Background to the MG Saloons
|The MG Y-type Saloon||The MG ZA Magnette||The MG ZB Magnette|
|The Magnette Mark III and IV||The MG 1100/1300||The End of the MG Saloons?|
|Farina Magnettes||Images of the Saloons|
Although MG were seen mainly as a sports car manufacturer, and a highly respected one at that, this was not the only type of car which they produced. Almost right from the start, MG had digressed into producing what were known as sporting saloons. Essentially these were saloon cars which were given "the MG treatment" in order to become a little more sportier, after all not everyone wanted to drive round as fast as possible with the wind-in-the-hair effect found in open sports cars.
The sporting saloon provided its driver with a more civilised and refined car, but one which
was not short on power when the need for it arose. MG produced a wide and varied range of
such saloons over the years, ranging from the very early 1920's salonettes through the
MG Magnettes of the 50's to the modern day MG Metro.
There were a large number of saloons produced by MG, but this section deals mainly with those produced in the post-war era.
Shortly before the outbreak of World War Two, a small saloon had been designed at Cowley
to replace the old Morris Eight, known as the Series E production commenced just before the
war and was continued after it. Whether it was planned at this point to produce an MG version
is not known, although a prototype was said to have been constructed in the pre-war period.
However in 1947 such a car was announced as the Y-type, or YA, saloon. Although the passenger carrying part of the body was essentially the same as the Morris Eight, the YA looked considerably different to the small Morris.
The basis for the new MG saloon was an all-welded chassis constructed from box-section steel that provided a very sturdy and stiff frame, something that had only really been seen in the big pre-war saloons. Indeed the chassis was to provide the basis for the next MG sports car to appear - the TD, and hence had a similar specification.
The bodywork was of a rounded four-door saloon style with a projecting luggage boot and small
windows to let light into the sides behind the rearmost doors. A sliding sunshine roof was
fitted (although it was not glazed like on earlier models), and the windscreen could also be
opened for extra ventilation. A long bonnet with a tall MG radiator grille, together with
elegant swept wings and running boards, set the Y-type apart from its more mundane cousin and
effectively disguised the humble origins of the body.
The interior was also considerably more luxurious than that of the Morris, with Walnut dashboard and door trims, octagonal instruments, an adjustable steering column, and plush upholstery.
The YA saloon found a ready market, and although in standard form its performance was nothing special as the engine was the same as the TC, it could be tuned in the same way to produce considerably more power.
Late in 1948, a four-seat open tourer version of the Y-type was introduced, the YT. This had
some of the features of earlier MG four-seat tourers, including the humped scuttle, cutaway
door tops, and folding windscreen. However, the original body's styling did not really lend
itself to the sports car treatment, and so looked a little odd.
The tourer had the twin-carburettor engine of the TC, so performance was slightly improved, particularly since the car was quite alot lighter than the YA. Even so, there was little demand for such a car, and the YT was dropped in 1950.
In 1951, an uprated version of the Y-type saloon was announced, the YB. Suspension changes, together with smaller diameter wheels led to improved handling, while the addition of twin-leading-shoe brakes at the front provided a more effective means of stopping too. Production of the YB continued until 1953 when a new and different MG saloon appeared.
MG Y Type website
Known as the ZA Magnette, the new four-seat, four-door saloon was built using the latest production methods. The first ZA rolled off the production line on 16 October, 1954. No longer was there a separate chassis, the body was built of unitary construction. It was very stylish and looked stunning when compared to the Y-series cars.
No longer were there separate wings and running boards and an upright body. Instead, embryonic wings flowed into the sides of the low, rounded body to give a smooth, one-piece look. At the front was a familiar MG radiator grille, but subtly curved to match the flowing curves and contours of the body.
This was the first time that "badge-engineered" could be applied to an MG, since the bodyshell and running gear were shared with the Wolseley 4/44. Gerald Palmer originally designed the car as an MG, but BMC withdrew in 1953 and launched the Wolseley 4/44, with the 1250 XPAG engine from the Y type.
The ZA Magnette had an independent front suspension system, comprising of wishbones and coil springs, similar to the Y-series, but telescopic shock absorbers were used instead of lever-arm units, and they were fitted such that they passed through the centre of the springs. Telescopic shock absorbers were also used to control the semi-elliptic leaf springs at the rear.
The ZA was powered by the BMC B-series, pushrod, overhead-valve, four-cylinder unit,
which had been developed from an Austin design and had made its debut in the post-war
A40 saloon. Of 1489cc capacity, the engine developed 60bhp and, in the MG, was equipped
with twin SU carburettors. It was backed by a hydraulically-operated clutch and a four-
speed synchromesh transmission.
The interior of the car was well trimmed as usual, although octagonal instruments were no longer used, the speedometer shape reflected the MG logo by appearing to be an octagon with the bottom third cut off. Early cars had no quarter lights and were also distinguished by their 'Tin Top' dashboards, rather than the later wooden style.
