The Imposters

The imposters

by Practical Classics |

PART ONE: A STERLING RESCUE

Words: Timothy Wade Jr

As a member of a small band of car enthusiasts here in Rhode Island, USA, we share a lot in common with the guys in the Practical Classics team. Just like them, we have a tendency to buy old cars, restore them and most importantly afterwards, we love to cook up ideas for interesting road trips. It was with Practical Classics’ Deputy Editor James Walshe and our mutual friend Jim Magill that we decided an adventure together was long overdue. This time, it would be for a series of articles in Practical Classics magazine - in which such road trips are a regular feature.

Period Sterling brochure makes brave claims.

Period Sterling brochure makes brave claims.

Jim – based in Northern Ireland and a seasoned road tripper – has previously taken old cars anywhere from the Arctic to the Sahara. Last year, Jim ended up with James’ old Fiat Cinquecento and now, having in turn sold it on to an enthusiast in New York, Jim’s intention was to ship it over and drive the little Fiat with James to an import show in Pennsylvania, before handing over the keys. This would be the perfect excuse to come up with a plan to rendezvous with them in a car equally unusual.

Keen to be a part of the action, my buddy Chris Mercon and I set about finding something British. Ideally, I wanted something from the last dying gasps of the UK car sales in the United States so, let’s be honest here, this left me with only one place to go: Sterling. To you guys in the UK, that’ll be the Rover 800.

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After a few days scouring the internet, we found a 1988 Sterling SL with the 2.5-litre V6, 4-speed automatic transmission, heavily tinted windows and three missing wheel trims. We realised there was a fairly major obstacle, in that the car was located 3000 miles away in deepest, darkest Idaho.

Email exchanges with the owner fizzled and attempted phone conversations were not much better. The Sterling had been listed for sale for over a year and after some surprisingly difficult negotiation with a somewhat aggressive seller, we eventually succeeded by offering the full asking price.

All we had to do now was fly to Idaho, turn up at the house with $1300 and drive the car a few thousand miles east to Pennsylvania, where we’d hook up with James and Jim in the Cinquecento at the Import Car Festival. Ahead of our flight to the Wild West, we called our Idaho-based friend Brian DuBois and he agreed to help us out when we got there. Scroll forward a day or so and – having been warned not to walk there by the cab driver - we were dropped off in the steamy heat of a Boisie suburb and there, right ahead, was our target.

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I was a little shocked. ‘We came all the way for that?’ Chris was undeterred, however. ‘Come hell or high water, this thing will get us back home!’ At this point, a grumpy woman appeared at the door. She was as welcoming as her husband/partner/brother had been on the phone weeks before. There was no conversation. No interest in what we were doing. Just a pure sale and a ‘get the hell outta here’ attitude.

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Chris gives the Sterling a damned good checking.

Initial impressions of the car were not great. It started and drove but Chris reckoned it was about its only redeeming quality. ‘It’s like a 1980s strip club in here!’ The paintwork was faded, the suspension was saggy and the interior was indeed tired and covered in a layer of filth. Now joined by Brian, he very kindly offered to dive into the inspection and diagnosis back at his place in Buhl, a town comprising an endless main street with lots of farms and single level ranch homes. We tore into the car’s interior, Chris excavating years of cigarette packets, pounds of candy remnants and other muck. I cannot express my profound gratitude for all the work both he and Brian did in those first few days. Friends like these are hard to find.

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Brian attempts to make the car more… hygenic.

There were a few mechanical issues to resolve before beginning our epic journey to the east. We performed a mini service, with Chris fixing a hole in the intake piping and then gluing the air con panel back together (not that the air con worked). The throttle cable snapped just a few minutes out of Boise, but after some thought by the roadside, Chris modified the pedal bracket and replaced it with the cruise control cable. Up until that point, the cruise control had actually worked so it was something of a sad loss considering the miles ahead.

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That US spec automatic seatbelt proves to be temperamental. Seat foam making an escape bid.

As the miles passed, we discovered the power windows and power door locks worked, along with the radio and trip computer. Most of the gauges were functioning, but this wasn’t especially helpful at night as the cluster lights didn’t work. The turn signals worked as did the headlights, however only in the most tangential sense of providing lights for forward motion. It wasn’t until we hit some heavier traffic that night, when we realised just how dim they were. The seat leather was not in good shape (probably due to a lifetime of severe temperatures) but the power adjustments actually worked as intended. The controls mystified us (as any Sterling/Rover 800 owner can attest, the switches make absolutely no sense). The heat and fan controls actually worked but required a special touch that only Chris seemed to actually be able to master. I was giddy with excitement and jet-lag when, after skimming the north of Utah, we crossed the Wyoming state line. At around 2:30am we stopped at a rest area and reclined the front seats as far as they would go. We would need this rest as we had to power on through the rest of Wyoming and Nebraska the next day, which began in the town of Lyman for breakfast. Chris and I alternated driving over the rolling lands of Eastern Wyoming, where the Sterling conquered the 8400 feet peak near Sherman Pass.

