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It's being touted as the biggest birthday party of the year.

And it probably is, at least among car-corraling, big-screen movie buffs who like their entertainment outdoors and tinged with nostalgia.

The Big M Birthday Bash, which began Friday, continues through this evening at the 75-acre show grounds next to the Big M Drive-In Restaurant in Churchville.

It's dominated by a car show that features everything from classics of the 1940s and 1950s to muscle cars and 4-by-4s.

But a swap meet, flea market, crafts and antiques show, live entertainment and fireworks also are being offered.

The party is billed as the "fourth annual" such event, even though in the three previous years it was held twice yearly, in the spring and fall.

Owner Bob Wagner doesn't put much stock in semantics. After all, the restaurant for which the party is named is actually 33 years old. And the Bel Air Drive-In Theater next door is 43.

The Big M Restaurant, which once offered carhop service every night of the week, and the theater are the mainstay of entertainment that has drawn families to the complex on rural Route 22 between Aberdeen and Bel Air every weekend for decades.

There, first-run double features are shown every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night on the big screen.

Next door at the Big M Restaurant, customers can feast on burgers, fries and shakes, though carhops are not available for personal delivery Saturday nights.

"It's just too busy," Mr. Wagner said.

Still for many, a visit to the Big M is a chance to relive the 1950s.

The Bel Air Drive-In is one of the few remaining outdoor theaters on the East Coast, Mr. Wagner said. The Bengies, in Middle River in eastern Baltimore County, is the only other one in Maryland.

General admission for today's birthday bash activities is $5, with children younger than 12 admitted free. Show grounds are open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. today.

The drive-in, adjacent to the show grounds, opens at 6:30 tonight and movies begin at 7:30. Admission to the movies is $5 for adults and $3 for children 4 to 11. The movies are "Babe" and "Waterworld."

For more information on times and activities, call 879-5558 or 734-4370.

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