By on November 27, 2017

Image: 1987 Sterling 825SThough we wrote about the Sterling brand in a previous QOTD post from earlier this year, we’ve never covered one as a Rare Ride. It’s not often one finds a Sterling for sale these days, as most examples fell into disrepair and disuse by the late 1990s. But B&B commenter FreedMike managed to find a very tidy Sterling for sale at a dealer in Wisconsin, which is near Canada.

Come have a look at the not-quite Honda from Blighty.

Image: 1987 Sterling 825SBeing a 1987 model, this navy blue 825S (base trim) is from the very first year of the Sterling brand in America. For ’87 the 825 sedan was the only model available, with the Sterling brand managing over 14,000 sales in that first year.

Image: 1987 Sterling 825SThe 825 sedan was joined later by its sibling, the 825 liftback. Of the Sterlings your author has seen for sale within recent memory, the vast majority (or maybe all) of them were the 827 model. The navy blue paint presents well, and is less common than either silver or white.

Image: 1987 Sterling 825SBoth Sterling models were Americanized versions of the Rover 800, which was a platform mate of the Acura Legend. Honda and British-Leyland (renamed “Rover Group” in 1986) entered a partnership some years before. The first car born from this alliance was the last to wear a Triumph badge — the regrettably reworked Honda Ballade, marketed in England as the Acclaim.

Image: 1987 Sterling 825SThe interior of Sterling models was decidedly British in feel, with real wood trim across both the 825 and 827, and Connolly leather seats in the SL models. While the traditional luxury interior might typically denote a marshmallow ride, Sterlings used a different suspension design than the Legend. This meant Sterlings were notably more sporty than their Acura counterpart.

Image: 1987 Sterling 825SAll Sterlings were British-built, assembled at the Oxford or Longbridge plants. Former British-Leyland plants, they had the same workers and machinery that previously made high-quality rides like the Rover SD-1. British-Leyland also replaced the Honda electric components with Lucas ones, because national pride!

Image: 1987 Sterling 825SPre-internet consumers and media soon caught on to the quality deficiencies introduced by British manufacture, and sales plummeted in short order. Quality issues and high British pound values in the early 1990s caused Sterling brass to conclude North America was not the market for them. Showrooms closed down after the 1991 model year.

Image: 1987 Sterling 825SToday’s 825 is in quite clean shape, with 69,000 miles. The dealer requests you contact them for the price, which should be under $3,500 if they’ve got any sense.

Have a Rare Ride you’d like to submit? Email it to [email protected], and there’s a good chance we’ll feature it here.

[Images via seller]

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61 Comments on “Rare Rides: A 1987 Sterling 825, the Luxury Legend From Merry England...”

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    As stated before, perhaps the best thing about them was the commercial with Patrick Macnee. Remembered for his role as John Steed but also as the young Jacob Marlee in the definitive 1951 version of A Christmas Carol. Opposite George Cole as the young Scrooge. He authored a decent autobiography entitled ‘Blind in One Ear’, had a truly unconventional upbringing and served as an officer on Motor Torpedo Boats during WWII.

    If you want to see/remember another Rover made during their ‘partnership’ with Honda, the car driven by Richard Bucket (pronounced ‘Bouquet’) in Keeping Up Appearances is the Rover version of a Honda Civic sedan. Rover still representing a proper upper middle class British marque.

  • avatar

    How hard is it to find parts for this car?

  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    Sad that the Sterling flopped so badly in the US. The Rover 800 was a popular car in the UK, selling strongly over a long lifespan. We got a full range from basic four cylinder 820 models all the way up to the luxury 827 Sterling.

    Towards the end of its production run, there was a nice looking coupe version which was probably designed with one eye on the US market, but unfortunately never made it across the Atlantic.

  • avatar

    Whats with the protruding controls beside the steering wheel? They look a bit like an after thought!

    I’d take the Legend just to avoid the awful fake wood bits.