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Throughout the rest of Saturday and crossed over into Nebraska and into the Great Plains. There sadly isn’t much to say about Nebraska. Chris was extremely unimpressed and appeared to develop a deep hatred for the state. ‘It ranges from flat, to really flat. It’s so damned boring’. To relieve the monotony, he continued to poke at the Sterling’s dashboard, repairing this and that as we sped through the endless dullness. Presumably in response to Chris’ grumbling, Nebraska brought us a rainy front that would follow us all the way to the East Coast.

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We drove on through the night with the feeble headlights guiding our path. The roads in and around Omaha were a mess of construction, especially on the east side. We made it through relatively unscathed and stopped for the night in Underwood, NE, awaking to a rainy Sunday morning. Our svelte British steed decided the journey was all going far too well in Iowa, where it decided to coast to a stop on the highway. We managed to limp the car into DeSoto. Some hours later, and for no discernible reason, Chris managed to get the car running again.

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Around 200 miles later in Davenport, whatever magic Chris had managed to work in DeSoto ran out. The car started running poorly again and was extremely down on power. We managed to limp to a Walmart parking lot, and Chris tore into the Sterling with gusto. As I am not a mechanic, I stood helplessly as the skies opened, while Brian assisted by telephone. Chris tried everything he could possibly think of to source and fix the vacuum leak to no avail. Chris poked and prodded once again and after fiddling with the ignition wires, he discovered the wire to cylinder number three was shorting out. Problem solved – but only after many hours of head-scratching and fiddling.

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The humans, gladly not the car, stop in the desert to let off steam.

Around 2500 miles after leaving Idaho, a rattling noise from the front had become progressively louder so we decided to investigate, despite the darkness and torrential rain. Chris reckoned it had something to do with the brakes so as I stood holding an umbrella, he took the passenger side wheel off to discover the bottom bolt on the caliper had completely disappeared. We tried to scrounge a bolt from truckers and the gas station to no avail. Chris took a browse around our finely crafted Sterling and found that one of the bolts which held the trunk lid to the hinge was the perfect match for the errant caliper bolt.

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Tim gets settled in for the long drive.

We powered on through the night, leaving Iowa behind and efficiently dispatching Illinois and Indiana to the rear-view mirror. As the radio played songs mostly about Jesus and the rodeo (although not both at once, mercifully), Chris and I grinned as we neared our goal. This particular Sterling has many shortcomings, thanks mostly to the previous owner’s inability to take proper care of it. However, we reckon it can be saved and having spoken at length with an ever-keen James Walshe at Practical Classics HQ, it looks like he and friend Jim Magill will be taking it off our hands and repatriating it to the UK.

The pair of them would arrive soon enough at our finish post - the Import and Performance Nationals (a massive annual car show for non-US cars), in Pennsylvania, where Chris and I will be only too glad to hand the keys to James and Jim. In turn, Chris’ wife Julia is there and hands us probably the most welcome beer we’ve ever had. It has been a heck of a journey and although there are more miles to come, we all feel a great sense of achievement so far. Talk turns again to the idea of getting this thing home to England but for now, we settle down for the evening. Such decisions can wait until tomorrow.

The low evening sun strikes the Sterling’s faded paintwork as we sit back on camping chairs, for a night of stories about desert towns and rainy roadside repairs with gathered friends. This is the life!

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Chris and Tim arrive safe and sound in Pennsylvania after thousands of miles with Sterling on fine form.

PART TWO: THE ROAD TO NYC

Words: James Walshe

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Jim Magill is a bad influence. His previous bouts of automotive lunacy have usually involved driving Fiats to far-off places – such as trips to Death Valley in a Panda and an epic drive from Poland to Detroit in a Fiat 126. My intrepid pal’s incredible globe-trotting road-tripping accomplishments have led many a car enthusiast pal astray – including myself. This was indeed one of those instances.

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Our host for the night, Jim Lucht, and his stunning 242 GT.

