All Original: 27k Mile 1987 Rover Sterling 825 SL

I haven’t thought about a Sterling in years. In the ’80s they were everywhere and then seemed to disappear overnight. Some will say that the Sterling’s reputation wasn’t very, ah, sterling. As a matter of fact, I had a neighbor that had one that was identical to this 1987 example, right down to the color. Now that the Sterling has come back to memory, let’s take a look at this well-maintained edition, located in Los Angeles, California and available, here on Hemmings for $11,000, OBO. Thanks to Mitchell G. for this tip.

The Sterling 825 was based on the Rover 800 and was in production from 1987 through 1991. The 825 sedan was joined by a hatchback in 1989, and a larger engine, necessitating a model name change to 827. Both body styles were offered in a range of trim levels including the S, Si and SL among others. The party ended in August of 1991 with total U.S. sales of approximately 35K units. Praised for their British sensibility and Acura (Honda) powertrain, the Sterling was excoriated for poor electronics, sloppy paintwork, corrosion and interior trim workmanship.

Our example has seen a scant 27K miles, and there are those that will think that is high mileage for a Sterling; the powertrain was good to go longterm, but not the car overall. All snarkiness aside, this example, which is listed in mint,  100% original condition, presents itself beautifully. Body panels, fit, finish, wheels, even the door jambs look like they did on the delivery date. You have to wonder where in the world this car has been for 32 years. Clearly stored very well, but operated with extreme care too.

As mentioned earlier, this Sterling/Rover hybrid chose the reliability of Honda and went with a 151 HP, Acura 2.5 liter V6 engine coupled to a four-speed automatic transaxle. The seller states that this Sterling “drives flawlessly” and he has had the timing belt changed, good to know!

The interior is a sea of tan leather and it looks quite smart, nothing is out of place or showing any indication of age. Even the “Sterling” floormats appear as very little used, which of course, with 27K miles, that would be the case. The seller adds that all of the usual suspects are in place, including “all power options including 6-way power seats abs, perfect leather interior, sunroof, all books and manuals with records”. We’ll have to run with the assumption that the A/C works.

The first time that I spied one of these, I thought it was a fantastic looking car and I still feel that way about it today, though it is not an automobile style that is my normal cup of tea. I remember thinking, “Yes, it’s British but motivated by a respected Japanese powertrain so it has to be great, right?” Well, that wasn’t the case and as quickly as the Sterling appeared, it disappeared, mostly done in by its Rover heritage. Most unfortunate. As much as this car is a true attention-getter, I would have my reservations about it based on recorded history, not to mention non-Acura parts availability. How about you, would you be willing to take a chance on this very low mileage, 100% original (as claimed) Sterling 825 SL?

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  1. RayT Member

    Boyoboy, Jim, does this bring back memories!

    I remember picking up a shiny new 825SL press-fleet car (I may have in fact been the first to take it home) and hitting the freeway toward home, opening sunroof and windows to enjoy a crisp Fall afternoon….

    And then it began to rain. I reached for the switches, pressed them, and…found out the electrics and switchgear did not come from Acura.

    Nice-looking cars, and it’s hard not to love all the wood and leather the Brits lay on, but I haven’t driven one since that day. Not planning to start again now.

    Like 3
  2. Steve Bush Member

    Rat T is right. These were crap mostly because of their British electrics. So you’d have to be nuts to pay $11k for this. A July 2020 article by Aaron Gold in Automobile mag provides more details. It’s also on the wiki list of the worst 1980s cars.

    Like 2
  3. Al_Bundy Member

    Thanks for the laugh about the switchgear Ray ! Suppose all cars have fans, just hard to imagine a taker for a dated 4-door sedan at this price point. To each his own… Appreciate the feature, almost forgot they existed.

    Like 3
  4. scott m

    Was a difficult choice between this and an Acura- I really liked that I could roll the windows up or down without switching on the ignition LOL! As you might imagine, I was
    very happy with the Acura!

    Like 2
  5. David Zornig

    We were a Cadillac Buick dealership in Chicago who got a Sterling ticket in 1987.
    Sent chosen mechanics to a special school in Miami I recall.
    OK cars with a smattering of electrical issues early on, but resolved by year 2.
    Hood release was still on the passenger side on the `87s…
    Unfortunately when Sterling pulled the plug on the US market, we were stuck with thousands of dollars in specialized equipment, that ARCONA was offering us pennies on the dollar for.
    They refused to reimburse us for any warranty work, unless we agreed to their oddball terms which we did not.
    Only one Illinois dealer in Harvey took them up on it.
    So we flatbedded any Sterlings in for service out to them.
    We had some customers in 5 year leases whose cars we couldn’t work on.
    And they would be paying 2-3 years beyond the make even being in the US any longer.
    It was sort of the beginning of the end for us.
    Because our owner sold the dealership in 1990, and the new owner went out of business in 2 years…
    The new owner had overextended himself, expanding from a Chevy, Olds & Isuzu store down the street.

