During the early fifties, the entire western world was still recovering from the Second World War. It was a slow and challenging process, yet there was a newfound optimism in the future which lie ahead. Engineering and design – not just automotive either – accomplished huge leaps forward in this period. Exciting sportscars were introduced. Yet, the average family saloon was often still a staid, humble and somewhat archaic construction.
There really wasn’t much on offer in the way of sporting saloons. The enthusiastic driver wanting something involving and entertaining to drive was spoiled for choice with iconic sportscars like the Triumph TR2, Austin Healey 100, Porsche 356, Lancia Aurelia GT and more. But they didn’t have rear doors, and the rear seats were either suitable for little more than a duffle bag or just not there at all. And then in 1953, MG in Abingdon gave us their newly developed Magnette. Consider that the British roads would have been populated during that era by the likes of the Ford Popular or the first Consul if you were (significantly) better off, Vauxhall Wyvern, Morris Oxford MO, Austin A70, Triumph Renown and similar. While every one of those are charming classics today, they’re hardly sporting. In that light, the new Magnette must have seemed like a much needed breath of fresh air. Bear in mind that the British sports saloon which perhaps best defines fifties Britain, the iconic Jaguar Mk1, didn’t see the light of day until 1955.
Considering that MG have always been predominantly known for their traditionally British sportscars, it’s interesting that it was a saloon car which was to mark several significant technical advancements for the company. It was the Magnette which was MG’s first monocoque construction, just as it was also the first MG to utilise the early 1.5-litre B-series BMC engine which was to become such an integral part of MG throughout the following two decades. Furthermore, the Magnette was also first to debut a new 4-speed manual transmission with synchro on the top three gears, and there was even rack and pinion steering as well. It all combined to a relatively advanced British saloon for the time and not least a decently sporting drive – even if the topspeed of 80mph and acceleration from 0 – 60 mph in 23.1 seconds may seem horrifically slow by modern standards.
For 1957 – four years after its introduction – the original Magnette ZA was mildly reworked to become the Magnette ZB. The two SU carburettors grew slightly in size while the compression ratio was raised slightly too. This helped boost output from 60hp to 64hp, and while that may not sound of much, performance did in fact improve considerably as the ZB topped out at 86mph and would sprint to 60mph in 18.5 seconds. With the ZB, costumers could also opt for the new Magnette Varitone, which had a much larger wrap-around rear window and an optional two-tone paint scheme. It certainly made for a stylish little saloon and brought the Magnette up to date again for its last two years of production before the much squarer – and at least to my eye, not as elegant or charming – Pininfarina-styled Mark III took over for 1959.
It is precisely such a sporting MG Magnette ZB Varitone from 1957 which we have stumbled across for this week’s Prime Find. It’s part of a quite diverse and interesting catalogue at Brightwells upcoming auction at Bicester Heritage on Wednesday the 10thof April. The auction company admits to having not inspected the MG themselves, but claim that it both presents and drives well after having been restored some eight years ago. It looks smart in its cream over maroon Varitone paint scheme and the interior which is claimed to still be all original looks pleasingly inviting with a light patina to the tan leather and wood veneer. There’s a period radio in place which looks great next to the vast original steering wheel, and the Magnette also has a stainless steel exhaust system. These pictures have been borrowed from Brightwells auction catalogue:
The Magnette apparently comes with what is described as an “extensive file of paperwork” including the original buff logbook, a Heritage Certificate, FIVA Identity Card, and not least various paperwork and invoices documenting the previous four owners. Mileage is recorded at 70,000 miles and is believed to be correct – though no documentation is provided for this. The auction estimate is £ 7,000 – 8,000, which currently equates to approximately Euro 8,200 – 9,300. If it condition is as described, that could easily offer a cheap entry ticket into a very usable British fifties saloon with decent performance and accomplished handling on tap.
With Brightwells, it’s not possible to link to each individual LOT from their auction, but here’s a link to the entire auction catalogue – you’ll have to scroll down to the MG’s yourself: Brightwells Catalogue 10th April 2019
With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
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