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Sterling: The time Honda and Rover joined forces to invade U.S.

A scholarly examination of what went wrong for one of these automakers

This week’s news of the U.K.-built Honda Civic hatchback making its way to the U.S. has rekindled warm and fuzzy memories of the last time British-built Honda tech made its way to our welcoming shores. That’s right; we’re talking about Sterling and the one-sidedly successful partnership between Honda and Rover that sought to combine Japanese engineering with British luxury.

Let’s back up a little, first. Sterling was a brand created out of the blue to relaunch Rover Group vehicles in the U.S. in the 1980s. Rovers had, of course, been sold as Rovers through the mid-1970s, with the P6 sedan being the most notable model. British Leyland brought just over a thousand examples of the tragically federalized Rover SD1 for the 1980 model year to the U.S., in an ill-fated attempt to test the waters. Americans didn’t quite know what to do with the SD1 despite it being a large V8-engined five-door sedan, and the company brought enough SD1s for the 1980 model year to have trouble selling them for the next 36 months. Needless to say, Rover lost money on this venture as it had gone through the trouble of federalizing the car with sealed-beam headlights, bumpers borrowed from tugboats and bolt-on horsepower reducers for the emissions system. More importantly, the Rover name was damaged by the SD1 debacle, prompting the company to start anew in the U.S. by obscuring its roots.

Rover waited until 1987 to give the invasion of the U.S.

Undaunted by the implosion of the SD1 venture, Rover waited until 1987 to give the invasion of the U.S. mainland another crack. By this time, the SD1 was finally exiting production after what seemed like decades and its replacement was the Rover 800, developed in a partnership with Honda and sharing many systems with the Honda and Acura Legend, as it was known stateside. The impetus for the Rover 800 and its Honda twin was the fact that Rover needed a replacement for the SD1 and Honda needed a large luxury model, a segment that it had avoided entirely before the 1980s.

Work on the Honda Legend and the Rover 800 began in 1981 as Rover SD1s were still sitting in dealer lots with another six years of production assured for the model. Honda provided the V6 engine for the new model to be shared by the two vehicles, while Rover took on the task of creating a smaller straight-four for the sedan. The task of designing the electrical systems was also somehow entrusted to Rover. (At this point you can probably guess what happened later).

Starting in 1987 the U.S. received both the Acura Legend and the Rover 800

Starting in 1987 the U.S. received both the Acura Legend and the Rover 800, with the latter being badged as a Sterling 825 and distributed by Austin Rover Cars of North America import entity. The Sterling model was powered by a 2.5-liter V6 gasoline engine paired with a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic, and was joined in 1989 by a five-door fastback along with a new 2.7-liter Honda engine producing all of 160 hp.

Undaunted by the implosion of the SD1 venture, Rover waited until 1987 to give the invasion of the U.S. mainland another crack. By this time, the SD1 was finally exiting production after what seemed like decades and its replacement was the Rover 800, developed in a partnership with Honda and sharing many systems with the Honda and Acura Legend, as it was known stateside. The impetus for the Rover 800 and its Honda twin was the fact that Rover needed a replacement for the SD1 and Honda needed a large luxury model, a segment that it had avoided entirely before the 1980s.

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By |2018-11-30T15:57:52+00:00August 17th, 2016|Categories: Honda, News by Brand, US, World|Tags: , , , , , , |0 Comments

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