History of the Mini Moke

The Mini Moke was motoring at its most basic - a box-sided tray on wheels with a windscreen and the simplest of seats. In a warm climate it was great fun for taking down to the beach, a sort of four wheeled motorbike, but it was very draughty in the cold and wet with the "rag top" up and it did not offer much protection when mixing it with semi-trailers on the freeway.

The Moke was born in response to the British Army's search for air transportable vehicles. It was certainly light and compact, particularly with the windscreen down, but the front wheel drive, small wheels and low ground clearance cannot have given sufficient mobility, although experimental four wheel drive Mokes were built - with two engines and transmissions, power at each end! The general idea was to design a utility version of the Mini- a lighter weight Land Rover to be capable of packing in crates to be dropped from the sky with a parachute or lowered by helicopter (if you look carefully at a Moke, you can see how with the windscreen removed, they do stack on top of each other, the wheels on the top one fitting nicely on the wings underneath). The big military orders fell through but the Moke went on to become a cult, a real classic car.

A few years later Leyland decided to transfer production to Australia. The Australian army liked them so did the Australian Public, well they did after increasing wheel size, ground clearance, engine size etc. Eventually after the Australian Public had their fun, the Portuguese (Cagiva) had a short attempt, later the Italians (Cagiva still) who made the final slight modifications and the final few Mokes. there is a hint of starting production again we'll wait and see.

  • 1960, Austin investigate a light weight minimalist vehicle suitable for air transport for the British Army.
  • 1963, Mini Moke prototype built but the Army abandons interest.
  • 1964 August, civilian Mini Moke released, based on the front wheel drive Minicar with an 850cc engine transversely mounted.
  • 1966, Moke production transferred to Australia.
  • 1968, larger 13" wheels raise ground clearance to 8", 1100c engine fitted.
  • 1972, Californian Mokes produced with 1275cc motor for the US market.
  • 1981 November, Leyland Australia stops building Mokes but production is transferred to Portugal.
  • 1992, Moke production stops in Portugal. Tooling sold to Cagiva of Italy who built 1500 Mokes

These dates are courtesy of the Moke Owners Association.

Thank you to John Taylor for this info.

Pre-Production/Prototype Mokes

The Moke was initially developed during the '50s to meet a need in the British Army, and went through a number of different prototypes, including a twin-engined 4WD "Twinni-Moke". The British Army didn't like the Moke much and decided to use Citroen 2CV pickups instead, but some Mokes did end up in military service. Mokes were also trialed by the U.S. Army and several Commonwealth nations including Australia and New Zealand. These early vehicles differ from the later production models, having features like hinged windscreens, different body-shells, wheel-bases, etc.

One of the early Moke prototypes of around 1960-61. This one appears destined for the United States (note that it's left-hand drive) or possibly North Africa (?). The sides show the original open "buckboard" design, but it has a side-mounted fuel tank like the production models. The front- and rear-end styling is very similar to the production Mokes apart from the large cut-aways on the bottom corners.

"Little-wheeler" Mini Mokes

The Moke went into civilian production in 1964 and was available as either an Austin or Morris, depending on the dealer. It was produced for only 4 years and 14,518 were built, only about 10% of which stayed in England. It was extremely basic having a seat for the driver, one wiper blade and little else. Front and rear passenger seats, heater, side screens, sump-guard, etc. were all additional cost extras! Spruce Green was the only colour available, and they were fitted with 10" wheels and the 848cc engine as per the Mini. Production was transferred in its entirety to Australia in 1968, although it was already in production there since 1966. The early Australian Mokes were fitted with a larger 998cc engine, and remained unchanged until 1969.

The little-wheeler Mini Mokes suffered from poor ground clearance due to the 10" wheels, but were still agile performers. The side boxes house the battery and fuel tank and provide some storage space.

