LEE 1 Dukes of Hazzard Charger Stops the Clock
The Duke’s orange Dodge Charger is frozen in a moment of time.
That moment is immediately before “General Lee” jumped over a police cruiser in the famous “Dukes of Hazzard” scene, an iconic moment in automotive culture.
Today, lovingly called “Lee 1” and referred to as “he” by his team of rescuers, the Charger is restored to his exact condition before the famous jump.
On that day in 1978, Lee 1 flew 16 feet into the air and 82 feet down range — a flight higher than the scene director reckoned for — to a hard landing that bent the frame and suspension, broke the differential and cracked the windshield, among other things.
For the fourth episode, the studio brought Lee 1 back in blue paint as a Richard Petty race car, and look-alikes took Lee 1’s place for the remainder of the TV series. But that famous jump was used in the opening of almost every episode.
After that, the 1969 Dodge Charger, like an unrecognized treasure, was tossed, landing after its first and only flight in a salvage yard near Atlanta where it stayed rusting for 23 years. Now in grand transformation, Lee 1 will be auctioned at this Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale event.
Lee 1’s owner, Marvin Murphy, liked the CBS television show, but it was Murphy’s love of cars that led him on a unique restoration path. He didn’t want a pristine car exactly as it rolled off the assembly line. He wanted Lee 1 to be the same as it was, faults and all, quirks and everything, just as it was that Saturday morning, Nov. 11, 1978, at Oxford College in Georgia.
Let’s step ahead in time.
Early June 2005, Murphy was looking for his next project when he found Lee 1 in unrestored condition. “Actually, it was a wreck,” he said.
Some parts had been removed from the 10-year-old Lee 1 while he was in the wrecking yard, but a lot of the original parts were salvaged for the restoration.
Murphy noted that in the 60th anniversary issue of Hot Rod magazine, Lee 1 was rated as America’s most influential car because it drew significant public attention.
“Lee 1 deserved to be put back in his stature as an American icon,” Murphy said.
So began what Murphy describes as 16 “tortured” months of work in two shops to make the car unique.
Murphy “freaked out” the restorers when he told them to put the cracked windshield back in the car and had a “heck of a time” getting them not to scrape off the overspray on the rear windows. He surprised engine builders when he instructed them to leave the original paint on the engine and worried the crew when he told them to match the original brush strokes for the painted flag on Lee 1’s top.
Soon, though, the restorers grasped Murphy’s concept and embraced the project. “It took four days to reproduce the hand-painted flag on the roof,” he said.
Body parts were taken from two donor cars. They even found and kept the
concrete that was poured into the trunk to help stabilize the car in flight.
They preserved and straightened the frame and salvaged all of the original glass, including that cracked windshield still bearing the parking sticker on it from Southwest College in Los Angeles.
Lee 1’s paint was not a standard color. Painters hand-mixed the paint and adjusted color by eye.
Lee 1 was the only car to feature chrome rocker trim. The chrome vinyl top strips, missing gas cap trim ring and wheel well trim began with Lee 1 and were replicated on the other cars. The gas cap trim ring and wheel well trim were retained on later cars. Of the first three cars, two had crooked numbers that followed the body line, Lee 1 and Lee 3 likely because Lee 3 was patterned from Lee 1.
At first, Lee 1 wore the number 1 placed to follow the body line. When the 0 was added in front of the 1, it was placed on straight.
Today, Lee 1 is not driven, but is transported mostly to charitable events. “Lee 1 goes nowhere unless there is a security detail with him,” Murphy said.
The only person to drive Lee 1, other than now producer-director Craig Baxley who jumped the car, is “Dukes of Hazzard” star, actor-singer John Schneider.
At Lee 1’s unveiling in 2006, which was attended by several hundred people the day after his restoration was finished, Schneider drove him off the trailer to the same spot of his famous Nov. 11, 1978 jump — 28 years to the day.
— By Richard Gray