The History

 German Translation


The beginning

In 1949 Gerald Palmer, having already been employed at M.G. from 1937 to 1942, returned as Chief Designer to The Nuffield Group, which had bought M.G. in the intervening

years. During his short spell at the much smaller Jowett company, Palmer had designed the 
Jowett Javelin   Jowett Javelin, of which over 30,000 units had been sold. At Nuffield he was to design new models for M.G., Riley and Wolseley. The current M.G. model, the Y-Type, was intended to appear in 1940 but with the intervention of the war only came to the market in 1946 and was, as a consequence, already dated.

As the Y-type’s successor, Palmer designed the Z Magnette in conjunction with the Wolseley 4/44 which was intended to take care of the bottom of the middle range. Succession for the Riley line is provided by the Pathfinder, which is somewhat bigger. In his design, Palmer is influenced by the great Italian designers, which explains the similarity to the Lancia Aurelia (front) and other Fiat and Alfa Romeo models.
AlfaAlthough it was the M.G. that was designed first, it is its Wolseley stable-mate that appears first in 1952 because a new Wolseley model is more urgently needed. It is powered by the XPAG unit but this has lower power output than in the M.G. T Types so hardly produces an inspiring performance propelling a saloon weighing over a ton.

Launch of the ZA Magnette

In October 1953, there appeared at the London Motor Show a green ZA Magnette with beige interior and a grey/grey car, both of which had been completed only a short time before the exhibition  opened. Because of production problems the finished cars did not correspond with the advance publicity material in all respects: the M.G.s on show still lacked quarterlights and also the advertised wooden dashboard could not be produced because of materials shortages.
This situation was reversed in March 1955 when, after barely 6000 units had been produced, supplies of Italian walnut became available. Because of this, the cars were uprated with foglights and bumper over-riders as standard. Presumably this was intended to eliminate any difficulties arising from the other  changes to the spec. Also the cars were visibly well equipped in other ways. A heater is offered as standard, when this is still not the case with other more expensive models. And what is more, the passengers will ride in comfort on leather seats.
The Magnette is equipped with the new B-series engine, which produces as much as 60bhp at 4600rpm. Admittedly, the engine still lacks the external oil filter feed-pipe at the rear of the block as it will later appear on engines used up until the M.G.B. This had the result that at start-up the bearings had to operate for too long without oil and often they managed a life-span of only 10,000 miles. However, the problem was quickly identified  at M.G. and so only 1460 Magnette owners had to live with this defect before the noted oil pipe was fitted.

ZA Magnette

At £915 the ZA Magnette cost less than the Y-Type (£989). Whilst the Wolseley attracts praise in 1952, the launch of the Magnette unleashes an outcry among M.G. enthusiasts. The re-use of the glorious Magnette name on a family saloon with Wolseley bodywork, an Austin engine and a dummy radiator was not the sort of thing they had come to expect from M.G. Nonetheless, the M.G. is no Wolseley copy. In order to emphasise the sporty character of the M.G. in contrast to the sedate but luxurious Wolseley the bodwork was made two inches lower, which not only looks more sporty but assures better handling. However, this has the result that the Wolseley and the M.G. share very few body panels. Apart from the roof, the front doors and the boot-lid, the panels are not interchangeable! As the Magnette sits lower, the floor pan, the sills and the front and rear wings are different. What is more, each car carries its own traditional radiator grill so their bonnets are not interchangeable either.

Nevertheless, the Magnette starts a new era at Abingdon. It is the first M.G. built onto a unitary "monocoque" body. Naturally, this brings its own problems with it, because thus far M.G.s had always been chassis-built, as was still seen in the M.G.TF and from 1955 the M.G.A. So it is no wonder that the build time for a Magnette amounts to as much as four weeks. After 140 vehicles have been built this reduces to one week, which then also becomes the norm. Production begins in February 1954 after the rear axle is modified on the instructions of John Thornley. (See extra article via navigation bar) The bodies are delivered, fully painted, by Pressed Steel in Swindon; the power train comes from Coventry.

More power for the ZB

ZB MagnetteUntil July 1956 only minor details are changed, but then the engine output gets some treatment. By increasing the compression ratio from 7.15:1 to 8.3:1, larger H4 twin carburettors and modified inlet and exhaust valves the output is raised to 68bhp. In September 1957 the ZB Magnette appears but differs from its predecessor only to the extent that the chrome body-trim has minor modifications. For an extra £25 the prospective buyer can opt for the Varitone model. This offers a larger rear window and a two-tone colour scheme. Nonetheless there do exist single colour Varitones. For a further £50 the customer can also have an automatic transmission fitted. However, the first few automatic cars make it clear that the transmission does not work properly and are recalled for modification in 1958. The "Manumatic clutch" was never popular and was no longer fitted from October 1958. Anyone who had opted for it and later realised that his £50 had been poorly invested could have a conventional transmission retro-fitted for the sum of £75.

MG Magnette ZB Varitone



Sporting Magnettes

The Magnette never provided M.G. with a recipe for sporting successes. The name was no help with this at all. The Magnette was too heavy and produced too little power. Thoughts of sThe Three Musketeerswitching to six cylinders or to the already developed twin-cam engine were quickly dropped. Nonetheless three Magnettes took part in the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally under the name of "The Three Musketeers", admittedly without notable success. Only the 1st and 3rd place in the Silverstone Production car Race in the same year brought the desired press attention. A year later Nancy Mitchell achieved third place in the Ladies Competition at the Monte Carlo Rally. But she only won the Ladies European rally Championship because she competed for the rest of the season in an M.G.A. Pat Moss stayed in the Magnette without success. In 1957 the Magnette disappeared from the Works teams. It was only deployed by BMC as a support vehicle for camera teams. It was, however, campaigned in subsequent years by privateers. The Magnette recorded its greatest sporting successes in stock car races in the sixties and seventies.
Stockcar MagnettesWith its great stability it was ideally suited to this. However, by this means a large number of Magnettes were consigned to a glorious but destructive fate. Estimates of the M.G. Car Club’s Z Magnette Register suggest that about 1,000 vehicles still exist.
The end came for the Z Magnette in December 1958 after 36,601 examples had been produced. These production figures had, hitherto, never been achieved by any other M.G.
The sequel came in the middle of 1959 in the guise of the Mk III Magnette, with nothing more than its name in common with the Z Type. But that is another story…..

Malcolm Eades 26.01.2000