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Jaguar MK1 vs MG Magnette vs Rover P4 vs Riley RM vs Triumph Standard

How about a quality saloon from the fab 50s? There’s a great choice and they make cheap classics too. Here’s our top five Published: 7th Jan 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

Views on both the Jaguar and the MG are pretty well known so what of the others? The Rover P4 Drivers Guild warns that because spares are increasingly becoming a problem you should buy the best car that you can even if it means spending over budget as it will be worthwhile in the end – but if you fancy a project, make sure it’s as complete as possible.

Incredibly, the Guild (which you really should join for all the support it provides to a membership of over 1000 at only £27 per year) says it believes the survival rate runs into the thousands despite their comparative scarcity at shows; the problem lies in their owners who are becoming too old to venture far in them, adding the situation can only worsen.

Much can be levelled at the stalwart Standard Vanguard. The owners’ club (part of The Standard Vanguard Motor Club) says that while mechanical parts supply is quite decent (a good number being TR2/TR3-based) again, it’s the bodywork and panel availability which causes the biggest problems. As the later versions – “Unassuming and not sporty”– commented one member are so much different in style and character, so are their owners and yet the club claims that, despite such exclusivity, it is bucking the trend and has seen an increase in its membership which now easily runs into four figures.

While the famous blue diamond badge was, sadly,s finally dropped 50 years ago in 1969, the long lasting heritage of these ‘Real Rileys’ (as opposed to simply badge-engineered Austin Morris models) ensure that interest in the sporting saloon RM range remains surprisingly high.

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There’s something about a classic saloon from the 1950s. A feeling of robustness and solidarity from a time when six clips were used whereas now one (plastic) has to make do; a first class cabin where wood and leather were the norm and the employment of low revving slogging engines so that you could saunter around in top gear all day if you wished. And why not, the cars reflected an all together more easy going life. Not everyone’s cup of tea today admittedly, which is perhaps why, across the board, prices of 1950;s saloons remain remarkably low and affordable. Granted, you won’t be the quickest to arrive at the car show – but you are likely to arrive there in a far more relaxed frame of mind.

And with this in mind, we’ve assembled five best Brits from that decade – what cool 60 year old have you the hots for in 2019?

Which one to buy

1st JAG | 2nd MG | 3rd P4 | 4th RM | 5th Standard

In terms of outright desirability it’s highly likely to be the Jaguar. A milestone motor, it was much more than a new model for Browns Lane for it represented a transitional change in design and manufacturing processes for this specialist carmaker, shaping and influencing all future Jaguars. Apart from the MG, it had the established model line ups from Rover, Standard and Riley licked.

The small Jag was a big sales success as a result; some 37,000 Mk1s were made, with just under 20,000 being accounted for by the supposedly ‘unloved’ base 2.4, in just four years before the Mk2 took over. The Mk1 is a much rarer sight these days than its younger brother and most are now the 3.4-litre, with many 2.4s upgraded over the decades.

The 3.4 hit the showrooms in 1957, with almost double the power output (210bhp) although, not surprisingly, this sorely taxed the chassis and the (all drum) brakes. The latter problem was addressed a year later when Dunlop discs were fitted all round as an option but penny to a pound that any car you inspect will be so attired. Drum braked models gained a better servo in ’58, while later 3.4s benefited from different rear springs, to alter the camber angles, plus better Girling dampers were specified all in a bid to improve the handling.

The days of the Mk1 living in the shadows of the Mk2 are long gone as are cheaper values and top 3.4 can command £50,000 or more; half this for a good honest car that needs a fair bit of work to make great. On average, 2.4s are around a third dearer all things being equal; overdrive is almost mandatory.

The MG Magnette, launched in 1954, came in three versions; ZA until 1956 and ZB and ZB Varitone the latter with two-tone paint and a larger rear screen. They shared the basic B-Series engine with 60bhp for the ZA and 68bhp for the ZB and Varitone. The ZB was the more popular of this pretty pair selling 18,524 in just two years against 18,076 ZAs over three. The Z cars were replaced by the Farina range in 1959 and are as different as chalk and cheese although still worth considering if you want more a cruiser plus they are certainly cheaper. ZA/ZBs can now sell for up to £20,000; good ‘uns probably half this outlay. In contrast, that’s still almost double what a fine Farina can make which shows how desired this ‘Beginner’s Jag’ is becoming, with prices expected to further harden. A cheaper option is the Wolseley 4/44 but, even with the MG’s steering, it’s not so sporting although the 46bhp 1250cc XPAG engine can be uprated to MG TD tune easily if not cheaply.

