One of the rarest MGs, this 1935 MG NB Magnette Airline Coupe smashed records when sold at auction for almost $400,000
After the introduction of the new P-type Midget early in 1934, the N-type 6-cylinder Magnette appeared, replacing the L-types and the K-types. Originally, these models were fitted with a 56 hp, 1,271-cc engine in a beefed-up chassis. The new 6-cylinder N-type was capable of a top speed of just over 80 mph, making it slightly faster than the smaller P-type, which could manage 75 mph.
The N-type, in addition to having a softer ride and being easier to drive than its predecessors, also had more spacious and comfortable passenger accommodations. It was offered as an open two- and four-seater model, as well as a graceful two-door hard top known as the Airline coupe. Only 745 N-types were built between 1934 and 1936, and of these, a very small number were fitted with Airline coupe bodywork. In 1934, a 6-cylinder N-type won the TT at the Ards circuit in Northern Ireland and competed in team trials starting in 1937.
In 1935, the MG N-series was upgraded and became the NB; the chassis remained unaltered, but modifications were made to the coachwork. With a slatted stone guard fitted to the radiator shell and a lowered scuttle height, the appearance was vastly improved; the front end lent itself more to two-toning and the driver was provided with a better view of the road ahead. The two-door design featured an elegantly curved roof merging into a streamlined rear panel, in which the spare wheel was partially countersunk. The doors carried sliding windows, and each Airline coupe featured a sunshine roof. This actually consisted of three separate trapezoidal-like celluloid panels.
MG historian and author Mike Allison (The Magic of MG, Dalton Watson Ltd., 1972), stated, "The Ns were probably the best of the OHC MGs, having adequate performance in standard form and yet being capable of taking much more without upsetting its good manners." H.W. Allingham of London was responsible for the design and marketing of the MG Airline coupes. Rather than set up a coachwork facility, he designed car bodies such as the MG P and N-series Airline coupes, and in the case of the N-series, sub-contracted Carbodies to actually construct them. Carbodies had been founded in 1919 when former Charlesworth employee Robert Jones bought out Gooderham & Co. MG was one of their best customers and supplied Carbodies with the majority of their business from 1925 to 1930.
The stunning MG Airline Coupe we have the pleasure of offering here is regarded to be the only known 6-cylinder N-type Airline Coupe in existence and ever built. Prior to the restoration, the MG remained in highly original and complete condition, offering the perfect canvas to execute a proper and correct body-off rebuild. Without question, this is one of the rarest and most desirable MGs in existence.
The SCM Analysis
This car sold for $398,750 at the RM Auctions Ponder Collection sale, April 20, 2007.
MG's reputation in America was built on the post-war T-type "Midget," the MG TC. They proved to be the perfect antidote to the large, heavy and clumsy American cars on offer to the driving public, and were adept at a dual-function role as road cars and inexpensive racers. The TC was also Spartan and uncomfortable as a long-distance tourer, but few of the enthusiasts who drove them would have been aware of the upmarket models MG produced prior to WWII. The 6-cylinder N-type was one of those cars and was, along with the preceding K-type, a key part of MG's competition success in the 1930s.
Designed to be a miniature grand touring car, the N-type was capable of cruising at 60 mph over long distances. There was a great interest on both sides of the Atlantic in the '20s and '30s in "aerodynamic" car design, and the first efforts of applying aerodynamic theory to automotive design were seen in many marques. The "Airline" coupe was more than a single body style; rather, it was a type of streamlined fastback coupe.
Attractive but hot and claustrophobic
Several British coachbuilders created "Airline" bodies, which were fitted to Alvis, Bentley, SS, Vauxhall, and Talbot chassis, and even to a Lancia Lambda. The most numerous and best known of the Airline coupes were those built on MG platforms. An estimated 51 were built as PA-, PB-, NA-, NB- and TA-type cars. While undoubtedly attractive, they were also hot and somewhat claustrophobic, and when the Tickford three-position drop head coupe body was introduced, the Airline was dropped.
The MG Airline bodies were made of a mixture of steel and aluminum, which varied from car to car. The small cabin was made more habitable by the cathedral-windowed sunroof, which let some light in. A nod to upmarket luxury was the walnut dashboard and nicely shaped "pneumatic" leather seats. With a four-spoke Bluemels Brooklands steering wheel fitted, the Bentley manqué look is complete. A Wolseley-designed 4-speed crash box puts the power from the 6-cylinder engine to the rear wheels, and the streamlined body -- said to have been styled with input from wind tunnel research -- allows the maximum speed of over 80 mph, a good figure for the period with the available power.
One might hesitate to use that top speed, as the 12-inch cable brakes might not be up to the challenge of stopping the car in a decent distance. The majority of these Airline coupes were the smaller 4-cylinder model, so the 6-cylinder car is naturally much rarer (although not the "only known... in existence") and certainly commands a terrific premium.
Estimate was aggressive, result remarkable
Thought to be the only Airline built on the NB chassis and the subject of a very high level restoration, the estimate of $200,000 to $250,000 was aggressive nonetheless. The nearly $400,000 realized for this car has to be regarded as extraordinary. The $298,643 for the 1934 NE Magnette ex-Works Ulster racer at Christie's Silverstone, U.K., sale in July 1986 was the previous high for the marque at auction in the SCM Gold database.
Gene Ponder, the seller of the car, is a well-known MG enthusiast who has owned several other Airline coupes. Seventeen MGs were offered from his collection at the sale, and this was acknowledged as the crown jewel. Ponder's cars are all prepared to a meticulous standard. However, he also doesn't mind commissioning "recreations" of rare cars to fill out his collection, and several of the rare MGs sold were replicas.
There is no doubt that the Airline was the genuine article, as it is listed in the MG Airline Coupe Registry, pictured in its pre-restoration dark green over green livery. For beauty, condition and rarity, it's hard to challenge this NB Magnette Airline coupe. It stands as the new market high point for the marque, and as such may be quite unrepeatable for some time.
Years Produced: 1934-36
Number Produced: 7 (N-type Airline Coupes)
SCM Valuation: $37,000 $52,000 (NB Magnette roadsters & P-series) (at time of print)
Tune-up Cost: $600
Distributor Caps: $100
Chassis #: NA0848
Chassis # Location: Brass tag on left firewall
Engine # Location: Brass tag on left side of valve cover
Club Info: The North American MMM Register, Lew Palmer, 16780 St. Mary's Drive, St. Mary's Point, MN 55043 USA
Web Site: http://www.nammmr.com
Alternatives: 1935 Fiat 508 CS MM, 1935 Riley Imp
Investment Grade: B