Sterling 1973-1977

sterling kit car

The first site of the Nova in the USA was when the 1973 issue of Car & Driver hit the newsstands. The response to this article was overwhelming, and Richard Oakes and Phil Sayers, the designers of the Nova in the UK, were inundated with letters from the USA, including over a thousand people that wanted dealerships. Several of those interested visited the UK, but the two that seemed the most adventurous were Norm Rose and Cecil Robertson. Norm operated a repair shop in northern California along with his brother, Neal. Cecil was an extremely successful salesman of, all things - tile - with connections spanning the globe. Cecil and Norm were friends and on one of his (Cecil) trips to the UK he saw the Nova and told Norm about it on the return. Oakes and Sayers really did not want to expand their business, but Cecil's winning salesman's technique ruled the day, and Cecil and Norm were able to bring home a single Nova. A set of plugs was sent over shortly afterwards to start the mold process, and not long after California Component Cars was born.

Production began in San Lorenzo, California in 1973. By January 1976, CCC held the license to manufacture Sterlings anywhere in the world, as well as opening a second production facility in Illinois. California Component took over existing contracts in Australia and Holland, and licensed new manufacturers in Scotland and Venezuela, while the UK continued to produce kits for the UK and overseas. A front cover photo and article in Motor Trend in November 1976 continued to keep the car in the public imagination and sales continued to soar. A total of (roughly) 875 were produced between the two manufacturing facilities owned by CCC.

The name "Sterling" derived from several factors. One, of course, was that GM already had a car named the Nova. The other was quite simple: Norm and Cecil couldn't think of a good name for the car. As the story goes, one day early in the making of the cars, both men were cleaning up after a day of working in the shop and Cecil asks Norm "How did we pay for this car (the Nova brought over)?"
"With money, of course!"
Cecil shakes his head and says, "No, what did we pay with?"
"British Pound Sterling"...
Cecil looks the word Sterling up in the dictionary and notes that it means, among other things " excellent, worthy, first-rate".

He mentions that to Norm and they both agree - there is the new name for the car.

 

Sterling 1978-1982, the "Sovran"

Sovran kit car

In September 1978, CCC changed ownership, and the Sovran body is produced with mixed reviews. Squared off wheel wells and a monocoque body and slightly larger dimensions highlighted this version, and by mid 1979 the first bodies were taken from the molds and were for sale later that year. From 1980 onwards, Sterlings were now known as Sovrans. Total production numbers are not known. Best estimates are under 8 bodies; one was sold overseas (VIN #001) by a club member not too long ago, and another running car was for sale in the UK about the same time. Only two others had come to market in the SF Bay area over the past few years.

 

Sterling 1983, the "GT" and present day

red gt

In 1983 CCC changed ownership again, and the Sterling nameplate was revived, back with proper rounded wheel wells, but all the Sovran's other features. This version became known as the Sterling GT or Sterling Sovran GT, depending on who was selling the car. Total production numbers are again not certain for this version, but conservative estimates are below 10 units.

Ownership of the original body style molds had changed hands after the GT, most notably to a company called Redhead Roadsters in Washington State in the early 1990's, but I am unaware of any cars that this company produced. From Redhead's demise, the molds sat idle until Mike McBride started Solid Sterling in the mid '90's, producing a handful of turnkey cars and spare parts. Solid Sterling was retired in 2006, and half a year later Dave Aliberti brought the molds to Pennsylvania to start Sterling Sports Cars near Pittsburgh. The GT molds are presumed lost or somewhere in storage at parts unknown. To find these would certainly be of great interest!

