The Sterling is a car that originated in England in the early 70s that used sleek low-profile styling and dramatic unique features and combined them with standard Volkswagen running gear to create a stylish, yet affordable and reliable sports car.
Designed in the early 70's by Richard Oakes and Phil Sayers, it was released in England in 1972 under the name of the Nova. The Nova (Sterling) was designed to fit on top of the chassis of a VW bug with little to no modifications. All that was needed was to strip the body panels off of the VW bug, make some slight modifications to the angle of the steering wheel and height adjustments to the shifter, and the new Nova body could be mounted. Many people opted for even more modifications like lowering the floor pans or replacing the engine with a water-cooled motor.
It was a brilliant idea, and one of the first of its time. Similar things had been done to change the VW Bug in to dune buggies, but the Nova was one of the first cars to realize that it could be transformed in to a sports car as well. In the following decades, many other fiberglass car manufacturers would follow the same path. It wasn't until sometime after the introduction of the Pontiac Fiero in the mid 1980s did the appeal of VW based kit cars begin to decrease.
The creators got their styling influences from the Lamborghini of the day (which was the Muira) and from the Ford GT40. The canopy roof, which is probably the cars most unique feature, was possibly influenced by some of the Bertone designs of that era such as the Testudo of the early 60's and I believe there was a version of the Carabo released by Bertone in the 70s that also had a canopy style door. The Nova however is one of the only cars ever made to feature this style that rises forward rather than just hinging. Richard and Phil later admitted that they considered the design of the canopy roof a disaster, but couldn't change it once it had gone in to production. The new design for the next nova uses standard doors. Regardless of the influences, the car is no doubt unique.
The Sterling goes by several names and has moved though several incarnations. The first and original design from the early 70s was called the Nova. When the car was to be sold in the US by California Component Cars, they had to rename it as Chevrolet already had a model called the Nova, so it was re-named the Sterling but the design was kept intact. The design of the car stayed the same until a Mid 80s version called the Sebring was released, although that design was short lived. One neat thing about the Sebring was that it had more headroom with a raised roofline, although it changed the lines of the car. The Sebring also had a different nose and taillights, as well as incorporating pop-up headlights that were now being featured on the original design Sterling as well. Around the same time of the Sebring, the design was adapted and slightly modified to a car called the Cimbria (aka Cimbria SS) although the two were never actually linked together in anyway other than the fact they had almost identical designs (the Cimbria had gull-wing doors rather than a canopy roof). Then California Component Cars updated the Sterling design to a car called the Sovran, which was also short lived. The Sovran featured much the same designs, but had squared off wheel-wells, unique front turn-signals, Mustang tail-lights, and scoops behind the windows rather than vents. Just some basic design changes to bring the car in to the 80's. Once California Component Cars went bankrupt in the early-mid 80s and the then-owner, Norm Rose, was rumoured to have run off, the factory and its parts and its workers were all awarded by the courts to the largest investor at the time who was Paul Lacey. Paul, along with most of the other people at CCC didn't like the square wheel wells of the Sovran, and made a second generation Sterling Sovran which had updated styling, but with the original rounded wheel wells. There were only about 25 of these cars ever made, and 15 of them didnt even have name plates as the factory was so strapped for cash. A final prototype design was made in the mid 80s for the next Sterling, but never made it in to production. The major difference to this never-released prototype was that the car was 3 inches wider in the front and 6 inches wider in the rear. The prototype also had t-tops, but its unclear as to whether or not it would have gone to production that way. The basic Sterling-type design left the scene for a while, but recently the design has been resurrected by a company called Solid Sterling who makes a hard top and a targa top version of the car. The kit offered by Solid Sterling is almost exactly the same as the original design with a few updates to the front and rear lights. The Cimbria was also re-released under the name of the Nereia. The Sterling was available in Australia and I actually saw one while I lived there. Over in Australia, it was called the Purvis Eureka, and had some slight design modifications. There is also a kit now being made called the Eagle, that has lines of the Sterling/Nova but has some Cimbria features and headlights similar to the Porsche 928.
The Sterling really was a pioneer in the exotic VW based sports car arena. There are not too many cars these days that still use the VW platform, which is a shame because it has such great advantages. The parts are very readily available and just about all systems are owner-serviceable. There are many places that sell custom and performance parts for VWs, most of which can be used on the Sterling.