The Generals: The Story of Mayhem and Maintenance

It’s not just about driving garbage. It’s about making a personal statement. “Forget paint, I’m gonna make this thing work.” Sometimes work is going fast. Other times it means just becoming functional rather than being neglected as yard art.


MANY FANS consider the General Mayhem ’68 Charger to be the best ROADKILL project car of all time, and episode 23—wherein we built the car the first time—to be the greatest episode. Later, the car’s legend was sealed in a couple of minutes of screen time as we thrashed it mercilessly on the gravel roads of the Dirt Fish rally school in episode 32.

It all began with a simple trade: our set of big-block Mopar aluminum cylinder heads for a dude’s gutted shell of a Charger from Romoland, California. This was in 2009, and it was a screaming deal even then. The population of California ’68/’69 Chargers was well depleted by Warner Bros. during “The Dukes of Hazzard” production from 1979 to 1985, making them even more scarce than they were to begin with, and the cars just keep getting more absurdly priced. However, most people aren’t willing to take on the expense of a restoration for a project missing as many parts as ours was, but finances take a different twist when you’re willing to overlook amenities such as upholstery or glass. And we were. Our buildup focused only on the essentials to make the junk run and drive, but it took a few parts cars to get there. The first was a ’77ish full-size motorhome that gave up its 440 big-block engine. The transmission, rear brakes, Sure-Grip limited-slip diff, and other knickknacks came from a ’73 Plymouth Fury that we’d previously raced (definition: driven four laps) at 24 Hours of LeMons in ROADKILL episode 22.

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The ’77 440 was rated at an implausibly weak 185 horsepower from the factory but spanked the Charger along dirt roads pretty well even with the questionable Torqueflite three-speed auto trans and the 3.23 gears in the 8 3/4 rearend. At this point the engine was bone stock aside from Hooker headers we scored for $100 at a swap meet, and they fed into 3-inch Cherry Bomb glasspack mufflers to deliver that Roadkill shriek that people always ask about when they hear the car. In this same trim, the Mayhem devoured the autocross in episode 25, and it would have dragged the door handles on the ground if it had door handles to begin with.

Next, we got more hard-core for the rally school in episode 32, adding Hotchkis Performance rear springs, Hotchkis shocks at all corners, QA1 Heim-jointed strut rods, Aadco anti-roll bars, and a Borgeson power steering box. The car used 15 x 8 and 15 x 10 Wheel Vintiques Mopar-style steel wheels from Pep Boys and tires in sizes 245/60-15 and 275/60-15. We also tossed in an Edelbrock Performer RPM intake and Holley 750 carb. The General Mayhem was a Roadkiller’s dream car: perfectly beat, ideally stanced, with more noise and attitude than power, and with suspension that turned General Lee fantasies into real life.

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JUST AS THE FIRST layer of garage dust was taking hold of the General Mayhem, Dodge jumped up to become the title sponsor of ROADKILL. What’s the natural reaction to scoring huge bucks from a corporate sponsor? Ask for free stuff, of course, and we went big: We wanted a Hellcat drivetrain for our ’68, and Dodge delivered it—attached to a ’15 Charger SRT Hellcat parts car. Knowing we lacked the time to handle the wiring and computer systems the Hellcat needed to run, we got help from our friends at Diversified Creations (DiversifiedCreations.com) in Brighton, Michigan. The plan: Find out what Dirt Fish would look like on a repeat visit with 707 hp and an eight-speed modern Torqueflite trans in the Mayhem.

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WHY DO WE CALL our 2015 Charger SRT Hellcat the General Maintenance? Because it’s a brand-new car and that’s all it’ll ever need! With its 707 hp of daily-driven comfort and convenience, we have virtually no urge to modify the thing. After we allegedly bashed the Charger to a pulp on a motocross track in ROADKILL episode 38, however, it might have needed a little bodywork. Fortunately, we had a spare 2015 Charger in stock, courtesy of Dodge, so the parts we’d crunched were easy to replace.

For the rest of the transformation, we called in Karl Kiefer and his crew from Kiefer Automotive Group (KieferAutomotiveGroup.com) in Howell, Michigan. We said, “We want this to look like General Mayhem, and we need it in a week.” The result blew our minds. We were ready to just hit the car with some spray cans, but Karl and his guys went all out, duplicating every nick and scratch in the ’68 and going so far as to replicate the piece of blue painter’s tape that carries the price tag from when we bought the ’68 right front fender at a swap meet. Check out all the details.
Why’d we do this to a brand-new car? Because Roadkill.

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AFTER THE GENERAL MAYHEM and its 2015 clone were transmogrified into a new life, we spent a week around Detroit driving and testing them. The shocking thing was how similar the two cars are.

Overlook the elements of the ’68 Charger that make it a clapped-out, rattling mass of ancient technology, and the new tech is very easy to spot. The engine and transmission controls function just as they did in their original 2015 Charger home. Without wheel sensors and ABS we lost all the traction and stability controls, but why would we want them, anyway? Although we can’t deny that 90 percent humidity days in Michigan made us wish the air-conditioning had survived the transplant.

