Our Cars : Meet the Fleet No.1 – Rover 827 Sterling

Craig Cheetham

As I mentioned in my introductory post last week, I have quite a collection of cars. Over the next few weeks, then, I’ll be introducing them at a rate of one every 10 days or so, which should keep me going until Christmas. By which point, of course, there’ll probably be even more changes – it is, after all, the variety and randomness of my Compulsive Heap Purchasing Disorder that I love the most.

Okay, so it has the 'wrong' bumper - but the spirit of this project was to take a clunker and give it a new lease of life for less than 500 quid...)
Okay, so it has the ‘wrong’ bumper – but the spirit of this project was to take a clunker and give it a new lease of life for less than 500 quid…)

First out of the blocks, then, is neither my favourite nor the most interesting of the cars in my stable, but that doesn’t mean I’m not incredibly proud of it – not least because when I acquired it back in February, its future was, at best, uncertain. Step forward N830TNH, a ‘1995’ Rover Sterling (I uses the inverted commas because according to the paperwork, the car’s first pre-delivery inspection was carried out in November 1993… after which it languished in the showroom at Marshall’s Rover in Bedford for 16 months)

According to the service history, it was purchased by a private individual and run for five years on a private number plate, before being sold on through an independent dealership in 2000 on its original plate. The next owner kept it for 11 years, after which it found itself on a cheap and cheerful banger forecourt in Norwich. The princely sum of £695 changed hands (I still have the receipt) and off it went to a life of bodgery, unless, of course, said bodgery was carried out by the dealer.

As well as the addition of several self-adhesive chrome letters (the V6 one is still firmly welded to the bootlid, as I fear it’ll remove the paint if I tear it off), the next owner appeared to ‘restore’ the car with bodyfiller, green Hammerite and a Halfords rattlecan, applied with the delicacy and attention to detail you’d expect from a circus monkey.

Fast forward to February 2014, and the 827 had acquired yet another owner, this time a nice enough chap local to me who needed inexpensive transport to get him through the winter. By the time I came across the car in late February, Winter had been got through, the tax had expired and the car hadn’t been cleaned since he’d acquired it in October. It was advertised spares or repair, with the notion that, if somebody didn’t hand over £250 for it in the next couple of weeks, it’d most likely end up being scrapped. I hate for good cars to go to waste, so off I went for a look…

Truth be told, it looked very sorry for itself. On the plus side, though, I knew there was a good car waiting to get out – while there was evidence of previous welded repairs to one sill, the shell was structurally excellent – much more so than the external appearance would suggest. Both front wings were shot to pieces, with green slop hand painted over the corrosion, and the rattlecan paint job on the rear wing was unforgivably bad, with primer overspray on the back seat, windows and bumper and a finish as smooth as Keith Richards’ epidermis. Of course, I bought it. £175 changed hands, with my initial plan being to find a home for it with an enthusiast who could at least make use of its immaculate interior.

It actually doesn't look too bad from a distance, but the extent of the corroded wings and overall grubbiness are proof that the camera does occasionally lie...
It actually doesn’t look too bad from a distance, but the extent of the corroded wings and overall grubbiness are proof that the camera does occasionally lie…
Likewise, the rear quarter only looks 'a bit dull' here. It was horrendous.
Likewise, the rear quarter only looks ‘a bit dull’ here. It was horrendous.


Closer up, things were a little less pretty.
Closer up, things were a little less pretty.

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Except that never happened, because driving N830TNH back home, I realised what a truly nice car there was lurking beneath the shabby exterior. With only 71k on the clock, it felt tight, smooth and lively, and the near mint interior made me forget about the crustulent outer panels as darkness fell. Suddenly, I felt a sense of duty to save this car. Furthermore, it’d be fun to do it for less than £500 all in – including the purchase price.

Mint 71k interior, no 'dash lift' and those lovely early Mk 2 leather seats (so much more comfortable than the later 'piped' ones in my opinion meant this car was worth saving...
Mint 71k interior, no ‘dash lift’ and those lovely early Mk 2 leather seats (so much more comfortable than the later ‘piped’ ones in my opinion) meant this car was worth saving…

I knew I had a couple of 800 wings in my shed, but in the wrong shade of green – they would, potentially, be a good place to start. At least until I put an appeal out on the Rover 800 Owners Group on Facebook, and member Tim Hunter came back to say he had two immaculate BRG wings in his own, somewhat larger shed. The only downside was that Tim lives near the Wales/Shropshire border and I live in rural Cambridgeshire. It seemed the perfect excuse, then, to get a group of old schoolfriends together to watch the Wales v England Six Nations match in a pub in Chester, thus giving me the reason I needed to be ‘just passing’ and alleviate a tank of diesel from my restoration budget…

Thanks to Tim Hunter for the wings - one from a '98R Sterling and the other a genuine MGR replacement of much newer vintage. Astonishingly, the colour match on both is perfect.
Thanks to Tim Hunter for the wings – one from a ’98R Sterling and the other a genuine MGR replacement of much newer vintage. Astonishingly, the colour match on both is perfect.

