Critical Analysis of the M.G. Magnette

A British £1,000 Sporting Saloon with Excellent Suspension and Roadholding and a Delightful Gear-Change, which Possesses Very Reasonable Performance. Interior Appointments Compel Pride of Ownership.

The M.G. Magnette was introduced five years ago as a sporting saloon far better upholstered and finished than the average run of such cars, and attempting to retain something of the M.G. reputation while making use of a Wolseley body shell and B.M.C. two-carburetter 1½-litre power unit. The latter, for which 68-b.h.p. is claimed at 5,400 r.p.m., provides this attractive M.G. with a very respectable performance, while its interior appointments promote a very real sense of pride in ownership.

Last year we were able to make a fairly extensive trial of an M.G. Magnette. Never has there been a better example of the need to cover a considerable mileage before expressing an opinion of a car. At first the Magnette seemed “dead” as to ride and control, the driving position unsatisfactory and the whole ensemble decidedly pre-war. Later, after nearly 400 miles had been covered during a December week-end, we reformed this opinion. The M.G. had left a profound impression and from being initially biased against it the writer returned it to the B.M.C. with warm regard for a car which is both “different” and delightful to drive. Let this be a lesson to those publicists who, seeking a free advertisement for their product, say to the journalist, “I may be able to let you have a run up the road, old boy”!

The M.G. Magnette has an unusual driving position, inasmuch as you sit quite high up, as on a throne, in a very snug bucket seat, in a rather sit-up-and-beg stance over the sensibly-sized, well-placed pedals. The driver soon becomes accustomed to this and is held securely in a seat which is generally good, although a bit hard in the cushion and a little tight round the shoulders, particularly as the pedals, somewhat offset to the right, cause the body to twist slightly in the seat. There is ample room to rest the clutch foot on the floor and visibility is quite good, although the near-side front wing is invisible and the screen pillars rather thick. Steering-wheel rake is excellent and the central gear-lever comes close to the wheel and couldn’t be better placed—this pleasant gear-change is one of the outstanding features of the car.

Even before moving off, the driver is impressed by the Magnette. Between the front bucket seats the hand-brake lever lies absolutely to hand. A full-width shelf under the facia, bisected by the heater unit, is extremely convenient and it is supplemented by a big lidded, lined (but not lockable) cubby-hole on the left, large enough to easily accommodate a large handbag or a lady’s (telescopic) umbrella.

In a half-octagon before the driver is the big 100-m.p.h. Jaeger speedometer with total and trip (with decimal) distance recorders, and inset main-beam and dynamo-charge warning lights. That no rev.-counter is provided emphasises that this is a sporting rather than a sports saloon. Flanking the speedometer are small oblong dials, a pair each side of the speedometer, one above the other. Those on the left are fuel gauge, with water thermometer below; those on the right the ammeter, with oil-pressure gauge below. The fuel gauge is calibrated ” E, ½, F,” and reads “E” for miles before the tank runs dry. Water temperature sits just below “N” and oil pressure is normally 50 lb./sq. in.

Below the dials two sensible quadrants control the heater/demister/defroster. This works moderately well, with a quiet fan, but rather more warm air would be welcome. There is a prehistoric scuttle ventilator flap opened by a lever under the facia which constitutes the heater air inlet; this enables the under-bonnet space to be kept free of heater piping. The semaphore-style direction indicators, self-cancelling and controlled by a lever on the steering-wheel hub, are entirely “pre-war.”

The minor controls take the form of neat little button-switches, grouped in pairs. On the extreme right are those for the wipers, which self-park effectively but are noisy, and the lamps. Closer to the driver are the starter-button and mixture control, the latter spring-loaded but notched for retention in any desired setting. Masked by the steering-wheel are two more switches, for facia lighting and fog-lamp. The top one of these brings in all the dial lighting or can be pushed in to leave only the speedometer illuminated, an excellent scheme slightly marred because the speedometer lighting is rather bright (no rheostat) yet full lighting has to be brought in to read the distance reorders. Considerable fumbling results when these switches are sought in a hurry, yet they have obviously been located in diminishing order of prompt requirement. The wipers are supplemented by a very effective Trico push-button screen-washer.

Apart from the imposing polished-wood facia, screen-sill and garnish rails, other aspects of the M.G. Magnette impart a sense of quiet luxury. The good leather upholstery, “rope” pulls for the front doors, twin swivelling anti-dazzle visors, pile carpets, centre folding back-seat armrest, and armrests in the back doors acting as pulls add up to a car of which the owner can be justifiably proud.

No door pockets are provided, but there is a sensibly-lipped shelf behind the back seat. There is a big ashtray in the heater unit and one in the back of each front-seat squab, all of the concealed variety. The rear-view mirror is of anti-dazzle flick type, a nice point of detail being the little rubber-capped strut between mirror and screen. Not so good is the clock above the mirror, which is awkward to set and unilluminated. The roof lamp has a switch placed conveniently for all occupants but is operated automatically only by the front doors. The front doors possess ventilator windows (the catches of which are not thief-proof). The main windows call for two turns of the handle to fully lower them, the back-door windows, which do not recess fully, need 2¾ turns. The doors have the old-fashioned locking arrangement whereby the handles of three act as the locks, only the driver’s door possessing a key lock. We found this quite acceptable, especially as the driver’s door-lock is sensibly arranged. Push-button exterior handles are fitted.

