Tim Baxter
Tim Baxter PowerDork
6/17/09 10:44 a.m.

Let’s get one thing clear, right from the start: Despite making some great cars, BMW did not invent the sports sedan, no matter what the boys from Bavaria might have you think.

The idea of a comfortable four-seater with sports car performance did not spring forth, fully formed, from the furrowed brow and frantic pen of some Black Forest engineer as he dreamed up the 2002. No way.

In fact, MG probably coined the phrase “sports sedan” when they applied it to the “big Mini” 1100 sedans in 1962, a good six years before BMW shoved a two-liter engine in the 1600 and took over the world.

And MG had been building quick and surefooted sedans long before the MG “sports sedan” hit the streets. Of course, in America, MG always meant soft top, so the sedans rarely sold well here, but still, Abingdon had some experience working their sports car expertise into a four-door shell.

That’s probably because MG had been working on building an affordable, high-performance sedan since day one. In fact, the very first car to wear the MG octagon was actually a sedan, the 1924 14/28 Super Sports. MG had only been around about a year when it was released. The savvier heads in the home office had already noticed the company’s two-seaters in the classifieds next to the dreaded words “stork forces sale…”

By the mid-1930s, MG was well versed in offering sedans with almost (but not quite) the performance of the pure sports cars. The stylish SA and smaller VA were two of the earliest examples of an affordable sedan with any kind of sporting pretension.

While the sedans were very good, they still couldn’t compete with the two-seaters on price points or performance. New family guys generally just bought a sensible car, giving up their wayward ways.

After World War II, MG introduced the Y-type sedan, further pushing the boundaries of what a small sedan could do; but still, the sports cars led the way, side curtains flapping in the breeze.

The Y-Series was…nice. Nice and a nickel would buy you lunch back then, but it didn’t make MG sedans front-runners anywhere.

By the mid-’50s, with the TC and TD turning the U.S. into a bunch of sports-car-crazed fools, MG figured the time was ripe for a new sedan that could really put some sports into the sedan market.

The resulting ZA Magnette, which debuted in 1953, would be something very unusual for MG: an all-new car. And unlike the TF, which debuted alongside the Magnette, the sedan really was “all new.”

Not only could the Magnette compete on price and performance with the TF, it was indisputably a far more modern car. In fact, a 1954 Magnette was not only more modern than the TF, it was arguably more modern than the MGA, MGB or MGC sports cars that followed, and they carried the brand through to 1980.

While it represented a major step forward, there’s a reason MGs have rarely been all new.

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11/20/18 1:08 p.m.

Hard to believe that there are no comments on this well written article or maybe, I haven't accessed them correctly.  Only a slight pic; there was another "badge engineered" version produced.  The Riley 1.5 was a variant produced in about 58 and I had one while traveling the UK in 1970 my first and longest visit to the land of dark beer and wonderful pubs.  

Arriving in Dover just off the ferry from Callais, i found an "Exchange & Mart" Britans car selling tabloid.  With a budget of 100 pounds sterling and only local bus/rail transportation, I selected a two tone green Riley 1.5 with a prodigious amount of bondo showing,  Lumps everywhere covering the near terminal bodywork.  It served us well for several months finally blowing a head gasket and returning half it's purchase price from a retired first mate who ran a youth hostle in Rye Sussex,  Thanks to the Riley, we traveled to the London Race Car Show, all over England, Scotland (to visit in-laws at Hogmanay, a country-wide party).  

The Riley was surprisingly reliable and fun with locals always commenting on the Yanks in a tru Brit car seeing their wonderful country when there were no other tourists in sight .   

Dave Sawyer

spitfirebill MegaDork
11/21/18 9:20 a.m.

A fellow club member has owned many really cool old British cars.  He now has the hots for a Magnette. I do too, but they are thin on the ground.  

wspohn Dork
11/21/18 10:19 a.m.

Although rust was a big issue, once you get over that, the Magnettes are a nice touring car.

I have seen examples that have been fitted with a front disc brake conversion, a T9 5 speed and an MGB engine with Moss supercharger fitted. Made an excellent modernized comfortable touring sedan.

And don't forget the Riley 1.5 which also used the B series engine and was lighter and more agile, though just as rust prone.

RoddyMac17 Reader
11/21/18 12:20 p.m.

 Only a slight pic; there was another "badge engineered" version produced.  The Riley 1.5 was a variant produced in about 58 and I had one while traveling the UK in 1970 my first and longest visit to the land of dark beer and wonderful pubs.  

The Riley 1.5 was based on the Morris Minor, so not a badge engineered Magnette.  The later Riley 4/68 shared the same platform at the Mk III Magnette.


Bill, you should have mentioned the Twincam wheeled one too, I thought it looked quite racy. 

Gary SuperDork
11/21/18 6:49 p.m.

I've always liked Magnettes, epecially if they've been upgraded with a hot MGB engine and later all-synchro transmission. I've seen them at shows, and love them. But they are very rare, and spares are an issue. So as much as I love them, from a practacality standpoint, I'd not be a buyer. 

wspohn Dork
11/22/18 12:21 p.m.

Yes, the factory did try out 4 wheel discs and Twin Cam peg drive wheels on one but decided they wouldn't be able to sell them for the extra cost. Others have since replicated that conversion including one chap here in Vancouver.  I think that the factory one was also the car they stuck a Twin Cam engine into for use by John Thornley.

The Riley 1.5 was a bit of an oddball - MGA spec engine and trans, but A series rear axle, so more power put the axle shafts in peril, and a front suspension derived from the Morris Minor.

The only badge engineering done in regard to the Magnette was when the initial examples of the new unibody were issued as a Wolseley 4/44 using the T series XPAG engine, and later switching to the B series engine and relabeled as a 15/50, albeit with lower output single carb version of the engine.

The great thing about the Riley 1.5 was weight. The Magnettes weighed in at 2400-2500 lbs. The Riley was 2,072 lbs. so basically within a few pounds of the MGB.


This guy used a supercharged MGB engine in his 'Maggot'....


NOHOME UltimaDork
11/22/18 1:10 p.m.

What is interesting about the Magnette is that there is a little MGA in each one.


Focus on the red part of the profile.

wspohn Dork
11/24/18 10:38 a.m.

Gerald Palmer designed the Magnette pretty much from scratch and it predated the MGA, however the MGA shape was already pretty much nailed down in 1952 in the EX-175 (based on the EX-172 Le Mans car), so I expect that he just liked those lines and incorporated them in the Magnette. He was also involved in the later Twin Cam engine development program.  

That picture (above post) sure shows the body line that the Magnette had in common with the MGA - it still looks great today!

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