We arrive in Providence, in the far north east of the USA for a fine evening at the home of another car-loving friend called Jim. This one, the wonderful Jim Lucht, has numerous fine vehicles including a Volvo 242GT and a Citroën DS. He very kindly puts us up for the night, after the perfect evening standing around with his friends on the front lawn, beer in hand and talking about old cars, with the evening sun on our faces. It’s the best kind of start to an adventure.

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Clockwise from top left: Richard, Chris, Morgan (yes, that’s his Morgan), Brian and Chris.

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Jim and the ever-faithful Fiat arrives in Brooklyn.

After a truly memorable evening with great people, Jim and I set off for the Carlisle Import & Performance Nationals to greet Chris and Tim – and retrieve the Sterling. We’re going there in my old Fiat Cinquecento, which I sold to Gavin Bushby of the Fiat Motor Club GB who in turn sold the car to our Mr Magill. It has now been imported to the USA and sold to a gentleman in New York. More about him, later. For now, we’re using it for our mission to pick up the Sterling. And why not?

I bought it for £200 a few years back when the owner - a woman from Kettering - was about to scrap it to make way for her new Fiat 500. Jim and I agree that this is particularly astonishing, as here we are… thundering down the highway towards The Big Apple. Jim hustles the Fiat through suburbs with place names I can recall from countless movies and into Manhattan where we experience some serious pointing from the locals. The most bemused looks come from people we suspect to be Italian tourists. Yes folks, it’s a Cinquecento in NYC!

The car is in its element in the Manhattan traffic. It’s also a surprisingly refined little thing. This particular example is an ultra-low mileage early model, but it absolutely doesn’t feel its age. We zip in and out of the concrete canyons, laughing as we go and I hop out at various points to take pictures of the car, dodging numerous policemen with a smile and a very British ‘hello!’. They roll their eyes.

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US highways dull. Little Fiat is definitely not.

Escaping New York, we press on and many, many hours of extremely dull US highway later, we reach the big import car show in Pennsylvania. This was of course pre-social distancing, so there were hugs all-round and a welcome drink. It turns out Tim and Chris had fallen for the Sterling in a big way. Despite troublesome electrics and the odd mechanical mishap, they were confident the car was ready to nail the last leg of its great American road trip, the return journey which would see Jim and I driving it 300 miles back in an eastward direction, to the container port at New Jersey. Yep, the Sterling was coming back to Blighty with us!

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Former Sterling salesman Bob Brown tries to explain himself to Walshe.

But first, we had a day to enjoy at the show. In the absence of a Rover (or Sterling) club and with permission from the friendly members of the Central Pennsylvania Triumph Club, we park the Sterling next to a stunning TR250. Chris, Jim and Tim arrive with mugs of coffee and for a while, we lurk a short distance away from the Sterling to see if there’s be a reaction. Sure enough, one gentleman pays particular attention to it, peering inside as well as doing several circuits around its shabby flanks. We pounc. Standing tall and eyes peering at the Sterling under the brim of his hat, Bob Brown speaks with a Clint Eastwood-esque rasp. ‘I used to sell these cars new’.

One-time salesman at an Audi and Porsche dealership in Colorado, Bob acquired the franchise to sell Sterling cars at launch in 1987. Audi sales had been slow since the ‘unintended acceleration’ spectacle (when owners attempted to sue Audi for a fault that, as it turned out, never existed) while Porsche wasn’t a volume car maker at the time, so the Sterling was a welcome addition. ‘The USA was terrified of Jaguar reliability at the time, so we liked the idea of a prestige British automobile built with Japanese parts. We sold a lot of cars at first but… they soon started to come back…’

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Some of the Sterling’s electrics even work.

Bob says owners had issues with the electrics, engine coolant and the interiors quickly becoming tatty. ‘With the hot sun affecting the dye, the trim and plastic aged in different colours, with the carpets going green.’ Brown says he felt like it was a repeat of what he’d personally experienced selling brand new DeLoreans and Triumph Stags. ‘We had customers trading in their Mercedes SLs for Stags and ending up very disappointed’. He scans the Sterling once more. ‘Only the British could f*ck up a Japanese car.’ Bob is nevertheless fond of the Sterling. ‘It was great to drive and an interesting part of automotive history.’

The rest of the show is an infectious murmur of enthusiasm for anything from Fiat (‘Feeart’) and Nissan (‘Neesan’) to Jaguar (‘Jagwaar’) with stars and stripes flapping in the breeze and the characteristically warm USA hospitality present in all four corners of the field. Club members and visitors alike at Carlisle are among the nicest enthusiasts I have ever met.

