Talking Motors: The joy of 60 and the Magnette still attracts

Sifting through reams of paper isn't everyone's idea of a pleasant way to spend an evening.

Friday, 1st April 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 1st April 2016, 9:56 am
Tom McCooeys Magnette series ZA in the garage

But when days are too wet or cold to go out for a drive, or there’s not quite enough daylight (yet) to go and play cars in the garage, it makes a nice change from staring at a laptop.

Let’s call it a screen break – old rugby programmes, car brochures, newspapers… I think it’s a hoarding problem.

And it was during one of these sifting sessions I realised my beloved Magnette turned 60 a fortnight ago (my excuse was I had new MOT paperwork to file).

On March 15, 1956, my ZA was first registered and soon to be driven from a showroom – gleaming black paint and chrome to become a new family’s pride and joy.

And it was considered a desirable car in its day. The first Magnettes, built in 1953, cost £914 including taxes – if you had one you were clearly going places.

Mine came into my dad’s possession on March 8, 1981 for £625, plus an extra tenner for the workshop manual, and was to serve as my parents’ wedding car two years to the month later.

And the discovery of the significance of the car’s age has acted as a boost to throw some more time at bringing it back onto the road – made more clear during a drive home in the rain that a car with a roof may be a helpful acquisition. As much as I love driving the Midget as much as possible since a bank-busting MOT, its tired vinyl hood has a tendency to give way to water.

But making this dream a reality is obviously a long way off. The most recent inspection revealed, despite freeing the engine, that it was probably best not to fit a battery without having the electrics overhauled, unless I fancied creating a small fire in the garage.

Yet instead of getting on with that, I’ve been mostly reading and daydreaming about cruising from 0-60 in 23.1 seconds in a car with a top speed of 79 – though these days it’s probably unwise to cruise at anything above 50. Good job I enjoy the drive to the Lake District because it will be a long one.

Despite lacking in features we take for granted now, such as seat belts, disc brakes and even indicators, the ZA, designed by Gerald Palmer, was pioneering for MG. It was the marque’s first monocoque car (where the chassis is integral with the body). Suspension was independent at the front using coil springs and had a live axle with half elliptic leaf springs at the rear, and before they left the factory, ZAs were fitted the recently developed belted textile-braced, radial-ply Pirelli Cinturato tyres. Heaters were standard and you could even opt for a radio!

After 18,076 ZAs had been built, it was followed by the slightly more powerful (at 68hp instead of 60) ZB between 1956 and 1958 and a Varitone model, perhaps the ultimate Z-type, which featured larger rear window and two-tone paintwork.

As you will see by the picture, there is a lot for me to look forward to once I’m out on the road, as my dad pointed out in a 1982 MG Owners’ Club yearbook, when describing driving it to the school at which he taught:

“Hey Mister, that’s a big Moggie Minor!”

“It’s an MG actually.”

This conversation happens often enough to make me realise we own a relatively rare car. As a teacher I have to face a barrage of questions from my charges every time I trundle down the school drive in our ZA.

“Hey Sir, what’s them orange things sticking out the side of your car?’ (semaphores).

“Who’s come to school in a taxi?”(From the head).

“My dad says it’s a old Police car.” (Frequent comment).

Best of British still going strong

Most of us think of marques long gone when we think of British cars.

MG, Mini, Bentley, Aston Martin and Rolls Royce and Jaguar are all British marques parented overseas.

But plenty of cars are still made here. British-owned companies Caterham, McLaren and Morgan build cars here while Minis, Toyotas, Hondas and British symbols in Bentley, Rolls Royce, Jaguar and MG are also made here. And you might be surprised to know that manufacturing figures are approaching the heady days of the British Leyland Motor Corporation – though signs of rust and tartan seats are down on a generation ago.

Recent industry figures show the number of cars built in the UK last month increased by more than 13 per cent from a year earlier.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said 146,955 cars were built in February, about 17,000 more than in the same month last year.

This has taken the number of cars built in the UK this year to 284,507, an increase of more than 10 per cent at the same point last year – and industry analysts predict car output to reach record levels of around two million units by 2017, overtaking the 1972 record of 1.92 million.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “The UK automotive industry’s impressive growth continued into February, with demand from both domestic and overseas customers showing no signs of slowing. The outlook for the sector is bright, but much will depend on global political and economic conditions in the months and years to come.”

It will be interesting to see in 30 years’ time which cars of today will be carefully kept in garages and seldom taken out on wet and salty roads.

Though I can imagine diagnosing a fault with an on-board computer in a few decades’ time will be much more complicated than cleaning a spark plug with a wire brush.

A budget bonus for classic car owners

This month’s budget contained some good news for classic car owners.

The rolling Vehicle Excise Duty exemption for cars over 40 has been made permanent.

Since the new exemption date was brought in for March 2014, the exemption had been renewed on an annual basis – but was not confirmed as a permanent measure.

The budget document, released on March 16 states: “Each year vehicles constructed more than 40 years before 1 January of that year will automatically be exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty.”

While the news has been welcomed by owners, the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs wants the exemption to apply to cars over 30. Many of these are considered classics by enthusiasts and do few miles each year – but cost three figures to tax.

Geoff Lancaster, FBHVC communications director said: “We would have liked the Chancellor to recognise the internationally accepted date for qualification as an historic vehicle is 30, not 40 years. We have done the maths and concluded that the impact on the treasury of such a concession is fiscally insignificant. For our members, it would have the effect of encouraging the preservation of the later (less expensive) cars and it is these that are most accessible to the younger enthusiasts who tend to have less to spend.”