Designed by Sir Alec Issigonis, the Austin Mini Moke was a prototype initially developed in 1959 to meet a demand in the British Forces. For the next five years the Mini Moke underwent a variety of different prototype models. One of these prototypes included the 4WD Twini-Moke a two-engine model. The moniker for the automobile comes from 'Moke' which refers to Donkey and 'Mini' - the vehicle that the Moke shares a variety of parts with. Over the years the Moke has been marketed under numerous names that included Morris Mini Moke, Leyland Moke and Austin Mini Moke.
The original Moke used an identical transmission, engine and suspension parts as the basic Mini. Most spare parts today are still easily found because the A-Series engine, suspension and manual gearbox are identical to that of a standard Mini. With no chassis, the wheels of the Moke, brake assemblies and suspension are joined to front and rear subframes that are bolted right into the monocoque shell, just like a standard Mini.
Codenamed 'The Buckboard', the first design was a mock-up for a military vehicle similar to the U.S Jeep, but unfortunately it wasn't very popular with the British Forces who complained with the lack of ground clearance, particularly below the engine, which made it impractical as an off-road vehicle. The only ones that shared any interest in the Buckboard was the Royal Navy, as a vehicle for use on the decks of aircraft carries. In 1960 and 1961 some Moke models were found in the British, American, New Zealand and Australia Army, those models were varied from current Mokes, with side windscreens, varied engine performance, wheelbase and sump-guard.
When he designed the Mini, Issigonis planned another vehicle that shared the Mini's mechanical parts, but with a much more weathered body shell. He did this in an attempt to take some of the military vehicle business from Land Rover. Earlier he had designed the Nuffield Guppy in an unfortunately failed attempt to break into that marked.
Early advertising material promoted the weightlessness of the vehicle. It showed four soldiers taking the Moke off-road before picking it up by its tubular bumpers and carrying it once its low ground clearance proved ineffective. Trying again to make something for the army, several four-wheel drive Mokes were constructed by adding a second engine and transmission to the back of the car with linked clutches and gear shifters. Unfortunately this didn't help the ground-clearance issues, and mechanical problems discouraged further development past the prototype stage. This version was called 'The Twini' and was also shot down by the US Army.
The Moke was offered in a civilian version as a cheaper, easily maintained utility vehicle and targeted at farmers and light commercial drivers. In 1963 several prototypes were built, one that still survives today in Pinner, just outside London, England. The following year the Moke was introduced in the UK. British Customs and Excise department chose to classify the Moke as a passenger car instead of a commercial vehicle that meant that it required purchase tax, which unfortunately reduced sales.
Eventually the British Motor Company chose to turn the project into a kind of motorized buckboard for private and fun mission. The Moke eventually achieved successful status as a beach buggy like car that became a popular 'cult' car in the Algarve, Seychelles, Austria, the U.S. and many tropical resorts in the Caribbean. Media exposure in the popular TV series The Prisoner and in the Traffic song 'Berkshire Poppies' helped raise the popularity of the Moke. The Moke was technically nothing else but the Mini micro car, and most came with the Mini's base engine, an 848cc inline four with 34 horsepower. The Moke used the identical suspension, gearbox and 10 inch wheels as the standard Mini.
Optional equipment offered separately from the car included passenger seats, grab handles, windscreen washer, heater and a removable canvas top. Owners had the pleasure of bolting these optional items onto the vehicle themselves. The base price ran for 405 pounds. The Mk I Moke came in only one color; Spruce Green and featured only a driver's seat and 1 wind-screen wiper. In 1967 the 'Mk II' debuted with an addition wiper and horn and headlight controls relocated to the indicator stalk. Later British Mokes were available in white.
Originally the Mokes were constructed at the Morris factory in Oxford before production was relocated to BMC's Longbridge, Birmingham plant, and eventually overseas. From 1964 until 1968 a total of 14,518 Mini Mokes were produced, and only 10% of these models remained in England. The car was marketed under the Austin nameplate in its first years outside of Europe. There were around 50,000 Mini Mokes produced until 1993, not just in the UK, but also in Australia, Portugal and Southern Africa. Depending on which dealer you purchased from got you either an Austin or Morris Moke with total production of these models being 9,096 Austin's, and 5,422 Morris Mokes.
