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MG Magnettes

MG Magnettes Published: 15th Feb 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

MG Magnettes
MG Magnettes
MG Magnettes
MG Magnettes
MG Magnettes
MG Magnettes
MG Magnettes
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MG Magnette are still popular and affordable 1950’s classics. And one of the many reasons is their tuning and improving potential

If you own a Magnette ZA and ZB, we envy you. This classy MG saloon has the style and aura of a Jaguar Mk1 and Mk2 about it and at considerably less cost. One of speediest 1500s in it day playing Z cars today demands an increase pace – not surprisingly given their small engines. Happily, this model shares a fair number of components with the MGA and T Series, meaning it’s a very easy classic to maintain as well as tweak to make this 50’s favourite more enjoyable on the road or a quite useful competition car. Although this article primarily centres on the original Magnette, a fair chunk of the advice stands good for the later Farina versions.

Before you start

The good news is the pretty good parts supply despite the fact that BMC halted component production way back in 1965. Mechanically, there’s no problem, less so body components and while the car was introduced along with the similar Wolseley 4/44 surprisingly few panels are interchangeable; only the basic shell, boot lid and front doors were direct carry-overs so all other panels need modifying to fit.

The condition of the sills is hyper critical and if the inners have gone then expect major, expensive repairs. Another well known rot area is the box section which sits just behind the front wheels while floors rust so much that you can’t use a magnet on your Magnette if you don’t keep an eye on things. Single skin rear wings and improved floor sections, from John Shorten, cut down future corrosion (

Front and rear suspension spring mountings are MoT safety-critical so it’s essential they’re ok for any track work.

The combined clutch and brake master cylinder corrodes internally and is expensive to refurbish but it must be top-notch and part of any brake upgrade. Magnettes have plenty of grease points which you need tend to regularly. Rusty front wishbones can be a worry as can be the location for the front springs. An easy unit to strip and repair – but beware, the B-Series masks its ills all too well. Excessive tappet noise is usually the camshaft or 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. The MGB’s three bearing crank engine fits but you have to use the Magnette sump and relocate oil pump feed and it’s not exactly a straightforward job.


Hotting one up

Finding more power is easy as the B-Series unit was also found in the MGA albeit in a higher state of tune. The conundrum lies in how to get more go; whether to tune the existing 1.5 and 1.6-litre lumps or simply slot in a 1800c MGB unit which punches out 90-95bhp in its normal state. Achieving this from the 1500, in particular, is costly as require you need a stronger crankshaft, better pistons, a camshaft like a Piper 285, and a lot of work on the head. When finished the unit will be near its limit and a too racy for road use although may be mandatory for certain classic motorsport championships.

The 1622cc engine is fares better plus a standard overbore sees 1798cc; an MGB engine can be taken out to 2.1-litres and there’s some nice tuned 100bhp+ 1950cc MGB engines from a variety of sources from under £3000. If you’re doing your own thing, ideally you require a pre-1964 three bearing B-Series unit as it’s an easier drop in because the mounting holes are identical although the five-bearing block is stronger and better for serious tuning. Even so, with the former engine you need a lot of the MGB’s engine ancillaries, such as back plates etc, changed over and ideally topped with a special exhaust, of which NTG Motor Services of Suffok markets. Later Farina Magnettes are easier to change, we gather.

A cheap tweak on the 1.5/1.6 unit is to employ an MGB cylinder head but it only fits after altering the combustion chambers to clear the pistons. With tweaks, such as better air filter, exhaust, carb rejetting, up to 80bhp attainable. If you go down the MGB engine route don’t spoil that lusty torque by fitting a too wild a camshaft; head and carb upgrade are sufficient for road use and really makes the Magnette a bit of a flyer.

Supercharging was popular in period on T-Types and MGAs and equally successfully adopted for Magnettes; typically costing around £3000 you’re looking at 30-40 per cent more power plus can be reversed easily.


Handling the power

This is where this pair of Magnettes repel as chassis-wise they are like chalk and cheese. The ZA/ZB sported a nice set up with precise rack and pinion steering, making the MG one of the keenest handlers of its era. When the A55 evolved into the A60, the Magnette became effectively a rebranded Morris Oxford falling in line, so losing its superior steering amongst other qualities; you’ll never get a Farina version to handle as well as a Z car. First step is uprated springs and dampers. A stouter anti-roll bar complements this and a cheap solution is to utilise a Marina/Ital one which fits, although you’ll need Midget links to do the job right. If you are after harder rear leaf springs, try Austin Countryman ‘estate’ ones plus harder suspension bushes if comfort isn’t critical: again try NTG Motor Services.

On ‘Z’ cars, if the steering rack is worn it needs to be overhauled as they are obsolete and MGA, MGB, Midget or Minor ones don’t fit; the inherent slop on Farina models can’t be eradicated but be warned – modern grippy radials can put undue strain on the front suspension of Farina Magnettes and even crack the chassis due to the added g-forces it is claimed!

When it comes to the brakes, all versions wore drum brake right up to its demise in 1968. The obvious move is to fit MGB discs but is not exactly a simple swap, or needed if the engine is only mildly tuned. Better linings (Ferrodo AM4 or the softer AM8 work well) supported by a servo may be all that is required as MGAs so shod perform well enough say specialists. This set up is adequate for modern roads unless you drive very hard, but MkIII or IV drums or MGA discs can be fitted for added reassurance. If the drums are worn you can upgrade to alloy types for better heat dispersion. Best to chat with NTG, who recently devised a disc conversion together with special anti-roll bars for Zs.

If you want to keep the stock look then tyre choice is limited to 155/165x15inch section radials – speak to a specialist such as Bob West or Magnette expert John Shorten (01603 872436 http://www.mgspecs. for best advice. Wire wheels from the MGA fit if you use hubs and so on as can later MGB wheels (usually seen on Farinas) but are 14inch which lowers the gearing.

Which leads us nicely to this subject which we’re sure you’ll want to improve for road use. Desperately low gearing – worse of all on original cars using its 4.875:1 ratio – means the ZA/ZB yearns for longer legs. Later and larger MGB transmissions can fit but it demands major floorpan alterations, as does the Sierra Type 9 conversion; 1500cc cars will further need a 1600 engine back plate to be viable. One answer may be the new slant from Vitesse which employs the smaller Mazda MX-5 ’box so fits MGs easier, although, as it’s a new ’box, is much pricier at well over two grand. Other axle ratios include MGA’s 4.3 unit and a 4.5 which later Magnettes ran with.

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