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MG Magnette

MG Magnette Published: 31st Oct 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

MG Magnette
MG Magnette
MG Magnette
MG Magnette
MG Magnette
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Why this MG saloon is a cut-price Jaguar – and just as classy and enjoyable

I’M BEING DRAWN TO A MAGNETTE

You’re not alone if you love this classic MG saloon, since it has a lot going for it, including oodles of character and a relatively cheap price range, ideal if you can’t quite stretch to a Jaguar Mk1 or Mk2.

 

ARE THEY AS GOOD?

In certain aspects, yes. They’re true MGs and, while not as fleet of foot or fancy as a Jag, they can be just as much fun and rewarding, plus they cut quite a dash thanks to their classy looks, sporty image, Jag-like interiors and sheer rarity – all for a fraction of the cost of a classic cat.

 

HOW CHEAP THEN?

MG saloons never caught on as well as the sports cars and, until quite recently, Magnettes were as cheap as chips – and still are, really. The most desired are the original ‘Z Cars’ of the 1950s and top ones can see between £12-£15,000 with ‘good ’uns’ for around half this, making them cheap when compared to a decent Mk2. However, they are positively expensive against the later ‘Farina’ Magnette line-up, where even the best cars struggle to make five grand, meaning you get a lot of cultured classic car for your money.

 

WHY SUCH A LARGE PRICE DIFFERENCE?

Simple – these Magnettes are poles apart! The original (MG’s first chassis-less design) was based around the then-new Wolseley 4/44 and bristled with sporty overtones as befitting that MG badge. In contrast, its replacement was just another (albeit fancier) version of the boxy Farina-styled range of Austin A55/A60s, which was a retrograde step, particularly in the suspension department meaning the MG Magnette was no longer the delightful sports saloon it once was.

 

GOOD TO DRIVE THEN?

Magnette was one of the best sports saloons of its era and, thanks to rack and pinion steering, it was also a crisp GT-style driver’s car – far better than many rival 60-year olds! Granted, performance is at best only leisurely (a 0-60mph stroll of 20-23 seconds and no more than 90mph seems positively snail-like now) but it’s the way Magnette goes about its business which surprises most. The characteristic low-rev torque of the 1.5-litre B-Series also makes this MG feel brisker than it is. In reality, a ZB is not that much slower than a 2.4-litre Jag and would have matched it if the full MGA-tune unit was fitted at the time (many have since been retrofitted, along with MGB units).

 

AND WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER MODEL?

Chalk and cheese is how the press regarded the two ranges. Testers tried to be nice about the Farina replacement but found it difficult; Motor Sport did the best, but it was damning praise remarking that the car “does not fill the individualistic niche which caused enthusiasts to regard the ZB Magnette with such warm affection.” The testers even went on to hint that you’d be just as well off with a normal Austin Cambridge, saving your money!

And there’s some truth in this because the MG was really now just a warmed-up derivative of the mass and distinctive two-tone paintwork, became a popular option.

For 1959 it became part of the new Farina range. Mechanically, the MG lost its rack and pinion steering – and sadly most of its character.

Stung by criticism, a revision (ADO 38) saw a longer wheelbase and wider track instigated to improve the still soggy handling traits. The engine was enlarged to 1622cc, with the MG halfway tuned to MGA spec. A proper automatic option also joined the range; previously a novel clutch-less ‘Manumatic’ was optional but only 500 were made due to unreliability (avoid this, or convert to manual, due to scarcity of parts). The Magnette MkIV, as this range was known, remained unchanged until it was dropped in April 1968.

 

SPECIAL BUYING CHECKPOINTS?

Rust, naturally. These bodyshells rot badly, structurally, and the condition of its sills are hyper critical. 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, tin worms will quickly spread to the sills. A good test is to ask to see if the car can be raised with its standard jack. The jacking points were fast-rusting when new, and chances are these will be non-existent on most cars by now.

Farina body panels are fairly uniform, which greatly helps finding replacements, but while the MG and Wolseley cars look the same panels, there’s not a lot of carry-over between variants, although the basic bodyshell is the same.

 

OK, SO WHAT ABOUT THE OILY BITS THEN?

On one hand the engines are bombproof and it’s relatively easy to source replacements. Transmissions are sturdy, although they can lose synchromesh, invariably second gear, and become noisy, but they soldier on regardless unless really past it. Ditto the rear axle, but is the right ratio still fitted to the ZA? No less than 17 grease points need lube every 1000 miles, so this has probably been skipped over the decades! Just the usual checks suffice however, although rusty front wishbones and broken rear springs are not uncommon on all ranges.

Radial tyres gripped so well they could crack the front chassis where steering box is attached (Farinas); from 1964, a strengthening plate was added to rectify this. The interiors are all wood and leather, but many are shabby due to Jag-like costs of refurbishment. Specialists are more select than for the most popular MGs, but NTG Services of Suffolk – founded 50 years ago – is about the best qualified to help you.

 

IN ITS ORIGINAL GLORY OR MODERN MODS?

There are scant few totally original Magnettes left, chiefly due to their low values, but this on reflection is no bad thing. The soggy handling on the Farinas needs the most attention, and fitting the anti-roll from the MkIV models helps. You can improve matters further by uprating the dampers and springs plus swapping over to the thicker anti-roll bar, as fitted to the Marina/ Ital, though you’ll need MG Midget links to do this. Standard engines can be modified to MGA spec and a 1622 provides 90bhp with ease.

Or fit the early MGB 1798cc three main bearing engine as it’s an easy swap, if you can find one. Later far mope common five-bearing units require more mixing and matching of components, to mate them with the gearbox. An MGB overdrive gearbox is not an easy conversion either, as the transmission tunnel has to be widened. The standard brakes (drum brakes right up until the car’s demise) are adequate enough if good linings are used and augmented with a servo. You can convert to discs from an MGB, London Taxi FX4 (yes really) or any of the big six-cylinder Austin/ Wolseley range from the 1950s, but you will probably need to fit MGB steel disc wheels to help clear the larger assemblies.

 

WORTH A PULL THEN?

It’s easy to see why these cars are considered a beginner’s Jag Mk2, yet they are no poor person’s pick, in our eyes. In fact, the Magnette has a style and character of its very own, even the Farinas, although the ZA and ZB models are by far the best of the bunch – drive one and you’ll soon see why. The later Farinas also have positives of their own, such as a more comfortable ride and value.

 



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