Thursday, September 26, 2013

MG Magnette ZA Saloon

I just checked the calendar, did some quick arithmetic and figure that readers of this blog under age 45 wouldn't have been able to buy a classic MG sports car, the last being the MGB whose production ended in 1980.  (Yes, there were successor MGs, but they earned little market acceptance.)  MG sports cars were probably at their peak of mind-share in the USA from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s when more advanced sports cars such as the Datsun 240Z and Porsche 914 came on the scene.

While Americans thought of MG being a sports car, for a while the brand also included sedans ("saloons" as they're called in their homeland).  Some of those sedans, called Magnettes, were actually exported to the USA and I saw some on the streets and roads of western Washington state when I was young.  Matter of fact, I even rode in one because a fraternity brother owned a Magnette ZA model (produced 1953-56) and drove some of us around the Olympic Peninsula.  I enjoyed the ride as best I could, given that I was hung over from too much tequila and beer.  That was because I rather liked the styling as an example of combining traditional British design with an envelope-type body.

The Wikipedia entry dealing with all the various Magnettes is here. It notes that the designer (not the stylist, in this particular case) was Gerald Palmer, who I'll write more about later.  The other point needing mention is that the Magnette shared its body with the Wolseley 4/44, a necessary production economy.

Then things began to go downhill styling-wise with the facelifted Magnette ZB (built 1956-58).  It got new chrome trim that was sometimes used as the dividing point for the then-fashionable two-tone color schemes.  Worse was the enlargement of the back window.  Worse from a traditional-British styling standpoint, though better in terms of outside visibility for the driver.

Here is the photographic evidence.


MG Magnette ZA general view
Aside from the traditional vertical grille and narrow hoodline, the Magnette's styling is a nice version of what American stylists were doing for circa-1949 models (the British tended to be conservative when it came to styling, so the Magnette was behind the American fashions by the time it appeared).  For example, the front fender flows through the rear door and there is a sketched-in rear fender.  The tops of these fenders are several inches below the side windows in the vein of Harley Earl's 1948-49 General Motors cars, a device that reduced the appearance of bulk on the sides.  The one-piece curved windshield is another modern touch.  The grille, while traditional, has a whiff of post-war styling in that it curves backwards toward its top.  While not a great design, it nevertheless is pleasing.

Advertising material showing rear window
Besides the vertical grille, the other pre-contemporary styling feature is the small back window, such windows being a little larger in most of those 1949 vintage American automobiles and much larger by 1953 when the Magnette first appeared.  It does fit well with the somewhat formal theme of the overall design.

Brochure showing color schemes

Instrument panel
The instrument panel is interesting. For one thing, it is sheathed in wood in the traditional British way, giving it a nice touch of quality.   Note that the framing around the main instrument cluster mimicks the traditonal MG hexagon pattern seen in full on the steering wheel hub.

Magnette ZB
I mentioned above that I didn't care for changes made for the ZB version of the Magnette.  The widened rear window, alterations in chrome trim and two-tone paint can be seen in this photo I found on the Web.  While this facelift was minor, enough was done to significantly degrade the initial design.

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