Yes, unfortunately Sterling advertised these cars as being just as maintenance-free as the Acura, when the Sterling was actually a more customized car that required a little more care. To me, the car was kind of like an Audi in that the powertrain was reliable, but it was the electrical stuff that could catch one by surprise. Sterlings are very dependable if you can buy them from knowledgeable people. Ours never left us stranded anywhere because the previous owners understood the car and took care of it.
We have owned a 1989 Sterling 827 SLI since it was purchased new. Flame red with tan leather and in five speed.
The car has never let our family down in the last 18 years of service, and has had very few electronic gremlins. Of course she has been a garage queen for the last 6 years, and only does less than 1,500 miles a year during the sunny months in Chicago. As long as you take care of the Acura engine in these, they will probably run forever.
While the electronics were very poor on the first few years, the last years of production yielded a very reliable car.
Trim as well as fit and finish on these cars were never great, even by 80's standards (they were assembled in England, after all), but otherwise they are a unique and slightly misunderstood car, that should have done better.
It has cost less to run and maintain our Sterling than our other cars, which have been mainly BMW's. Owners that report major problems with the engine or drive train are the 2nd or 3rd owners that purchased these cars for pennies on the dollar, and spent even less in maintenance. Even the most reliable car, if not given proper maintenance, will let you down. 92,500 miles on ours and no major problems so far.
The design of the car was actually a progression from the Austin Rover SD1 Vitesse that it replaced, and is very similar in architecture. Of course the Rover SD1 was a design that originated in the early 70's and borrowed a lot of cues from the Ferrari Daytona of the same era. Go to youtube and search under "TT Challenge" and you will see the Sterling 827 SLI (much like mine) piloted by Tony Pond set a record at the Isle of Man race course. If available, see this link -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnKyMgry9iQ.
It is now very sad, that most of these cars have been junked and that Austin Rover in the UK has gone under. I still love taking her out on sunny, summer days. She still gets almost as many looks as she did when she was new.
I had a Sterling 827 hatchback for about 3 months in 1998. It was one of the most beautiful cars that I have owned (and I do like the strange ones). Unfortunately, it was nothing, but problems. I have a specific import mechanic (like I said, I like the weird ones: Premier ES Limited, Peugeot 505, Alfa Romeo Milano) and he told me he had no idea how they could take something as good as the Acura Legend and make something so bad as the Sterling 827.
In response to 13:50: Yes, you already told us this in your first comment, no need to repeat yourself, especially since you only had the car for three months. I had my 827 for over a year and although it was weird and had some issues, they were mainly the cause of negligence from the previous owners as the car really was not that difficult to work on. Neither my mechanic nor myself ever had a problem diagnosing and fixing the car.
The Sterling/Rover 800 series and the older SD1 as driven by Tony Pond share absolutely nothing in common. The SD1 was rear wheel drive for starters, and used different engines (including a Buick V8), completely different suspension, different, dimensions, wheelbase etc. The 800 was a "clean sheet" car developed in conjunction with Honda. The "fastback" version shared some styling similarities, but that's all they were. The car underneath bore no relation at all.
The V8 SD1 is remembered fondly here in the UK despite countless problems with build quality and rust! (see, not much changes) The 800 sadly is not, apart from a 220 horspower 2 litre turbo version sold here in the UK for a short time which has a fairly enthusiastic following. The engine was powerful and the car performed well, but sadly, the manual transmission fitted to it used plastic bearing cages in the differential which would usually last about 20,000 miles before breaking up and immobilising the car.
Every car this company made had good points, but there was always a "but" or an "if" attached to it. Models were usually launched with bugs remaining or before quality control was up to scratch. The quality always got better in later years of production, but the reputation was sealed by then and nobody cared.
This was the last British owned mass car manufacturer and it finally went into administration in 2005. Some of the experiences above go some way to explaining why.
My Sterling 827 SLi is one of the most durable cars I have owned. My son purchased this car after it had sat unsold for 6 months or so on the dealer's lot.
The timing belt was changed by Acura along with the water pump.
The steering rack leaked from day one, and the Acura dealer found a rebuilt rack which has held up well.
One engine sensor signaled a problem and required replacement, and that was also done by Acura technicians. My son used only Mobil-1 in the crankcase and premium gasoline (93 octane).
The car starts on the first crank, and the automatic transmission shifts firmly thru 4 speeds.
The AC began to leak, and I took it to MIDAS, which was the beginning of continued AC problems (many replacement parts, etc.) The AC switch is mangled, but now and then the AC decides to operate.
The car is red and looks so much like a new car that admirers have said they were considering buying one from a dealer!
The comments I just read from 31 January 2008 duplicate my own experience exactly. I keep my 89 Sterling 827 SLi in a garage during the winter even though it has no rust. My son still misses this car and he may get it back one day.
Midas installed a new AC condenser and it worked for a few weeks and may still operate on occasion. Acura technicians suggest that the AC switch connections are the problem. The car still starts on the first turn even with a scaled down Walmart battery! Acura changed the timing belt twice as a precaution.
I currently own a 89 SLi 5 Speed Manual. The car is really cool to drive, but I have had electrical issues since the day I bought it. But I only paid $500, so I can't complain too much.
The main thing is the headlights. One day they work, the next they don't. Drives me nuts because I can't drive it at night.
Some people like it, others think it's UGLY!
It starts every time I turn the key.
I like it because no one around here has one (MD DC VA) and most have not seen one before. Guess I will keep her for a while. Cool unique car!!!