By on January 20, 2014

09 - 1989 Sterling 827 SLi Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee MartinWhen you find a Jensen Interceptor in one row and a Maserati Biturbo Spyder in the next row at a Los Angeles self-service wrecking yard, you can count on finding another weird import not far away. Sure enough, here’s a Sterling, a rare reminder of the short-lived Austin-Rover-Honda experiment of the late 1980s.
08 - 1989 Sterling 827 SLi Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee MartinBased on the Rover 800, which itself was a sort of Rover-ized Honda Legend, the idea behind the Sterling brand was that American car buyers could get a luxurious British-style interior coupled with Japanese build quality and reliability.
06 - 1989 Sterling 827 SLi Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee MartinSterling 827 buyers got the 2.7-liter 24-valve Honda V6, same as the Japanese-market Legend (the first-gen US-market Acura Legends had a slightly less powerful version), but they also got cars full of Lucas electrics, hammered together by angry Englishmen who saw the union-busting face of Maggie Thatcher in every fastener they pounded. American buyers edged away in horror.
10 - 1989 Sterling 827 SLi Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee MartinStill, the interiors were very nice, lots of wood and leather.
04 - 1989 Sterling 827 SLi Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee MartinThis one barely made it past 100,000 miles. Checking the VIN in the California smog-check records database indicates that this car failed the smog test just about every time, but managed to get registered as recently as 2008. Since that time, it probably sat in a driveway, awaiting some repair that just wasn’t worth doing.
12 - 1989 Sterling 827 SLi Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee MartinWith 5,907 Sterlings sold in the United States for the 1987 model year, these cars were always pretty rare.


Connally Leather, which has to be better than Corinthian Leather!

There was a Japanese version, of course.

The 800 was pitched as being romantic in the UK, no hint of the Honda innards.

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69 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1989 Sterling 827 SLi Fastback...”


  • avatar
    Spartan

    I remember Sterlings as a kid, but this is the first time I’ve seen a fastback model.

  • avatar
    Battles

    Nice find, these are rare in UK scrapyards these days.
    And a lot of them didn’t even make it to a hundred thousand miles.

    When these were being phased out in ’99 and ’00, there was a Rover dealer near my job at the time that was spinning the 50% discount on new list price as a “Buy One, Get One Free Offer”.
    Most people didn’t even want one never mind two.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    We owned a Rover. Sister’s friend’s Toyota broke down in the driveway one day so she called AAA and started to give directions. Half-way through, AAA interrupted her and said “Oh, you mean the Brewer residence. We know where that is!”

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “Based on the Rover 800, which itself was a sort of Rover-ized Honda Legend, the idea was that American car buyers could get a luxurious British-style interior coupled with Japanese build quality and reliability.”

    My, what could go wrong?

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Uh, during the Car and Driver test of the 825 sedan, the electrics suddenly quit at 55+, then immediately came back on again. Completely. Didn’t happen again, no idea why.

      C&D mentioned the incident in the closing of the article, just in case their nice comments on the car (there were more than a few) would have been to persuasive.

      I’d still love to have one.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        That’s hilarious. So its 198x and a major magazine like C&D can make or break your new brand in a review, and their test car’s electrical system “blinked”.

    • 0 avatar
      Volt 230

      The electronics, for one!

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    I feel bad for that Honda engine….barely broken in when the rest of the car is, well, just broken.

  • avatar
    Power6

    That’s got to be the rarest one, the 2.7 hatchback, though I think you get a stick here too and this one is an automatic.

    I was a relative young’n in ’90 but 0% financing sounds expensive for Rover in that day!

  • avatar
    sirwired

    2nd Junkyard Find in a week where a snazzy interior was put into a car that was otherwise a pointless pile of worthlessness.

    It’d be nice if designers of German suspensions and steering, English or Italian interiors, clueful US body designers, and Japanese drive trains could get together and make a true Ultimate Driving Machine.

