VIDEO: A British-built Acura Legend just wasn’t the same

In 1987 the Austin Rover Group embarked on an interesting experiment. They would sell Acura Legend-based luxury sedans with Honda guts. Everything else would be developed in-house, and the result would be unleashed on an unsuspecting American public as the Sterling 825. The results were exactly as you thought they might be.

It is often said that Honda and ARG co-developed the cars, but that is somewhat misleading. Honda did the heaving lifting, supplying the C25A 2.5-liter V6, and the transmission, and the underlying chassis. From ARG, it learned how to market a large upscale sedan in Europe and the US. In other words, figuring out what suspension feel and interior trim would scream “luxury” to a western buyer.

For the Sterling 825, Rover was responsible for both exterior and interior styling, the fine tuning of the suspension, the electrical system and, unfortunately, the actual building of the car. It was easy to see why, on paper, the car would look appealing. Americans’ infatuation with British stuff could be summed up nicely in this quote from Motorweek‘s review of the car: “Sterling models have the old world elegance of burled walnut.”

To get that burled walnut, though, buyers paid a steep price. While sticker price was similar to that of a Legend, repair costs soon mounted. Automobile‘s long term tester had an embarrassingly long list of maladies during its first year of ownership. Items included leaking windshields, a sunroof that refused to open, and a symphony of electrical issues that led them to estimate the fuel gauge worked properly only six months out of the year. Incidentally, the Legend also had wood trim, made by famed Japanese furniture maker Tendo Mokko.

At the time, Sterling bragged that the 825 was built on the same assembly line as the Honda Legend. That was true for European-market Legends, but thank Soichiro our US-market Acuras were built in Japan. Sterling sales plummeted as a result of the car’s numerous issues, and the brand was pulled from the US in 1991. In hindsight, Motorweek statements like “finding a car that feels as solid as the Sterling is very important to us,” and “We predict Sterling will soon shine like gold,” hold up about as well as an 825.

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13 Responses to VIDEO: A British-built Acura Legend just wasn’t the same

  1. kiki says:

    Loads of these old rovers in scrap yards over here. They were terrible.
    The brakes and hubs can be used to make an ITR 98 spec.

  2. J says:

    Yet locally a club is hosting a car show where British cars from the 70’s and 80’s will be welcomed, but “no Jap junk”.
    I agree you never had to worry about British build quality from that period…because there wasn’t any.

  3. speedie says:

    Even without the actual maladies the Sterling had, there was strong perception when it arrived on our shores that British cars were not well made. The fact it actually met that perception basically destroyed any chances of a British manufacturer from ever selling cars in the US in any volume. Jaguar and Range Rover are the most successful and even they are still fighting that perception. Just last week a friend said they liked Jaguars but could not see themselves actually owning one. They own an Acura TLX by the way.

    • Retro Mike says:

      Jaguar and Range Rover are still living down to that reputation. Still at the bottom in initial quality and 3 year reliability surveys.

      I imagine it must be a PITA to be constantly visiting the local Jag or RR dealer when it’s under warranty.

      As a licensed professional mechanic i could never recommend a Jag or Range Rover out of warranty to anyone who doesn’t know how to do their own repairs.

  4. cesariojpn says:

    I remember that car from “Keeping Up Appearances.”

    “Oh god, it’s the Bucket woman!”

    • Christopher Peare says:

      The Rover in this program was the Honda Ballade based 200 series not the larger 800 series.

      My Grandfather had one and Grandma used to sit in the back just like the Bucket women

    • nlpnt says:

      Richard and Hyacinth “Bouquet” had a Rover 200-series which was a smaller car and a more transparent badge job, of the thirdgen Civic sedan. Basically what the NUMMI Nova would be if GM had decided to make it a Buick.

  5. Lang says:

    I think a poor marketing strategy doomed the Sterling project before it ever took off. It really didn’t stand a chance in the US Market already saturated by established and reputable luxury brands. And once the many teething issues became apparent, the writing was on the wall. Even once the kinks were worked out in build quality, any hope of salvation was a pipe dream.

    I saw a teenager driving an 825 sedan (appeared to be on fresh Enkei 92s) here in the Seattle area (2018). Probably the rarest thing I’ve seen on the roads here. It looked well cared for, and has that wonderful 80s bubble era aesthetic, despite British roots.

    Its an interesting bit of automotive history if nothing else. The British motor industry was already struggling its way through a pretty poor state, so although I’m not defending it, contempt toward Rover and other UK marque efforts, especially in comparison to the Japanese manufacturers during this time, def seems like beating a dead horse at this point.

  6. Christopher Pearce says:

    I owned three Rover 800 Fastbacks in the 90s. All were powered by Rover’s own 2 litre 16 valve with 140bhp (first 2) and 150bhp (3rd face lifted car) and 5 speed manual gearboxes.
    They were all bought second hand at between 2 and 3 years old.

    The first was involved in a serious accident which wrote off the car but left me unhurt. All three were comfy long distance drives with good handling for a larger car on twister roads. None of them ever failed to start or broke down, however they all had minor niggles that would crop up from time to time.

  7. @cesariojpn That’s “bookaye”.

    My friend and I nearly walked right past one of these at the junkyard several years ago. “Do you know how rare these are in the US??” I had no idea. “The idea was great, but the reality was that the care had none of the reliability of a Honda”.

  8. A British friend here in the U.S. had two or three that he was making into one good example. Not sure if he finished before cancer took him.

    Also remember seeing one in a Japanese detective dorama called Kira Kira Hikaru back in the 90s. I remember thinking “that’s odd…”

  9. Mark F Newton-John says:

    Which led Ford to say, “Hell, if we don’t rescue the Brits, like we did in WWII, there won’t be any British cars left. Go buy Jaguar and Aston Martin!”

  10. Negishi no Keibajo says:

    Lotus & Toyota, 1982: Good.
    Lotus ‘ GM 1986: Nnnnnnnot so good.
    Lotus & DeLorean 1982: In a whole’nuther league of bad.

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