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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