  • avatar
    Garak

    Wow, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of the Sterling. The design looks fairly decent for its day, too bad about the reliability.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    Speaking of smaller brands, is there a new brand in America I’m unaware of? I saw a car yesterday with badges I have never seen, and the design was also different then any I’ve seen.
    I thought the badge was broken at first but all the badges looked that way. It was a rather modern car maybe 2010+

    No model name tag, of course my luck.

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    Thanks for the memories. My 827i Sterling 4 door hatchback turned out to be one of my best car owning experiences ever. The trick was to buy it used and with later year’s electronics – i.e. Bosch not Lucas as I recall. You could get a low mileage example for just over half the cost of a comparable Acura Legend. It was good for around 125k miles versus maybe 150k for the Legend.

    I really liked my four door hatchback, a configuration otherwise unavailable in the USA at the time as I recall. Sure, it was a tad on the ugly side, but it could haul several sheets of drywall or a rolled up area rug in a pinch. Meanwhile, I had a beautiful interior and all the latest electronic gizmos. I eventually drove mine into a herd of elk about midnight just outside of Eagles Nest, NM. It survived the ensuing collisions, but it was never quite the same after that.

    The brief Sterling saga is an epic business failure story, and the poor electronics of the first two model years were certainly despicable. The Sterling suspension was also a bit of a mess. That said, by comparison, close to half the non-truck product coming out of Detroit in those years was complete dreck. Poor Sterling failed even against that. But, properly purchased and correctly managed (other than the late night tiff with the elk) it ended up being a great vehicle for me.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      The Merkur Scorpio was available in 1988 & 1989 and offered a 4-door hatchback configuration. Build quality and survival rate on the Scorpio was much better too.

      • 0 avatar
        jimbob457

        I recall looking at a few Merkur after my elk damaged Sterling began its inevitable ascent toward the great auto graveyard in the sky. The 4 door hatchback Merkur was more than just a tad ugly, and I could not find a decent and well-priced example to purchase.

        At the time a luxury euro four door hatchback worked well for my needs. I had rent property to maintain and loved to ski. My other activities required maybe 2000 miles per month of highway driving. At home I didn’t really have the parking space for more than one vehicle.

        Today, I guess some kind of miserable turbo 4 banger SUV would be the most suitable for this situation.

        • 0 avatar
          Charles T

          If we’re talking luxury euro four-door hatchback, the Saab 9000 was also sold at that time, and would’ve been perfect for getting to the slopes.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            And it looked the best with its Aero wheels.

          • 0 avatar
            Featherston

            Don’t forget the gold standard of the four-door hatches: the Renault Encore. ;-)

            Of the top of my head, I think the Saab 900 could be had as a four-door. And the Audi 5000 wagon actually kind of skewed hatchback with its sloping rear glass.

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            Also the Ford Sierra. I think the Scorpio was intially offered as a hatchback only; the sedan came out later.

          • 0 avatar
            Wheeljack

            Scorpio was hatchback only at first. Sedan was launched later and never brought to the US.

        • 0 avatar
          Wheeljack

          Must be a taste thing – I thought the Sterling was kind of boring with it’s straightedge styling and 2-dimensional look. The Scorpio has some interesting shapes on it if you look at it from the right angles – the view out over the hood is gorgeous since the fenders crest up at the corners into mild fins to direct air and water over the car. The hood itself has a nice convex shape that adds surface tension to the design.

  • avatar
    rover800

    There is a thriving fan base for these cars in the UK (and further afield): http://www.rover800.info/forum/index.php

    We even have members in the USA

  • avatar

    Been there owned one. Mine was a 87 825SL sedan with the automatic. Lets see, it had cooling issues and head gasket issues. The headroom was even worse than a 700 series Volvo with a sunroof, the seats were German hard and you sat on them not in them. The steering wheel was just always in the wrong place and the electrics were somewhere between 6 volt VW and late 90′s 911 with the benefit of needing costly genuine Lucas wiring harness smoke. (really the electrics were not that bad, until it came to the cooling system… relays that would go pop, fans that would melt, but the switches were totally Audi)

    The good thing about the car. Well it would seriously eat the miles when I was commuting in Nevada, the AC was near General Motors level and when I had to do the twisty it was pretty competent.

