that the cowboy star purchased in 1953. He named it Melody Ranch after his radio show and 1940 film of the same name. Melody Ranch was used in many 1950s films, and it included two 11,000-foot soundstages.
A brush fire swept through the ranch in 1963, destroying many of the exterior western sets, but the soundstages and several other buildings survived. When Autry’s horse “Champion” — who lived at the ranch — died, Autry put the facility up for sale and the Veluzats purchased it. They set about restoring the facility. Since, it’s been used in films and television productions from HBO’s Deadwood to Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
The Production Used Aircraft to Locate Chargers For the Show
As the show went deeper into the mid-1980s, Chargers got harder and harder to find. Not only were the roughly 190,000 1968 to 1969 Dodge Chargers now getting older and more collectible, but they were more popular than ever thanks to the television show.
In order to locate Chargers in junkyards and back lots before the advent of Google Earth, the production contracted pilots with small aircraft to fly over the countryside and spot any boneyard B-Bodies.