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Magnette60 9-11 August

This was the main Register event of 2013, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Z Magnette launch. For more than a year a small sub-committee (Paul Batho, David Halliday, Grant Howlett, Trevor Jones, Peter Martin and Stephen Tickell) had been meeting in London pubs to plan the event. The format chosen was similar to the successful Gerald Palmer centenary weekend in 2011 (GP100)


Text by Stephen Tickell, photos by Magnette60 participants


 Friday 9 August

The weekend started with an optional Friday morning rendezvous at Kimber House, where about 30 Magnetteers gathered for coffee and a tour of headquarters. This was followed by lunch at the Boundary House pub, and a visit to the County museum in Abingdon. The group then headed up to Wroxall Abbey Hotel, between Warwick and Coventry, where other Magnette60 participants were already arriving. The hotel is a perfect setting for this sort of gathering, with the splendid Victorian brick frontage as a backdrop to equally historic cars, and the separate courtyard block (formerly stables) providing a self-contained base for our activities.

Compared to previous UK Register events, it was great to see the number of overseas visitors attending - nearly a third of the total - including Luis and Imelda from Mexico, where I was surprised to learn that a few Magnettes do exist. Some people were taking in the European Event the following week, while Doug and Lou Hastie together with the Olivers had brought two T-types over from Australia, on an extended holiday that included MGLive as well. Not all journeys had been uneventful - Yves and Sonia Rommes suffered a cracked wheel on the way from Luxembourg and were helped by Malcolm Eades with a replacement. Gathering at the bar and then at candlelit tables in the courtyard for the evening barbecue, the number of different languages and accents was noticeable, as old friendships were renewed and new acquaintances made.

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Saturday 10 August

Saturday morning should have started with a straightforward drive from Wroxall to Coventry Transport Museum, but unfortunately the City council had other ideas. The advance party discovered on arrival that the exit from the Ring road to the museum had been closed for a cycle event, and no warning had been given even to the museum itself. Access to Millennium Place (in front of the museum) where our cars were to be displayed was only possible via a tortuous diversion. There  followed a mad scramble to try and head off the main convoy from the pre-arranged route, which was only partly successful - a number of drivers found their way to the road in front of Millennium Place and had to be sent off again round a maze of streets leading to the pedestrianized area reserved for Magnette parking.

Miraculously almost everyone made it, and over 40 Magnettes were assembled in front of the museum by late morning, although the carefully planned parking arrangements were somewhat lost with marshals stretched to the limit. We had hoped to beat the previous record of 56 cars in one place, but even so the lineup filled the space very satisfactorily, and certainly made up for numbers in sheer quality. Of particular interest was the very early ‘tintop’ ZA recently restored by father and son Fred and Tim Bunch, which is one of the few surviving which were built without quarter-lights. By all accounts this has been a huge undertaking starting from a badly corroded shell, and it’s hoped the full story of their restoration can be featured in a future issue.

The regalia displayed at the Register gazebo attracted attention from passers-by as well as the Magnette-owners, and team-Halliday swung into action to keep up with demand - chairman David’s wife Kerri assisted by Megan and Lochlain sold a record amount during the day. Meanwhile, slightly behind schedule, the first speaker session with Don Hayter took place before lunch. Famous of course for his MGB design work, Don was able to give a fascinating insight into the MG drawing office under Sid Enever when he joined it in 1956.

Amongst his first jobs was the modification to the Magnette, already in production, to fit the Varitone wraparound rear window. A story I hadn’t heard before was the concern that negative air pressure at speed could lift the rear of the roof and cause the window to fall out ! This had already been a problem with the MGA hardtop, but in the event the Magnette proved to be strong enough. Don had relatively little contact with Gerald Palmer, who was still at Cowley (destined shortly to leave BMC), however he found plenty of common ground to reminisce with Celia Palmer when they met after the talk.

Lunchtime was the main opportunity for visitors to see the museum itself, and its chronological journey through the car-industry in Coventry, before the afternoon speaker session devoted to ‘Rallying the Magnette’. Not a particularly exciting subject you would think, with the short-lived BMC Magnette team failing to make any impression on rallies of the period, but we were very fortunate to have as a guest Harold Brooks, who drove with Geoff Holt in the 1955 Monte Carlo. Harold has already been celebrated recently as the longest-serving MGCC member, and although he might have been slightly surprised by the sudden attention, his self-effacing humour was an unexpected delight.

Harold was followed as a speaker by Jan Pearce, neatly picking up the story in the 1970s when a surge of interest in classic car circuit racing lead to the start of historic stage rallies. Jan had travelled to Coventry in the rally-prepared ZB which he competed in for more than 20 years - a notable feat since it had been more or less in hibernation since the last event in 1998.

Completing the timeline was Jose Romao de Sousa, a classic rally enthusiast from Portugal who is already well known to many for driving a 1956 ZA in the Peking-Paris events of 2007 and 2010. His exploits were well recorded at the time, but we were treated to even more in-depth accounts of the different ways in which Magnette suspension can break when driven across hundreds of miles of unmade roads.

The museum event concluded back on Millennium Place with the presentation of awards. Mike Green of NTG presented the NTG Concours trophy to Colin Goldsworthy for his Varitone, with David Griffiths in second place. John Beesley received the ‘People’s Choice’ trophy from Celia Palmer for his ZB, and Mike Beck’s Varitone came second in the vote. Furthest-travelled Magnette was hotly contested between Günter Grasskamp and Dietrich Krahn. Dietrich was declared the winner, although Andy and Margo Dear also get an honourable mention for a round trip of nearly 900 miles from their home in Scotland.

Back at Wroxall Abbey, the day was rounded off with a splendid dinner for nearly 90 people, announced by Scottish bag-piper. John Day was the guest speaker, and he reminded us how the ‘family’ of the MG Car Club brings people together, which was very apparent looking round the room.

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Sunday 11 August

Sunday was perhaps unsurprisingly a little more low-key, but we were fortunate to have Allen Bachelder as the speaker for our breakfast ‘tech-session’. This is a common fixture at US MG events, and other Registers have adopted the idea, but it was a first for us. Allen is well known for his ‘Spring Creek Home for Wayward MGs’ in Michigan, and was able to draw on nearly 30 years experience of modifying cars, in a fascinating talk that included in-depth discussion of how to fit air-conditioning to a Magnette.

Following this, most Magnette drivers took up the challenge of a morning Tulip-route drive around the Warwickshire countryside, with an optional short-cut to the destination of historic Packwood House for those who’d already had enough navigation. Picnic lunches were provided, and after visits to the house and beautiful formal gardens, the weekend concluded as Magnettes left for home or onward journeys, with just a few guests taking advantage of an extra night at Wroxall.

Overall, the event was everything the organizers hoped it would be. It was sad that Lou and John Shorten weren’t able to make the journey from Norwich - apart from Lou’s position as Register president, they have been integral to the Magnette’s story with their parts and restoration business established in 1964. But we did have the priceless opportunity to meet Harold Brooks, Don Hayter and Celia Palmer who between them provide a precious link to MG in the 1950s. Together with the great atmosphere of Wroxall Abbey, the celebration of heroic restoration efforts, and the shared passion of Magnette enthusiasts from many different countries, it felt like the perfect tribute to an outstanding MG design.

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