    The worst. Bloody parts prices. Do not ask what a head set costs for one of those. I can get 4 Subaru master rebuild sets to 1 Sterling/Honda head set.

    It did last 225,000 miles. So yes it was a rubbish car when my Pug (see earlier post here) is still going but now in someone else’s hands at well past half a million miles.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    This was a really attractive car when they were built. There were a fair number of them running around in Central Massachusetts when I was growing up. Must have been some reason given the scant sales numbers on why they were a bit more popular there.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      New England loves European cars, and they tend to work well here. Maine did not have an Acura dealer at all until ~15 years ago, but we had a Sterling dealer. They were all over the place back in the day, and everyone I knew who had one loved it, but said they were unreliable.

      It was supposed to be Japanese reliability with British flair, but the reality was British reliability with Japanese (lack of) flair.

      On the plus side, the rustproofing was FAR better than the Legend. Those things absolutely dissolved in the salt.

  • avatar
    Marko

    When I saw the first photo, all I could think of was “Porsche 944 on the KFC Double Down diet”.

    • 0 avatar
      sfvarholy

      The car is deceptively large in person. They look somewhat small in photos because they are narrow(er). The 827 SLI barely fits with a few inches to spare in may garage because it is so long.

      There is a lot of foot room for the back passengers, which is ideal for an UK executive class sedan.

  • avatar
    snakebit

    IIRC, the importation of “Sterling” automobiles was perpetrated by Florida mega dealer Norman Bramans’ company, and they served as the initial distributor in the States. Unlike more experienced US importers like Max Hoffman and Kjell Qvale,this firm wasn’t up to the task of supporting customers or dealers. As Murilee posted earlier, the Sterling was not an Acura. It had a Honda V6 and transmission, but heaven help the owner who needed something not directly bolted to the powertrain. I worked a short while for an Acura dealer who also sold Sterling in a separate dealership. Once in a while a Sterling customer would ask us to order a part that our Sterling dealer had on backorder, and we had to tell them that their part had no crossover equivalent from Acura/Honda, and it was usually an electrical part. The ironic part during the time was that the Acura/Honda parts system had something like a 90 percent fill rate with only a handful of cross shipments and next to no unavailable parts. Another irony was that when I dealt with British car parts in California for MG-Mini-Austin Healey, a Qvale distributorship on the west coast, I can’t remember anything I ordered that wasn’t readily stocked in their local parts center. I can’t speak for Rover at that time, as it was lumped with Triumph and distributed by another company and we ordered very little Rover-Triumph stuff(this was pre British Leyland).

  • avatar
    sfvarholy

    Wish that one was closer. I need parts!

    Got a 1989 black manual 827SLi in my driveways right now. Awaiting repairs that probably are not worth it.

    When it was roadworthy, the car was a really sweet ride. Big, spacious, quick (enough) and rode almost like an XJ Jag.

    The fault with the car is all the plastics and electrics. It was 1989, so the new formulation plastics like almost all cars of that age became brittle.. and started breaking and falling off.

    The electrics — as noted before and by the contemporary buff books — were dodgy. But not because of the components. Because the Brits cheaped out and decided not to use lithium grease in any of the joints and connectors. So you have all the connections corroding and causing intermittent shorts and faults. Headlights not working? Stop. Open the hood, disconnect and reconnect the master connector on the harness a couple times to clean the corrosion off the joints. Accessory not working? Open one of the several fuse boxes and remove and replace the fuse to clean the corrosion. It’s a good thing the UK isn’t damp!

    Mine has been sitting because the Master Cylinder is bad. Rebuild kit? Hah! The master cylinder is a Rover 827 only part. The only master cylinder parts in the US are for non-ABS cars. And by 1989, all the cars had ABS standard.

    As someone previously noted, they are extremely rare in the UK. No doubt mine may return to the mother country if I ever put it up on ebay. If the lack of brakes doesn’t kill someone, that is…

    Damn if it is not an attractive car…

    • 0 avatar
      tornado542

      I actually owned one when I was in college. I think I bought it for $800, drove it for 2 months with a check engine light on then sold it for $750.