Fitting the wings was surprisingly easy – the brackets are a little fiddly, especially as N830TNH has clearly received a gentle front end knock at some point in its 21-2 years that has left the nearside bumper mounting ever so slightly out of line (a job that would be too much of a hassle to fix in my budget, but has got to the point now where I might have to do it as it grates on my OCD every time I view the car from the wrong angle…). I did, however, discover the source of the car’s permanently resident door mirror spider – a huge nest of the little blighters was concealed between the N/S outer wing and the splash guard!

NS wing removed - check out the spider's nest just aft of the wheelarch liner!
NS wing removed – check out the spider’s nest just aft of the wheelarch liner!

Next up was the rear quarter. Way beyond my own skills with a spray gun, I handed it over to my friend and regular mechanic, Tony Coles, who can work miracles with metallic finishes for next to nothing – at £180 it was the biggest single investment in the project, but what a job he did for the cash…

£180 transformed this...
£180 transformed this…


...into this.
…into this.

Suddenly, I had a half-decent 827 on my hands. Then came another stroke of luck – a slightly dubious-looking character on eBay was stripping an 820 Vitesse Sport for the engine to go in a racing car project. Sadly, it was too late to save the car,  but for £150 he said I could have as many bits as I could get off it in an afternoon. Furthermore, his house was en-route to my mother-in-law’s, where I was expected the following Saturday.

My haul came to a BRG front bumper in good condition, another spare pair of wings, two BRG door mirrors (one of which replaced the scuffed item on N830TNH), later-style grey rear lights (I’ll let you be the jury on that, but I always fit them as a preference to the orange ones), electric window switch pack, fuse box (yup, I know the regular 800 fail points) a boot spoiler, Vitesse Sport alloys and original Vitesse floor mats (the last three of which are going on my 800 Vitesse when I eventually get round to it). I am, however, still angry at myself for getting so distracted by the shiny bits that I forgot to ask about the expansion tank – I just hope he used it, so it didn’t end up as landfill…

In total then, my outlay was a fiver over budget, but I reckon that’s easily offset by the parts I got for my Vitesse (coming soon to ‘Our Cars’). And after a seven hour session with my Big Box of Cleaning Stuff (TM), which for accounting purposes I classify as a fixed overhead, here’s the result:

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Not bad for £505, in my opinion at least!

So far, I’ve added 1,000 miles to the clock including a couple of high-speed runs up to Cheshire and back, and I’m extremely impressed (not that I needed much impressing, as my current brace of 800s are the seventh and eighth I’ve owned). I love projects like this – taking cars that are more than likely going to be crushed, and instead bringing them in as orphans and showing them a little bit of love.

What next for N830TNH? Well, the current fleet is way too big, so it may find itself on the ‘for sale’ list shortly, though I fear that if I do let it go, it could end up being one I regret… If I do, it’ll have to go to a good home and not drop back into banger danger territory, though.

Craig Cheetham

A serial impulsive car purchaser, Craig has had his name on over 200 V5s over the past 20 years. 10 per cent of those have been either 800s or Austin Allegros, with between 10 and 20 cars usually owned at any one time. Started out as a local newspaper journalist then worked for car mags including Auto Express, Classic Car Weekly and Land Rover Owner. Worked inside the car industry for a decade as an employee of General Motors, now works for a news distribution agency. Home based, which is dangerously convenient for further irrational heap purchases. Lover of all makes of car since childhood, with a particular leaning towards Austin-Rover... Father of three boys, so hoping to spread the car love. Other passions include rugby union, travelling and eating out.


  1. That’s my kind of car buying, saving someones discarded old clunker and returning to it’s former glory” well almost”, but then comes the issue of what to do with it when it’s back to health, selling it on a auction site or a free ad you know someone who only wants a car for a few months will buy it and ruin all your hard work and the next you will see of it is in a breakers yard,I have personal experience of that and it’s not a good feeling.

  2. The Sterling was a beauty of Rover’s expertise;had a lovely interior, space for four (and five at a pinch), a powerful and effective pushbutton heating/ventilation system with useful air conditioning for those lovely summer days and clear windscreen and rapidly warmed toasty warm interior in wintertime if you use the air con on and heat set to warm and heat/demist setting with the fan on medium, vents for the rear and rear cigar lighter for your executive smoker friends, and a general niceness about the car.

  3. An essentially sound car rescued and turned into a pleasant motor. The scruffy exterior was, to most, giving it a “close to the scrap yard” feel. However, a bit of vision, a small outlay and a love of all things BLARG have made a huge difference. Nice one, Craig!

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