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HERE’S A CAR looking like a rebadged police sedan on Grantchester (e.g., Season 5, Episode 2), and named after one piloted by Tazio Nuvolari. The MG Magnette of the 1950s carried it off with British charm.
Badge Engineering by BMC. The 1953 Magnette shared styling, if not its spirit, with the conservative Wolseley 4/44 introduced a year earlier by British Motor Corporation. Both were designed by Gerald Palmer, whose even earlier Jowett Javelin has appeared here at SimanaitisSays. All three designs had unibody construction, still something of a novelty in those body-atop-chassis days.
As noted by Wikipedia, although the Wolseley and MG were “visually similar, the MG has lower suspension and only the front doors, boot lid, and roof panels are shared.” In Grantchester, detective Georgie Keating drives a Magnette; others on the force have Wolseleys. The easiest recognition point is the MG front fender’s arched chrome trim (present on only its ZA variant).
Magnette K.3 Heritage. As described here at SimanaitisSays, MG’s previous use of the Magnette moniker had been in the K.3 Magnette sports car.
K.3 Magnettes finished a winning 1-2 in class at the 1933 Mille Miglia. MG authority F. Wilson McComb wrote, “If the essential sports car is (as many believe) epitomised by a mid-thirties M.G., then surely the K.3 Magnette is the epitome of the M.G.”
“Safety Fast” Forward to 1954. New York City’s J.S. Inskip, a prime car importer at the time, called “Britain’s new MG Magnette a dream car that has everything!”
With only a bit of advertising hyperbola, the ad cited “sports-car performance” (though not quite an MG’s), “big-car comfort” (though far from Inskip’s Rolls-Royce offerings), “plus sleek, stylish appearance—and economy—” from “Great Britain’s foremost automotive engineers….”
R&T’s View. The magazine tested the Magnette in December 1954, and did not utterly disagree with the Inskip assessment. As one example: “Close inspection shows an interior of surprising opulence. There is grained woodwork on the dash, leather-covered foam rubber seats of great comfort (separate chairs in front, bench-type with center arm-rest in the rear), well-placed, legible instruments, and considerable head-room for a tall person…. Although smaller all around than a Ford or Chevrolet, it is in no sense ‘bug-like’ or cramped.”
“Performance-wise,” R&T wrote, “the acceleration through traffic is quite adequate and even women drivers will find the four forward speed easy to use properly.” Wife Dottie, who was to join R&T less than ten years from that date, sniffed as she read this (her Fiats had five-speed gearboxes).
“Riding characteristics,” R&T reported, “are a little on the firm side for a family sedan, but this in turn no doubt contributes to better-than-average cornering characteristics.”
R&T concluded, “In short, for a car with individuality, good driving traits, and ‘custom’ quality, the Magnette just about fills the bill.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020
I own a 1958 MG Magnette