Hollywood Cars: A piston pumpin’ steel belted cavalry

In the song The General Lee, Johnny Cash sings the praises of the iconic second generation Dodge Charger. A Hollywood car beloved by fans of The Dukes of Hazzard, as well as the many films in which it appears, the second-generation Charger (1968, 1969, and 1970 models) has found a place in the hearts of countless automotive enthusiasts.

First introduced in 1966, the Dodge Charger was designed to capture a share of the growing fastback market. The sleek ’66 model proved popular, but less than half as many of the similar ’67 Chargers were sold. This drop in sales led Dodge to consider a redesign for the following year.

The ’68 Charger is lauded as being “one of the best looking Dodge models ever built” in the Standard Catalog of American Cars. With its sculpted ‘Coke-bottle’ shape, buttressed back roof, decorative gas cap, and optional R/T package that included the 440 Magnum V8, the ’68 was a runaway success. It was such a hit that Dodge changed little on the ’69 and ’70 models.

The Charger’s reputation was augmented by the success of two Charger racing models that came out during this period. The Charger 500 was introduced for 1969 and the Charger Daytona, an aero car fitted with a rear wing, came out later that year. While the 500 was reasonably successful, the Daytona was a force to be reckoned with, winning 45 out of the next 59 NASCAR races it ran.

The second generation Charger’s popularity extended to the silver screen and the small screen. Perhaps one of its most famous appearances in film is in Bullitt, in which Steve McQueen, driving a ’68 Mustang, is chased by bad guys driving a ’68 Charger. The Charger can also be seen in Blade, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, and The Fast and the Furious, among other films.

On the small screen, the second generation Charger is arguably best known for its role as the General Lee in The Dukes of Hazzard. An orange ’69 Charger outfitted with a “Dixie” horn and emblazoned with a Confederate flag and the number ’01,’ the General Lee was driven by Bo and Luke Duke, two “good ol’ boys, never meanin’ no harm,” as Waylon Jennings sings in the theme song.

On the show, the Duke boys foil the weekly schemes of corrupt Boss Hogg and Hazzard sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane. This “trouble with the law” leads to many car chases, jumps, and hood slides. Some suggest that the series went through more than 300 second-generation Chargers over the course of six seasons. The Dukes of Hazzard went on to inspire an animated cartoon, several films, video games, two museums in Tennessee, and festivals including Dukesfest, which ran from 2001-2008, and for the last few years, Hazzard Homecoming, which will be held this August in Sperryville, Virginia.

Check out Dodge Charger materials available in the Digital Archives or in the Library Catalog (just search “Dodge Charger”).

Sources:

Bouwkamp, Burton “The Birth and Death of the (Original) Dodge Charger,” http://www.allpar.com/cars/dodge/charger-history.html

Cash, Johnny, “The General Lee,” The Dukes of Hazzard, 1981

Cooter’s Place – The Dukes of Hazzard, www.cootersplace.com

Kowalke, Ron, ed. Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975. Iola, WI: Krause Publications, Inc., 1997.


Laura Muskavitch is a Graduate Assistant for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

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