1964-1993 Mini Moke  

   Described as the most improbable Mini derivative ever, the Mini Moke is one of the most intriguing vehicles produced from the Mini project. It was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis and John Sheppard, in the late 1950s, alongside the ADO15 (Austin Design Office project number 15) Mini saloon with which it shares many components.  

   During World War II Alec Issigonis had been involved in designing several prototype military vehicles so it is not surprising Austin turned to Issigonis when it wanted to steal away some of the Land Rover style Military market. Failing to make a dent in the Land Rover sales with the Nuffield Guppy the Austin Champ Austin tried again with a different military niche area in mind.  

   Slang for donkey or mule, the Moke was meant to be a light-weight Jeep-like utility vehicle for the British Military, but its abilities fell short of its cuteness factor. While it is the least successful Mini in terms of UK sales it was actually the one single Mini version that remained in production for the longest period.


   Austin had the new prototype lightweight Military vehicle running in 1959, before the Austin Se7en and Morris Mini-Minor were launched. 

   The vehicle that would become the MINI Moke, then called “Buckboard”, was an open punt type steel body shell on an 80-inch wheelbase set by bolting the front and rear Mini suspension subframes to the body. Issigonis had realised the compact, self-contained, transverse front engine/transmission of the Mini would be ideal for an economical, adaptable, lightweight specialist use runabout that could be deployed by air (either packed flat three deep in a transport aircraft, slung under a helicopter, dropped by parachute or carried in a glider). The Military were looking for such a vehicle that could carry four men and their light weapons and/or demolition equipment at speeds up to 60mph, yet give 40mpg fuel consumption.  

   Using the production Mini engine and suspension units would keep costs down for Austin and the Military, make the vehicle easy to maintain in the field and keep weight so low that two men could lift it should it become bogged down or encounter difficult terrain. Weighing only 2½ cwt four men could actually pick it up and carry it if needed.  

   The simple open doorless, punt style prototype had open sills with triangular section reinforcement. The front bench seat was welded in place to improve rigidity of the rugged body shell. The fuel tank and spare wheel were tucked behind the rear bench seat. The Moulton rubber suspension gave acceptable ride conditions and the 37bhp 948cc engine could move the vehicle at acceptable speeds on solid ground.  

   Touted as the "BMC Light Communication Car" Longbridge introduced the vehicle explaining that it was primarily road going transport with considerable cross-country ability having excellent traction and acceleration.  

   Military trials by the Army, the Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force commenced and a number of different prototype models followed, as Austin strived to meet the militaries needs and overcome the vehicles shortcomings a five-year period elapsed. Ultimately though, the vehicle failed to pass muster. It lacked power for hauling heavier loads and tackling steeper inclines. The lack of ground clearance from the small 10inch wheels hampered it meagre off-road abilities.  

   The air portability was a plus factor and the Air Force thought it might make a reasonable ground vehicle for airfield use, as long as it was given full weather protection and a towbar. The Royal Navy saw possibilities for use on aircraft carriers but the Army had the Land Rover; and needed nothing more.  

   In 1962 a shorter, 72&1/2-inch wheelbase, vehicle with larger tires and stiffer suspension gave better off-road capability. The sills were boxed in giving more strength and a new home for the fuel tank. A sump guard was added to protect the more powerful engine in off-road scenarios. Even a 4WD twin 1,100cc engined “Twini-Moke” was trialled in 1963 featuring twin gearboxes with linked gear change rods; creating a whole new set of problems while solving the older ones.  

   The US Army evaluated Left-hand drive prototypes at the United States Army Tank Automotive Centre. The Brazilian, Australian and New Zealand armed forces had Mokes for trials and the Rhodesian Security Forces not only trialled the Moke but attempted to make a light armoured car from it. Overall however, military officials remained unimpressed by the poor ground clearance and orders were not forthcoming.  

Salvaging the idea

   With minimal interest in the Moke from the military BMC gave up on that avenue and started to look for other ways to recoup their development costs. Now back in the original 80” wheelbase form with the standard 848cc MINI engine, the versatile, low-cost, lightweight, easily maintained vehicle must have a niche somewhere.  

   BMC decided to target civilian sectors such as farmers and light commercial applications. But the rest of the motoring world looked on in confusion. Was this a golf cart? factory transport? A beach buggy or cheap hire car for tourist locations.  

   Austin’s American advertising campaign seemed equally vague about the real job of the Moke saying, “Caring a load, caddying around the golf course, or coursing over back roads and beaches, the Austin Mini-Moke is the real 'can do' vehicle.” Of course, the Moke was a can-do car but at this point though there was still no inkling that the funny looking Moke would become a world-wide hit as a recreational utility vehicle. Then the taxman decided to put the unusual Moke onto the lower commercial vehicle rate, instantly making it an attractive vehicle for the budget-conscious customer.  

   When it was launched in January 1964 the Moke was the cheapest car on the market at just £405. Suddenly the Moke was on its way to becoming the iconic sunshine car equally popular as tourist hire cars around the world or in the hands of the rich and famous such as the glamorous Brigitte Bardot.  

