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Do you drive this great classic or are thinking of buying one? Here’s how to ensure that you get the best out of your car for years to come
Thanks to their simple make up, being little different to a Morris Minor in design, ZA/ZB Magnettes make great starter classics plus have the class and aura of a Jag Mk1 but for much less cost. Sharing a fair number of components with the MGA and T Series, it’s a very easy classic to maintain with a pretty good parts supply despite the fact that BMC halted component production way back in 1965.
B-Series is essentially a half-way tune to the MGA with similar tuning potential, although you need a 1622cc unit (which can be stretched to 1.8) or the 1.8. “To get 95-100bhp out of a 1500 would cost far more and take far longer than swapping to an MGB engine,” says MG expert Bob West. An MGB head is a cheap mod but only fi ts after altering the combustion chambers to clear the pistons.
It’s robust, despite its three bearing crank, although later fi ve bearing unit is better for major tuning. Chrome bumper MGB 1.8 is best as mounting holes are identical, but you need a lot of the engine, such as back plates, changed over. Oil should be 50psi, at 3000rpm, blue smoke indicates worn piston rings or cylinder bores. Cylinder heads have been known to crack, first sign being a blown head gasket
2 BODY & CHASSIS
Although part of the BMC family few parts are interchangeable; closest relation is the Wolseley but even then only the shell and boot lid fi t; happily Magnette panels are still readily available from NTG Motor Services. Making a Varitone, with its larger rear window is not possible. Single skin rear wings and improved fl oor sections, from John Shorten, cut down future corrosion (http://www.mgspecs.co.uk).
Rust is the biggest worry as you’d appreciate on such an oldie. Biggest concern are the sills’ condition and especially the welded seam where the inners and outers are joined. Another well known rot area is the box section which sits just behind the front wheels. The A and B posts, inner wings plus floors all succumb so regular Waxoyling is a must. The ‘snout’ is also rustprone, similar to a Jaguar’s.
3 BOTTOM END
1622 unit can be taken to 1798cc while a 1.8 block has the potential for 2.1-litres. If you are sticking with a three-bearing crank, then it needs uprating if you intend to tune above 90bhp which is near the limit. “You can uprate an MGA spec engine, and we have done so,” Bob West says, “But you need a stronger crank, better pistons, a cam like a Piper 285, and a lot of work on the head.”
An easy unit to strip and repair – but beware, the B-Series masks ills well. Excessive tappet noise is usually cam and its followers; timing chains can do a cha-cha band act, too. Rumbling main bearings and clattery big and small ends all point to wear. MGB three bearing crank engine fi ts but you have to use Magnette sump and relocate oil pump feed says West, adding it’s not straightforward.
4 FRONT & REAR SUSPENSION
For its day, the ZA/ZB boasted a good set up which included rack and pinion steering and telescopic damping. You are looking at uprated springs and dampers, as the fi rst step. A stouter anti-roll bar helps and a cheap solution is the Marina/Ital one which fi ts, although you’ll need Midget links to do the job right. If you are after harder rear leaf springs, try Austin Countryman ‘estate’ ones.
Magnettes have plenty of grease points needing replenishing every 1000 miles so expect a lot of wear due to past neglect. There’s the usual MG trunnion, kingpin wear to contend with if not regularly lubricated; EP oil is recommended but grease is usually used and not so effective. Rusty front wishbones can be a worry as can be the location for the front springs
Desperately low gearing – worse on original car using a 4.875:1 ratio – means car yearns for overdrive. Later and larger MGB transmission can fi t but needs major fl oorpan mods, as does the Sierra Type 9 conversion. On all, you may like to raise engine power so car can ‘pull’ the taller gear better. 1500cc cars will need a 1600 engine back plate for the conversion to be viable. Other axle ratios include MGA 4.3 unit and a 4.5 which later Magnettes ran with.
Transmissions are robust but rarely silent. First point of wear is loss of synchromesh, invariably second gear. Most boxes become noisy but they soldier on regardless unless really past it – perhaps a thicker (engine) oil can help here. If going the fi ve-speed route, you may fi nd the gear lever boot too restrictive so use a late MGB gaiter instead to help.
6 STEERING & TYRES
If you want to keep the stock look then tyre choice is mainly limited to 155/165x15inch section radials – speak to a specialist like West or Magnette expert John Shorten (01603 872436) http://www.mgspecs.co.uk for advice. Wire wheels from the MGA fit if you use hubs and so on. Later MGB wheels can be made to fi t but are 14inch which lowers gearing. Standard rack and pinion is excellent as it is if in good order
Particularly on ‘Farinas’, modern radials can generate so much grip it can lead to cracking of chassis. On ‘Z’ cars, if rack is worn it needs to be overhauled as they are obsolete and MGA, MGB, Midget or Minor ones don’t fit… Take care when working on the wishbone swivels as there’s a pin which usually snaps and swine to replace.
Despite an urge to modify, there are some items worth upgrading to, such as two-speed wipers, electronic ignition alternator and so on, all of which are accepted mods. If a cylinder head overhaul is needed, opt for hardened valve seats as the B-Series is still prone to valve seat recession. Varitone cars feature different style indicators and twin tone horns.
Electrics aren’t really a sore point even though the Magnette used certain special equipment such as its Jaeger instruments – but may be pricey to repair. General parts are available such as relays, plus Shorten has new batch of rare temp senders. Electrics by Lucas, wiring loom should be regularly inspected and should ideally be replaced by now due to aging.
9 INTERIOR & TRIM
It depends what you want, but the Jag-like interior of the ZA and ZB is best left as stock as standard although there’s no provision for a rev counter. Early cars had a metal dash with a wood-like effect and is very hard to replicate – converting to later dash is not really an option. Varitone models featured different headlining whereas earlier cars featured grey or beige cloth.
Wood and leather trim not as grand or upmarket as a Jag’s yet almost as pricey to restore; saving grace is that the door trims are easy to replicate. Items such as window rubbers and door seals are available. Trim is costly – bumpers at around £600 a set for example – and while parts are reproduced from time to time, some details will always become hard to find.
Obvious move is to fit MGB discs but is not exactly a simple swap. If engine is only mildly tuned it is probably not needed if better linings are fi tted with a servo. Apart from the MGB, London Taxi or any of the big six-cylinder Austin/ Wolseley range from the 1950s can fi t, but you will probably have to fit MGB steel disc wheels for the required clearance.
There’s not a lot to worry about, just the usual points, such as seized brake adjusters plus the handbrake linkages need regular checking. Many parts were used by the A50-A60 family so obtaining second-hand parts is easy enough. If drums are worn you can upgrade to alloy types for better heat dispersion. The single clutch and brake master cylinder rots.
ENGINE OIL: 20W/50 7 pints
GEARBOX: Engine oil 4 pints
REAR AXLE/STEERING: EP90
COOLING SYSTEM: 10.5 pints
SPARK PLUGS: N8/9Y or equivalent 0.017-0.019in
C.B. POINTS: O.014-0.016
VALVE CLEARANCES: in/ex 0.019in
IGNITION TIMING: 8 degrees btdc
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