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April 15, 2014
Badge engineering was not a new phenomenon to MG when the Farina styled Magnettes were introduced in 1959. The original MG's of the 1920's were rebadged Morrises and it was the desire of Cecil Kimber who joined Morris Motors in 1921 as Sales Manager, to introduce some special cars with more sporting appeal. There have not been many occasions during MG evolution when this practice has been carried out and when it has, it has generally been on saloons. There have of course been many saloons produced at Abingdon that are exclusive to MG.
The first of the Magnette saloons appeared in 1953 and designated ZA series. This car was very closely allied to the Wolseley 4/44 which carried the XPAG 1250 cc engine. The ZA was really a replacement for the Y type saloon which had sold very well but become rather outdated. Many purists felt that the MG was a very thinly disguised Wolseley and there were many lively exchanges in the letters columns of the leading motoring journals of the day. "A perversion of the famous name!" was one such comment, but many had forgotten that the very first Magnette saloon was aimed at a very similar type of customer. The ZA however was a resounding success with nearly 37,000 sales to its credit which pleased Abingdon and no doubt the BMC hierarchy. Following closely in 1956 was the ZB series that sported many improvements, not least of which was a healthy increase in power from 60 to 68 bhp. Revised suspension improved the handling and there were one or two trim changes. A 'Varitone' version became available in 1958 that boasted a two-tone colour scheme with colours that did not always go together!. A distinguishing point of reference for the car was the new larger wraparound rear window, with the aperture apparently being cut out by hand at Abingdon, because this modification had not been incorporated on the line at the Pressed Steel Fisher body plant at Cowley where the Magnette shells were manufactured.
Altogether the Z series cars were excellent cars with a high specification and good performance that few other cars of the era could match. Disappointment prevailed at Abingdon however when BMC decided to axe the very popular ZB in 1958 and this was at a time when it was still selling well although causing problems production wise. Space was at a premium in the small confines of Abingdon and more production capacity had to be turned over to the MGA which was rapidly increasing in popularity. The workforce were further disillusioned when the ZB was replaced by a Pininfarina designed saloon which was basically an Austin Cambridge in sports clothing. Bearing the MG badge and designated the Mark III Magnette it was the first MG to be built outside of Abingdon in nearly thirty years. The 1.5 litre car was assembled at the Morris factory at Cowley where it was built alongside the Morris, Austin, Wolseley and Riley variants. As far as the BMC marketing men were concerned the Magnette was the ideal flagship for the range and they were not unduly worried about the damage this may inflict on the name of MG. It seemed to them by carrying the badge engineering to extremes on so many variants it would give them a short term advantage in the market place and the logic was that by taking an average car it could be sold in larger quantities by investing in the reputation of a good one. There was outrage, not only in the MG camp but also in those followers of Riley and Wolseley who aired their views in the columns of the motoring press about a betrayal of the marque, whilst BMC cheerfully described the car as "Of flawless Pedigree"!
Whilst the Magnette was considered a very comfortable family saloon with plenty of room, good visibility and light steering, its performance and handling were not considered worthy of the MG name, particularly in the 1500 cc Mark III form. Nonetheless the car sold well until it was replaced with the Mark IV version in October 1961. This car carried many detail changes to try and enhance customer appeal. There was improved performance with the bigger 1622cc engine that produced 68 bhp and gave a marked gain over its predecessor; also changes were made to the steering geometry to improve handling and steering response. For the first time on an MG there was an option for a fully automatic Borg Warner gearbox. A total of nearly 31,000 Mark III and Mark IV Magnettes were produced between 1959 and 1962 when the car was silently phased out having carved its own niche in MG history.
Engine: Four cylinder in line
Bore & Stroke: 76.2mm x 88.9mm
Valve Operation: Pushrod overhead.
Carburation: Twin Semi downdraft SU's.
Power Output: 68 bhp at 5000 rpm.
Clutch: Dry plate.
Gearbox: Part synchromesh manual, with automatic option.
Suspension: Front coil & wishbone with anti roll bar. Rear half elliptic with stabiliser.
Wheels: Bolt on pressed steel disc.
Brakes: Girling hydraulic, 9" drums.
Number built: 1961-1968; 13,738
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