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MG Magnette

MG Magnette Published: 6th Sep 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

MG Magnette
MG Magnette
MG Magnette
MG Magnette
MG Magnette
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Why not own a...? MG Magnette

You want to know the real attraction of the Magnette? Put it this way, if you’re after a quality British sporting saloon but the budget can’t stretch to Jaguar prices then this MG makes a great alternative. In effect, it’s a classy and quaint four-seater MGA that’s also an entirely respectable cut price Jaguar Mk1/Mk2 alternative offering a similar style and driver satisfaction yet at much keener prices.

Granted, most, apart from the 2.4, the Coventry cats beat the MGs for pace and grace but the Magnette Z cars are just as much fun to drive thanks to their lighter, crisper handling. Not so the Farina replacement, with its retrograde chassis, but all cruise well and are quite dashing.

Model choice

There’s only two derivatives of the Magnette so, together with less than 100 remaining, your choice is somewhat limited although should major on condition above all else, even if it means you look to a similar Wolseley model. The ZA was the first MG to be built on the ‘monocoque’ principle and the bodies were supplied by Pressed Steel, a company owned by BMC. The first 250 or so had front windows sans quarter lights and the first 6000 featured the novel ‘tintop’ dashboards albeit with an authentic sprayed wood effect.

In 1956, the ZB successor surfaced, equipped with larger SU carbs and improved manifolding. Along with a raised compression ratio, from 7.5:1 to 8.3:1, the result was more respectable 68bhp. The MG was always the swifter option over the similar looking but more stately Wolseley 4/44. With the launch of the ZB also came the more upmarket Varitone derivative, identified by its airier wraparound rear screen and its snazzy two-tone paint. The ZB was the slightly more popular of the two Magnettes selling 18,524 in just two years against 18,076 ZAs, over three years. It’s mostly likely that there will be more ZBs around as they will have had fewer years to rust away…

The charming ZB was replaced by the frumpy Farina models and with it gained a new identity and character. Now little more than a posher Morris Oxford, and made at the same factory, it was saddled with that family car’s inferior suspension and old fashioned steering box, displacing that sharp rack and pinion steering that made the Magnette handle like a bigger Riley 1.5. A quick revise two years after the 1959 launch improved matters but not by much, leading to one road test to remark “One might just as well order a 15/60 Wolseley or an Austin A55,” although the MkIV did boast a larger 1622cc engine and the option of a proper automatic transmission.

The ZB utilised a quirky two-pedal clutchless system called ‘Manumatic’. Unreliable and now very expensive to fix, we don’t know of any survivors. The major attraction of the Farina lies in its admittedly strong value for money and a spacious, classy cabin plus a proper automatic transmission option.

Behind the wheel

Thick carpets, leather upholstery, several trees worth of wood trim (apart from very early ZAs) and that Octagon speedo cowl, you can’t help but be taken in by the MG’s interior ambience that’s almost as inviting as a Jag.

Look at the ZA/ZB Magnette as an MGA saloon or a bigger luxurious (Morris Minor-derived) Riley 1.5 you won’t be too a mile wide of the mark and the original Magnettes have the most pull for enthusiasts because of their much sportier feel. In contrast, the frumpier Farinas feel disappointedly woolly with their sloppy steering and rolly-poly cornering manners.

Stopwatch performance isn’t the strongest point of either but the renowned low rev lug of the B-Series engine compensates below 60mph and, of course, it’s a unit that can easily be uprated, such as fitting a 1.8-litre MGB power plant. Gearing on all Magnettes is typically 1950’s low, so motorway cruising at anything more than 60mph can be wearing. There was an overdrive conversion made by Alexander Engineering which made a lot of difference but they are rare finds although we can’t see why an MGB transmission can’t be made to fit.

Alternatively, a Ford Sierra five-speed ‘box does the job better because not only does it provide overdrive but the Ford’s intermediate ratios are much better suited to the B-Series torque spread but it costs. Initially, the saloon ran with a 4.875:1 and was fitted to improve pep to the detriment of refinement before a 4.55:1 was substituted for taller (16.32mph) gearing by ’56.

Magnettes are relatively easy, if old fashioned saloons to pilot with the Farinas feeling notably lumpen. On the plus side, they are more family-sized with a generous boot and if you are prepared to accept lowly performance (in today’s terms) a standard car can be used as a daily driver. Economy is quite fair with 30mpg possible if the carbs are in good order. Hardly frugal but no worse than any other similar classic.

Making one better

As with all MGs there’s plenty you can do so this section barely scratches the surface. Better gearing we’ve already touched upon and ideally it needs extra performance so the car can cope with this without getting bogged down. The most logical tweak is to bring the engine to full MGA tune or bore it out to 1798cc along the lines of the original threebearing MGB unit; later five bearing units fit but need modifying to do so.

Unattractive Magnettes?


Front wings are becoming scarce. While the ZA was essentially a revised Wolseley 4/44, only the basic shell, boot lid and front doors were similar carry-overs. External trim can be difficult to obtain, particularly the hockey stick chrome mouldings. Re-chroming of the original parts is going to be a pricey exercise.

How much of the car is standard? Low values means an ‘anything goes’ philosophy has been adopted. There’s nothing wrong with this unless you demand total originality and as the MG is a glorified ‘Oxcam’, parts interchangeability is superb, apart from the trim.

Interior, particularly later cars, is Jag-opulent appointed in wood and leather but is often damaged by ageing and water leaks (penny to a pound the screen rubbers will be past it) plus is as expensive as a Jaguar Mk2 to restore.

Body And Chassis

Bodyshells can rot badly and the condition of the sills is hyper critical – particularly the welded seam where the inners and outers are joined. If the inners have gone then expect major, expensive repairs. So check them with utmost care.

Another well known rot area is the box section which sits just behind the front wheels. This can fill with water and if the drain channels are blocked (as many are) rot will quickly spread to the sills. A good test is to ask to see if the car can be raised with its standard jack…

Inspect the toe boards and all box section members. Front and rear suspension spring mountings rot and are MoT safety-critical – Farinas can fare badly here. Also radial tyres can grip well enough to crack the front chassis where the steering box is attached. From 1964, a strengthening plate was added to rectify this. Scrutinise the A and B post by the doors. At the rear have a good look at the wheel arches with the doors open. Steel spring pan design can trap water and rust, something you’ll see in all the usual places. On the other hand, the car is robust and easy to repair mechanically.


The B-Series is tough and tolerant of neglect. Look for low oil pressure (anything less than 50psi on the move is bad news), smoking, undue tappet noise and rumbling crankshafts under load. A lighter noise is usually the big end shells needing replacing which can be done with unit in situ but it’s fiddly.

Running Gear

The combined clutch and brake master cylinder corrodes internally and is expensive to refurbish. Look for leaks, a slipping clutch or sub-standard brakes on a test drive.

Transmissions are sturdy though they can lose synchromesh, usually in second gear, and become noisy but soldier on regardless unless really past it. The same goes for the rear axle. Check to see if the right ratio is still fitted to the car – it may have been changed. Steel spring pan design can trap water and rust, something you’ll see in all the usual places.

Here’s six of the best reasons to buy one

Classical styling
High class interiors
Cheap Mk2 alternative
Easy to own and maintain
Great value Farinas
Typical MG social scene

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