Carlisle Import Nationals Preview: 1991 Sterling 827SL

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If you thought the Sterling was pretty much extinct on American roads, you were partially correct. By our experts’ estimates, there are less than 50 of these left in semi-regular use in the US, most of them in the northeast where this car enjoyed the “strongest” sales. This is only the third Sterling I have seen in the last eight years, and during that time I have seen about twice as many Tatras, just to put that number into perspective.

This Sterling was one of the cars in the car corral at the 2012 Carlisle Import Nationals, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about the Carlisle Import Nationals. And that’s exactly the sort of thing that makes the Carlisle Import Nationals a show you should put on your calendar, as this Sterling with 90K miles was actually one of the tamer cars that I’ve seen there. How about a Fiat Barchetta that had, ahem, “overstayed its welcome?” I rest my case.

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Developed with Honda, and sharing many components with the Acura Legend, the Rover 800 series cars were sold under the name Sterling by Austin Rover Cars of North America from 1987 till 1992, with about 35,000 cars sold during that time. Common componentry with the extremely popular (as well as extremely reliable) Acura failed to rub off on the Sterling, and many cars had electrical issues and build issues. The fact that this was essentially the only car in Rover’s passenger car range offered in North America did not help either.

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A successor to the SD1, which was received with a collective meh by the American public for the one year that it was offered in the states, the Sterling was only available with a 2.5 liter Honda V6 engine in the US market. Only sedans were sold during the first year, with fastbacks arriving in 1988. The contrast to the success of the Acura Legend could not be more glaring, and the various quality issues experienced by Sterling were emblematic of British Leyland quality of the time.

Part of the problem from a marketing standpoint, as I see it, was the Rover Group’s half-hearted effort at setting up a dealer network. Needless to say, these sold primarily on the two coasts, typically at dealerships that hawked these alongside much more stylish machinery like Jaaaaaaags.

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The 2013 edition of the only classic car event in America where you’re likely to see a Fiat 124 wagon just a few feet away from a Citroen XM and a Renault Fuego Turbodiesel will take place in Carlisle, Pennsylvania from May 17th through May 19th.

 

32 Comments

  1. The 827SL used a 2.7L engine as opposed to the 2.5L in the earlier 825SL.
    I've seen maybe 6 of these on the road here in SoCal in the last 10 years, and probably twice that many in the junkyard.Over the years I've made a few hundred bucks selling the front corner light lenses for these, because they were prone to falling off unless re-glued properly. Finding one in the junkyard with the lenses intact was a happy day.

  2. When I was a child in Tulsa, I knew a family who drove a Stirling. I don't think it was an 827, and all I remember is that it was a weird-looking car, and it was green. I wonder what became of it.

    1. That show has been gaining steam I hear, and very cool to see a Sterling in good condition.

      1. The show is well attended, attracts everything British on two or more wheels, and takes place on the lawn of the VanDusen Botanical Garden. It's a good time.
        I waved at the driver and told him I was glad to see his car as he was parking. I hope he believed me.

      1. I'd say yes. It draws plenty of non-roadsters and is one of a handful of events that I try to attend year after year. The nearby (for me, at least) Bellevue ABFM is also good but the pool of vehicles is significantly different even though the two venues aren't all that far away from each other. That Sterling has WA plates, but BC itself has a lot of stuff that doesn't seem to make it down this way.

        1. BC is quietly becoming the classic Alpina capital of North America, surprisingly enough. And also the Kei car capital of North America.

          1. I hadn't heard that about Alpinas, but yes, the BC owners of Kei cars do regularly show up at PNW microcar shows, thereby inspiring a combination of confusion, frustration, and envy among us non-Canadians.

