How to buy a Sterling

by Rick Rickert

Since this web page has been put up, the most common question that I get is "Where can I find one of these for sale?". Either people have stumbled across the website and are now interested in buying one, or they found the website on their search for one, but haven't been having any luck.

Well, what I will provide here, is my best bet to being able to find one of these.

I am an avid car buyer. Even when I'm not in the market, I have a general idea of what is for sale with most collectable cars. I regularly read the printed versions of the AutoTrader and the DuPont Registry, as most people would read USA Today or Sports Illustrated. I've found pretty good methods of being able where to find particular cars, and here's what I've found on Sterlings.

First off, you have to think about where most Sterlings are. They are a predominantly west-coast car. When CCC made them, all the social functions for Sterling owners were around California. The only place you'd see one was around there, and seeing one is the best way to get excited about buying one, so most of the business that CCC had came from California. Also, considering that shipping was either expensive or troublesome, a lot of cars were sold locally for that reason as well. I still find that in the majority of my searches, the cars are on the west coast. With that in mind, if you're on the east coast, the newspaper is going to be pretty much a complete write-off. No one will advertise a Sterling in the local paper, because readers wont know what it is. If they're going to advertise locally, it will be in the AutoTrader. You don't even have to buy the AutoTrader weekly to find out if there is one listed in there. Just pick up a copy at the store, flip it open to the back under the "Miscellaneous" section. There are never more than 3-4 pages of cars, and the Sterling should jump at you if there's one in there. It saves you buying the magazine each week just to look at 4 pages of cars.

Your best bet for finding a Sterling will be using the internet. I have a series of websites that I like to use. My top 4 are AutoTrader on line, Classifieds2000, eBay and kitcars.com.

When using the AutoTrader on line, the standard AutoTrader.com doesn't have a place to list Sterlings other than the British Sterling, so you have to use the traderonline.com part. Just select the collector car trader and enter the make as "KIT CARS" and it will list all kits available for sale. For simplicity, just use this page and click begin search. Expect to see anywhere between 15 and 35 cars come up. I find more kit cars go on sale in the winter, when people give up on working on them, or in the springtime, when people clean out the garage.

The next great site is classifieds2000.com. Same thing as AutoTrader, except they are strictly on-line. When using classifieds2000, it's under "Specialized Vehicles" either under "Kit" or "Replica". Use this link and using your CTRL key, select both the "Kit" and "Replica" categories. This will give you between 25 and 50 results. One really cool thing about classifieds2000 is their CoolNotify feature. At the top of each page of listings, it says "Use Cool Notify". Click on this. It will take you to a page where you put in your email address. Then, if any new listing appears using the variables you just performed your search with, they'll let you know via email. This is great. This way, you can be the first one to know when a new kit is added. Sometimes that lead time of a day can make the difference in weather you get the bargain, or the guy who checks at the end of the day.

Another great resource I like to use is eBay. Any concerns you have about buying a car off of eBay should be laid to rest. It's much like buying a car through any other internet means. If you're close enough, you can go look at the car before you bid on it. Otherwise, call the buyer before you bid. If you're going to do that, just have a pretty good list of questions that you want to ask. Ask about frame/floor rust, paint condition, maintenance records, interior, ask if anything electrical doesn't work. Have a good long list of questions to ask before you call. Form all your questions in an open manner. For example, don't ask if the front has any rock chips in the paint. Ask how much rock chipping is in the paint on the front. Also, get as much history on the phone as you can. If you keep someone on the phone for about 30 minutes, you can get a good idea if they are the type of person you'd like to buy a car from. If I feel good about the person, I'll buy the car. Haven't gone wrong yet with that one. But back to eBay. Use the eBay motors site, and they have a special kits section. The listing for it is right here.

Kitcars.com is a kitcar site that centers on their classifieds section. It's the main feature of the page, and it is REALLY well laid out. There are flags next to each listing to let you know what country the vehicle is in. It also clearly lists the date the ad was posted. A truly great kit car classified resource.

Other Kit car sites have classifieds, and there are links to those sites under the links section of this web page.

Using all of these methods, I'd say you should expect to find between 5-12 Sterlings for sale each year in the US. That's not many when you come to think about it. But realize that they are an uncommon car, and the people that love them often hold on to the ones out there. There are other sites that offer cars for sale, like autobytel.com and wwwheels.com, but most of them specialize in standard cars, and wont list kits, or at least they wont attract the kit car sellers. Sometimes I check them looking for the bargain that no-one else sees.

When looking for a used Sterling, don't forget to factor in shipping costs. Perhaps you could drive the car home, but even if you plan to do that, you should plan for the worst, and be ready to tow it home in the event of a problem. This isn't a put-down on Sterlings or VWs. The same will hold true for any car that's 20 years old that you're buying. Unless you've owned and driven the car for a while, you really cant be sure that it will make it a great distance. If you decide to ship your car home, figure on about $1200 from one coast to the other. The reason that may seem high, is that with a Sterlings low ground clearance, you'll need to put it on a flatbed. Other car carriers need more ground clearance, and you'll damage the underside of your car, that is if you even find someone willing to load it on there. Other factors that can change the cost of shipping is how far off standard shipping routes you might be. My car came from Sacramento and went to DC. Both were right on route. If you're off that, it may be more.

As I stated before, having a good list of questions is a must for buying any car. You'll come up with a good list of questions if you do your research first. Doing your research, you'll find out what problems people generally have, and you'll know what to ask.

As for Sterlings, here's a few good questions you might want to ask.

  • Body:
    What is the condition of the paint?
      Are there any spider cracks?
      Is there fading?
      How many rock chips are in the front?
    Are there any cracks or tears in the fiberglass?
    How is the weather-stripping?
    Are there pits/cracks/chips in any windows?
    Are all lenses intact?
    Is there corrosion on any chrome?

  • Engine:
    Is it stock VW or other?
    Was the engine ever rebuilt?
      If so when, and by who?
    What is the CC of the engine?
    Are there any modifications to it?
    How does the exhaust sound?
    What type of carburetors are on it?
    What type of charging system?
    How old is the battery?
    How does it shift?
    Was the trans ever rebuilt?
    What year is the motor/chassis from?
    How many of the parts were replaced/upgraded at the time the kit was built?
    How many miles on the brakes/shocks/tires?

  • Electrical:
    Do all the gauges work accurately?
    Do all the lights function, inside and out?
    Does the radio work?
    Does the horn work?

  • Interior:
    Are there any rips/tears in the upholstery?
    How worn are the seats?

  • Other:
    Does it have a hydraulic or manual roof?
      How well do the hydraulics work?
      How fast does the roof raise and lower?
    Are the headlights stationary or pop-up?
    Any custom bodywork?
    Is there anything else that it needs?
    Anything I didn't cover?

With this list, you should be able to get a feel for the car, and the seller.

Good luck and happy hunting.