May 16: The Mustang Drive-in, London ON

Mustang Drive-In screen tower and box office

Photo by Ron from the Carload Flickr pool

It’s Day 228 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey, and my third day in Ontario. I drove along “Carnage Alley” for a thankfully uneventful hour and half, travelling from Tilbury to The Mustang Drive-in just southeast of London ON.

According to the Mustang’s Facebook page, it was built in 1953 between London and Belmont, the city where the Motion Picture Almanacs sited it. Back then it was called the Sunset with a single screen and room for about 500 cars.

In 1973, Premier Operating bought the Sunset. It added a second screen in 1976 and probably renamed the drive-in around then. It converted to digital projection in 2012. The original screen, the “Twilight,” has a capacity of 525 cars, and the second screen, “Skyview,” has a capacity of 305.

The London Free Press interviewed Brian Allen in 2010 as part of a drive-in roundup. At that point, it described Allen as vice president of Premier, which owned a total of three drive-ins. He said being at a drive-in is all about “selling personal sovereignty”. “You can have a smoke in your car if you like, bring your puppy dogs along for the fun, introduce the babies to the pleasures of a drive-in, talk in your own car,” Allen said. “You control the volume and essentially you have your own space.”

OurLondon.ca had a nice article about the Mustang five years later in 2015, topped by a great photo showing the lit neon on the screen tower. When it interviewed Allen, now he was described as the Premier’s owner, which owned seven Ontario drive-ins. “You can’t explain (the experience) standing in a drive-in during the daytime,” Allen said. “Once that sun starts going down and the kids are on the swings, you start seeing the shadows, that crunching of the gravel, the neon … It’s transformational.”

On this night, the Skyview screen had The Emoji Movie, so I turned to the venerable Twilight for whatever was showing there. That turned out to be Annabelle: Creation. I don’t care for scary movies, but the alternative was much worse.

Miles Today / Total: 89 / 27433 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Annabelle: Creation / 142

Nearby Restaurant: It’s a regional chain, it’s Chinese food (which I hadn’t had in a while), and it’s a buffet. All signs pointed to a great experience at the Mandarin restaurant. The salad bar had a lot to offer, and so did the teriyaki chicken and beef and veggies and desserts. You get the idea.

Where I Virtually Stayed: If there’s any place that I prefer to a generic Hampton Inn, it’s a Homewood Suites, where my only regret is that I’m not staying for a week. The Homewood in London offers a nice dinner on weeknights such as the Wednesday I was there, plus a really great breakfast in the morning. In between, my room had a full-sized refrigerator and everything I needed to make myself at home. Too bad I had to keep moving on.

Only in London: John Kinder Labatt started brewing beer in London in 1847. Today the Labatt Brewing Company is the largest brewer in Canada, and Labatt Blue is the best selling Canadian beer in the world. The current London facility now produces more than a billion bottles of beer per year, and it’s open to the public for tours.

Next stop: Can-View Drive-In, Fonthill ON.

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