By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ralph Lauer
Royce Shields has a stable of Chevys, including a classic Corvette, but the iconic 1957 Bel Air is his baby
At 19, Royce Shields had to deliver newspapers by foot because that was the rule.
“I had a ’56 Chevy, but on my route, I saw this black ’57 Bel Air and fell in love with it,” says Royce, who’s now 77. “When I went to the owner to collect, I’d always ask him if he was ready to sell that car.”
Eventually, the owner agreed to make a deal. The price was $800.
“My dad had a banker friend, so I met with him, and we came up with a financial plan. In 30 days, that car was mine. I sold my other Chevy and only owed the bank $40 in interest for the loan.”
Shields, a retired firefighter, has owned the two-door classic, considered an American icon, for 58 years. Other cars have come and gone, and currently he has about eight other vehicles, including a Corvette, in various stages of running/not running. But the shiny black Bel Air — dubbed “Old Crow” — is his favorite.
“In 1970, I was getting the Bel Air ready for a car show, and it took so much time and effort that I bought another car to drive, so I wouldn’t have to go through that again,” says Shields, who only shows the Bel Air at occasional charity events in the area.
He has always managed to keep the car garaged. Along with the rest of his stable, it has a home in a small building Shields owns that once housed a corner grocery store in River Oaks. The Bel Air is in pristine condition thanks to his diligent care and a thorough frame-off restoration in 2012.
Shields is also fond of the muscle-car era Impala SS, so the Bel Air now sports a back seat from a ’64 Super Sport (front seats were made to match and replaced the original bench seat), a 1960 Impala steering wheel and a 1965 Impala AM-FM radio, both of which fit the existing dash perfectly.
When he bought the Bel Air, it had a 283 engine. Shields upgraded it to a 327 and, when Chevy introduced its game-changer 350 small-block V-8 in 1967, he bought one for the Bel Air. He has gone back to the 283, using an original one pulled from a ’57.
While he and his friends hot-rodded around town growing up, Shields also competed in drag races at the Green Valley Raceway in North Richland Hills. He admits he liked to go fast but says he only got one speeding ticket. He had done poorly at a show and was taking out his frustration on the accelerator. “I got pulled over and multiple cops showed up, because I was way over the speed limit. But since I pulled over immediately, they only gave me a ticket instead of taking me to jail. Plus, I think they liked the car.”
Shields says the Bel Air took some hard lumps, literally, early on during his travels west to see family and have the car looked at by Dickie Jones, a legend in the world of classic car restoration, who also loved ’57 Chevys.
“On trips back to Big Spring, I once hit a horse that was standing on Interstate 20, and another time, a deer hit me. Both happened at night, and none of us saw the other one coming.”
Sadly, Jones, a Big Spring native, was killed in a car accident this past February. “I lost a good friend — I met him through my wife, Janice, who lived next to Dickie — and the car world lost a unique talent,” says Shields, who credits Jones for the Bel-Air’s full restoration.
We asked him if he would ever sell the Old Crow, and he says no, even though right now he could get a nice chunk of change for it. “It’ll stay in the family. My son will be in charge of determining which grandkid gets the car,” he says with a smile. “There are stipulations.”
River Oaks Springfest Car Show Check out trucks, muscle cars, street rods and more. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. April 30; YMCA Camp Carter, 6200 Sand Springs Road, Fort Worth