MG ZB Magnette

The MG ZA Magnette, launched at the 1953 London Motor Show along with the TF Midget, was received with mixed feelings by both enthusiasts and the motoring press. BMC, newly formed in 1952 after the merger with Nuffield and Austin Motors, had also misjudged the TF, as this model was also initially received with disdain.

The replacement for the Y-series cars was well advanced before the Nuffield and Austin merger and was in the hands of designer Gerald Palmer. Gerald Palmer had originally worked for the Nuffield organisation before the war and had designed the Y saloon, which did not go into production until 1947. Palmer designed two cars: a medium-sized saloon which was to carry the Wolseley and MG badges, and a much larger saloon with the Riley and Wolseley badges, to be called Pathfinder and 6/90 respectively. The smaller saloon was to be of monocoque construction and the MG version, the ZA Magnette, was the first MG to use this design. The separate chassis was replaced by a complete body to which the engine, gearbox and suspension were attached. This design became increasingly popular in the 1950s, as the car could be built much lighter while maintaining strength and rigidity, and unit costs could be drastically reduced in large-scale production.

An MG Magnette Family Saloon

Palmer wanted to differentiate the two cars by making the Wolseley a luxury car and the MG a sports saloon. This was achieved by lowering the MG’s body by about five inches and changing the suspension and shock absorber characteristics. This gave the MG a much sportier appearance and greatly improved roadholding. Although the body looked basically similar, many parts were different. The only similarities were the roof, the front doors and the boot lid. The floor pan, rear doors, rear wings, front wings and sills differed, as did the layout of the bonnet. Each car had its traditional grille, which on the Wolseley was attached in the usual way, while on the Magnette the grille was attached to the front edge of the bonnet. The Magnette was the first MG to be fitted with the all-new B-series engine. This twin carburettor 1489 cubic centimetre engine was based on the 1200 cubic centimetre engine of the Austin A40, first used in 1947. However, the new engine was considerably modified and produced a whopping 60 hp at 4,600 rpm.

This very comfortable four-seater was a civilised luxury sports saloon which, despite its lukewarm reception at launch, soon became a sales success and quickly won over the brand’s loyal customers. With around 6,000 examples sold each year, the Magnette soon had a large following and, thanks to its superb handling and performance, the car achieved commendable results in international rallies and production car races.

Like so many MGs, the Z-series was launched with an outcry of disappointment, but proved to be a thoroughly capable and much admired car, with over 36,000 produced.

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