'General Lee' auction ends at almost $10M
If bids are real, 1969 Charger owned by actor John Schneider has sold at close to a record for any car.
By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- If the bids are real - and the eBayMotors.com auction was stopped once for fake bidding - a modified 1969 Dodge Charger, painted to look like the General Lee from the TV Show "The Dukes of Hazzard," nearly became the most expensive car ever auctioned.
The auction closed at $9,900,500 at 1:00 pm Friday. That puts it just $1.1 million away from the $11 million paid for a 1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royale Sports Coupe sold by the auction house Christie's in 1987. To date, that is the highest price ever paid for a car at auction, according to Christie's.
The car was used in the show, which typically went through several cars per episode during its 6-year production run in the early 1980s. But this one is owned by John Schneider, who played Bo Duke in the series, a role that was only slightly less central than that of the car.
"I'm excited as I can be but I'm not going to believe it until my banker calls and says 'buy me a beer'," said Schneider after the auction ended.
As the auction progressed, eBay officials contacted several of the top bidders and were assured that their bids were genuine and that the bidders could afford the millions they were bidding, said eBay spokeswoman Catherine England.
A winning bid on eBay consititutes a legally binding contract, England said.
After an earlier run-up in the bidding which went as high as $6.7 million, eBay officials disqualified several bids as facetious.
After that, all bidders on the car were required to register before bidding.
The car was also used in the 2000 TV Movie "The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood," a Dukes reunion film. Recently, it had a central role in the movie "Collier & Co., Hot Pursuit," a limited-release film produced by, directed by, distributed by and starring Schneider.
Schneider decided to auction the car in order to finance production of a sequel to that film.
Asked if the price may have gone so high because bidders wanted to help Schneider makes his next film, Scheider replied: "They sure weren't around the first time I was trying to raise money."
Ordinarily, a production-used General Lee would be worth about $150,000 to $200,000, said McKeel Hagerty, president of Hagerty Insurance, a collector car insurance company. About 20 of those are known to exist in reasonably good condition.
The opportunity to buy the car from "Bo Duke" himself would add some value, he said. But not millions of dollars.
"There is no basis in my experience in the collector car world to justify that kind value," Hagerty said of the eBay bids.
At the time Hagerty made that statement, bids for car had reached only $2.7 million.
Schneider owned the car even before its use in "The Dukes of Hazzard." He leased it to Warner Bros. for its original on-screen appearances.
The car has been extensively modified since then.
"I do something nice for the General about once a year," said Schneider.
The car now has a 725 horsepower Hemi motor, Dodge Viper brakes and a roll cage, all of which allow it to race at over 200 miles per hour.
Unlike the those on the TV character General Lee, this car's doors do open. There is a scratch near the driver's side window where Schneider, as Bo Duke, jumped into the car. Schneider left the scratch, figuring it only increases the car's value.
"On a scale of coolness of 1 to 10," said Schneider, "this has got to be a 12."
"The Dukes of Hazzard" centered around Bo Duke and his cousin Luke, played by Tom Wopat, working to undo the evil plans of the powerful and corrupt J.D. "Boss" Hogg, played by the late Sorrell Booke.
Every episode included at least one spectacular car chase over the dirt roads of the fictional Hazzard County, Georgia.
"It speaks to the passion around the show and how iconic the General Lee is," said Andy Holeman, vice president of consumer marketing for Country Music Television, said of the auction when bids had reached $2.7 million.
CMT airs nightly reruns of the show and sponsors the annual DukesFest in Nashville Tenn., an event that last year attracted 70,000 people and about 150 cars painted to look like the General Lee.
This year about 200 "General Lees" are expected at the June 2-3 event.
"The show, the car, is a phenomenal thing that is embedded in the American consciousness," said Ben Jones, the actor who played the mechanic Cooter Davenport on the show. He also served as a congressman.
In a 2004 survey conducted by Hagerty Insurance the General Lee was named America's most popular TV or movie car. The second most popular was the 1968 Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in the movie "Bullitt."
Bidding on Schneider's General Lee closed at about 1:00 pm eastern time on Friday.
When production on Schneider's planned "Collier & Co." sequel gets rolling, Schneider said, he'll have to start gathering all the pieces.
"My first call has got to be to the people who own the car," he said on Thursday.
He'll need to rent it back from them.