      Towards the end, the brake master cylinder began to leak, thus leading to spongy pedal. My mechanic said $350 in parts and another $100 for labor and I couldnt afford it. On top of that it was the only ABS cylinder in California. COuldnt afford it so I sold it to some people in Oakland. I did put like 3000 miles on it tho, it was pretty luxurious for a 20 year old kid haha.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I didn’t know they made a fastback version – nice.

    “Sterling” was certainly a misnomer, however; these cars were never any good.

    • 0 avatar
      sfvarholy

      After Austin-Rover burned folks in the US with the SD1, they decided, rightly or wrongly, to use the name of the top 827 trim level as the brand name in the US. The full boat 800s were Rover 827 SLI Sterlings.

      If you got a “good one” which would be a 1990-1991 US model, they were great cars and rode like a Jag. The quality was spotty on earlier ones.

      • 0 avatar
        rover800

        Not quite right on the names. “Rover” was never used as the marque in the USA – the brand name was “Sterling” and the models were “827″.

        In the rest of the world, the brand names was “Rover” and then the cars were badged (generally) as “820″ (2L engine), “825″ (2.5L) or “827″ (guess what engine size they have!). “Sterling” was a model name, indicating top spec trim and biggest engine option.

        So you would never see something badged as “Rover 827 SLI Sterling”. In the USA it would be “Sterling 827 SLI” and the rest of the world got “Rover 827 S/Si/SLi” or “Rover Sterling”

        • 0 avatar
          sfvarholy

          I stand corrected.

          The prior owner of mine rebadged mine with all the correct Rover badges, including the shield wheel centers.

          However, the Rover marque was used in the USA for the 1960′s-1970′s 3500S and the 1980-81 SD1.

      • 0 avatar
        gottacook

        I’m not sure “burned folks in the US with the SD1″ is the best way to put it. The federalized Rover 3500 sold barely more than 1000 cars upon Rover’s brief reentry into the U.S. market in 1980-81, so the number of buyers who might have been burned would have been too few, I think, to make a difference in sales.

        Some 20 years ago in DC, I repeatedly saw a nice Sterling 5-door parked around the corner; very impressive in U.S. trim, and useful-looking. Of course I’d already heard about the problems of a friend of a friend on the other coast who’d already spent many hundreds keeping her 4-door Sterling running, and finally just gave up after the car was 5 years old or so.

        • 0 avatar
          sfvarholy

          Well, whether it was the SD1 owner experience in the US or not, they withdrew very quickly from the market and chose not bring the Rover name back again. Most of the Sterling stories in the press had noted that the tarnished Rover brand was why they were Sterlings in the States.

  • avatar
    greaseyknight

    Saw a sedan go zooming past me, on the left, on a MKE freeway. Was just able to get a glimpse of the weird rear window and the Sterling badge. Totally floored me that one would survive this long in the rust belt.

  • avatar
    davew833

    My family and I have had probably half a dozen Sterlings beginning 15 years ago or so. They were cheap, unique, and nice cars to ride and drive in when they were working right. The best one I had was a ’90 827SL Oxford Edition that I bought from the original owner with about 72k miles in 2004. Having also had Acura Legends of the same generation, I’d say that ’90 was just as good and comparable in reliability. I sold it about 5 years ago and it’s still on the road (in fact, it’s for sale again.) It was common for the British carmakers to start out a US model with poor-to-marginal quality, make consistent improvements, and then withdraw the model when they finally got it right! Headroom was always a problem for me, and I’m only 5’10, but the seats seem to sit higher than in other cars and I never could adjust the bottom down far enough that my head didn’t rub on the ceiling a little. I always wanted an SLi hatchback– the last one that I ever saw for sale in Utah where I live ended up in the junkyard shortly after I passed up buying it. Connolloy leather is supposedly the same stuff that Rolls Royce uses in their cars.

