“Movies! Music! Musclecars!”
That’s the tagline on the Facebook page and giveaway poster promoting a special event set for Saturday, July 30, at the Malco Summer Quartet Drive-In.
Other blurbs offer similarly rhythmic examples of ballyhoo, in the drive-in tradition. “Cruise-in at the Drive-In!” promised one. “Cars Under the Stars!” proclaims another.
The hype is for a program that combines classic cars with classic car movies.
On the screen will be a double feature, starting with “Corvette Summer” (1978), starring Mark Hamill and Annie (“Ghostbusters”) Potts, followed by George Lucas’ “American Graffiti” (1973), with a soon-to- be-all-star cast that includes Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Suzanne Somers and Harrison Ford.
On the drive-in tarmac itself, in a designated area, will be as many Corvettes, muscle cars (Firebirds, Mustangs, etc.) and “classic” cars as Memphis-area collectors care to drive to the “cruise-in,” which starts at 5:30 pm (Inevitably, the Facebook page for the event also features the slogan: “Calling All Cars!”)
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As opposed to a “car show,” a “cruise-in normally doesn’t have trophies or anything like that,” said event co-organizer Shawn Brereton, a classic car collector and promoter who runs several podcasts and clubs devoted to vintage automobiles .
“It’s just an invitation for everybody to show up and show off your car. Just hang out, and chat about the car with whoever’s interested,” he said. “Their car is their baby, they love the opportunity to show it off and talk to people about the history of it. It’s a passion for many people.”
Malco Summer drive-in’s history
Of course, “Cars Under the Stars” is not just a slogan: It’s the entire point of the drive-in, which provides a forum for the watch-a-movie-through-your-windshield experience popularized during the post-war Baby Boom era, from the late 1940s through the 1960s.
During the drive-in boom of the 1950s, as many as 5,000 drive-ins operated in the US, according to the United Drive-In Theater Owners Association, a nonprofit trade group that keeps tabs on the industry. Now, about 318 drive-in theaters exist in the country, with 571 total screens, says the association. The Malco Summer drive-in at 5310 Summer Ave. is one of those survivors.
The Summer opened on Sept. 1, 1966. To contrast the theater with the 20 or so other drive-ins operating at the time in the greater Mid-South area, newspaper advertisements boasted that the Summer was “As Modern as Tomorrow,” with “Modern Self Service” and “23 Paved Acres – No Gravel, No Dust or Mud.”
Originally a two-screen outdoor theater, the Summer expanded to four screens in 1987. It’s continued to adapt. In recent years it has functioned as a space for live concerts and comedy shows; as an Indie Memphis Film Festival venue; as a Sundance Film Festival “satellite” site; and as the location of the popular monthly “Time Warp Drive-In” program of cult films, now in its ninth year.
Most recently, the drive-in on July 8-10 hosted “Joe Bob’s Jamboree,” which attracted hundreds of horror fans from across the US for movies hosted from a large stage by Shudder streaming-service personality and self-styled “drive-in movie critic” Joe Bob Briggs.
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Car culture in Memphis
The other organizer of the “Cars Under the Stars” event is Memphis filmmaker Mike McCarthy, who also co-created the “Time Warp Drive-In” with Matt Martin of Black Lodge, the movie rental/performance space at 405 N. Cleveland. In addition to movies, McCarthy is adding music to the event: Before the movies, the local band Uptown Punk will play two mini-concerts of Ramones covers, bookending a performance by another Memphis band, the Markdowns.
“I always thought it would be cool to show ‘Corvette Summer’ at the Summer drive-in,” McCarthy said.
He added that “Star Wars” fans should especially appreciate the double bill, since “Corvette Summer” stars Mark Hamill and “American Graffiti” — directed by George Lucas, whose next project was “Star Wars” — gives a smallish role to Harrison Ford .
“What is ‘Star Wars’ but hot rods in outer space?” McCarthy asked. “And that falls back to the biographical nature of the film and ‘American Graffiti,’ because he was deep into car culture.”
Brereton — whose own classic cars include a 1955 Chevrolet and a 1966 “supercharged” Ford Fairlane — said Memphis is a historic and still active center of car culture. The city is home to a number of regular events (such as the monthly “Hot Rods on Beale” and “Cars and Coffee” meetings) and to a plethora of Facebook pages (Memphis Classic Chevys; Mustangs of the Mid South; Mustangs of Memphis ; ShowStoppers Corvette Club of Memphis, and so on). In addition, Brereton and other local fans/experts host a number of podcasts on the subject, including “Hot Rod Blues,” that is available on Spotify and YouTube.
“A lot of people don’t know that outside of Southern California, Memphis was a hot bed for hot rodding,” Brereton said. “Memphis was a good meeting spot between the East and the West,” and the old Lakeland International Raceway drag strip was famous enough to be showcased in the 1971 movie “Two-Lane Blacktop.”
If you want to know more, Brereton said, “I’ll tell anybody who’s interested all about it, if they come to the drive-in.”
‘Cars Under the Stars’ at the Summer Quartet Drive-In
Saturday, July 30, 5310 Summer Ave.
Gates open at 5:30 pm Music is at 6:30 pm “Corvette Summer” is at 8 pm, with “American Graffiti” at 10 pm
Designated parking area for Corvettes and classic cars.
Admission: $25 per carload. $15 for classic cars. $10 for Corvettes.