We flogged the ’68 extensively, fine-tuning the QA1 double-adjustable shocks, testing trans settings (the quickest times came from leaving it in drive in Track mode), adjusting tire pressure in the 31 x 13.50-15 Hoosiers (9 psi hot was best), and swapping between 4.10 and 3.70 gears in the Moser 9-inch rearend (it liked 3.70s). Ultimately, the General Mayhem went 10.91 at 125 mph in the quarter.

To give you a point of reference, the 2015 SRT Hellcat in the opposite lane went 11.49 at 121 mph at the same time. The best we saw from the 2015, which wore Mickey Thompson drag radials, was 11.22 at 123 mph. In ideal conditions, those cars can touch the 10s.
We expected the ’68 to be quicker, and then we hit the scales: The junk weighs 3,880 with driver. The 2015 weighed 4,780 with driver.

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The Charger and Challenger SRT carry the attitude of vintage muscle cars—preferring in-your-face straight-line performance to refined handling—and they are the single best factory burnout machines of all time. They perform nearly as well as our gutted hot rod but with all the swaddling amenities that we can really get used to. Plus they’re not bad in the dirt. The Hellcats have great thermal control, something not seen with most factory supercharged cars. It took about five dragstrip passes before the mph numbers would start to drop off in the face of the heat. The 2015 Charger in Mayhem mufti is late-model perfection for us Roadkillers.

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The ’68, however, needs more fiddling. We’ll get it back in action and be ready for Dukes-style excitement.

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CLEAN ONE-OWNER!
Here’s the Mayhem as it appeared when we got it. It had been hit in the right front, and we later found the lower control arm to be from a different-year car. We got a fender at a swap meet for $85 and made our own grille because ’68 Charger grilles are priced like gold.

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ENGINE HOUSE
Scoring a low-mileage 440 from a motorhome seemed like a great idea, right up to the point where we had to pay to have the dead RV shell dragged away.

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FAREWELL, OLD FRIEND
Here’s our ’73 Fury that raced 24 Hours of LeMons twice, badly. That’s the motorhome 440 in the trunk. The Fury sadly went to the grave after some organ donation.

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THE DUKES CONNECTION
“The Dukes of Hazzard” was in full swing during my high school years, and the Warner Bros. production garage was fairly close to home in Burbank, California. My dad had a temporary office on the lot at the time the show was cancelled and saw that they were clearing out all the Chargers that had been used in production. He asked if I was interested, and I said no because they were all so trashed. Shortly thereafter, I became the parts runner for a local Dodge dealer and occasionally delivered parts to the Warner motor pool, where some General Lee parts still lingered on the walls and back lots. At the same time, I’d moved into my own house, and a neighbor was a former “Dukes” teamster who told me stories of picking up one-owner Chargers from little old ladies who had no idea that their old car would soon become a bright-orange river jumper.

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SHIFT OF POWER
The Dodge SRT Hellcat is an 11.6-psi-superchargered, intercooled, 707-hp, 650 lb-ft monster of a 6.2-liter V-8. It has a lot of new tech that would be tough to overcome with aftermarket EFI controls. The white donor car was an engineering test model that would have been crushed if we didn’t take it apart.

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MANY SPEEDS
The transmission is a ZF eight-speed, marketed as a Torqueflite by Dodge and identified as an 8HP90 model, signifying 900-lb-ft capabilities behind the Hellcat. It required a little hacking on the floor to fit into the ’68.

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THANK YOU, MOSER
In the scramble to redo the Mayhem into drag mode, we needed a 9-inch rearend ASAP. Mike Copeland at Diversified called a pal at Moser Engineering, and a custom rear axle assembly was ready six hours later. It has a spool and 35-spline axles. We altered the gear ratios from 3.70 to 4.10 during testing.

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OFFICE SPACE
The General Mayhem’s interior is still bare bones, but the 2015 steering column, instrument cluster, touchscreen, and shifter bring a level of, huh? Diversified’s Daryl Delaere handled most of the work and also set up the rollcage and Kirkey lightweight drag seats.

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YOU REALLY DID THAT?
In ROADKILL episode 38, we took a Challenger SRT Hellcat, a Charger SRT Hellcat, and an SRT Viper and not only did endless burnouts and drifting but also bashed them on a dirt track. The show has been seen more than 2.3 million times, but many people scream that it wasn’t worth the shock value. Maybe it was sacrilege, but we didn’t really hurt the cars that badly. The Challenger and Charger had broken front air dams, the Challenger got a dent in the intercooler radiator, the Charger seems like it got a bent tie rod or something, and the Viper’s underside air controllers were scuffed pretty bad. Mechanically, they survived.

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What happened to the 440?
When we removed the motorhome drivetrain from the General Mayhem, we slammed it into a ’70 Plymouth Duster (episode 40) that had been in the family for years. We upgraded the engine with CNC-ported Edelbrock heads and an ancient Isky flat-tappet cam. With 4.10s in the back and retaining the sketchy transmission, the Crop Duster made 356 rear-wheel horsepower and 419 lb-ft. In the quarter mile, it went 12.39 at 113 mph.

Roadkill Fall 2016 Cover