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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Classic Car Stories - Mom's 1961 Plymouth Valiant
Mom puts her foot down! (and on the gas pedal)

About 5 years after I was born in 1952, up until about 1964, my family lived in what's now termed "the inner core" of Milwaukee at 19th and Chambers. After marrying my dad, mom had a driver's license but never drove a car. There were plenty of bus routes near our house and many stores nearby, so my mom never felt that she had to drive, and my dad didn't want her to. I remember riding on the bus with her and there was a big Sears store within walking distance of the 19th street house.

The neighborhood we lived in was deteriorating rapidly during that time and my dad decided to look for a house in a much better area on the edge of Milwaukee's northwest side. In fact, not long after we moved, the 1960's big city race riots started all over the country and our old neighborhood was hit hard. I remember watching TV at our new house one summer night and they interrupted broadcasting, calling for all off duty firefighters and police officers in Milwaukee to report to work. My parents were sure relieved that we were away from all that!

After we moved to Lancaster Avenue, mom became increasingly frustrated by being in the "suburb" and not being able to go anywhere. There were no buses and at first we didn't even have curb, gutter and sidewalks! At that time, we had only one car, a huge pink 1957 4-door Chrysler New Yorker with a hemi engine in it
Our '57 Chrysler New Yorker

My parents had some fierce arguments and we were not privy to all of them but dad, I'm sure, would not allow her to drive the New Yorker. No one could figure out why he was so adamant that mom not drive. 

Mom had some money saved up and decided she was going to buy her own car, with or without the consent of my father. In a brilliant move, she enlisted the help of my dad’s older sister, Aunt Lorraine!

Aunt Lorraine picked up mom while dad was gone to work and they went car shopping. At the time I had no idea of what they were up to and came home from school to find a 1961 Plymouth Valiant sitting in the driveway. It was kind of an ugly light green 4-door. Mom spent about $300 for the car. I think Aunt Lorraine was there for moral support when dad came home the first night and helped in the ensuing confrontation. At first, dad would not allow the car to be parked in the driveway!
I was about 14 or 15 years old at the time. Mom was so scared to drive the first little while, she would have me ride along with her at night while my dad was working and ask me if she was doing OK! It wasn’t that long, however, before dad came to realize the benefits of mom having a car and being able to get around.

And mom helped train the Bridger boys to be some of the best drivers in the business!
My brother Russ writes: "The reason is that it was mom who took Dan and me to the Arlens shopping center parking lot at night so many times to practice driving, including sliding around on snow, at age 14 and 15.
        Mom had the guts and faith to trust us, and gave us her time to enable us to learn and practice. I remember in high school Driver's Education, while we students took turns driving with an instructor, he commented that I drove like an experienced driver, insinuating that I drive without a license. LOL
        Mom's training and trust gave us the love of driving, and eventually the valuable careers that we all now have. Allowing us to have motorcycles at 14 also helped. Her guts to finally buy a car and get a license, disobeying dad in all his power, showed us a commitment to follow your dreams. I remember him "lobbying" against her asking us if we are ready to see her die in a car crash!
        Well, mom proved him wrong and I think he grew to appreciate her new skill, grocery shopping!"

All four of us brothers now make a living driving. Our two sisters were never interested.

Years and years later, mom told me what she didn't know at the time: Dad considered himself (he was) an excellent driver and when younger dreamed of driving race cars. After getting married, finances were tight for so many years, he never carried liability insurance in case of an accident. That was illegal, of course, and he figured if mom started driving, the risk was much greater of an accident. I’m not sure how long it took but he did get insurance afterwards. I wonder how much trouble I would have had, being allowed to drive, if mom hadn't put her foot down.
Chrysler's Slant Six

Regarding that ugly green Valiant, I was less than impressed with the car when she got it. It had a 225 slant six engine in it with a push button automatic. However, after I started reading up on it, I found that Chrysler's slant six motor had a good reputation with car guys. The engine was tilted over 30 degrees for a lower profile and extra room under the hood. It was very durable and made very good power for it's size with tuned intake runners and exhaust flow. The aftermarket produced a ton of speed parts for it and I was actually getting prepared to buy some, as I thought that would be the car I would be allowed to drive after I got my driver's license. It was all for nought, however, as I got to drive the big hemi New Yorker after my dad bought another 1957 Chrysler. It had the same 392 hemi motor in it, but it was an Imperial, Chrysler's top of the line luxury car of that year. It had leather seats, power windows and all the options. So, prior to my getting a driver's license, my dad ended up selling the Valiant, but I wasn't sorry and I loved driving that ugly pink hemi New Yorker!
392 Hemi Chrysler
Other of my car story posts:
Classic Car Stories:1970 Pontiac GTO - Dick Hands me the Keys!
Classic Car Stories: My Buddy's 1968 Plymouth GTX
Classic Car Stories: My Hemi Chrysler
Classic Car Stories: My 1965 Buick GS400
Classic Car Stories: Mopar Man to Chevrolet
Classic Car Stories: My Second Corvette
Classic Car Stories: My First Corvette
Classic Car Stories: My 1993 Camaro Z28
Classic Car Stories: Mom's 1961 Plymouth Valient


  1. This brings back some great memories. I remember driving a Plymouth Valiant and my parents had a New Yorker. Cars have certainly changed since then.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Those were some fun days way back when we were young. That big hemi New Yorker had a 120 MPH speedometer in it and I buried the needle on it once.

  2. What a beautiful story! I can imagine how disappointed your father was when he saw that 1961 Plymouth Valiant at your garage. Good thing your mother insisted to have her personal car, since that move motivated you to pursue your dreams. Anyway, I hope everything’s doing well in your family now. I’m looking forward to reading more of your car stories, Dan. Cheers!

    Rhonda Burgess @ Bob Dunn Hyundai

  3. This is a great read. Thank you for sharing. I love reading these old time stories and hearing about other people's experiences growing up around the same time period. One of my favorite memories is going out with my dad to choose our next car. It was such a different experience to buying a car in the current times today.

    Freddy @ Jacky Jones Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram