As readily defensible as oak and Coke, an all-new Moke might be 3rd-time-lucky!
At around the same time as he developed the ubiquitous classic Mini, states Iain Robertson, the inventor of the Car of the Century also designed a rudimentary military version, to which he gifted the slang name for a donkey and Moke was born.
Seeking a lightweight, air-transportable, rugged personnel carrier, the British Army commissioned BMC (British Motor Corporation, the nationalised amalgam of Austin, Morris, Wolseley, Riley and MG) to create a prototype vehicle. As Alec Issigonis, the designer of the Mini in 1959, already possessed a track record of designing and building military vehicles, it was inevitable that he would be tasked with the job.
Sadly, powered by a feeble 32bhp version of the 848cc A-Series engine, sitting transversely across the nose of the car and driving the front 10.0-inch diameter wheels, its vulnerable gearbox-in-sump construction meant that its close proximity to earth would limit its capabilities and, even though the Army dismissed it, the Royal Navy figured that Moke would make a good deck vehicle for its aircraft carriers. Undeterred, Mr Issigonis hiked-up the chassis a little and even created a 4×4 version, which ran on larger wheels and tyres. If the Services did not want it, BMC readied a civilian version instead and the rough-and-ready Mini Moke was christened in 1964, although only around 10% of the 14,518 units were actually sold, its lifespan was typically brief and production at the Longbridge (Birmingham) factory ceased in 1968.
At the time, BMC was manufacturing cars around the world and the Australian subsidiary, suitably enthused by Moke’s ‘flower power’ funkiness, launched a Morris version in 1966. It was equipped with 13.0-inch diameter steel wheels and a 40bhp, 998cc version of the A-Series motor. Renamed the Leyland Moke in 1973, it received a power boost with the 1098cc A-Series engine in 1976 and another bit of shove with the 1275cc unit a year later, along with new badging as the Moke Californian, of which 26,142 units were produced and the Moke cult was developed.
Another shot of existence occurred when BMC Portugal started to manufacturer the Moke in 1980, with an additional 10,000 units bringing the total made to 49,937, when production ceased in 1993. No less than 25 years later (in 2018), enterprising British car designer, Michael Young, repurposed the Moke for a whole new generation of fans. While keen to retain the rugged appearance, a redesign gave him the opportunity to make the Moke even more practical, to improve its core engineering and to give it a fresh potential life.
Complete with roll-over hoops, waterproof seats for four people (inc. the driver), useful lockable bins in the car’s boxy side sills and weather protection (of a sort!), a choice of seven standard and six ‘classic’ paint colours and customisable bumpers, central bars and front grille ensure that the latest Moke has not strayed too far away from the Issigonis original. However, the engine, a familiar sounding 1083cc unit but unfamiliarly originating from China, now develops a healthy, fuel-injected 67bhp and can drive through either a 4-speed manual, or automatic transmission.
Unlike the original, an optional heated steering wheel is available for the now standard power steering and a heated windscreen ensures that misting-up is no longer a barrier to good forward vision. However, the open cockpit and cabin are also more accommodating, while upgraded coil springs and conventional dampers replace the former Hydrolastic/rubber cone suspension system for a more resilient ride quality. The braking system has also been upgraded considerably, to provide assured stopping power and rapid recovery of performance, following any wilder adventures.
Intriguingly, although what the outcome will be once trading deals are established with European countries, the car has been designed and engineered in the West Midlands, where its running chasses are formed, although final assembly takes place at a purpose-built factory, the rolling chasses being transported to Cerizay, a town in the Nouvelle-Acquitaine region in western France. The town has a solid automotive history, having been home to Gallic ‘carrosserie’ Heuliez, which coachbuilt the folding roof sections for the drop-top Peugeot 206CC and even built the Vauxhall/Opel Tigra Twintop model.
The original Moke trademark was acquired by Michael Young in 2015 and is now owned by Moke International Limited. The initial intention was to meet a demand in the Caribbean market, where Moke remains popular with both private buyers and luxury resorts and hotels. Following UK regulatory approval, Mokes are now available to purchase in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Additional variants, which include a Chinese-sourced EV package, will be launched across Europe, the USA and beyond from next year. In reviving Moke, the company has gathered a team from some of the most celebrated brand names in the industry. Isobel Dando, leads the board of management, with an automotive career that spans the past couple of decades and includes senior commercial and product leadership roles at Jaguar Land Rover and the BMW Group.
An initial run of 56 numbered examples is being produced for the UK market exclusively. Its front grille and windscreen rails are finished in chrome, with discreet Union Jack flags on the sides of the bonnet and the numbered plaque placed on top of the bonnet. Selling at around £20,000 each, the beguiling Moke is being marketed most judiciously and is sure to generate a keen following from an entirely new class of customer, as well as the few traditionalists that may recall the first and second generations of the car.
To be fair, scarcely any element of the original Moke remains in this cleverly re-engineered alternative. Yet, it is sure to become a darling of beach resorts around the world, let alone the burgeoning holiday rental market, despite its markedly steep price tag. As with the original, today’s celebrity culture is sure to be drawn to Moke and it can only be a matter of time before the film and TV industries adopt the sheer sassiness of the car and provide it with a sizeable commercial sales boost.
Conclusion: The re-engineering exercise responsible for providing the Moke with an all-new life expectancy is sure to provide customisers, couturiers and customers alike with a vital shot of fun-packed enthusiasm. With an EV version due in the near future, it seems as though Moke International Ltd is covering all of the relevant bases.