The Studebaker-styled, Rover P4 was the longest runner in terms of production spanning from 1950 to 1964 and is as straight-laced as they come. There’s a wide choice of four and six-cylinder versions and all exude a strong degree of upper class Britishness perfectly, with a wood and leather interior that was combined with safe and solid engineering.

Prices remain low and the best cars (the six-cylinder models) are also the easiest to find. Buy a four-pot 60 or 80 (60 and 80bhp respectively) and you’dbe disappointed with their too staid nature. Yet pilot a 100, with its 2.6-litre six-cylinder powerplant (108bhp for the 105S), standard overdrive and disc brakes, and you’ll struggle to find a quality classic that offers so much for so small an outlay; you’ll find it hard to spend five figures for the best, £5000 or so for nice one.

Don’t let those pre-war looks fool you, the Riley RM series is sophisticated with twin cam engines, torsion bar suspension and a cabriolet option. Despite enthusiasts complaining that this wasn’t a ‘real’ Riley, the flowing lines, luxurious interiors, excellent road holding and handling and acceptable performance won many friends after the war. In 1946 a 90bhp 2½-litre version of the twin overhead camshaft four was dropped into the RMB which had a longer wheelbase and larger body giving useful extra room as well as 90mph performance. In 1948 power was increased to 100bhp allowing the RMF to hit the ton in favourable conditions.

The RMC was a svelte 2½ litre, three-seater drophead, really designed for the American market and now very scarce as just 507 were produced. Another rare beast was the full four-seater 2½-litre RMD of which just 502 were built. The RME, available from 1952-1955 was an improved RMA boasting full hydraulic brakes and a hypoid rear axle. Visual differences included streamlined side lamps, fog lamps, a larger rear window, rear wheel spats and the removal of running boards. The 2½ litre RMF had the same upgrades. The dropheads (RMC Roadster and RMD Convertible) can make Jaguar money, otherwise values are on par with the MG.

There’s definitely a case OF double standards with Standard Vanguards… The original ‘Phase 1’ was launched in 1948 complete with ’Beetle-backed Plymouth inspired transatlantic styling which enabled full six-seater motoring. Apart from some facelifts (Phase II for ’53) it remained generally unaltered until it was dropped in 1961 making way for the all modern monocoque built Vanguard III and its derivatives such as the two-toned Sportsman, complete with TR3 mechanicals (it was initially intended to be a Triumph-ed). A real rarity, expect to pay £7000 if you can find one, that is. There was also the Vignale (Ford owns the name now!) or Luxury Six, the latter being the forerunner to the Triumph 2000. Don’t overlook the plain 1.6-litre Ensign; apart from the Phase 1 cars prices on all are the lowest of this bunch of fives and it’s the only one to offer estates.

What’s best to drive

1st JAG | 2nd MG | 3rd RM | 4th P4 | 5th standard

Few surprises here, the Jag has that certain something. So long as the slow cumbersome Moss gearbox is fitted with overdrive (always an extra, as was automatic transmission) to provide a relaxed cruising gait a good Mk1 is as refined and comfortable as a Mk2, and the sight of that handsome XK-style together with a forest of wood inside plus a four-spoked steering wheel and centred instruments makes the Mk1 feel what it arguably is: a four-seater XK. Like-for-like a Mk1 feels more agile than the Mk2s, thanks to the edgier handling but also because the Mk2 was on average 400lb the heavier.

Ah yes the handling. If the Jaguar Mk1 had one major flaw then it was the handling and the Mk1’s reputation was hardly enhanced when even the most skilled driver around – the then current F1 champion Mike Hawthorn – couldn’t handle one and was killed when his Mk1 spun off the A3 in Surrey 60 years ago. The curious tapering shape meant that the rear track was less than the front and this led to nervy oversteer. It still does, although wider modern tyres help enormously as does a wider Mk2 rear axle although the wheel spats won’t fit. The 2.4 is beautifully smooth if sedate; the 3.4 is a complete contrast to the vivid 3.4 although the handling is far more challenging…

The Magnette has frequently been called a ‘poor man’s Jag’ and it’s not simply due to the similar wood and leather interior ambience. With its rack and pinion steering, the MG has a delightfully crisp feel that belies a dated design that’s not dissimilar to the Mk1. Performance for the 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine is naturally inferior to any Mk1 but the B-Series engine is lusty and can easily be brought up to MGA tune. Overdrive was never an option and hard to fit; a five-speed conversion is easier and transforms a Magnette. Farinas were the only autos but any model (and you can include the similar Riley and Wolseley offshoots) isn’t half as much fun but are better, roomier cruisers.