  3. I'm so sorry to contradict you re. "the only classic car event in America where you’re likely to see a Fiat 124 wagon just a few feet away from a Citroen XM and a Renault Fuego Turbodiesel" – you've just described the very essence, nay raison d'être of the Concours arm of 24 Hours of Lemons, the Concours d’LeMons: http://www.concoursdlemons.com/
    I rest my cape.
    <img src="http://www.concoursdlemons.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/CDL-logo-blog-sized.png&quot; width="600">

    1. True, I didn't think of that, but wasn't it only Best of France and Italy that had an XM in attendance at some point?

        1. Did you have one of your microcars at the Cd'L this year? I was watching Motorweek tonight (I know, I know…) and saw a little red one that made me wonder if you were there. I also saw the ZomBee in the feature, first the rear quarterpanel then toward the end an actual drive-by. I scared the crap out of my wife when I suddenly yelled, "It's the ZomBee!". She almost choked on her refried beans until I explained my outburst.

          1. No, so far I've only made it to the '09 show and the '10 show at Sears Point/Infineon/Sonoma, although my niece took her Volvo 144 (formerly mine) to the '10 show at Toro Park, too. I'm hoping to make it back this year. Gotta keep up with the Petersons, you know. Or at least try.

          1. There are a lot of nice cars, but there's not much that's unusual. There was a guy in PA who had three 505s and an SD1, but he moved away.
            It seems like there are more oddballs in the Berkeley-Oakland-Alameda area than here, though. I think the problem with oddball vehicles is that they're no good as status symbols if others don't know what they are.
            I concede that the 8-series is kind of an oddball, though. Did you spot the black one that I've seen around?

  4. Should have been a great car, given it was a first gen Legend, with a much posher interior for about the same money. Wisdom of the buying public, BL/Rover incompetence, or both?

  5. We owned 2 brand new Sterlings, an 825SL and an 827SLI. We may be the only people on the planet to be repeat Sterling buyers.

    1. You know, now that you bring that up, I think I've heard of people in the states having more than one Sterling, but I think I may have heard that in the context of the dealer replacing one of them.
      Jimmy Carr is famous for having owned two Rover 75s though, which may have also been a rarely repeated feat. His first 75 had issues though, if I recall correctly.
      Speaking of which, the very last Rover that I have been in was actually a Roewe 750.

    2. My Father Owned THREE
      1. 825 in Silver
      2. 825 in Grey
      3. 825 in White
      First one was hit while he was standing still, waiting to make a left turn. Bent the "frame" unfixable.
      Second one spun out in a snowstorm and hit a telephone pole sideways. Bent the "frame" unfixable
      Third one was retired when the fourth gear went out at 363K miles. He drove it in D3 for a while and I bought him new car so that he would not replace the transmission with a bad back.

  6. Is that Charles Barrett driving?
    I've only ever seen one or two of these around sadly. I have the Matchbox 827 though, so there's that.

  7. Less than 50 blows my mind. I'm now kicking myself for not trading my '87 Legend straight across for one of these when I had the chance. I liked his interior better but mine was a 5-speed, super rare for a Legend sedan.

  8. My parents once had an 827 SLi as a loaner car while their Saab was being fixed. As described in post, this dealer was a Jaguar, Land Rover, Saab, Subaru, Merkur and Alfa dealer. It was a fun drive and very nice inside, but the starter failed the 3rd day we had it. They gave us a Subaru XT for the rest of the time we were waiting on a part for the Saab.
    I'd love to have one now if I could swap out the motorized seat belts for real ones. Ought to be a straight swap with the Rover 800 ones, right?
    <img src="http://www.blogcdn.com/www.autoblog.com/media/2011/08/000-ebay-find-of-the-day-sterling-827sli-1312566571.jpg&quot; width=600>

  9. A friend of mine owned one and after a few months began complaining about the electric rear windows intermittently working. I said, "You know these cars have Lucas electrics, don't you?". The ensuing look on his face was priceless.

  10. The Lucas electronics in the early versions ruined the cars' reputation right off. Later models had OK electronics. They were a Rover with a Honda drive train. An OK car. I owned two of the later models because they were a terrific deal as a used car. No where near as good as the Honda/Acura Legend, but nice for about 120,000 miles.

  11. Ahhh, the wonderful Sterling 827 !
    I actually got one of these, still in daily use 🙂
    A truly wonderful car in my oppinion!
    I've never seen any other sterlings around, and probably won't either.
    The car was originally bought in the US (of course), and when its owner moved to Europe later on, brining the car with him (of course), I was fortunate enought to get to buy it.

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