Stalled Project: 1957 MG Magnette

The second that I saw a listing for an MG Magnette, I locked right upon it – I actually knew what it was! A good friend has a 1958 model and the first time that he showed me his, I was so surprised as I didn’t know that an MG four-door saloon existed.  This subject is looking a bit shaky, as opposed to my friend’s Magnette, which is darn near perfect, but let’s see what’s here. This 1957 MG Magnette is located in New Hartford, New York and is available, here on Facebook Marketplace for $3,000. Thanks to Scott E. for this most uncommon discovery!

The MG Magnette was produced in three different series between the years of 1953 and 1968. Our subject car is known as a Magnette ZB, offered late in 1956 and continuing through 1958. It’s actually a ZB”V” with the V standing for Varitone, a model recognizable by its larger rear window and two-tone paint scheme. About 18K Magnette ZB’s were produced.

A familiar story unfolds here, the seller acquired this car seventeen years ago with visions of a beautiful restoration dancing in his head. Time flys but progress didn’t and now he states that he doesn’t have the energy to continue moving forward. He further suggests that this car will require a lot of bodywork. I’m afraid so. It’s basically straight but there appears to be rust in the rockers and a lot of contusions, scrapes, surface corrosion, and dents. The body is together but there are images of an additional hood and fender – no reference is made of those parts. The seller mentions that he had the wheels powder-coated painted and new radial tires installed which seems like a peculiar starting point, especially since this car is an absolute non-runner – more on that to follow. Unfortunately, this Magnette’s smile has been altered as it’s missing a “tooth” from its prominent grille.

What is an absolute non-runner you ask? Well, it’s not only a car that doesn’t run but one whose engine has been removed. But wait, there’s more! The engine in this case is in pieces but at least it’s original…Research indicates that the motor is a 64 HP, BMC 1.5 liter, in-line, four-cylinder unit. It’s pretty much a box o’ parts project at this point. While not stated specifically, the likelihood is that the transmission is a four-speed manual unit – there is a clutch pedal visible in the interior. Apparently, there was a semi-automatic transmission available in 1957 and referred to as the “Manumatic”.

The interior is one of those good news/bad news stories as it possesses a fine British bearing about itself but it has clearly seen better days. The wood instrument panel and dash trim is delaminated, the seat upholstery is split and discolored and the headliner is starting to let go. The carpet and door cards aren’t looking too hot either. The seller mentions that he thinks the 04445-mile odometer reading is indicative of the odometer having gone once around – the wear on the brake and clutch pedal pads would second that thought.

These are not common cars! While the production numbers don’t spell out rarity, this is only the second one that I have encountered and I know that some of the body, glass, and trim specific parts are now hard to source. This Magnette is by no means a lost cause (assuming that the underside isn’t about to fall out) but it’s going to be a significant undertaking to return this car to serviceability – both mechanically and aesthetically. Anyone up for the challenge?

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  1. Ken Carney

    Good luck getting parts for this one. My
    experience with British cars tells me you
    can’t get parts for these cars here in the
    ‘states. Just ask the folks that bought
    Austin America’s in my hometown in the
    early ’70s. The dealer who sold them
    stayed 6 months before packing up in the middle of the night and leaving those folks holding the bag with no way
    to get service or repairs for the cars they
    bought. That soured me on buying a
    foreign car.

    • Solosolo Member

      Here in the UK we would also have trouble finding parts for American cars so either we don’t buy them or we source parts suppliers in US, the same as Americans can source suppliers in UK. It just depends on how much you want to own a foreign car as the spares are available, you just have to look for them, and that’s half the fun of owning old cars isn’t it?
      Ken Tilly UK

      Like 17
  2. Scott E.

    At least with cleaned up wheels and new tires it will be easier to get on a trailer.

    Like 3
  3. wardww

    A parts car at best. These are beautiful cars but not high value.

    Like 2
  4. MGSteve

    As to parts, the future owner of this car should immediately join the Z Magnette Registry of North America, where they will find an abundance of parts, help and advice. Mechanical parts are largely MGA, and some of the “high mortality” parts are being made in the UK. Many “Group” members have parts cars for other needed body parts. I had more trouble sourcing parts for the restoration of a 58 Dodge pick up truck than I do for the MG Magnette.