Don’t let the frumpy looks of either the Riley or Rover mislead you as they are entirely acceptable performers, If anything, it’s the sportier twin cam Riley that feels the heavier and as a result the brakes, particularly early ‘hydromech’ ones, struggle to cope. On the plus side, thanks to the fitment of rack-and-pinion steering plus double wishbone independent front suspension, the RM driving experience is surprisingly modern. If anything the Riley is as sporty as Magnette and, according to owners who have owned both, as good as a Jaguar Mk1 although RMs are heavy old things and the 2½-litre models are noticeably perkier than the 1½-litre editions.

In many ways, once you’re sat in a P4’s cabin, how the robust Rover drives is almost secondary as the Rover is all about comfort not speed. While six-pot cars can keep up with modern traffic fairly easily, this is a car for enjoying the ride and occasion rather than burning up the streets although the handling is less ponderous than you might think – and the driver’s high seating position allows an early view of what’s coming, SUV style. The same can be said for early Vanguards thanks to their heavy construction but are relaxing to drive as you don’t have to change gear too often. They are supremely comfortable too thanks to the soft springing and 16-inch wheels. With relatively small drums all round, you need to plan ahead when braking – it’s a typical 50’s car and should be driven as such. The later lighter more modern namesakes are more spritely while the Luxury Six is almost up to Triumph 2000 standards.

Owning and running

1st JAG | 2nd MG | 3rd RM | 4th P4 | 5th standard

The increasing values of Mk1s mean that more attention is being paid to them by specialists and owners. The engine, and most of the running gear, was carried over to the Mk2 but some other parts, such as suspension, are dedicated to the car and not even Mk2 or XK components can be substituted. Also body panels are not in such abundance simply because the Mk1 was never really seen as that collectable in relation to other Jags. Until now that is.

The fact that it’s an MG helps enormously. NTG Motor Services (MGbits4U) is the main source for parts although body and trim panels are scarce plus there is not much scope for interchangeability with other BMC saloons of that era, unlike the later Farina range.

The P4 is amazingly durable, thanks to high quality thick steel panels. That’s why rotten P4s remain relatively rare; most are saveable but quite a few are cosmetically challenged, even if structurally sound. Replacement panels aren’t available although repair sections (of only fair quality) are. Internal engine parts aren’t as plentiful as you’d imagine given that Land Rovers also used various P4 units although it’s all attainable if you look hard enough. Even better, because all P4 engine bays have much the same layout, you can swap between the various power plants, whether four or six-cylinders and the Rover V8 has been shoehorned into several P4s as well and makes a real Q Car says the P4 club!

Most really good Riley RMs are well known within the club and they’re usually owned by long-standing members. So not surprisingly, when those cars come up for sale they usually move between members which is why it’s so important to join the owners’ club to be ‘on the inside’.

Given the RM’s rarity and lack of popularity, spares and support is pretty incredible. Most parts that you’re likely to need are available from one source or another (generally The Riley RM Centre Ltd, the spares operation of the Riley RM Club), but some parts are also from overseas suppliers. The RM Club has a growing list of workshop manual supplements. Against this can be the cost of repair and overhauling the twin cam engines (£8000). There are far more really good RMs around than you might think and demand outstrips supply, the club adds.

Mechanically, the Vanguard is pretty well guarded against parts unavailability as it’s a mix of Standard and Triumph hardware of which there’s extremely good club support all round considering their rarity.

And The Winner Is...

1st JAG &MG | 3rd RM ¶&P4 | 5th standard

All are worthy and desirable classics to own in their own right. Not unexpectedly, the Jaguar comes out on top but there again it’s the most expensive and financially probably out of reach for many of us, which is why MG’s Magnette ZA/ZB also takes top honours; not as prestigious perhaps but as sporty and satisfying in its own way, yet at a fifth of the cost. It’s hard to split the Riley against the Rover; the RM is the more raffish and an impressive car but it’s also appreciably dearer than the steadier, statelier Rover to purchase and run. The P4 doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a gentleman’s carriage and you have to like this Rover for this fact. The Standard Vanguard? It’s an acquired taste and difference between the first and last is incomparable – TR3-powered Sportsman being a bit of a Q car don’t you think?

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