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MG Magnette Vs Cortina GT

No jacket required? Published: 2nd Sep 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

Mike Holehouse bought his MG Magnette but admits not liking it much. However the car grew on him – to the point where he is the Secretary of the MG and Riley Register. There’s around 220 MGs on the road and perhaps 300 Rileys. Mike says while they lack the style and character of the earlier Z cars, the later Farinas are very usable and excellent value. There’s probably more surviving in the US than here he reckons where MGs were popular.

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In 1963, the suave sports jacket was replaced by the fl ashier rally jacket, when Ford launched its boy racer Cortina. Before the GT came along, sportsman cars (as they were referred to) were not much more than lukewarm saloons from the more upmarket names. Then Ford showed a new form of power dressing by giving the common Cortina real performance. It not only embarrassed the established stars but also eventually helped kill off the traditional British sports car. The times they were a changing. The MG Magnette was perhaps the last bastion of the old school sporting saloon. Few can argue that the Cortina GT was the sportier choice almost 50 years ago but what about now as a classic?

Which one to buy?

Gents vs. blokes?

The MG Magnette was the typical 1950s sports saloon, providing prestige rather than pure power. In contrast, the Cortina ignored image and luxury for what was then sports-car-like performance, for the very appealing £767 asked. Costing considerably more, at £1012, the MG was little more than a warmedup Morris Oxford by the time the Farina design was introduced at the turn of the decade. It was a lesser car than the earlier zesty ZA/ZB, thanks to an inferior chassis and steering set up, which called for a hasty retune just a couple of years later, along with the larger 1622cc MGA engine. What you did get for the £200 asked over the Morris Oxford was a more sumptuous interior that wouldn’t disgrace a Jaguar. In contrast more thought went into how the Cortina GT went rather than it looked on the suburban driveway. The 78bhp 1500cc Cosworth-developed engine had already been used in the Capri GT and Ford uprated the Cortina with a revised suspension and disc brakes. Based on the De Luxe, but with GT bits like extra instruments, it could be had in two-door and four-door forms. In MK2 format there was also a handy estate. Both cars sported some interesting off-shoots as well. The Magnette was also available in near identical raffish Riley guise (4/68 and the later 4/72 – the fi gures donating its cylinders and engine power), while Ford also offered the posher, larger Corsair as a GT, costing almost £100 more than the Cortina it was heavily based upon. If you need an automatic, then only the BMC offerings provide it but they strangle performance.

The Magnette MK IV of ‘61 boasted wider tracks and beefi er anti-roll bars to improve handling, and it’s the best pick if you have the choice, although still not half as pleasing as the original Magnette. The Cortina evolved into the squarer cut Mk2, a more refi ned Cortina GT but one which lost a fair deal of its earlier sporty character, although did boast the 1600E, a car that fi nally killed off the MG. Value-wise the MG wins. You can pick a great car up for £4000 or less, while Cortina GTs are now starting to go the Lotus route and becoming quite expensive.

What’s the best to drive?

Boy racers rule

There’s no doubt about it, the Cortina wipes the fl oor with the MG as a sports saloon and driver‘s car. Thanks to its perkier rev happy short-stroke engine and no less than 700lb in weight saving, the Cortina is the keener performer in every way. Performance in its day was decidedly sporting as you‘d expect; 0-60 in around 13 seconds and early 90s top speed. In contrast, despite its MGA engine, the Magnette took a wheezing 19 seconds and could barely break 85 fl at out. In terms of handling the Ford also runs rings round the MG, which was criticised in its day for having a sloppy nature and slack steering – a total role reversal of the original Magnette. The Cortina featured disc brakes at the front, whereas MG stuck to drums right up until the car was phased out in 1968. In contrast, the Ford went on to become a big hit on the tracks and was a tuner’s delight during the 60s and 70s. Come to think of it, the GT still is, with an entirely new generation of enthusiasts. However, with a classic it’s more about a car’s character and some may be attracted to the more relaxed nature of the Magnette which doesn’t feel quite as fussy (overdrive was never offered but an MGB box can be made to fi t). It’s the more civilised and roomy car, too; plus, if you want to give the Magnette more strength, slotting in the 1.8 MGB engine along with MGA disc brakes is a straightforward and worthwhile mod.

Owning and running

Cortina yet again

Don’t run away with the idea that, just because it’s an MG, the Magnette is as easy to run and restore as an MGB because it isn’t. Mechanically, parts are pretty well attainable, plus a lot can be substituted from other Farina models along with the MGA and MGB sportsters. Body parts are not so plentiful, although again Oxford/Cambridge bits are mostly interchangeable. It’s just that very few people have bothered to restore a Farina and many cars were used for banger racing. Things fare slightly better for the Ford, however; the mechanicals served many models and interest in old-school Fords has improved the availability of parts and trim enormously. There’s heaps you can do to upgrade the Cortina of course and this even includes nut and bolt kits to fi t Mondeo 16v engines and fi ve-speed transmissions which transform the car into a real Cortina Lotus eater, yet for a fraction of the cost of the real thing. Both cars are extremely easy for DIY work – the MG still featured a starting handle! Another throwback to the old days are some 17 greasing points which should be attended to every 1000 miles when you‘re not out driving it.

And The Winner Is...

If you want a fun car then it has to be the Cortina. In standard form they are enjoyable plus boast enormous potential for modifying, making them a good choice as a daily driver. The Magnette feels from another era, which it was of course. But if you like your sports saloons to be stately rather than speedy, then the Magnette has its own unique appeal. Farinas may not be as characterful as the ZA/ZB but they are excellent value and delightfully different.



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