Pop Top Car: 1970 Sterling

The world of kit cars seemingly exploded in the 70s, with an amazing variety of options available for the DIYer who wished to build their own sports car from the comfort of their garage. The versatility of the Volkswagen Beetle floor pan had a lot to do with this, it seems, as many of these off-the-wall kits were based on the Bug’s underpinnings. This example here is known as a Sterling, and was perhaps most recognized for its distinctive canopy that popped upwards to allow access to the cockpit. This example is listed here on Facebook Marketplace in Mississippi, where it has seemingly been languishing in a carport for some time.

It’s so hard to assign a value to cars like these, as they are undoubtedly notable for their unique designs and clever packaging, along with being available in very limited quantities. At the end of the day, however, you still have the athleticism of a Beetle underneath, no matter how exotic the outside may be. And while limited production can lead to higher prices, there’s a fine line between limited production and truly obscure – and the Sebring definitely falls into the latter category. The paint is at least consistent throughout, and would likely bounce back nicely with proper detailing.

Despite the extremely futuristic body, the Sebring (like so many other kit cars from this same time period) uses Volkswagen Beetle power to motivate its Lamborghini-like exterior. I imagine this was always a source of disappointment for owners of these cars who loved the wild body design but were less than excited to realize they’d have to enjoy their glass-ensconced canopy with under 60 horsepower behind their heads. Still, it makes maintenance pretty simple, as finding parts shouldn’t be too hard and it will keep running costs low if you choose not to swap it out for something more exotic.

These kit cars always featured absolutely ridiculous bucket seats, so narrow and heavily bolstered that they are almost the ultimate diet pill, ensuring your waist size never exceeds 30 inches out of fear you wouldn’t be able to squeeze inside. Like many Facebook listings, the seller doesn’t provide much information other than to say the body is in good condition and that the car doesn’t run. I’d love to know the story behind how this bizarre creation ended up abandoned in a suburban driveway in Mississippi, and I’d like to see what comes of its restoration. Thanks to Barn Finds readers Chuck F and 55chevy for the find.

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Comments

  1. alphasud Member

    Oh my! Might rename this one the Phallic.

    Like 1
  2. Moparman Member

    WOW! Look at that front overhang! Can you imagine trying to park this thing while SURELY being unable to determine where the front end ended??

    Like 2
  3. Mitchell Gildea Member

    If Jay Leno’s chin were a car

    Like 12
  4. Rick

    Not too bad a price for a project if the pans are solid. There is a strong fan base for the cars, and I’m personally directly involved with the new owner of the company. Yes, parts are still available!
    Funny how people mention the overhang. In reality, it’s only about 6″ further forward of the front bumper than the Beetle donor it came from. If I had a way to post a photo, I have an overlay of the Sterling on the Beetle for comparisons. Windshield appears to be cracked.. plan on spending a lump sum for a new one and side glass if it isn’t there. Engines.. yep, standard Beetle mill will get you rolling, a stout 2 liter will surprise just about anything in the straights and twisties if you have the suspension set right. The dry weight of the car is only about #1700, so it doesn’t take much to get it going. I had a ton of fun with my warmed 1600.. reliable and quick – I ran out of gear before I ran out of engine.

    Like 4
    • Tom

      Where in this add do u see a $ or any numbers..I sure dont!, w/ out bouncing off page(BF) and rummaging through FBMPto find it..
      What’s the bid at currently then?

      • Rick

        No bid – asking price of $2200

  5. Racer-X

    Only 60HP?
    A turbo fuel injected aircooled engine will get 300HP. Even a naturally aspirated carb’d can get 180HP. Both built for street.

    My 1679cc dynod 90HP 105ftlb and runs all summer in 110 deg weather.

    Like 3
    • Rick

      60hp was stock. Your 1679 would be much more reliable than a turbo with fuel injection. Go high horsepower numbers, you need the lower end to handle it. That’s why most builders use Type4 engine blocks to do that.

      • Poppapork

        Not only lower end but the entire drivetrain will tap out

  6. Chuck F 55chevy

    I finally got my car hoarding addiction somewhat under control, or else this might have been in my back yard. Seems like they were made in Nappanee Indiana, I remember seeing them on US 6 during a trip to South Bend from Kendallville way back when.

    Like 3
  7. Doyler

    Always felt the overhang ruined it for me.

    Surly someone smarter with cad skills can redesign the front end and make it more palatable?

    Like 1
    • Doyler

      Also – how about an engine swap for a Honda Goldwing flat 6?

      Like 1
      • Rick

        Always thought about that (having a Goldwing in the garage next to my Sterling). But the torque numbers don’t make it feasible. A Subaru swap is far more common.

        Like 3
  8. Tyronne Schulace

    How about 385 hp from a twin turbo Ford SHO motor? Or 245 from a Yamaha/Ford V6? I have one from 1978 as yet unfinished. I was given a ride in a Sterling that had a 2.4 Bergman engine. It was stupid fast. In skilled hands could take a T intersection @ 75 mph. Maybe, Thats why it doesn’t have doors. The only thing that I was concerned about was the windshield 12″ from my face

    Like 1
  9. PaulG

    Don’t think there’s paint to “buff out”.
    Looks like gel coat to me…
    A relative deal at the ask if only for it’s uniqueness.

    Like 4
  10. Gary

    Need to be careful on the title on this one. A vw title would be good, but anything else might be a problem.

  11. Mike

    The seating position must be horizontal because the picture shows the top of the car doesn’t even come up to the waist of the guy standing next to it.

    • Rick

      Lay back is pretty accurate!

  12. Alan Robbins

    I’ve always thought these were pretty in a Bricklin kind of way but I would think with all that glass, windows that don’t roll down, and a bug heating system there would be very few days you could enjoy it.

  13. Bob W

    Owned one of these. It was a ‘78 I believe. Motor was pretty well shot, but went into a Honda parts dept one day for window parts and the parts guy ended up selling me a race engine he’d built for his vow. The thing would scream. Tough to get used to getting in & out, but what an attention getter. Good price on this one.

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