    The one in the story being an ’89, was sort of a transition year between the ’87 and ’88 825SLs with the 2.5l engine and poorer-quality electronics. This one has the better 2.7l engine, but the older-style Veglia(?) instrument cluster which had a high failure rate, as well as the manual climate controls that regularly had their levers break off. ’90 and ’91 cars had Koito or some other Japanese make of instrument clusters. It also may have been a “special edition” because it has seats with the pigskin suede inserts and the wood trim inside (yes, it’s real) is not the standard burl walnut. Chances are the rear seat has a power reclining feature as well.

    It’s probable the mileage indicated isn’t accurate, I’d bet good money there’s a sticker in the driver’s door jamb that shows the odometer was replaced at some point early in the car’s life- the mileage at replacement time being hand-written on the sticker and thus lost to history long ago.

    It probably wasn’t an engine or transmission failure that relegated this one to the junkyard– I’d bet on some kind of electrical system and/or brake or cooling system failure. The cooling system had a pressurized overflow tank and no radiator cap like many German cars and being that it was plastic it would frequently crack.

    The lenses of the headlights, front marker lights, and corner lights of the US were plastic and frequently fell off, giving the cars kind of a “toothless” look in the front. The European models got glass lenses, but not for us! And finally, is there anything cheaper-looking than silver-painted plastic emblems?

  • avatar
    davew833

    If I’m not mistaken, 1989 was also the last year the inside hood release was on the passenger side of the car, which would make perfect sense if it were a home-market RHD car, but doesn’t make sense at all for a US market car. Most earlier Sterlings I’ve seen in the self-service wrecking yards have the hoods wrenched open by force because the employees can’t find the stupid hood release.

    • 0 avatar
      sfvarholy

      The hood release is on the drivers side at least on my 1989.

      LHD cars were made for export to Continental Europe as well. The 800 list has at least one RHD owner in Scandinavia.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    For some reason at one point , IIRC after my wife’s Camry had been wrecked and totalled and she gave me the insurance check to get a new car and I decided to look for either a Merkur Xr4 or whatever it was or a Sterling hatchback to replace it . I remember one day I went to look at both a Merkur ( it stank of mildew , obviously had been in one of our Houston floods , had the rear view mirror and the hood release sitting in the passenger seat ) and a Sterling . Passed on the Sterling because altho the salesman on the phone had insisted it was the hatchback model it was the sedan .He kept dropping the price , first by $500 , then $2000 before I left .Thank god I passed on that – can only imagine how well a Sterling would have worked out . Wonder what happened to the poor dealers who signed up for a Sterling franchise ? At the time I was living in Denver , recall a stand-alone Sterling dealer in the middle of nothing , a bunch of vacant lots in east Denver or perhaps Aurora , with maybe 2 or 3 Sterlings in the showroom .

  • avatar
    SixDucks

    A rare find indeed. But some cars are better left lost. I knew a Cadillac dealer that peddled Sterlings back in the day. Many unhappy customers, far more than similar vintage Caddy customers.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I know a nice Lady who bought one new , what a POC from day one .

    The interior fell apart and of course, the Lucas Electrics =8-^ .

    I have _zero_ pity for any English Auto Workers ~ they steadfastly refused to DO THEIR JOB of simply properly assembling cars / trucks and Motocycles ~ the weird warranty stuff on most British vehicles is what killed their entire Auto Industry , not the interesting and often very clever and innovative engineering .

    Stupid ass Union boobs , mind you , I’m a proud SIEU 721 Member and will be until I die but WE WORK dammit , unlike those lazy English @$$hats .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Interesting how this was one of the last mid-size 5 door cars available in the U.S. Through the 80′s there was the Chrysler LeBaron GTS/Dodge Lancer,Nissan/Datsun Stanza 5 door and the Mazda 626 which was available with 4 wheel steering, It’s replacement the 6 was offered as a 5 dr version until the previous generation was introduced in the mid-00′s

  • avatar
    ReSa

    My parents totalled their Volvo 740 somewhere in Italy when these ‘Rovers’ were around. Rolled over 5 times and got away with minor scratches (the single reason why they’ve remained avid Volvo buyers since). Their insurance covered a rental car for them to drive back to the Netherlands, so the Italian rental company gave them their most expensive car, being the Rover 800, almost brand new…
    On their way back through Germany the electronics died while doing 60 mph on the Autobahn! Lucky for them they could make it to the emergency lane.

