The Malta Drive-In Speaker Project

So I’ve had some fun restoring these old drive-in speakers and making them functional again. It’s a nice little distraction, and I do like the finished products.

So when a friend of mine pointed out that someone local was selling drive-in speakers, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Until I saw what theater the speakers represented.

They were all from the Malta Drive-In.

No, seriously. Look here.

The Malta, which can be accessed by driving to Exit 13S on the Northway, is one of the Capital District’s oldest outdoor theaters, and the only one of its type left in Saratoga County (I believe the old Super 50 Drive-In in Burnt Hills is now an office park). The Malta first opened in 1949, and a second screen was added in 2008. Since the Malta, like most other outdoor cinemas, switched over from wired speakers to an FM transmitter for movie sound, these old speakers are no longer needed. However, they do make for a great art project now and again.

The front of this speaker has an old, mottled white paint, while the back is some old drab Army green. Yeah, we’re keeping none of these colors.

Okay, let’s crack this bad boy open and see what’s inside.

Oh, wait. What drill bit do I need to get these screws out?

Wow. Looks like someone tried to extract the screw with the wrong drill bit, kept on drilling, and essentially stripped the screw head. Ugh.

Okay, Chuck. Not to worry. One quick trip to Clifton Park and the local Harbor Freight tool store, and I acquired a screw removal set – several different bits that, when inserted into the stripped screwhead, can get the screwhead out. Eventually the screws were unable to withstand the power of Harbor Freight drill bits, and the old fasteners came out of the speaker.

Okay, let’s crack this bad boy open, he said again. I’m expecting to see a rat’s nest in there, maybe a blown speaker, some melted wires, who knows.

Actually, no. The insides look quite clean. I checked the speaker cone, it had no rips. So after I popped off the plastic volume knob, I was able to remove the potentiometer and the four Phillips screws that held the sound assembly to the front of the speaker chassis. I mean, why buy new speakers and potentiometers if the old ones look adequate?

Immediately I put all the components – the hex nut, the screws, the potentiometer and the speaker and the wire – all in a sandwich bag. This is what you do to make sure you don’t lose any parts or pieces. It’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, trust me on this.

All right. Next step. Take the sanding pads and get this old gunky-ass blah paint off the units, so that I can apply a nice coat of self-etching primer and choose some new colors for this bad boy.

It was a rough journey, but I did manage to get as much of the spackle off this unit as possible.

First warm weekend of 2021 … and I’m dousing this thing with a sweet coat of self-etching primer.

Much, much better. Now I have a clear palate to work my color palette.

Take a look at the Malta Drive-In sign, and the colors of the sign itself. Yellow, blue and red. I can add this to the speaker.

First, I gave the speaker a coat of black base paint. Then I used painter’s tape to mask off parts of the speaker, which I would spray with bright yellow.

After I added the yellow paint, I re-applied the painter’s tape to allow me to paint red and blue horizontal stripes on the speaker.

A little Sharpie detailing to bring back the MALTA DRIVE-IN THEATRE engravings, I put the speaker assembly and potentiometer back in the speaker … added a brand new chrome volume knob, and…

Well, here it is.

Not bad at all. Turned out better than I expected. So I’ve added it to my restored collection.

This is fun.

Honestly, this is fun.

Heck, I’m even looking at some of my “Competition Season” categories to see if there’s any way I can enter one of these speakers as a competitive artwork.

Yeah, I’m really digging this.

Now if I can find a speaker that originally existed at the Jericho Drive-In, and it says “Jericho Drive-In” on the front …

Hoo boy that would be super-awesome.