  • avatar

    I love Honda… seriously good cars… but… these cars are not worth buying. Regardless of the number of miles.
    Bowing to pressure Honda agreed to use English made wiring harnesses. Not smart. English wiring harnesses had issues that became more than serious. No one could figure out problems which kept popping up… constantly…with the harness. Because of this people opted to stick with American made hondas or Japanese made hondas. Both made by people Americans trusted. America’s “special relationship” with the Brits… didn’t flow over to blindly trusting Brit car quality. America now has a much much stronger special relationship with Japan. Why? Because of mutual trust. Trust … in part…that the equipment that we make for each other … the machinery we rely on… that our lives depend upon… can be trusted. Simple as that.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I had a buddy who bought one of these, and very much regretted it. “British luxury with Honda reliability” was the idea, but it didn’t quite work out. They were not cheap, I’m shocked to see what crappy-looking they gauges they put in these.

    • 0 avatar
      old blue

      Not only the wiring harness. I looked at buying one. New, the build quality was inferior.

      They even left the hood release on the right, where it had been placed for the right hand drive.

      Braman was the importer. Also not a good factor.


  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    My first thought upon seeing the picture was “hey, an article about the original Legend”. I didn’t know Honda had partnered with Sterling.

    So apparently some Rover executives gifted with a reliable and well-built Acura must only place their own badges upon it to have a real chance at success? And they decide to botch that by installing British electronics, poor paint and rustproofing, and ephemeral interior trim?

    One wonders how some people climb into positions of power and influence within a company.

    • 0 avatar

      They get in positions of power by being cowards, i.e. they will not rock the boat by expressing dissention to bad decisions, use their subordinates as political bargaining chips, and transfer responsibility for his/her failures down to said subordinates. Kissing ass is also part of their success.

    • 0 avatar

      I had lunch with the worldwide director of parts for the Rover Group in the late 1980’s at the Doral Country Club in Miami. One of my questions to him was why did they use Lucas (“The Prince of Darkness”) electronics in the Sterling. His answer floored me.

      By using Lucas electronics, they were able to create more employment for workers in England. Unfortunately it meant far fewer jobs for assemblers as the product (and company) crashed and burned!

      • 0 avatar

        Very interesting, and nice to hear first-hand knowledge from the time.

      • 0 avatar
        Rande Bellman

        Compare that with BMW/MINI assembly. I went on a factory tour to the Oxford/Cowley plant. According to the tour guide, the wiring for MINI came from a Romanian supplier, with one of their employees stationed at the Oxford/Cowley factory for any last minute fixes, should he be needed. So much for hiring as many UK workers as possible. Certainly, BMW learned a lession from the Rover experience, I think.

    • 0 avatar
      spreadsheet monkey

      Sterling failed in the US, but the Rover 800 was a success in the UK (and in Europe to a smaller extent). The Rover dealer network was strong and the electrics, paint and interior trim all held up well.

      In the UK, there was no Acura to compete with. There was plenty of demand for a large Honda with nicer leather and better sound deadening.

      In the early 90s, we also got the Rover 600 which was a Rover-ized version of the 5th gen Honda Accord. If Sterling had been more successful in the US, perhaps this model could have made it across the Atlantic.

  • avatar
    Mike Schaeffer

    Lots of interesting history on this car at Ate Up With Motor:

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    I’ve long thought the best thing to do with a Sterling is to transplant the interior and suspension into an actual Legend and call it a day.

  • avatar

    I actually saw an 825SL recently, the first one I’d seen in many years. The Lucas electrics are about their biggest problem.

    The first one I got to see close up was in the mid ’90s, at a local indy British car repair place, where a laid-off engineer friend was working temporarily. It was the same color of this one, in for a new radiator, and possibly head gaskets, too (it had overheated).

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I’m glad you mentioned the swapped-out parts. People overstate how “Honda” these were. Call it a structure and engine co-op between Rover and Honda, but that’s as far as it went. The Rover products weren’t the same as the Hondas and did not have the same forethought put into their engineering.

  • avatar

    Oh, the temptations to look up the dealer and call. I’ve always wanted one, if only for their uniqueness, and my fascination with the British motor industry.

    • 0 avatar

      The link’s above…and I’m sure you’ll get about 1,221 emails from them in return (I have).

    • 0 avatar

      Offer $999 with this angle: they can film you coming to pick it up, driving it, and then a follow up when you get it home talking about how much you love the car and dealership.

      This was either free in a package deal from another wholesaler, or $400 toward a new car.

  • avatar

    Nice find Mike and nice piece Corey. This is the sort of thing I buy to restore and then have it worth -$600 in short order after some rare part of unobtainium goes out.