    As soon as the ADAC (The German AA) mechanic spotted the Rover, he cried out ‘Mein Gott, ein Englisches Auto!’ (‘Dear Lord, an English car!’).
    He didn’t even assess the problem, but simply towed them to the next village and called the rental company for a replacement Opel Astra….

  • avatar
    mschiavoni

    actually pulling carfax, it only failed once, due to a catalytic converter, and the car’s junk title was only issued on the 8th of this month

  • avatar
    BillWilliam

    Was the Triumph Acclaim, related in any way to the Sterling? … Just wondering.

    • 0 avatar
      sfvarholy

      The Acclaim was based on the Gen II Civic sedan. It is a product of the same Honda/BL(AR) partnership.

      The 800 is structurally the same as the Acura(Honda) Legend Gen I.

  • avatar
    davew833

    There is still one guy in Pennsylvania named Dale Charles that specializes in parts and service for these. He’s purchased up surplus Sterling parts inventory wherever he finds it and apparently has connections with Rover or Unipart in Europe and can get some replacement parts– at least whatever’s still available for a 25+ year old car.

    http://sterlingfixer.com/

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    Actually, NOT a crazy idea- which is why tuners put Honda motors into Classic Austin Mini’s! Style AND reliability!

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    I have long history with these cars.

    I had a Sterling 825 I got from my best fried and roommate, after we flew to Dallas to fetch an 827 with only 40k on the odometer he’d found on eBay. Then drove it back to Idaho in 24 hours. What made the cars awesome for our ages at the time (~24 or so) were people always looked twice at them, and girls always wondered what the car was, and every time they got in the car the interior impressed them to no end. I got some good dates with that car, and it was a good carriage to go on dates.

    Of course the 825 seemed like a jet fighter; not in performance (though it was quick and deceptively good at high speeds, 100 felt like 60 in those cars), but the maintenance; i.e. hours of tinkering for every one hour of operation. Lucas electric was most of it, but the master cylinder conked out on mine twice ($700 and ~three thousand swear words of labor), and the tranny got swapped once (genuine Sterling with that god-awful shift-kit, $2500 and billions of swear words).

    It finally died when somehow a seal failed in the oil loop part of the radiator, turning the antifreeze into this hideous brown goo that gummed up the block. RIP @190,000 miles after way too much work. But it was a fun, quick, and ostensibly luxurious car nobody else owned.

    My best friend and his 827 had a darker fate; he got these outrageously ugly rims for his car, then got side-swiped in the 827. He got a old junker Honda Accord for basic transport while the Sterling awaited parts, put those stupid rims on the Honda, then managed to head-on a tractor trailer on a two-lane highway at closing speed well over 140MPH. Like our Sterlings, he is long gone. But every time I see even mention of a Sterling, good memories abound.

    Thanks TTAC, and RIP Shaine.

  • avatar
    Cadillacpimpin

    I would pay good money for those emblems.

  • avatar
    Badger461

    Glad too see many positive comments on this car here. I have one of these (’89 827sli) as a second car currently and love driving it, and do often. I bought it out of a southern estate about
    6 months ago and have put aprox 4000 miles on it in that time. It has 126k on the clock currently. Have experienced a few minor electronics hiccups Like sticky interior light switches and warning light misfires) but they seem to reset themselves when I shut off and re start the car. The only things I had to do in the car so far was replace a sunroof switch, one ball joint and convert / charge the AC. Other than that it all works beautifully. Love the suede and leather seats which are in perfect shape since the original owner had them covered since new. Find them to be much more comfortable than the ones in my ’12 Mazda CX9. My Sterling is at its best cruising @70mph+ on an interstate or on curvy back country roads. It is a competent city car but the automatic trans is a little tight and jumpy so it is less pleasant in urban conditions. An unexpected bonus if this car is it’s generous size. It holds as much cargo as most small suv’s and the rear seats have as much leg room as my Mazda. I hope to be able to own. drive and enjoy this fine unique car for a long time to come.


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