The best MG for picnicking with the dog was probably the post 1931 Magna. At the time Cecil Kimber’s ambitions to challenge Bentley were flagging. The big 18/80 wasn’t selling and in only its second year the Midget was still a bit of a gamble. Kimber had to find something in between and Morris Engines was making a dinky little 6-cylinder for Wolseley that he could squeeze into a Midget. He didn’t much like the connection with staid old Wolseley so the cylinder dimensions were faked and steel plates fixed on the crankcase to cover it up.
Unfortunately the disguises made it overheat so he had to think again.
Kimber was sensitive about calling cars “Midget” so even though it was only 8in longer he bigged it up to “Magna”. It was still 50in wide, like the Midget - there was no fancy chassis re-engineering in 1930. MG advertising did its best for the new engine: “No chains are used for the camshaft drive. The enormous centrifugal forces generated are too great to expect even the best of chains to withstand. MG engineers chose shaft and a silent spiral bevel drive, which they knew to be capable of withstanding speeds in excess of 8000 rpm”.
Magnas never came near that. The spiral bevel was inherited from Hotchkiss aero engines the factory made in the war. One brave reporter enthused over smooth running at 6,000rpm. Top speed was 75mph or with the windscreen folded flat nearly 78. Getting to 60mph took 24sec so a Magna now would lag behind a slothful truck. At £285 it was good value and for £21 more you could have a Philco No 5 “Wireless Set”.
Six cylinders gave the Magna a long bonnet so it looked swift. The L2 was a smart open 2-seater and its 1,086cc gave 41bhp. Four-seaters were heavy and slow; Magnas were too small for saloon bodywork. A fixed-roof model called a salonette shown in The Autocar's cutaway below, had ceiling “windowlets” to lighten the gloomy interior. This was luxury strictly in miniature with a boot for small suitcases but carrying much real luggage made Magnas tail-heavy.
L-type Magnas with more powerful but smaller KC engines never sold well either. For 1934 bigger headlamps and flowing wings maintained its proportions and Abbey Coachworks, instead of Carbodies, made the Salonette. The Continental Coupe was a 2-door 4-seater with a bigger luggage trunk mostly filled with petrol tank. “Very individual … striking-looking” was how The Autocar described it. “Somehow it is natural to think of MGs as open cars but there must be owners who require the advantages of a closed body and appreciate a sports engine and chassis.” The interior was furnished in fine style and among paintwork options was a scarcely understated black and yellow. It took more than a year to dispose of the Continental Coupes but then Abingdon tended to be over-confident ordering bodies.
Not one of MG’s all-time greats, the Magna is remembered appropriately enough in a 1994 limited-edition lithograph by notable artist Alan Fearnley that hangs on my wall. He portrayed the spring-time pleasures of a Magna L2 on a leisurely picnic with the family dog. 'The Four of Us' (top) sold for £75 unframed or £130 framed. Well-known also for historic railway paintings Alan’s precise, evocative cars can be found on: www.alanfearnleystudio.com