The MG Magnette was produced by MG from 1953 to 1958. The Magnette was manufactured in two build series, the ZA and ZB of 1953 through to 1958 and the Mark III and Mark IV of 1959 through to 1968, both using a modified Wolseley body and an Austin engine. MG Cars had previously used the Magnette name on their K-type and N-type models of the 1930s.
The Magnette ZA was announced on 15 October 1953 and debuted at the 1953 London Motor Show. Deliveries started in March 1954. Production continued until 1956, when 18,076 had been built. It was the first monocoque car to bear the MG badge.
The Magnette was designed by Gerald Palmer - designer of the Jowett Javelin. It was the first appearance of the new four cylinder 1.5 L (1489 cc) B-Series I4 engine with twin 1¼ inch SU carburettors delivering 60 bhp (45 kW), driving the rear wheels through BMC's new four speed manual gearbox with synchromesh on the top three ratios.
Suspension was independent at the front using coil springs and had a live axle with half elliptic leaf springs at the rear. The steering was by rack and pinion. Hydraulically operated Lockheed 10 in (254 mm) drum brakes were fitted to front and rear wheels. When leaving the factory, the Magnette ZA originally fitted the recently developed belted textile-braced, radial-ply Pirelli Cinturato 165HR14 tyres.
The car had leather trimmed individual front seats and rear bench seat. The dashboard and door cappings were in polished wood. Although the heater was standard, the radio was still an optional extra. Standard body colours were black, maroon, green, and grey.
The similar Wolseley 4/44, first sold one year earlier, used the 1250 cc engine from the MG TF. Although visually similar, the MG has lower suspension and only the front doors, boot lid and roof panels are shared.
In 1955 the British Motor magazine tested a Magnette and recorded a top speed of 79.7 mph (128.3 km/h) acceleration from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 23.1 seconds and a fuel consumption of 24.9 miles per imperial gallon (11.3 L/100 km) was recorded. The test car cost £914 including taxes.
The ZA was replaced by the Magnette ZB that was announced on 12 October 1956. Power was increased to 64 hp (48 kW) by fitting 1½ inch carburettors, increasing the compression ratio from 7.5 to 8.3, and modifying the manifold. The extra power increased the top speed to 86 mph (138 km/h) and reduced the 0-60 mph time to 18.5 seconds.
A Varitone model featured larger rear window and optional two tone paintwork, using a standard Pressed Steel body shell, the rear window opening enlarged in the Morris Motors body shop, Cowley, before painting. 18,524 ZBs were built.
The ZB Varitone featured here is owned by Nishad Wijetunga and is a 1957 model. There were just three ZB Varitones imported into the country of which two were registered new with “2 Sri” numbers. But neither have been seen on our roads in recent times.
Nishad’s car was brought into the Island by its original owner who was in the tea industry and worked in Singapore before coming here in 1972 when he brought the car with him. It's first registration in Sri Lanka was 31st August 1972 and was used by the foreigner who was with the tea company, Vanrees. Nishad’s father purchased the car from Vanrees in 1980.
“When we bought the car it was a faded red colour (not a two tone) and the seats and interior was unfortunately not well maintained.” Says Nishad. It had been used by many different people after the original owner, went back to the UK. “As soon as we got it my father did all of the minor repairs including some corrosion work and painted it Gun Metal Grey. Metallic Colours/Paints had just come into vogue and he liked the look of the colour. The seats were completely re-done and was covered in a German leather at the time which was sort of a mustard colour, and my father's explanation was that it went well with the wood interior” says Nishad.
In 1997, the car was “officially” transferred to Nishad as a gift. It was always running and never had to be restored. Nishad decided to attend to some corrosion work and also replaced the door and windscreen rubbers as they had reached their time. “I was determined to find out the original colour combination of this particular car and was able to find it in a photo copy of an old buyers guide which had some details of the serial numbers also filed away (which I still have). This Serial number explanation detailed the different colour combinations and I was able to determine the original colurs of our car based on the Chassis Number. The colours were Steel Blue (top - the Lighter Blue) and Mineral Blue (bottom - the Darker Blue). I was able to get the original paint codes for these two colours from ICI UK through the local agent CIC Paints” says Nishad. “The engine of this car has never been removed as far as we know. Everything on the car is original as neither my father nor I have ever changed/replaced any of the parts. The radio and clock were missing when we bought the car so we had inserted a 80s radio and a clock that we had removed from our old Ford Cortina and fitted it, in order to cover the open spaces on the dashboard and the hood lining, which is again still original.”
Nishad is a true Classic Car Enthusiast, and he and his Magnette are seen at most events of the Classic Car Club of Ceylon.