    Like 6
  6. Argy

    I recently found a June 1989 issue of Road & Track which had a review extolling the virtues of the updated Sterling 827SLi, touting the luxurious appointments and refined powertrain, ending with the line “everything you’ve heard about Sterlings (regarding build quality) is true. But the new 827 is a much better car than you think it is.” The MSRP was $29,670 (about $63K in today’s money). This example is undoubtedly the nicest one left in existence but unless you happen to operate a Rover museum I don’t know what you might do with it.

    Like 1
  7. SebastianX1/9

    You really have to want to complicate your life to buy this thing and its maintenance and its automatic transmission and its fwd and its nothing looks when you can by a normal BMW or Audi from those years for the same price.

    Like 1
  8. CJinSD

    I worked for a national car stereo catalog business in 1994. We also operated a retail store and car stereo installation business, which also helped develop the installation kits and directions for the catalog customers. I remember seeing a couple of Sterlings being worked on. I was still into German cars at the time, but installers loved Hondas passionately. They had the best body hardware, the least ignition noise, the most robust electrical systems, and everything always went back together as it had come apart. The Sterlings were clearly not Hondas. Various transplant factories have demonstrated that Americans can put together cars just as well as autoworkers from other nations. The UK? Maybe not.

    Like 1
  9. That Guy

    I owned a beautiful 1991 827SLi (the hatchback) for several years in the mid-2000’s. It was really quick and nimble, maybe the best-handling FWD car I’ve ever owned except my 1978 Mini. But the electrics were indeed crap. It’s a cliche, and not always deserved, to deride British-car electrics, but the Sterling deserved its reputation. I’m not great with electrics anyway, and I just couldn’t keep up with the cascade of failures, so I sold it for about what I paid for it. The new owner seemed better-equipped to deal with it, and I hope the car is still out there. In all other respects, it was a really great and very unique car.

    Like 3
  10. 427Turbojet 427Turbojet Member

    Our dealership group took on Sterling in 1988. As the service manager at our groups largest Chevy store, I became very involved in Sterling repairs and warranty claims. They had really nice interiors (my Mom said if you can’t say anything good about something don’t say anything). I became very familiar with the Sterling zone rep., Not always in a good way. It seems someone at the home office in England had a sense of humor though, they had a promotion where the service manager could win a trip to England, good for the manager and his wife or girlfriend, but not both. Lol. I wasn’t unhappy to see them fade away.

  11. Geoff

    I have often thought if won Powerball I would start a “museum for misfit cars”. The sorry Sterling would be my second acquisition.

    Like 1
  12. Louis Chen

    These were nice looking cars! Unfortunately, the Brits know how to mess a thing or two! As I recall, the electric-windows, locks…were a weird voltage…it was lower than the normal 12 volt! A neighbor of mine bought one and after two months, the electric Gremlin reared it’s head and the dealer simply had take my neighbor’s car back and gave him a new one! The second one was much better though. I really liked it but the electrics -I think it was LUCAS was the reason it stopped me from buying one. I believe this was the British version of the Acura Legend version.

  13. Nate

    Is it just me or does the front end look remarkably like a 1st generation Ford Taurus? LOL. I have to wonder if maybe Sterling and Ford were a bit closer than we know!?!?

  14. Mitchell Ross

    Back in the early 90s I had a small car dealership mostly selling GM B body cars to Car service drivers in Brooklyn. I also would take retail customers who wanted something else to the wholesale auction in Bordontown ,NJ each Wednsday/ One of my customers wanted a 1991 Acura Legend, this was 1994, but they were all going for $1000 over his budget. Then came a 1991 Sterling, i told him it was a Legend with British body and interior. We got a beautiful one in BRG with tan leather. After a week, the guy came crying to me that his wife moved the seat forward and it wouldn’t move back, 2 weeks later, the sunroof got stuck open. # weeks later we took it back to the auction, sold it at a loss and he spent the money on the Acura. Sad that the British just couldn’t even take a fine car and not ruin it.

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