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This week’s podcast show guest is John Byrnes, the former owner of General Lee #51 from the 2005 Dukes of Hazzard movie (his car was the 51st vehicle purchased…thus the 51 designation). I first noticed John’s posting of his General on eBay, and while that listing is no longer available to link to I was incredibly impressed with his write-up of the car itself – he had clearly done his homework. John’s car has the unique designation as the only General used in the 2005 movie that made a manned jump (the rest were all launched with a catapult), and his car is also the one featured as the #1 most recognizable car in an 2008 issue of Hot Rod Magazine (in fact, the two-page spread in the magazine is the picture that you see above)!
During the interview John shared with how he came to get his General in the first place, what kind of shape he was in, and just how much work a restoration would be. John’s car was the last built by the famed General Lee builder AJ Thrasher (who had also worked on the Dukes TV show), and unlike the TV show cars, AJ built this General to fly and survive the landing.
He plated the frame rails, tied everything together with a cage and bars, and built a cockpit for the driver that would allow as safe a flight as possible. AJ even removed the dash (which drivers would commonly bang their knees on upon landing) and welded the drivers door shut – mainly because his roll cage blocked any realistic use of the drivers door anyway (think NASCAR stock cage). That’s right, this General actually did have a door welded shut, and as far as John knows this is the only one ever used on screen to wear that honor.
John shared the details of getting his General running and driving again, and as a Dukes fanatic he chose to keep as much battle damage on him as possible, even going as far as to maintain the broken rear window (which was part of the movie story line) with plexiglass on both sides. He had to straighten the frame, find a motor, and basically put everything into the car that wasn’t part of the outer shell. After the restoration was done his car was even featured on an episode of Chad Vader (where Chad drives the General Lee)….so I went ahead and threw the audio in at the end of the show (it’s great). Here’s the clip:
Most of you know that as a kid of the 80’s I still have an almost unhealthy fondness for the Dukes of Hazzard, and I will admit that I could have talked with John for hours about his car if time would have allowed. He ended up selling his General the morning of our podcast interview, and though he had a heavy heart he did the interview regardless – so kudos to him for doing so!
Thanks for the interview, John!
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