   Perhaps the biggest break for the Moke was its feature role in the cult TV show “The Prisoner” starring Patrick McGoohan, backed up by modified Moke seen in the comedy film “Salt and Pepper” starring Sammy Davis Jr. These roles brought the Moke to the attention of the world and gave it some credibility too.  

English Mokes  

   Production at the Longbridge plant in Birmingham began in January 1964, Mokes going on sale from July marketed as a utilitarian commercial vehicle. Initially available in just one colour, Spruce Green, the badge on the front depended upon whether you bought from an Austin or Morris dealership, both cost price and the only differences were the badges and the first letter of the chassis number. 

   A simple pressed steel utility body of unitary construction box-section "pontoons" ran along each side of the passenger/load area to give strength and provide housing for the battery in the right-hand side pannier access being via inspection plate cover, there was also a small lockable storage area in the right pannier. The left side housed the 6.25gal fuel tank which had a large filler cap located at the drivers left hip creating a rather odd feature in that one could check the fuel tank contents level while still driving the vehicle! This open body had no doors and only one seat, for the driver. An odd quirk of law at the time limited vehicles without a passenger seat to a maximum speed of 40mph. Further strengthening of the body was provided by a sturdy lateral box structure, positioned under the front seat, reducing any twisting force that may be encountered on rough ground. At the front of the vehicle the English Mini Mokes all had the same one-piece, stamped, front panel, including the grille. None of them had any central ridge in their bonnets. Circular front side-lights had integral indicators, at the rear a triangular arrangement of separate circular rear/brake light, indicator and reflector was set out on each side.  

   The Moke doesn’t have a chassis, just the front and rear subframes from the Mini bolted straight onto the unitary shell. These same sub-frames carried the same rack & pinion steering, suspension and drum brake assemblies as the Mini; even the tiny 10-inch wheels were carried over from the Mini earning these Mokes the title “little wheelers”. The wheels were all painted and carried small stainless-steel hubcaps.  

   Also carried over from the Mini was the transversely mounted de-tuned 848cc, OHV, A series inline four-cylinder engine and manual four speed gearbox.  The engine was set up to run on low-octane commercial grade fuel.  

   MkI Mokes have a chrome indicator stalk with a flashing green lamp, central horn push, a single windscreen wiper on the driver’s side and a floor mounted headlight dip switch. As for the range of available colours choices were limited to one; "Spruce Green".  

   Supplied from the factory with a canvas roof as standard anything else was optional. Passenger seat and identical rear seats, seat belts, grab handles, heaters, windscreen washer system, sump guard, Dunlop Weathermaster tyres, laminated windscreen, etc were all extras; some items might have been fitted by the dealers but usually they installed by the owner. Other companies also provided fittings for the Moke such as canvas side screens or the fibreglass hardtop manufactured by Barton. 

   The Moke soon developed a general air of indestructibility and although never a top selling machine did have improvements made to it, usually as they were incorporated into the standard Mini.  Speedometers featuring both mph and kph, additional switches on the dashboard, a combination indicator, horn and headlamp stalk and silver wheel rims all found their way onto the Moke. By mid-1967 a twin wiper rack began to be fitted and in October 1967 the MkII designation started to be used although this was never officially introduced by BMC. The last mechanical upgrade, in October 1968, was an improved four-speed full synchromesh gearbox. As for the colour range, it doubled! As well as the Spruce Green, Snowberry White also became available. However, it has been suggested that some special-order colours might have been available such as Orange Mokes for Wimpey Homes and some Police White Mokes for Police forces. It is thought likely that these Mokes were made on the commercial line at Longbridge.  

   Incidentally, as well as Police work, Devon County Fire Brigade also took delivery of at least eight Mokes in July 1964. The Brigade put these Mokes to work carrying portable pumps and/or doing maintenance and repainting of fire hydrant covers and signs in Exeter and Plymouth. Apparently six of these Mokes still exist too!

   Production of both Austin and Morris Mokes at Longbridge stopped in late October 1968. 

   Moke production didn't finish though as a plant in Australia continued to develop and produce the Moke for many years, eventually production stopped in Australia but moved again, this time to Portugal. The rights to the Moke name and design were eventually sold on to Cagiva, the Motorcycle firm, who continued to turn out Mokes until July 1992 when the backlog of unsold Mokes eventually showed the design had passed its used by date.

Scratch built model.
Built by Rod.
   This Model was built from scratch by Rod in September 2019 to be a part of our "60 years of the Mini and all things Issigonis" display at Scale Model World. All the panels were made from off-cuts of plasticard Rod had saved from other builds. The wheels were home cast from the steel wheels used in a Tamiya Mini.
    Rod built it as a tribute to the Moke and its cult status today which has seen Mokes converted, restored, upgraded and utilised in a myriad of different ways. It is painted with enamel paints from the Humbrol range and acrylics from the Revell, Citadel and Art-Deco ranges; all applied by brush.