  • avatar

    My dad had one of these and it performed flawlessly. I never understood the Lucas issue because I never saw it.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      @Tstag: Come on, we need to know more. When, where, for how long, and most importantly why?

    • 0 avatar

      My folks rented one when they were overseas for a bit, I want to say ’87-’89. At any rate, it was a manual transmission and being American they threw a fit at the poor girl at the rental place. Their experience with manual transmissions had been 3 speed Fords and Buicks when they were kids. They drove it for a day and came back the next ruefully turning it in for the auto the rental place had found. After that they drove manual transmission cars until they aged out of being able to push the clutch in.

  • avatar

    I started selling Oldsmobiles on the exact day Iraq invaded Kuwait. I remember seeing advertisements for the Sterling 825 and 827 featuring the first $5,000 rebate.

  • avatar

    The original Acura cars were so well built that dealerships were supposedly losing money on their service departments. Dad had a first model year Acura Legend and it was a fantastic car.

    I don’t know which is more depressing: how badly the English screwed up their opportunity, or how far Acura has fallen from the greatness that was.

  • avatar

    How to start with one of Honda’s better engines and end up with a car that disappears from the roads after a decade: be British.

  • avatar

    Remember the GM & Toyota partnership that produced the short-lived Chevy Nova? Well similar bling.

    By the early 70’s much of western Europe knew Leyland was building crap cars. Crap that made French & Italian look good…

  • avatar

    I think the car is the one listed in Mark’s comment Feb 2015 on this site

  • avatar

    In their first year, the Legend sold over 100,000 cars while the Sterling sold 14,000. If you sat in each, you would have chosen the Sterling 100% of the time. Why did the Legend succeed … a huge marketing program by Honda … while Norman Braman (Sterling’s USA importer) ran the franchise’s advertising like a dealership’s.

    Wonder why it was called a Sterling rather than a Rover? Rover cars had been briefly sold in the USA in the 1970’s and there was a concern that that failed product launch would reflect poorly on the 825 launch.

  • avatar

    They were making these until 1998/9 in the UK. There was a major facelift in 1992 which added a cheesy chrome grille and curved up the bodywork, and a minor one in 1995 or the ’96 MY.

    These later cars were actually fairly well built, and very much the car it should have been a decade earlier. Sadly they removed the Honda 2.7 V6 and replaced it with their own 2.5 KV6 which suffered catastrophic reliability issues.

    The four cylinder engines were, oil leaks aside, fairly robust. I had a 1996 Vitesse Coupe which looked great, was quick, handled well, but had hopeless powertrain refinement for such an expensive car. Gorgeous interiors on the 1996 onwards Sterlings and Coupes.

    Sadly at that point the car, which was barely competitive at launch, was hopelessly outdated.

  • avatar

    “The 825 sedan was joined later by its upmarket sibling, the 827 liftback. Of the Sterlings your author has seen for sale within recent memory, the vast majority (or maybe all) of them were the 827 model.”

    BMW’s and Lexus’ present-day numerical shenanigans have you overthinking this, Corey. The 827 designation reflects, quite logically, the introduction of the larger-displacement 2.7 V6 for the ’88 model year. All ’88s were called 827, regardless of whether they were sedans or liftbacks.

    For ’88 at least, it looks like there were three trims: the S, SL, and the SLi. The SLi was the liftback. (I’m inferring that because of the notation for a rear wiper.)

  • avatar

    Honda and Rover’s next joint project was a far more successful one, and produced the Honda Concerto and Rover 200/400. Rover had learned from their missteps with the 800’s development, and were happy for Honda to do the majority of the platform design and engineering, while Rover concentrated on the styling, interior design and their own K-Series engine. The end result was a Rover that didn’t need to apologise for any major shortcomings, and sold around 927,000 units over a 6 year production run from 1989-95, vastly outselling the Honda it shared 90% of its parts with.

    Honda only produced the Concerto as a 5-door hatchback, while Rover churned out a coupe, cabriolet, 3 & 5-door hatchbacks, a 4-door saloon and an estate.

  • avatar

    I work for the dealer group that has this car listed! Very cool! They’ve had it at least since January 2017.

  • avatar

    I laughed so hard at the idea of choosing British wiring (from the Prince of Darkness no less!) over Japanese. If wisdom was a direction this decision is 180 degrees from it.

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