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Arrival in New York City. All eyes on the temp gauge.

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Fiat delighted locals and tourists wherever it went.

Next day, Jim and I get going eastwards again - this time with the Sterling and Fiat in convoy. We are scheduled to drop the Fiat with its new owner in New York and the Sterling at the docks in New Jersey. Oh, I had also arranged to see a man in Manhattan about a Metro… Why wouldn’t anyone want to meet a chap who drives his beige Mini Metro around New York each day? Meantime, we have several hours to enjoy Cowley’s finest on the highway to our overnight stop in Queens. I get an easy 300-mile waft in ripped Connolly leather seats, prodding the buttons on the trip computer and attempting to reattach numerous bits of old broken trim. All the while watching Jim bobbing up and down in the little Fiat.

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Style and grace rolls into Broadway, Empire State Building ahead.

Mechanically, the Honda V6 is smooth - as is the gearbox – and with much of this part of the US highway network flat and straight, there are no nasty surprises as we approach the eastern seaboard. However, as we begin to skim the edges of New York City, in rapidly thickening traffic across the George Washington Bridge, the Sterling has developed a misfire. Worse still, the quality of the road surface has deteriorated which highlights some serious suspension issues - a loud bang was now coming from the front, over every undulation. Feelings of doubt creep over me. We don’t belong here.

Crawling at snail’s pace so close to NYC’s less pleasant northern neighbourhoods, the atmosphere around us becomes tense with New Yorkers aggressively cutting across lanes in front of us, amid the crescendo of horns. Jim and I are on the phone to each other, nervously joking that should the Sterling catastrophically fail in any way, the safest thing to do would be to leave it roadside, grab my bags and hop aboard the Fiat.

In the end, Chris and Tim were right to have confidence in the Sterling. It gets us to our stopover without incident and – next morning – the car happily transports us into Manhattan, where we triumphantly blasted up Broadway, through the touristy throng of Times Square and cackle as we mischievously honk at the blank faces of suits in Wall Street.

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New owner, motoring journalist Jamie Kitman, drives away into the sunset. And possibly prison, if the cops spot those UK plates.

The final stage of this adventure requires the Sterling to play the role of camera car for a Practical Classics story on the Metro. In a bizarre convoy of elderly British metal, I will be shooting from the Sterling while we follow the owner of the Austin, Ike Kitman, around the city. We meet Ike at a nearby café, where Jim is also able to hand the Fiat keys over to its new owner - Ike’s father and legendary journalist Jamie Kitman. Waving Jamie goodbye, we set off on a photo shoot around Manhattan, Jim driving the Sterling with me hanging out the window to shoot the Metro. I’m sure the local cops, villains and tourists will find this perfectly acceptable behaviour. As you’ll read in Ike’s account below, we didn’t get arrested or shot. Bonus!

The Sterling, about to take on role of camera car for ‘Metro in Manhattan’ photoshoot.

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PART THREE: METRO IN MANHATTAN

Words: Ike Kitman

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A Metro in Times Square? Yep… that’s right.

From driveways in Dundee to the backstreets of Bristol, the Austin Metro was a fundamental part of the British scenery for decades. Having never made it to showrooms in the USA, a sighting of BL’s baby over here would be unheard of. That is, unless you happen to visit New York City - because you might just end up seeing mine…

I regularly drive my 1981 example (imported, naturally) and find that it makes for a lovely three-season commuter and while I live and work in Queens, I do tend to drive unusually often for a resident of public transit-friendly NYC. The Metro is never anything less than brilliant in the Big Apple, which is something we at Practical Classics wanted to demonstrate to mark in this, the Metro’s 40th birthday year.

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Our morning out in the Big Apple would take us on a ride past all the major sites, to parts of town very much off the tourist trail. I’d be joined by Practical Classics Deputy Editor James Walshe, whose job it was to capture the spectacle of a Metro in Manhattan with Jim Magill and Timothy Wade Jr on camera car duties.

The day began with a customary hellish traffic jam en-route from my apartment in Ridgewood – in the bustling borough of Queens, via the Midtown Tunnel. I arrived late to a favourite haunt of mine on 9th Avenue - the Sullivan Street Bakery in Chelsea – where I find Walshe tucking into a pile of gourmet pastries. My lateness doesn’t seem to have bothered him at all, as judging by the crumb-covered plate, he’s made good use of his time.

Iconic Brit tiddler meets iconic Brooklyn Bridge.