Australian Mokes

The Moke started production in Australia in 1966, when the first civilian "little wheelers" were released. Many changes were made to the original design, including the fitting of larger engines (998, 1100 and eventually the 1275cc), stronger sump guard, parcel shelves, better seats and hood, re-routing of cabling and brake/fuel pipes for greater protection, etc. In an attempt to overcome the Moke's ground clearance problems, 13" wheels were fitted which required special rear trailing arms and wheel arch extensions to cope with the larger wheels. The up-market "Californian" version of the Moke was produced to cater for the growing recreation market. It featured bull/kangaroo bars front and rear, wider spoked wheels, better seats, and rubber floor linings. A utility/pick-up version of the Moke was also produced. Production of the Australian Mokes stopped in 1982 (the assembly lines were used to build more profitable Peugeots!)

The up-market Californian Moke originally featured a floral/paisley hood (above, right), but the later version had blue "denim" seats and hood. Spoked wheels, 'roo bars and interior upgrades improved the Moke's looks, but it could never be called luxurious

The Australian "standard" and utility/pick-up versions of the Moke. The ones shown appear to be early-mid 70's models, having clip-on side screens and tubular steel seats with separate headrests.

Portuguese and Cagiva Mokes

Two years after the Moke stopped production in Australia, British Leyland Portugal Automotives started building the "Californian" Moke. This initial run was short-lived due to serious production difficulties. Jim Lambert was sent in by Austin Rover to sort things out, and through his efforts the 1986 Moke was born. This Moke shared many standard Mini parts which cut the costs and allowed the return of the original flat-backed styling as seen on the English ("little-wheeler") Mokes. It was fitted with a 998cc A+ engine and 12" wheels, and the hood and interior trim were excellent. Portuguese Moke production stopped in 1989 after which the Italian company Cagiva produced it for a while. The Cagiva Moke was like the Portuguese Moke, but had the radiator mounted at the front of the engine bay, instead of at the side like the Mini and earlier Mokes. It had some other minor improvements too, such as a hinged, locking battery box cover.

The Portuguese production Moke. A roll-cage was fitted as standard, providing the mounting for the retractable lap-sash seat-belts and a clever means of supporting the hood. It shows many similarities with the Australian "Californian" Moke (eg. the front and rear bull bars) and some with the early "little-wheeler" Moke (eg. the original flat back design of the rear wheel-arches)Quoting from Mini Moke 1964-1989, by Tim Nuttall of the Mini Moke Club of England - "The Mini Moke was conceived and designed in the late 50's at the same time as the Mini Saloon. Developed to meet a need in the British Army it went through a number of different prototype models over a period of five years, in B.M.C's attempts to persuade the army to take it."

Quoting from The Motor, February 21, 1962 - "Considerable interest was aroused last week by reports in the Press of a "Mini Moke," the military version of those highly successful B.M.C. twins, the Austin Mini and the Morris Mini-Minor."

It was, in fact, the brilliant idea of one Alec Issigonis, designer of the famous Mini. Mr. Issigonis later became Sir Alec. We Moke owners like to believe the title was bestowed solely due to the design of the Moke!!

What he designed was the most enjoyable little car ever to be driven, In any event, the Army turned the Moke down and the rest of the world continues to get the thrill behind the wheel!

Above: The Mini Moke Gold Portfolio.

The photos on this page came from two sources:

BRTB

  • Mini Moke 1964-1989 - Brookland Road Test Books (ISBN: 1 870642 945). This contains an excellent compilation of Moke articles covering the earliest prototypes through to the Portuguese produced Mokes. It's a pity that it only contains black-and-white photographs, but it is a must-have for Moke enthusiasts!

MSS

  • Mini Minor Downunder Including Mini-Cooper and Moke - Marque Spotlight Series #1 (ISBN: 0 947079 10 6). This book deals with the Australian produced Minis and Mokes, mainly concentrating on the Mini. Most of the photographs are black-and-white, but there are some colour plates too, and includes some great racing photos, and Mini/Moke kit and prototype cars. Worth checking out if you can find a copy.