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.
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.
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.
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.