    Like 15
  5. JagManBill

    I recently bought a stalled project that I was told work stopped on it 20 + years ago. I get such a kick however from these types of things. Its sitting on new 20+ year old tires (albeit now dry rotting) and pretty rims…

  6. Scott E.

    JagManBill, The tires were purchased and installed just last year.

    Like 1
  7. MikeH

    A possible scenario for the new tires—I had a project I had to buy new tires for because the tires it had were in tatters. I had to have new tires just to move it around. But the powder coated wheels—that could wait awhile.

    • Scott E.

      “Powder coated wheels” is not correct. They are painted as it states in the facebook marketplace ad.

      • Jim ODonnell Staff

        Good catch, fixed.



  8. Allen Member

    Actually, the group to contact is Z Magnette Group of North America, an affiliate of the North American MGA Register. We’re basically an email chat group, but like Brigadoon, we come alive – more often than every 200 years – we do it annually. Or we used to – before COVID…
    If you own one of these cars or intend to buy one shortly, contact me at Many of. the mechanical parts are available from the likes of Moss Motors, Scarborough Faire, British Parts Northwest, etc. We know of a fine craftsman in the UK who makes beautiful repair panels exclusively for Z Magnettes. He is part of a shop that also deals exclusively with Z Magnette parts. The iron worms are much more voracious in the UK than they are here and we have seen FAR worse examples restored to stunning like-new condition over there.

    A few facts about Z Magnettes: they were the first “monocoque” (unibody) MG ever built, and the first MG to use the Austin-based “B-series” engine. Later on, this engine would be used in the MGA. There is a myth that the Magnette used an MGA engine. It is the opposite that is true: the MGA used a Magnette/Austin engine. Later still, bored out to 1.8 liters, the same engine would serve in the MGB up until 1980. The 1.5 and 1.8 liter versions being identical on the outside, 1.8 liter Magnette conversions are not uncommon. According to Anders Dittlev Clausager’s book: MG SALOON CARS, there were total of 36,601 Z Magnettes built. This book is highly recommended, BTW. It appears that 5357 of these were destined for North America. Currently, we can account for close to 200 in North America.

    In fact, one problem with the original Magnette drive-train, incorporating a 4.55:1 rear-end, was a noisy high-revving engine not capable of the speeds and distances we drive here in North America. As a result, most of the current Magnette restorations include the 1.8 liter engine (98 hp), one of three or four five-speed transmission swaps now available, and an MGB 3.9:1 rear end. So equipped, with an easy swap to disc brakes in front, Z Magnettes are quiet and comfortable above any interstate speed limit in the US. No they are not hotrods but very civil and “proper” – performing as their elegant looks promise.

    I want to commend Jim Odonnell for his thoughtful and well-researched summary. I can only fault his production figure of 18,000, which is the total of ZAs built (18076, actually). We “Magnutts” are incredibly passionate about these cars. Even now, 63 years after the last one left the factory, newly discovered examples continue to show up.

    A few years ago, we drove one from New Castle Virginia to Olympia Washington and return. After a couple days on the road, we simply forgot we were driving an antique car.

    Like 6
    • Scott E.

      A lot of good info here, thank you. Concerning the mechanical upgrades, the owner has pieces from a 1966 MGB (1800 engine, o/d trans., 3.9 diff., disc brakes) that could go with the sale.

      Like 1
  9. Allen Member


    Thanks for your comment. Small problem using an MGB O/D transmission: it doesn’t fit in the Magnette tunnel without some rather serious sculpting. Less so with the 3-synchro O/D transmission used in 1966. I’ve seen it tried with the later 4-synchro O/Ds and the tunnel has to be severely expanded for that. I know of three conversions that do the job with almost no modification to the tunnel. The rear-end swap is a two-hour Saturday morning romp.

  10. Allen Member


    Thanks for your comment. Small problem using an MGB O/D transmission: it doesn’t fit in the Magnette tunnel without some rather serious sculpting. Less so with the 3-synchro O/D transmission used in 1966. I’ve seen it tried with the later 4-synchro O/Ds and the tunnel has to be severely expanded for that. I know of three conversions that do the job with almost no modification to the tunnel. The rear-end swap is a two-hour Saturday morning romp.

    • Scott E.


      Being aware of the extra room needed for the o/d unit the trans tunnel from the “B” was saved hoping to make the swap a little easier. Still a bit of work to accomplish.

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