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We set off south towards Lower Manhattan, with the conversation naturally turning to a car which actually came about thanks to my car enthusiast father and fellow writer, Jamie. I was already a Brit car enthusiast, having grown up in the passenger seat of his MGA or a Jaguar Mk2, among other things. At some point, dad began fetching copies of Practical Classics for me on business trips, then gifted me a subscription and in response, I’d go off on monologues about how badly I wanted an Austin Ambassador. It was during my freshman year of college when I accompanied him to the port in New Jersey to fetch his new purchase – this ’81 Metro L, bought sight unseen from fellow writer Richard Bremner.

As I learned more of its history, I started to really fall for the Metro. ‘Project LC8’ morphed out of numerous concepts and was launched in a patriotic frenzy in October 1980. Some still can’t help but mention the subsequent reliability and rust issues but given its impressive eighteen-year lifespan, in the end the Metro was clearly designed well enough to outlast many a rival. There’s no getting away from the aged pushrod A-Series engine though – first seen in the Austin A30. The characteristic whine adds to the cacophony of New York traffic and there’s an added shriek of excitement from Walshe when we pass the ‘Friends’ apartment building on the corner of Grove Street and Bedford Street. The Metro’s hydragas suspension does a great job of soaking up NYC’s infinite (and frighteningly deep) potholes as I swing the car east at – or ‘Triangle Below Canal Street’ – these days one of Manhattan’s most expensive and desirable neighbourhoods. Pedestrians point and we wave back.

Driving around New York City can be a little scary in a small car but the trusty A-Series’ impressive low-end torque makes for easy stop-start driving in the city (the vast majority of what I experience daily) and thanks to the Metro’s slim pillars, airy cabin, and large hatchback window, I can watch out for other motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, allowing me to drive defensively. That visibility is extremely handy in Manhattan’s dense Chinatown and even better when we cross Brooklyn Bridge. The Metro’s windows create the perfect frame for a view of Brooklyn’s shores, Manhattan’s skyscrapers, and the Statue of Liberty in the distance - quite a sight for even a cynical New Yorker like me.

There’s time for a quick coffee at my sister’s brownstone apartment in Brooklyn Heights, having easily found a parking spot for the car among the bloated Escalades, before a blast back across the iconic bridge. This time, we turn right and head up through the busy Lower East Side and East Village, dodging potholes and stopping briefly at La Delice - a cake shop opened in 1935 and evidently regularly frequented by Walshe. ‘Sod Lady Liberty. You can’t come to New York without going to La Delice’. He skips back across the street to the Metro with armfuls of freshly baked cookies.

We shoot past historic Ukrainian restaurants and trendy yoga studios and dart around waiting taxis and jaywalking pedestrians (both well-known obstacles in these parts). Back in Midtown, crowds of visitors queue to go up the Empire State Building, floods of travelers exit Grand Central and we eventually make it to Times Square. The reaction is bizarre, as always. James perches himself on a traffic island with his camera – aware the cops might kick him off at any moment – and I do a number of circuits around this iconic intersection frequented each day by around 400,000 pedestrians.

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Tourists from the Far East point with glee at the passing Metro, while the locals smile warmly. We conclude those responsible for more bemused glances are most likely British and this is confirmed when one guy is heard bellowing to his wife in a broad Yorkshire accent. ‘What the ‘eck? It’s a bloody Metro!’ Generally, the Austin is rarely identified correctly, and nobody notes its connection to the Mini (which has a surprisingly solid following here). They instead usually imagine it to be a VW or a Lada.

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I have always been intrigued by the Metro’s classless identity. It was an affordable car often purchased by mothers and thrifty types, yet it was similarly popular in far posher circles. Prince Charles bought an early red example for Diana when they were dating (on display at Coventry Motor Museum). It was immortalized at the time by a royal purple Corgi model with ‘C&D’ painted on its doors). It’s a simple car and mine has needed very little attention, aside from recharged displacers (thanks to Ian and Dawn Kennedy in the UK) and a carb rebuild, which I did myself.

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Our little whizz around Manhattan concludes at the site of another 40th anniversary. While 1980 marked the start of a new and exciting digital decade, it also marked the end of another cultural era. In 1970, John Lennon and Yoko Ono had something of an epiphany after crashing their Austin Maxi in Scotland the previous summer. A sudden awareness of their mortality led them to make significant changes that included John’s departure of The Beatles and, shortly after, the UK. The couple made their home in New York until his untimely death here, outside his home in the Dakota Building.

Time for the Sterling to depart for Great Britain.