Despite the early misgivings of the died-in-the-wool MG enthusiasts who did not take kindly to the Magnette sharing its bodywork with the Wolseley, the ZA found a ready and growing market. It offered superb performance for its day and was soon involved in competition events, where it was to achieve some impressive results. In many respects, it fore-shadowed the high-performance saloons which are common today and which sounded the death of the two-seater sports car - and MG as a builder of such cars. Eventually, the ZA was to outsell the TF Midget by two to one.
MGCC Buyers Guide
In 1956 an updated and more powerful version of the Magnette, the ZB, was launched. This had a higher-compression engine with bigger carburettors (1.5 inch instead of the earlier 1.25 inch) and a higher axle ratio which developed 68bhp. The bodywork and interior also received minor changes, the most noticeable of which was the rear windscreen which had been widened and curved around the edges of the rear of the car. However, not all ZB cars had the larger window, this was exclusive to the ZBV or Varitone. The ZB was to go on to sell nearly twice as many as the ZA series.
Towards the end of the ZB's two year production run, the car was made available with a two-tone paint scheme whereby the roof and upper surfaces of the bonnet and boot lid were painted a lighter colour than the lower portion of the body. In this form, it was known as the Varitone and echoed the two-tone schemes of much earlier MG models. Oddly some varitone cars were ordered from the factory in a single colour.
Up to that time, despite the fact that the Magnette body was the same as that of the Wolseley, production of the saloons had been carried out at Abingdon. However, in 1958 when ZB Magnette production came to an end, Abingdon was under considerable pressure in terms of production capacity due to its sports car commitments. Consequently, the ZB Magnettes "replacement" was not to be built there.
MGCC Buyers Guide
The airsmooth 'ZB' Magnette was replaced by a completely different car in 1959, to be built at Cowley. This time the BMC design office had rationalised on the number of cars it produced, instead using in this case, one hull for five different marques. BMC stylist Sid Goble grafted the MG radiator grille onto the sharp italianate Pinin Farina styled car that was to be the MG Magnette Mk3. The four door 23cwt saloon car used the ZB 1489cc engine, gearbox, rear axle, and instruments. Alas, it used the Austin A55 floorpan, independant front suspension, and worm & peg steering, dating from 1947. The car sold well, to family motorists, but was never a sports saloon, nor was it intended to be one. MG enthusiasts ignored the model, even so, BMC sold 16,575 of them, many overseas.
The MG Magnette Mk4 replaced the Mk3 in 1961. BMC had asked MG at Abingdon to look at the car and improve it. With anti-roll bars both ends, lower suspension, longer and wider wheel-base, double acting dampers, and a MGA 1600 Mk2 1622cc engine & gearbox, it was a better car; almost on par with the ZB in performance and handling. The motoring press had given BMC a rough time over their 'badge engineering' policy, and the Mk4 Magnette suffered as a result. It only sold 14,320 and was dropped in 1968.
Never a sports saloon, but an excellent family car, with style.Now a
rare MG model with a small but loyal following, it takes its place in MG
history. BMC tried hard to sell this model, their adverts of the 1960's
today would attract a call from the Trading Standards people!
Yet another badge-engineered MG saloon appeared in 1962, but this time it was more in the keeping with the MG tradition for producing sporting saloons. It was the MG version of BMC's front-wheel-drive 1100 saloon, the styling of which was similar to that of Austin's A40 Farina introduced in the late 1950's.
The MG 1100 had Hydrolastic four-wheel independent suspension, using
pressure as a means of interconnecting the front and rear displacers, with
each displacer containing a rubber spring as the springing medium. Rubber
springs were first used on BMC's famous Mini which had been introduced a
few years earlier and, when combined with the front-wheel-drive
arrangement, gave superior road holding and handling when compared to other
conventional forms of suspension.
Like the Mini, the 1100 had a transversely-mounted, four-cylinder, overhead-valve engine - BMC's A-series engine - mounted above the transmission and driving the front wheels. In the MG, the engine was equipped with twin SU carburettors.
The four-door body styling, complete with MG grille, was not exactly sleek in the way that the ZA and ZB Magnette had been. However, its performance which was significantly better than many contemporary "proper" sports cars, compensated for this. Inside, the trim level was better than the standard 1100, but it was rather lacking in instrumentation.
In 1967, the engine was uprated to 1275cc and a two-door body was offered in addition to the four-door saloon in the UK. Prior to this only two 2-door 1100's had been built for the home market, but nearly 27,000 had been built for export. In this form it was known as the MG 1300. Other changes to the model included an increase in the level of trim and instrumentation was improved also. A four- speed automatic gearbox was offered as an optional extra, but in this case the engine was only given a single SU carburettor.
For 1969, the four-door body option was dropped from the MG range, as was the automatic
transmission. The two-door model soldiered on until 1971 when production was ceased, in
favour of the Austin GT, which the newly formed British Leyland Group saw as the way out
of proliferation of marque names.
Most people mourned the passing of the MG 1300, and it was to be another ten years before an MG saloon would be offered, by which time MG's fortunes would have changed quite considerably to say the least.
The MG saloon range ceased to be regarded as "true" MGs, by many, once that production of them had stopped at Abingdon. However, it must be noted that all of them sold well, offering the traditional package of good value for money and a tempting offer for the MG enthusiast who had become the "family man".