Through 1968 the John Player & Sons cigarette company drove a team of Mokes in autocross competition on grass tracks. These models were outfitted with rollover protection and used the Mini Cooper S 1275 cc engine.
From 1966 until 1981 the Moke was produced in Australia where it was initially marketed as the Morris Mini Moke before being renamed the Leyland Moke from 1973 on. At first these versions featured the same 10-inch wheels as British Mokes and Mini saloon but were eventually replaced by 13-inch wheels with longer rear trailing arms that made them better off road or for beach use. Tubular-framed 'deck chair' seats replaced the solid metal seats. Starting with a 998 cc engine, it eventually switched mid-production to 1098 cc. The locally manufactured 1098 cc motor was replaced with an imported version of the 998 cc motor with an air pump and exhaust gas recirculation in compliance with new anti-pollution requirements in 1976.
More popularly known as a 'Californian', Leyland Australia produced a version for a short time around 1972. It featured a 1,275 cc engine and was joined with side marker lamps and different rear lights to meet US FMVSS standards. The fuel tank was taken from either the MG Midget or the Austin Sprite and was fitted under the rear load area and replaced the standard tank mounted in the left sidebox. It was easy to tell the export Californian by its roof and seats which were trimmed in 'Op-pop verve' black and white tiger striped vinyl or 'Orange Bali' vinyl. This version was marketed briefly to the 'flower power' culture in the U.S. In 1977 the name 'Californian' came back for a short time with the 1275 cc motor for Australian market Mokes. It came with denim seat covers, spoked wheels, more comfortable seats and intricate tubular bumpers.
The Isreali Army used an Australian-made Moke with a machine gun tripod mounted in the back. In 1975 a pickup version was produced with a 1.45x1.50 meter drop-sided bed that stuck out behind the rear of the car and had a cloth top over the cab area. Leyland Australia manufactured at least two four-wheel drive Moke prototypes, but they used just one engine unlike the British version. Moke production in Australia ended in 1981 before Leyland could market this version.
A 1,275 cc Cooper S-engined Moke was entered into the Singapore Airlines London-Sydney Marathon. Sponsored by Coca-Cola the car was driven more than 18,600 miles over 30 days and finished in 35th place.
Moke production in Australia was winding down and manufacturing was transferred to British Leyland's subsidiary in Portugal. They were responsible for producing around 8,500 of the Californian Mokes in their Vendas Novas plant from 1980 until 1990. These versions were similar to late model Australian Mokes in the beginning, but they were then changed to then-current British production Mini saloon products. These included the 12-inch wheels with modern low-profile tires and standard-length Mini rear trailing arms. British Leyland (called the Rover Group at the time) sold the 'Moke' name in 1990 to Cagiva, a motorcycle manufacturer in Bologna, Italy. Until 1993 production resumed in Portugal when Cagiva moved the tooling to their Italian factory with the intent to restart production in 1995. This never happened. Cagiva didn't own the 'Mini' name so the 1500 cars built were simply sold as 'Mokes'. This brought the entire production run of Mokes and Moke derivatives to around 50,000.
The design of the Moke was simple with the body basically consisting of two box-section 'pontoons' or 'sideboxes' running from the rear of the car all the way to the firewall. The right-hand pontoon has a compartment for the battery and featured a small lockable storage area while the left-hand pontoon held the fuel tank.
The '72 'Moke, Special Export' was also often called a 'Californian' Moke came with a Austin Sprite/MG Midget type fuel tank joined underneath the rear floor area which met the US FMVSS safety requirements of the time. Basic model Mokes of the same period and eventual Californian Mokes utilized the conventional tank mounted in the left sidebox. Later models came with additional lockable storage space at the back of the car. A cloth canopy was optional and came with plastic side windows and was held up by a thin tubular structure that could easily be taken down when not in use. Later version replaced this structure with a more solid roll cage. The windscreen could easily be unbolted and removed if not in use. The Moke had only three curved panels, one on the hood, the firewall and the floor, each of which is only curved in one direction. Because of this it was pretty simple to reproduce and replace Moke body components.
According to Motor Trend, BMW-owned MINI has plans to release a vehicle named after the Moke. Targeting US buyers the new Moke would feature both Jeep and micro pickup truck like qualities.
Debuting at the Detroit Motor Show in January of 2010, the Beachcomber was a concept that pulled greatly from Moke styling, but featuring plenty of modern equipment.By Jessica Donaldson