 

Sebring: The Sibling by Demand

Sebring Series 1

sebring kit car

In the mid '70's, a small company called Custom Coach Builders started producing a variant of the Sterling called the Sebring. Custom Coach, we believe, was a company that was hired to pull bodies for the then present California Component Cars Midwest plant in Illinois. Al Hildenbrand, one of the lead engineers for fiberglass and production for CCC at the Midwest plant, felt that the Sterling could use a "facelift" and more user-friendly seating. He approached the owners of CCC with a pitch to redesign the Sterling with a higher roofline and redesigned cockpit interior allowing for more headroom and storage space. That plan was rejected. So, Al went out on his own and bucked the Sebring himself - no molds were apparently used from the Sterling at all, according to recent finds, though most owners reject that as the first series Sebrings were virtual copies of the Sterling, right down to the windshield. Recent information from original owners is placing the Sebring as being introduced in 1976, with the car body fitted Sterling style to a VW pan. First and second generation Sebrings all had fiberglass floorpans that were already lowered. The floors were a seperate mold, so there will be variations on floors - some cars will have retained the stock VW pan. The nose was chopped back and the headlights (open on early Sterlings) were now retractable. A functional bumper was added to the front for extra protection and the headlight placement was raised to meet minimum federal requirements. Two rows of louvers lined the hood to provide cooling for water cooled engines with a front-mount radiator, and the lower body scoops prevalent on the Sterling were eliminated. The cockpit was restyled to provide more headroom and a slightly larger engine compartment. Al's vision for the Sebring was to make it street legal in all 50 states, passing all federally mandated safety features. First generation Sebrings have a canopy "cut" very similar to the Sterling. It was these cars that Al approached Bremen Motors to mold and build. When demand outweighed production, Al bought Bremen Motors (and introduced a score of other style kit cars).

 

Sebring Turbo

sebring kit car

Al at one point started ARX Industries and together with Bremen, restyled the Sebring with a deeper canopy, longer tail section (for larger engines) and a few interior styling changes. The Sebrings were known as the Turbo - for the fact that Bremen had initially planned on installing turbo VW engines, but when that didn't pan out, they found that a watercooled GM engine would work just as well. Many Sebring Turbos left the factory with 3.8L GM engines under the rear deck! When all was said and done, and the kit industry started to fold once again in the early '80's, the Sebring total production run between the first and second generation didn't exceed more than 450 cars, which is surprising considering how popular the kit was!

 

Cimbria: First cousin, once removed...

Cimbria Series 1

cimbria kit car

Sometime in the mid '70's yet another entrepreneur took hold of a Sterling and molded his own version. Joe Palumbo founded Amore Cars in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with the Cimbria (body basic to the Sterling, mounted on a VW Beetle chassis) and the later Cimbria SS with a fully integrated monocoque body and roll cage. First generation Cimbria are roughly the same dimensions as the Sterling. First generation Cimbria featured doors that were not cut to the sills, but ended at the bodyline and were hinged very near the edge of the roof. The early SS featured a split rear hatch reminiscent of the DeTomaso Mangusta, but overheating problems with air-cooled powerplants led to the redesign with the monocoque body and open tail much like the Sebring. Word has from original owners that the first Cimbrias were sold in 1974, which makes for some interesting time line comparisons, but verifiable paperwork is non-existant. In a recent discussion with someone close to CCC, a mention of "two guys from Chicago" going off on their own after having a Sterling distributorship for about a year. This was likely before the Midwest plant opened (and perhaps hastened that!), so who were those men?

 

Cimbria SS

cimbria kit car

In subsequent models which became the SS, the doors were cut deeper to the sill plate and were hinged closer to the centerline of the roof. One of the unique features of the SS was it's well designed fresh air vent system. Early cars had vents at the base of the windshield and at the front of the car leading to integrated, molded pipes that lead into the cockpit. Later versions did away with the windshield vents, but retained the nose openings. Once again, production figures are not known, and estimates are around 500-600 vehicles built.

Cimbria SS brochure

In the early 1990's, Neria Yachts in Wilmington, North Carolina, built their own molds from a purchased Cimbria and had a limited run of cars called 'Nerias', with a severely modified shortened nose and the options of a full tube chassis and modern running gear.One of our members remembers seeing at least 10 finished vehicles in a Las Vegas dealership or car show, but I've never seen one come to market. One more builder in Canada who also has a version of the Cimbria, called the 'Bernardi'. Sterling Auto Classics in Ontario shows a single finished car on their website (for sale last time I looked), but I have been unable to confirm any others produced.

 

 

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