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The Metro expired eighteen years later, following a very successful life serving 2-million buyers new - and countless more during the Eighties, Nineties and beyond. Before we part ways on the edge of Central Park, James and I agree the Metro is one of the true greats. Familiarity for you Brits may have made some of you forget how important this innovative little car is to your automotive history. The Who’s Who list of celebrated British engineers and designers behind the Metro’s conception had succeeded in creating a beautifully packaged automobile that honourably continued the UK’s legacy of affordable, stylish, and riotously fun small cars. Happy birthday, Metro!

With that, James grabs his camera gear, disappearing into the Sterling with Jim and Tim and I watch the car disappear into the distance as they head out of Manhattan, bound for the container port…

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PART FOUR: STERLING COMES HOME

Words: James Walshe

Jim Magill, Chris and Julia Mercon, James Copp-Taylor, Alex Sebbinger-Sparks, Alan Magill and Chris James at the NEC Classic Motor Show, where the Sterling caused something of a stir.

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Having felt rather baggy to drive after its epic journey across the United States, Tim nursed the Sterling to the New Jersey docks and our thoughts turned to its future. We all loved the idea of the car returning to its birthplace so much, not one of us questioned the decision to stick it on a container ship. As far as we could determine, not one Sterling had ever made it back across the Atlantic before so the idea of a visit to Cowley and a role at the NEC Classic Motor Show appealed. Would anyone want to see this shabby old thing anyway? We didn’t care. It just felt like the right thing to do.

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Once back in the UK, the its first appointment was at the local MOT station. The USA has a quite different approach to vehicle safety standards and cars of this age don’t require much in the way of checks, so what would Her Majesty’s Ministry of Transport make of it? Truth is, it passed. Sure, modifications and improvements were needed to the suspension in particular but registering it as an ‘Austin Rover’ with the DVLA was easy enough. Days later, we were off to the NEC Classic Motor Show, where it starred on the Classic Modern Executive Car club stand. The visitors, mystifyingly, adored it. Especially that automatic seatbelt. By now, the old gang was back together, with Jim, Tim, Chris and wife Julia in attendance - and the car under the watchful eye of the MCEC club chiefs Alex Sebbinger-Sparks and James Copp-Taylor.

Sterling on the site of Q Plant - where it was built more than 30 years ago.

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Then, it was to Cowley… for a true homecoming. Tim and I entered through the gates with genuine lumps in our throats. For Tim especially, having been with the car from the beginning, this visit to the old factory site marked the end of a 6500 mile journey – half of that by land – to the place where Austin Rover’s dream of conquering the USA began – and ended.

All 317,306 Rover 800 models sold – including the US-bound Sterlings - were built in the recently demolished Q Plant, which is where current Chair of the Rover 800 Club, Tanya Field, worked as an apprentice. She was on site to greet us and show us the site of ‘Q Plant’ - where the old Rover 800 plant would have been.

Tanya began her career at Austin Rover in a section that included the door carousel, where they’d fit the doors just before the cars left the production line. ‘If I remember correctly, the 800 was the first model to have the doors built off the car. I was also charged with looking at issues around malfunctioning radios and speakers, while tracing the causes of water leaks on Fastback models.’ Despite early teething troubles, the 800 holds a special place in Tanya’s heart. ‘There is a great following for the 800 nowadays and deservedly so. It’s one of the most handsome, refined British cars ever made and it looks better now than ever before. The Rover 800’s time has come!’

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We learn that American spec cars like our Sterling here are increasingly rare in the US. Sold between 1987 and 1991, the Sterling 825 and 827 models were basically rebadged Rover 800s, with numerous changes in specification geared to the North American market – from sumptuously soft Conolly leather seats to motorised automatic seatbelt ‘butlers’. Sales were initially good but quality problems plagued the cars – particularly in the paintwork, interior trim and those Lucas electronics. The Sterling came bottom of the annual JD Power satisfaction survey each year in contrast to its twin – the Acura (Honda) Legend – which would often be well inside the top ten. Build quality improvements came too late for the Sterling and in August 1991, the marque was dropped for good.

This was a befitting end to this journey, which saw an amazing effort by a whole bunch of folk - from Brian Dubois, Chris Mercon, Jim Magill and Tim - to get this Sterling home to Britain – and onwards to Cowley. Why did we do it? Because it was an excuse for a road trip with mates. And in this funny old world, that’s reason enough.

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Like this road trip adventure? The Practical Classics team and pals do this kind of thing all the time - in anything from a £50 Polo to a £150k E-type.

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