Although MG had used the Magnette name on the K-Type and N-Type cars in the 1930s, the moniker is best remembered for the cars built in the 1950's and 1960's, starting with the ZA and finishing with the Mark IV.
The ZA was first shown to the public at the 1953
London Motor Show, however proper production would not commence until March of 1954
. Significantly, the ZA was the first MG to feature monocoque construction.
Designed by Gerald Palmer (of Jowett Javelin fame), the new MG featured modern Italian influenced styling, and was powered by the then new 1.5 liter (1489cc) B-Series engine, fitted with twin 1¼ inch SU carburetors makeing it good for around 60 bhp, with power being driven to the back wheels fed through a four-speed gearbox.
The ZA Magnette had a graceful four door body style that looked almost Italian from some angels, it featured the traditional MG front grille which was raked to give it an aerodynamic shape to match the rest of the cars design. Inside the Magnette was well equipped and came complete with a semi-octaginal speedo as normally found in MG saloons.
Suspension was independent at the front using coil springs and had a live axle with half elliptic leaf springs at the rear. The steering was by rack and pinion. Hydraulically operated Lockheed 10 in (254 mm) drum brakes were fitted to the front and rear wheels.
The car had individual front seats and a rear bench trimmed in leather and the dashboard and door cappings were in polished wood. The heater was standard but the radio still an optional extra. Standard colors were maroon, green, black and grey.
The similar Wolseley 4/44, first sold one year earlier, used the 1250 cc engine from the MG TF. Although visually similar, the MG has lower suspension and only the front doors, boot lid and roof panels are shared. The 4/44 was replaced in 1956
by the 15/50.
In 1955 The Motor magazine tested a Magnette and recorded a top speed of 79.7 mph (128.3 km/h) acceleration from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 23.1 seconds and a fuel consumption of 24.9 miles per imperial gallon (11.3 L/100 km/20.7 mpg US) was recorded. The test car cost £914 including taxes.
18,076 MG ZA Magnette's were manufactured between 1953
The ZA was replaced by the Magnette ZB in 1956
. Power was increased to 64 hp (48 kW) by fitting 1½ inch carburetors, increasing the compression ratio from 7.5 to 8.3 and modifying the manifolding, and a semi-automatic transmission was an option.
The interior was improved by fitting a wood dashboard and there was also a "Varitone" model with larger rear window and optional two tone paintwork.
The extra power meant the top speed was now 86 mph (138 km/h) and the 0-60 mph time came down to 18.5 seconds. The similar Wolseley 15/50 now shared the ZB's B-Series
18,525 MG ZB Magnette's were manufactured between 1956
Magnette Mark III
The Mark III of 1959
drew mixed reviews. US based publications heralded the Magnette's arrival, while the UK publications tended towards "damning with faint praise".
Dismissed by many MG enthusiasts, the Magnette Mk III signalled the true arrival of the "badge engineering" era for MG when the car was announced in 1959. The Magnette Mk III was part of the new Farina designed A55 / Oxford range of mid-sized BMC saloons all launched within a few months of each other in 1958
It was nearly identical to the Riley version (the 4/68) of the new Pinin-Farina designed midsize BMC saloon line. All versions (including the Austin A55 Cambridge Mark II, Morris Oxford series V and Wolseley 15/60) were produced by the British Motor Corporation (BMC).
The "MG" version of the range shared the same bodyshell design as the Riley, although sporting a wider, less traditionally proportioned MG grille (the Riley grille was a much more elegant design in comparison).
Thankfully the MG and Riley Farina shell had more discreet rear "fins" than the rest of the range despite being produced alongside their Morris and Wolseley sisters (both of which had the larger rear fins) at the Cowley factory.
Mechanically the MG Magnette Mk III used a 64bhp, 1489cc, B-Series engine and the same suspension set-up as the rest of the range. The cars suspension design was considered to be far to soft and uninspiring to be worthy of a MG saloon and did little for the cars image and reputation.
16,676 MG Mark III Magnette's were manufactured between 1959
, before it was replaced by a a slightly better Mk IV version.
Magnette Mark IV
The Mark III was updated in 1961
as the Mark IV. A larger 1.6 liter (1622 cc) B-Series
engine, with capacity increased by increasing the bore to 76.2 mm, was fitted, and the car had a longer wheelbase and wider track. To improve handling anti-roll bars were fitted front and rear. Outside, the Mark IV was almost identical to the Mark III. Automatic transmission was offered as an option.
Unfortunately despite the vast improvement to the cars mechanical set-up the Magnette suffered due to the simple fact that it looked the same as the previous Mk III version. The Mk IV did receive a restyled two-tone paint finish which helped to distinguish it and of course the interior was trimmed to the same high standard as before.
The MG Magnette Mk IV continued to sell in small numbers until its demise in 1968
, after 14,320 had been manufactured.