Note: The following is just a repeat of the text in the above module in case images aren't functioning.

 

Just months after the wildly successful introduction of the Nova in England, American car buffs got their first pulse-quickening glimpse of this exotic new creation through a cover article in Car and Driver (March 1973). The article was gracious, the pictures spoke for themselves, and the Nova instantly became a big hit in the US as in Europe. What soon ensued was flood of interest in the car...followed by a veritable feeding frenzy of car enthusiasts and entrepreneurs interested in producing / distributing the car in the US. As the story goes, the Nova's creators (Richard Oakes and Phil Sayers) began to receive multiple offers for US production rights, but they had become so busy and distracted by the demands of success of the car at home in the UK that they initially ignored much of the interest in producing the car abroad. Some offers were turned down outright. Many letters simply went unanswered. But in this milieu, there were two adventurous (and amusingly persistent) Californians wouldn't take "no" for an answer.

 

Back in the States were two "car guys," Norm Rose and Cecil Robertson, who were partners in a successful car repair shop in California. Seeking a new adventure -- and aware of the potential of a car like the Nova in the US -- they tenaciously sought contact with Oakes and Sayers about obtaining rights to produce the car in the States. But early attempts reportedly fell on deaf ears, prompting Norm and Cec' to pursue the bold measure of flying to England, essentially uninvited, to catalyze a meeting with the creators of the franchise. ••• That presumptuous persistence paid off: After negotiations, the UK team eventually took a brief break from their domestic endeavor to help launch the Nova in the US. The resulting company was the now-well-known California Component Cars ("CCC") of San Lorenzo, California. The car's name was changed to "Sterling" due to Chevy's claim to the name "Nova", and the first units were produced in late '73... ...thus starting the saga / evolution of the Sterling (and kin) in the US.

 

1973-78, CCC -- Ownership of California Component Cars changed once or twice over the years as partners moved on and new ones moved in. The vast majority of Sterlings produced, however, were made during the first 4-5 years of the company as led by Norm and Cec'. From the beginning, the company established a great reputation for not only having high quality workmanship but also showing sincere commitment to builders through advice and resources. In an arena of kit car manufacturers some of which showed questionable quality or ethics, California Component Cars had established itself as a friendly, reputable company with a genuine commitment to helping the builders actually get their cars on the road. They loved their product. With the reciprocal help of individual builders as a resource, a series of grass roots "rap sheets" were periodically released that shared hints and suggestions for fixes and modifications. The company did have occasional drama and change, but, from the perspective of kit car enthusiasts, all three incarnations of California Component Cars were known as class acts.

 

The classic, original Sterling... was an almost exact copy of the Nova, altered for left hand drive. Over the years, the basic body design changed very little. As with variations of the Nova, the main differences among Sterlings -- whether they be factory variations or custom mods -- can usually be seen as subtle differences in the hood, headlights, taillights, dash, and accents like side scoops. ••• Shown are examples of classic, relatively unmodified, original-run Sterlings from various angles. The earliest Sterlings offered only the "nostril" hood. Later variants offered a smooth-hood option. There were two different types of original taillights / rear valance panels, one utilizing lenses from a Bedford CF and the other using taillights from a Triumph TR7. Looking at the interior, the two main options for the dash were the original double "pod" style dash which had a very edgy, exotic look, and later a "straight" dash which offered much greater flexibility in gauges and accessories. Building from this are countless variations dreamt up by the individual owners and builders. But virtually all of Sterlings that exist were from this original 5-year run.

 

1978-83, California Component Cars -- By the late '70s, approximately 765 first-run Sterlings had been produced. But sales had been greatly slowing for a long while due to economic factors and the simple passage of time. In the fall of 1978, Ownership of CCC changed, and the new management (Paul Lacey) endeavored to update the Sterling's design in part to incorporate suggestions that builders had made over the years and also to introduce some subtle (ill fated) styling changes as well. The result was the Sovran, a modestly updated Sterling that the company hoped would "take the car into the '80s well ahead of its competition." Stated goals were to "reduce customer assembly time and allow for more variety in powerplants...improve the dashboard design, add headroom, incorporate pop-up head- lights, and generally update the styling for the eighties." And most of those goals were met. But fans were cold on the square-ish wheel wells, the kit market was down, and not many Sovrans reached completion.

 

Sterling Sovran -- The main features / "improvements" introduced on the Sovran included:
1) restyled wheel wells which were square-dish in nature.
2) a more modern, wrap-around style dash (which was subsequently used in the "GMT" as well),
3) lowered, fiberglass floor boards molded directly into the body (for headroom, strength and quicker builds),
4) fully integrated factory pop-up headlights and inset front turn signals,
5) a restyled front hood with scoops which were more useful for water-cooled conversions,
6) slot-like, forward-facing side scoops (behind the side windows) rather than the rounder original scoops.
7) integrated taillights, rear bumper, glass rear hatch, and a longer engine compartment for bigger engines.
The resulting car was successful in decreasing build time and providing a more comfortable cockpit. But builders' opinions of the squared-off wheel wells and other minor changes were mixed. For these reasons, coupled with a softening kit car market, very few Sovrans were made.

