Tuesday, April 4, 2017

One in a Million: Ertl’s Golden General Lees by Sam McConnell

Our old pal Sam McConnell is back with an awesome addition to his collection.  We haven't seen Sam around this part of Hazzard for a while, but you can look back at his past contributions to the DukesCollector world like the restoration of his Coleco Dukes Pedal Car and his awesome Rosco's Patrol Car.

This addition to his collection is a piece that I'm jealous of and was actually (unbeknownst to either of us) involved in an ebay bidding war with him over it.  If couldn't have it, I'm glad Sam got it because his knowledge on the subject is unparalleled.  Take it away Sam.

In 1980, the Dukes of Hazzard was as hot as ever. The show was #2 in the Nielsen ratings pulling over 20 million viewers per week and fans could not get enough of the high-flying action the show provided. Bo and Luke, along with cousin Daisy, were the stars of the show, but the true fan-favorite was the Duke’s orange 1969 Dodge Charger appropriately named, the General Lee.  The car was so popular that it received more fan mail than the human actors did at various points during the show’s run! And with success comes merchandise, lots and lots of merchandise!

Various toy manufactures such as Coleco, Mego, View Master, Donruss, and Etch-a-Sketch all got in on the Dukes ‘merch cash-cow, but one company dazzled with 1/64, 1/25, and 1/16 scale General Lees, Daisy’s Jeep and more: The Ertl Toy Company of Dyersville, Iowa.

Ertl’s General Lees and their entire Dukes line were so popular that they took home honors as the Toy of the Year in 1981, which beat out other toys like the Rubik Cube, the Star Wars brand, and Transformers. That was no easy feat! Among those popular items made, and some of the most common and beloved pieces of Dukes merchandise out there, was the Hot Wheels/Matchbox sized (1/64th scale) General Lee.  I have heard that Ertl sold over 20 million of the 1/64 and 1/25 scale Dukes cars in 1980-1981! That is a TON of General Lees!

In order to meet such high demand, Ertl had to have four different factories produce the 1981 1/64 General Lees. The factories were in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and finally, the USA.  Each location’s casting is unique and varies in styling, coloring, and decaling – but that’s information for another post. Today we are focusing on the USA made General Lees – specifically to tell the unique origin of the gold General Lees.

The USA casting General Lees are the version most people are familiar with, as they have been recast for the Dukes Reunion and video games in 1997, for the big screen movie in 2005, and again in the later 2010’s. But the story behind the Gold General Lee started way back in 1981 when Ertl was producing 1/64 cars solely overseas.  This is where the legend of the Gold General Lee really starts to take shape!

According to a person who was friends with a Manager at Ertl who was there in the 1970s to the 1990s (and the gold car’s previous owner), in 1981, a few higher-ups convinced the company to bring production of the 1/64th cars to the United States. After some time and sweet-talking, 1/64 scale casting began in the states. It seems like the switch to casting in the USA not only included the General Lee,  but it also brought the Boss Hogg Cadillac and Rosco’s Patrol Car along too as there are at least two 1981 versions of each: a foreign version(s) and a USA version. In order to convince company management or in celebration of the return of US-made castings (it’s hard to pinpoint which), one of those reasons prompted a few special Gold General Lees to be made. These were done via an individual that did piece-work for the factory in Dyersville and were made in very, very limited quantities. In fact, I have never seen another and internet searches for one turned up nothing. 

All of that information was yet unknown to me as the car popped up on Ebay last month. Knowing next to nothing about the car, but seeing signs that it could be original, I bid on it…and bid and bid and bid until I finally won! I was still skeptical and dug deeper after learning the car’s factory history, finding that Ertl did shift manufacturing facilities in 1981, and the name of the person who was manager at Ertl during that period was a real person. That is not a total smoking gun, but a thorough examination of the car would also lead to a realization that it is indeed, an unadulterated factory assembled beauty.

A few signs that the gold plating was done at factory are as follows:

-The patina – the car has scuffs, wearing and general patina on its plating that would be very hard if not impossible to replicate.

-The factory assembly – the “rivets” holding the car in place have factory original 1981 markings with gold plating popping through the base, just as the orange paint does on the same regular casting.

-No signs of chassis, window or other intrusion that comes with breaking a factory riveted car open.

-The stickers – the General Lee and 01 stickers are factory original with aged wear that is near impossible to duplicate. The roof sticker has not been removed and duplicates factory placement. The 01’s are special however and have been cut and placed from the usual orange backed sticker sheet. But the 01s however are cut from original factory stickers and have aged evenly along with the rest of the car.

-The underbody – the chassis is an original 1981 USA casting as is the body. The undersides of the roof/hood/trunk/wheel wells are also gold plated meaning this car was plated before it was factory assembled/stickered. There is also a hole with base markings on the chassis that appears to show the car was once mounted to something long ago.

So there you have it folks! An original golden General Lee with a history as colorful as its coating! Since there are so many great Dukes historians out there, I'd love to hear any info you know about it! I will also be doing some more research on the car, and love talk to anyone who has any information on it!

Until next time, enjoy some more photos of the one in a million gold General Lee!

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