Sifting through reams of paper isn’t everyone’s idea of a pleasant way to spend an evening.
But when days are too wet or cold to go out for a drive, or there’s not quite enough daylight 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 - and 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 this year (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. 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 as he described 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 us both 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 sedately down the school drive in our ZA. “He 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).