In the world of celebrity cars, few are as iconic as the eye-searing orange 1969 Dodge Charger from the 1980s "Dukes of Hazard" television series.
Easily recognizable by the Confederate naval jack painted on the roof, the blocky "01" script on the doors and its Dixie-trumpeting horn, this four-wheeled star rivaled the fame and popularity of its human co-stars.
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Given the name "General Lee," the Charger is most remembered for its on-screen leaps, launching over ravines, rivers, barns and pretty much anything else Bo and Luke Duke encountered while tearing up the backwoods of Hazzard County, Georgia. The frame-crunching landings destroyed many Chargers, but for those who have always wanted an up-close look at this TV icon, a particularly special one is parked at the Volo Auto Museum in Volo.
"We had a replica on display but we always wanted to upgrade to the real deal," said Brian Grams, the museum's director. "In 2002 we came across a heavily banged-up example in Australia. It had an on-screen pedigree and we happily purchased it."
However, the seller failed to mention one major issue that had massive ramifications for the museum. In 1991, a buyer purchased the surviving, but heavily smashed up, 17 General Lee cars from Warner Brothers. The studio required that buyer to sign and enforce a contract that forbids the cars from any commercial or profiting use. The binding contract would follow the car to each new owner.
"It wasn't long after our display was announced that we were contacted and asked to pull the exhibit," Grams said.
That Charger was later sold, but the vigilant museum staff kept a watchful eye out. Their vigilance paid off in 2005 in the form of another authentic and very special '69 Charger up for auction in Pennsylvania.
"This was the ultimate car for us to have; it had slipped through the cracks," Grams said. This new example was part of an initial eight cars prepped by the studio's special effects department for the first season, which aired starting in January of 1979.
While the vehicle was more than ready for it's close-up, filming of Season 1 wrapped before it could ever be used. Thus, no on-screen time, but the car fell outside the restraints of the aforementioned contract.
"The person in charge of the vehicles on the Georgia set convinced WB to sell him the car instead of using it in Season 2," Grams said.
This new owner lived in Georgia and eventually grew weary of eager people knocking on his door asking to see the car. The vehicle was sold to two other subsequent owners and lightly used, accumulating only 1,300 miles between 1977 and 2005.
"To fans, it was illusive," Grams said. "They knew it existed but never knew what happened to it."
While the studio used about 250 1968 and '69 Chargers in the making of the six-year series, the first eight are highly prized and esteemed by fans and enthusiasts. Cars 1, 2 and 3 were created in California then brought east to the Georgia set. The trio was destroyed so quickly, five others were quickly procured and transformed.
"This first batch, including ours, had hand-painted graphics. Once the series confirmed another season, relocated to California, the car destruction escalated. They switched to decals -- a cheaper alternative," Grams said. Other unique elements on Volo's orange Mopar are the pushbar, wheels and interior roll bar.
"To save costs, when the cars would get damaged and scrapped, they would donate usable parts to other picture cars. These three components on our car are from General Lee 1, the first vehicle ever made for the series."
Another exclusive feature is the array of celebrity signatures on the rear panel. Grams displayed the vehicle at this year's Dukes of Hazard Fan Fare, held in Nashville, Tenn., and had all of the surviving cast members sign the vehicle.
While the ultrarare Mopar machine shines in the spotlight at the museum, it did have some recent competition for fans' adoration and attention. In June, John Schneider, who played Bo Duke, made an appearance at the museum, spending an afternoon greeting enthusiasts and making for a one-of-a-kind experience for "Dukes of Hazzard" die-hards.
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