This good first impression of the M.G. Magnette is endorsed by the absence of body rattles. The doors shut reasonably well, although the near-side rear door bounced open unless slammed very hard.

The initial high opinion of the car is borne out after becoming accustomed to its performance on the road. The gear-change is absolutely delightful, rapid changes being possible with the splendidly rigid, perfectly-located, central lever. The action is faintly harsh if hurried but this really is a delightful gear-change. Reverse is easily selected by pressing the lever past second gear position, and gear hum is very subdued. The hydraulic clutch is light and vice-free.

The gear ratios are spaced to give indicated maxima of 25, 43 and 60 m.p.h., respectively, in the indirect ratios. Bottom and second seem rather low and there isn’t exactly flashing pick-up in third and top gears. But for all practical purposes the Magnette accelerates briskly enough to cope with congested traffic and to maintain usefully high average speeds. The Magnette’s maximum speed is just clear of 80 m.p.h. on roads of the Salisbury Plain type.

Coupled to this respectable urge from a 21 cwt., comfortably equipped and not cramped saloon are impeccable road manners.

The steering-wheel, which carries an exceedingly useful horn-ring, cut away for speedometer visibility, kicks back somewhat on bad roads, but the steering is free from lost motion, has nice castor-return action and there is no column vibration. It is geared 2⅝ turns, lock-to-lock, and might be slightly higher geared. The lock is rather meagre. It is steering which is fairly light and the front wheels can be “felt” by the driver.

The suspension earns high marks, because, while it is sufficiently stiff to quell roll when cornering rapidly, it provides one of the best “level”rides we have experienced, and only subdued shocks, quickly damped, are transmitted over badly-laid roads. Tyre noise is absent when flinging the M.G. through the bends and although the nose dips under braking the suspension, incorporating wishbone and coil. spring i.f.s., is an excellent compromise between hard and soft springing. The Magnette is a delight to corner fast, being, again, well balanced between over- and understeer and feeling generally very safe, tail-end breakaway being easily corrected, although at times on wet roads the front-end felt somewhat non-adhesive. The farther we drove the Magnette over slippery roads the more confidence we gained, although our usual criticism of a rigid back axle tending at times to tramp about and to steer the car applies.

The overall impression is that this M.G. not only exhibits” safety-fast” characteristics to a satisfactory degree but that it corners in an individual, slightly “dead,” but pleasing manner. The Lockheed brakes are fully in keeping, being very powerful when prodded in an emergency, otherwise light to apply for progressive braking and quite without vice, being, like Victorian children, present but not heard. Even in strong winds the car runs dead straight.

That this is a sporting rather than a family saloon is conveyed by the performance available and by quite a lot of engine noise. Not exactly a quiet car, the Magnette’s engine roar rises to considerable volume and resonance at maximum speed in third gear. It does not protest or run-on after bad driving, and it starts fairly promptly on a winter morning, given a fair use of the mixture control, but it tended to stall from idling speed. The throttle linkage makes it difficult to drive smoothly in traffic or away from rest. The test car rather blotted its copybook because a noise suggestive of a worn bearing intruded during the week-end and investigation showed the oil level to have fallen very low, 5½ pints of Castrol being required to restore it. This works out at an oil consumption of 300 m.p.g., which is unduly heavy for a car which appeared to be less than 17,000 miles old.

Wishing to conserve revs. thereafter, we were unable to conduct our normal fuel consumption check on a moderately fast drive, but this appears to average about 25 m.p.g., giving a range of about 240 miles.

The bonnet of the Magnette takes the radiator grille and dummy radiator cap with it when it rises. Its safety catch is rather “fumbly” and the thing heavy to lift, after which it has to be propped open manually. The dip-stick is accessible.

The luggage-boot lid (which locks) has over-centre torsion-bar-sprung hinges. There is ample suitcase space but the spare wheel lives vertically on the near side of the boot. A good feature is the location of the fuel pump in the boot, away from engine heat. Fog-lamps and reversing lamp are standard equipment; the tool-kit includes a starting handle. Extras available comprise H.M.V. radio, direction-flashers, rimbellishers and manumatic transmission; also duo-tone finish.

The M.G. Magnette retains some of the character of M.G.s of old, blended with the luxury associated with a Wolseley (sporting owners may, however, find it embarrassing to park beside the identical-in-outline 15/50 Wolseley!). For those who require a dignified, nicely-equipped 4/5-seater saloon which goes and handles extremely well, the M.G. Magnette is their motor car. At the all-in price of just over £1,000 it stands virtually alone as offering excellent value. — W. B.