The genius behind the Mini – Alec Issigonis – was entirely convinced that a rethink and a rebuild of his little masterpiece could redirect some of all that money which the British military were giving Land Rover over into the British Motor Corporation instead.
Unfortunately, the British military didn’t see the purpose of acquiring a simple yet robust and clever car which was even so compact that it could be thrown out of an aircraft with a parachute. So BMC decided to offer the quirky little vehicle to the public instead.
In 1964, BMC introduced the car which they dubbed the Mini Moke. It was sold under both the Austin and Morris badge and came with the same 850cc transverse A-series engine. It was a straight-4 engine with a single overhead camshaft and a fully integrated transmission with four forward gears – just like in the Mini. It didn’t stop there though, with the mechanical similarities stretching beyond just the engine as the entire suspension was shared as well. Initially, the Moke was only available in a single colour: dark green. Simplicity was the name of the game, as passenger seats, a cabin heater and even windshield wipers were optional extras which costumers had to pay extra for.
In a particular British dialect, the name MOKE means donkey, and in one of their sales brochures they utilised this as a sales pitch:
“Own a four-passenger donkey! The Austin Mini-Moke is as tough and versatile as its namesake, but not half so obstinate. The rugged transverse-mounted BMC engine, combined with front wheel drive, makes it sure-footed on the roughest terrain. Carrying a load, caddying around the golf course or coursing over back roads and beaches, the Austin Mini-Moke is the real ‘can do’ vehicle. A lot more economical than a donkey, too!”
BMC figured the Moke would appeal to farmers and tradesmen as a practical little vehicle – a tool. Much to their surprise, it instead became a cult car – an icon even – probably largely due to its significant role on the popular British TV-series: The Prisoner. With its chilled and relaxed appeal, it soon became a common sight at warm and sunny holiday locations like Barbados and Macau. A Moke was capable of transporting four people with up to 70 mph or 110 km/h – well that is, if they were brave enough and also didn’t weigh more than 350kg. combined. With a mere 37.5hp, acceleration was modest at best, and BMC settled with making public the 0 – 50 mph or 80 km/h time of 18.6 seconds.
In total, BMC produced just short of 50,000 Mini-Mokes and variations of the Moke theme. As is so often the case, the cars simplicity and probably especially its popularity has led to numerous copycats through the years. Yet during modern times, despite a few concept cars, its current mother company, BMW, haven’t shown any real interest in milking the Moke nameplate as they have done so explicitly with Mini, Cooper, Clubman and Countryman. But then again, I suppose current European and North American safety legislation would never allow this type of car to be sold ever again.
Granted, I too can’t help but being somewhat charmed by the tiny “holiday” Mini, but I do still feel that it’s a little too square-cut and a little too silly – kind of like a donkey. A long time ago while I was in Australia where the Moke has also always been very popular, I was hit by a Moke, and I can’t rule out that this may have affected my feelings towards BMC’s little beach car. Regardless, if I were looking for a simple beach car for the warmest of Denmark’s midsummer days, then it would have to be Citroën’s Mehari instead. The concept is of course very similar to the Moke, but I just feel that the Mehari is more substantial as a car and not least prettier too. But how do you feel about the Moke? Have you ever driven one? Maybe even owned one? Or are you perhaps considering purchasing one this summer?