The automobile manufacturer MG used the Magnette name on the K-type and N-type cars in the 1930s, but the Magnette models of the 1950s and 1960s are probably best-remembered. Although loved today, the use of the Magnette name on an MG saloon car with a lowered Wolseley body and an Austin engine brought protest from motor magazine letter writers.
There were two distinct series of these Magnettes: The ZA and ZB of 1953 through to 1958 and the Mark III and Mark IV of 1959 through to 1968.
The Magnette ZA was launched in 1953 at the London Motor Show and deliveries started in March 1954. Production continued until 1956. It was the first monocoque car to bear the MG badge.
The Magnette was designed by Gerald Palmer who made his name with the Jowett Javelin, and featured modern Italian inspired styling. Power came from the then new four cylinder 1.5 L (1489 cc) B-Series I4 engine with twin 1¼ inch SU carburettors delivering 60 bhp, driving the rear wheels through a four speed manual gearbox with synchromesh on the top three ratios.
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 front and rear wheels.
The car had leather trimmed individual front seats and rear bench seat. The dashboard and door cappings were in polished wood. Although the heater was standard, the radio was still an optional extra. Standard body colours were black, maroon, green, 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.
The ZA was replaced by the Magnette ZB in 1956. Power was increased to 64 hp (48 kW) by fitting 1½ inch carburettors, increasing the compression ratio from 7.5 to 8.3, and modifying the manifold. A semi-automatic transmission was an option.
The interior was improved and there was also a Varitone model with a larger rear window and optional two tone paintwork.
The extra power increased the top speed to 86 mph (138 km/h) and reduced the 0-60 mph time to 18.5 seconds.
The similar Wolseley 15/50 now shared the ZB's B-Series engine.
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". 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 car featured BMC's 1489 cc B type engine but, in the MG Magnette III (and its Riley sibling), performance was enhanced by fitting twin S.U. H.D.4 carburetters.
The experience from the driver's seat was enhanced by the walnut veneer facia panel and door cappings as well as by the leather upholstery, and presumably by the safety glass windows.
A Mark III was tested by The Motor magazine in 1959. They recorded a top speed of 85.5 mph (137.6 km/h), acceleration from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 19.7 seconds and a fuel consumption of 31.4 miles per imperial gallon (9.00 L/100 km; 26.1 mpg-US). The test car cost £1012 including taxes.
Magnette Mark IV
The Mark III was updated in 1961 as the Mark IV. A larger 1.6 L (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. From the outside, the Mark IV was almost identical to the Mark III, apart from the remodelled and slightly less sharply pointed tailfins, a modification shared with its Riley sibling.
Automatic transmission was offered as an option.
The model continued to be listed through till May 1968 when the manufacturers announced that production had ceased with "no immediate replacement ... contemplated".
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