Daily News of Los Angeles (CA)
DUKE BOYS' GENERAL LEE GETS LEAN AND MEAN
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NEWHALL - In the heyday of ``The Dukes of Hazzard,'' the original CBS TV series, movie propmeister Renaud Veluzat could paint the meanest muscle car on TV in a blistering eight minutes.
Now his son-in-law has created a Rebel battle cruiser more menacing than the original '69 Dodge Charger.
As the movie remake of ``Dukes'' rakes in millions of dollars at the box office for the second straight weekend, and as Chargers become the hottest Bubba machines on the market, Shannon Hudson is readying for launch the ``Xtreme Lee'' - the baddest General Lee ever built.
``I took it a step further and built the baddest-ass General Lee in existence,'' said Hudson, 35, the spiky-haired husband of Veluzat's daughter and owner of Redline Gauge Works in Newhall. ``When people see it on the freeway, they almost crash - no lie.
``The car is magnificent.''
The most popular TV car of all time, according to surveys, was the orange '69 Dodge hooligan driven by Bo and Luke Duke in the original 1979-85 CBS series.
The Duke cousins, played by John Schneider and Tom Wopat, took on corrupt local Southern lawmen in their NASCAR-ready sled they'd nicknamed ``General Lee.'' A true Southern redneck, it boasted a CB radio and a horn that blared the first 12 notes of ``Dixie.''
With welded-shut doors, ``01'' racing numbers and a Confederate flag painted on the roof, the General could leap ravines, saw through backwoods and outrun sheriff's deputies - on two wheels.
Veluzat would crank out 229 of the wedge-shaped Generals, of which 19 were said to survive the thrashing by Warner Bros.' stuntmen. More than 500 bad-guy and sheriff's cars also bit the dust.
``We could not believe how the General Lees came in - sandwiched, wrecked, flattened every which way,'' recalled Veluzat, from his Veluzat Motion Picture Rentals, which houses 260 military vehicles, including 35 tanks. ``A lot of 'em looked like a bow and arrow.''
At any one time during the TV series, Veluzat, who went on to purchase the Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio from Gene Autry, housed at least 50 General Lees and up to 70 cop cars for use on ``Dukes'' sets at Lake Sherwood, Disney Ranch and Valencia Oaks. In all, he said, he created 800 cars for the series.
So it was the utmost honor when Southern blues rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd approached Veluzat's son-in-law, whose shop is next door, to re-create the legendary car.
``What an awesome opportunity, to build a car with (my) family history, the most-recognized picture vehicle of all time,'' said Hudson, who built the car with his brother, Sean, and Los Angeles-based body man Ted Moser.
Only what began as an ugly yellow-and-green Charger bought on eBay in Idaho turned into anything but another General Lee clone.
By the time the made-over Charger appeared last January on the TLC series ``Rides,'' the ``Xtreme Lee'' turned out 585 horsepower with enough torque - 615 foot-pounds - to topple a Georgia loblolly pine.
Its interior was dressed in beige suede and Rolls-Royce leather, Bentley carpets, white-faced gauges and a console with enough faux tortoise shell for a thousand Fender guitar picks.
On its prow, a Hazzard Co. license plate. And on the doors, its classic ``01'' insignia was airbrushed to melt the breeze while its tattered Rebel flag clung to the roof like it had led the field at Gettysburg.
``Xtreme Lee'' Stratocaster guitars were also made to match the machine.
In ``motorhead'' terms, the ``Xtreme Lee'' was powered by a distributorless, fuel-injected 400-cubic-inch Mopar engine built by Mopar Engines West; a 727 TorqueFlite racing transmission; a billet aluminum prowbar by A2ZFX; 10-spoke rims by Budnik; and contemporary low-profile tires.
The Lee, lowered two inches, is also estimated to do 0 to 60 mph in 4 seconds and the quarter-mile in 12. Its estimated value: $88,000.
``This is ... menacing,'' said Hudson, running through the gears, his head snapping against the seat as demons roared from the dual exhausts in an ultra-rich cocktail of gasoline vapor. ``It makes you grin from ear to ear.''
For those lucky enough to own a '69 Charger, its value has soared since the ``Dukes'' movie debut - which topped the box office with an impressive $30.6 million in its first week and fell to No. 3 with a $13 million take last week.
According to Kelley Blue Book, a mint Charger SE 500 shot from $43,900 six months ago to $61,600. A Charger R/T increased in value 64 percent, to $43,900 in July. Cars with Hemi engines now top $150,000.
``They're through the roof, through the roof, all because of the movie,'' said Peter Isaguirre, owner of Burbank Custom Cars, of the '69 Dodge. ``You name your price on 'em.''
David Stitzinger bought his '69 Charger R/T nine years ago for $4,000. Since then, he's sunk $25,000 to turn it into a full-fledged General Lee that has appeared on ``The Tonight Show With Jay Leno'' and ``Jimmy Kimmel Live.''
``There's no comparison,'' said Stitzinger, 24, of Santa Clarita. ``It's the only muscle car - the look, the grill, the way it sits ... tough, strong-looking. To drive it, it's amazing.''
As Shannon Hudson tweaked the latest ``01'' before its final delivery to its owner, Joshua Demuro saw it from the highway and had to double back.
``It's the General,'' exclaimed Demuro, 22, of Canyon Country, who owns every episode on DVD of the original ``Dukes of Hazzard'' series. ``The General is probably one of the (most) bad-ass cars I've ever seen.
``This particular General - I saw it built on the TV show 'Rides' and had to check it out. It's awesome. It's not every day you see an 'Xtreme Lee.'''
Dana Bartholomew, (818) 713-3730