 

1983-92 CCC -- After the less-than-optimal response to the Sovran, owners of CCC made a decision to officially retire the Sovran and reinstate the Sterling by name. They did so through introduction of the Sterling GT, badged as such to reflect the minor-yet-significant differences it had from the original-run Sterlings. In essence, the GT the retained the wrap-around dash and many of the desirable functional changes introduced in the Sovran, but there was a return to the round wheel wells that many felt were more aesthetic. As with all other permutations of the Sterling, the GT was beautiful and was well built. But the tides of the kit car industry continued to turn in favor of "replicars" and/or kits based on the Fiero or other more modern formats. Production numbers were respectable but low, probably below 50. Around 1992, Sterling production virtually ceased. For the next few years, the molds were owned by Redhead Roadsters who produced a few more quality GTs...and thankfully preserved the breed yet again.

 

Sterling GT -- More-or-less resembling a hybrid of the original Sterling and the Sovran, the GT retained some of the more popular changes introduced in the Sovran (like the pop-up headlights, new taillights, and new dash design) but reverted back to the more familiar hood and rounded wheel wells similar-but-not- identical-to the original Sterlings. Features of the GT (borrowed from the Sovran) include: 1) factory pop-up headlights which are fully molded into the body (not simply retrofit into the open bay of the original headlight), 2) factory inset front turn signals, 3) a narrower, slit-like, forward-facing side scoop behind the side window, 4) a modestly restyled rear clip with integral taillights, 5) the wrap-around dash, 6) a larger engine compartment, and 7) integral fiberglass floorboards for rigidity and simplicity. Differences from the Sovran include: 1) wheel wells which are elliptical (like the original--but are NOT scalloped like the first run Sterlings), 2) a very subtly repositioned side scoop that looks higher than original due to taller lower side pods, and 3) choice of earlier hoods (nostril or smooth). Few exist; you are unlikely to ever see a true GT.

 

1996-2005, Solid Sterling -- In 1996, production was resurrected by a Sterling enthusiast named Mike McBride who bought the molds from Redhead Roadsters and began to produce replacement parts (and a limited number of full kits and/or turnkey cars) on a part time basis under the company name Solid Sterling. Mike is a true gentleman and a very likable fellow who quickly became unofficially known as "Mr. Sterling" throughout the enthusiast community. For about ten years, through successes and setbacks, he proudly fulfilled his goal of keeping the marque and a source of parts alive and well. The Sterling that Mike produced was very similar to the original body version of the Sterling. His contributions included an improved targa top (with intelligent reinforcements of the window frame plus improved weather-proofing) and also the introduction of a more versatile rear light panel. In total, Solid Sterling produced about 7 complete cars. But importantly, Mike kept the name alive for another decade.

 

The Sterling by Solid Sterling -- The model that Mike McBride produced offered a handful of nice refinements to an otherwise stock original car. The overall body styling, thankfully, stayed quite true to the original Sterling. The car featured the classic rounded-and-scalloped wheels wells, straight dash, and open headlights. Mike offered the option of smooth hood OR the nostril hood to suit individual tastes. A targa top version of the Sterling had been previously introduced, but it was never perfected and was rumored to be weak and leaky. Mike improved on these issues by strategically reinforcing the main windshield frame (and the roof piece itself), plus, he began to improve the weather-proofing around the borders. At the rear of the car, Mike mildly reworked the rear panel to be more "universal" and/or accommodating for a variety of more modern taillight clusters. As such, the cars were modestly updated yet true to the original. Mike's turnkey cars are known for being some of the best detailed Sterlings around.

 

2006-present, Sterling Sports Cars -- In 2005, Mike McBride decided to quietly retire from the Sterling world in order to focus on a variety of personal projects. During this time, he was contacted by Dave Aliberti of Pennsylvania, a young, enthusiastic "car guy" and a gifted product designer/engineer who had fallen in love with the Sterling's design and showed interest in the franchise. Several months later, the Sterling molds and body panels were on their way to their current home at Sterling Sports Cars. Like Mike before him, Dave Aliberti maintains the company on a diligent part time basis and can provide anything from simple hardware to full turnkey cars on fully custom chassis. Not looking to radically change the basic body design, Dave's big contribution thus far has been to substantially refine and modernize every system he can, including headlights, side skirts, spoilers, hydraulics, trim pieces, etc. with even more upgrades on their way. But the most exciting work has been with new engine/chassis options...

 

The Sterling by Sterling Sports Cars -- Realizing that one of the biggest potentially weak links is the Sterling's aging chassis, Sterling Sports Cars has partnered with several well-seasoned chassis shops to begin offering a beautiful variety of custom performance chassis. Dave and the race shops have engineered several different configurations including rear- and mid-mounted engine designs that offer high performance suspension, steering, and braking options coupled with virtually any engine a builder is adventurous enough to attempt. A popular emerging option seems to be a mid-mounted Subaru WRX engine that pushes 300+ HP (through drivetrain that can actually handle it!) This is NOT you father's Sterling. Though the body is still just as happy on an old bug chassis, options now exist to make this the supercar the Sterling has always wanted to be. There is no time better than the present to buy parts for your old project or start a new one. Please support Dave and Sterling Sports Cars whenever you can. Make a list. Order your parts. Help keep the Sterling name alive for a few more decades. :)