Friday, March 15, 2013

1957-1958 MG Magnette

"Those who fully appreciate the real pleasures of driving will find much to delight them in the MG Magnette. For while this sleek sports sedan admittedly makes lavish concessions to luxurious comfort, it adheres rigidly to basic sports car principles. Its magnificent one ad a half litre, overhead valve, short stroke engine, teamed with incomparably smooth, synchromesh transmission, delivers power to spare in every gear. Firm, wishbone-type suspension assures the utmost in agile cornering and oversize brakes provide amazingly precise, straightline braking on demand."

If you think that this handsome and nicely proportioned car looks like having Italian provenience, then British designer Gerald Palmer did everything right. In later interviews, he credited contemporary Italian car styling as the main inspiration for his proposal for the MG Magnette and its sister model, the Wolseley 4/44. The fairly chaotic development story of these two cars is quite typical for the British postwar car industry: the new sedans of MG and Wolseley, both brands owned at this time by the Nuffield Organisation, were supposed to share one body and just differ in smaller details like front grille and trim. But Palmer thought to lower the stance of the MG by two inches (51mm), as it was supposed to become the sportier of the two sister models. The upshot of this operation were two completely different cars that only shared their hood and front doors, while all other body panels were disparate, despite looking similar to the untrained eye.

On top of that, the Nuffield Organisation merged with long-time rival Austin Motors to become the British Motor Corporation in March 1952, just before the planned introduction of the MG. The new boss Leonard Lord decided that the MG should get a completely new developed engine, and delayed the presentation for one year. The Wolseley, with the "old" MG engine implanted, was launched first, and the MG Magnette ZA became the unfortunate "lookalike" model when presented in October 1953.

Initially, MG hardliners weren't keen on the new car, as they feared that MG's sporty core values could be damaged by such a modern, elegant and comfortable automobile. Car magazines soon proofed them wrong: the unibody construction, new to a MG, and the modern suspension made the car very agile, while the 60 horsepower engine provided just enough punch, too. With a wheelbase of 102 inches (2,591 mm), the MG Magnette ZA was tiny for American standards. Still, the Magnette sold well on these shores, capitalizing on the good image of MG's sports cars.

The slim chrome trim spear on the front fender characterizes our pictured car as a MG Magnette ZB, which replaced the Magnette ZA in 1957. Aside from this little trim piece and a slightly larger rear window, both versions look similar outside. A more powerful engine (four horsepower to be exact) made the "sports saloon" a bit more agile: quick acceleration and the top speed of 86 mph of the final models were quite a clincher on contemporary English roads.

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