First introduced in 1954 as the ZA Magnette it was a four-cylinder four-door sports saloon based on Austin and Wolseley parts. The familiar MG grille was one of the few external components which differentiated the car from other BMC saloons.
The separate chassis of the Y-type was replaced by a unitary body construction. Gone also were the running boards, separate wings and the straight up and down body. Instead, a rounded body with subtle curves and contours gave the car a much smoother continuous look.
Whilst the ZA used an independent front suspension system not unlike that used on the Y-type it now featured telescopic shock absorbers instead of lever arm units and these were mounted through the centre of the coil springs. The same telescopic shock absorbers were fitted to the rear semi-elliptic leaf springs. The ZA also had rack and pinion steering which was unlike Austin cars of that time.
The Magnette’s engine was the BMC B-type 1489cc OHV in-line four-cylinder, front mounted with rear drive. This was developed from the post-war Austin A40 and was the same engine as used in the Austin A55 except the MG was fitted with twin SU carburettors, which gave the ZA excellent performance. Use of wood and leather interior, which was a feature of the Y-type, was continued in the ZA.
In 1956 the ZB Magnette, an updated version, was introduced. This car had a more powerful high-compression 51 kW engine which also used larger carburettors. Other changes to the bodywork and interior were only minor. The ZB remained in production until 1958 and in its lifetime sold nearly twice as many cars as the ZA series.
The Z-series Magnettes were replaced by the Magnette Series III and IV which were developments from other BMC cars of their time. They maintained the leather interior and MG grille so they stood out from the BMC cars from which they were adapted.
The Series III had a BMC/Farina 1622cc engine with twin carburettors giving a little extra power whilst the Series-IV had 1.6-litre engine rated at 51 kW and was offered with an automatic transmission option from 1961.
Production of ZA cars from 1954 to 1956 was 12,754, ZBs from 1956 to 1958 was 23,846 cars, Series III cars from 1959 to 1961 was 15,676 and Series IV cars produced from 1961 to 1968 was 13,738.