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MG ZA/ZB Published: 5th Apr 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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● Last true MG-bred saloon ● Sporty nature ● Strong club and specialist support ● Creditable Jag Mk2 substitute

It’s the ‘beginner’s Jaguar’. With its sleek Italian-influenced styling, luxurious Jag-like interior and lively performance, this MG became one of the very best sports saloons of the ’50s. Today, the charismatic ZA or ZB Magnette makes more than a convincing, cheaper alternative to a Mk1 or Mk2 Coventry cat and a fine starter classic for all the family to enjoy.


Magnette was one of the best sports saloons of its era and heaps better than the later hotted-up MG-badged ‘Farina’ which replaced it. The rack and pinion steering, although a little low-geared, is delightful with no slack and if the suspension (featuring modern telescopic damping) is in similarly good fettle you’ll find this MG a fairly crisp GT to pilot, and far better than many rival 60 year olds. With the car weighing over 1100kg and with under 70bhp in standard tune, performance is at best only reasonably lively but it’s the way the Magnette goes about its business which surprises most as the characteristic low rev torque of the B-Series makes the MG feel brisker than it is. And in reality it’s not that much slower than a 2.4-litre Jag. Where the Jaguar scores over its Midlands’ rival is with its more relaxing cruising gait as Magnettes are inherently fussy on faster roads and overdrive was never made available and nor is it particularly easy to fit either.

Best models

There’s two models, the original ZA and the ZB facelift of 1956 of which the Varitone, featuring duo tone paint and a usefully wider rear window, were the main highlights although the MG’s rarity means you may not have much choice. The choice of axle ratios is worth noting. Initially a 4.3:1 axle ratio, but for a short while a lower 4.875:1 final drive was substituted to improve the zip. This had the desired effect but sadly made the car far too fussy at speed, and so from chassis 18101 a 4.55:1 differential was fitted together with an uprated 68bhp engine to compensate for the taller gearing; it may have already been retro fitted. Avoid quirky Manumatic semi-autos as you can’t get their parts anymore.


So cheap were Magnettes up until a few years ago, £7000 would have netted the very best. Now you have double that figure although you can get decent usable models for that earlier sum. Projects can be had for under £2000 but you won’t see a return for all the time and money for many years yet. As they are easy to update with later A60 and Magnette MkIII and MkIV parts, modified models are very common and while some mods certainly improve the car, they shouldn’t command a higher price than a standard top-notch one.

Buying advice

These bodyshells can rot badly structurally and although the Magnette had a similar body to the Wolseley 4/44 very few panels are shared. The condition of the sills are hyper critical and another well known rot area is the large box section which sits just behind the front wheels.

A pretty good test to gauge if the car is structurally sound is if it can be raised with its standard jack. The floors are a nightmare; lifting the carpets will give a good feel as to the overall condition. Also, check thoroughly from underneath. Inspect the A and B post by the doors for welding and deft filler work.

At the rear, have a good look at the rear wheel arches with the doors open. All exterior panels rust, expect filler bodges by the snout and windscreen surrounds.

Mechanically, Magnette uses a mix of BMC bits. The downside is the distinct possibility that non-MG parts have been substituted over the decades. There’s nothing wrong with this unless you demand total originality – the later 1622cc engine is a worthy upgrade, for example. The combined clutch and brake master cylinder corrodes internally and is expensive to refurbish so needs checking.

Even when new Magnettes had no less than 17 grease points so expect a lot of wear and tear due to neglect or sheer boredom. Just the usual checks suffice however, although rusty front wishbones and broken rear springs are not uncommon. Interiors are Jag-like and costs as much to restore.


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