The initial design was a prototype for a light military vehicle in the style of the American Jeep, but its small wheels and low ground clearance made it impractical as an off-road vehicle. It was subsequently offered in a civilian version as a low-cost, easily maintained utility vehicle. The Moke finally achieved success as a beach buggy—becoming a popular 'cult' vehicle in the Seychelles, Australia, the United States and many tropical resorts in the Caribbean. The original Moke used identical engine, transmission and suspension parts to the basic Mini.
Mokes were first built at the Morris factory in Oxford before production moved to BMC's Longbridge, Birmingham plant, and eventually overseas. 14,500 Mokes were produced in the UK between 1964 and 1968, 26,000 in Australia between 1966 and 1981, and 10,000 in Portugal between 1980 and 1993 when production of the Moke ended.
When Issigonis designed the Mini, he planned another vehicle to share the Mini's mechanical parts, but with a more rugged body shell. This was an attempt to take a portion of the military vehicle business from Land Rover. Issigonis had previously designed the Nuffield Guppy in a failed attempt to break into that market. By 1959, BMC had working prototypes of what was codenamed "The Buckboard", later to become the Mini Moke. These prototypes were shown to the British Army as a parachute-droppable vehicle, but poor ground clearance and a low-powered engine did not meet the most basic requirements for an off-road vehicle. Only the Royal Navy showed any interest at all in the Buckboard—as a vehicle for use on the decks of aircraft carriers.
Early promotional material made much of the lightness of the vehicle, showing four soldiers riding in the Moke off-road, then picking it up by its tubular bumpers and carrying it when (inevitably) its low ground clearance proved inadequate.
In a further attempt to make something for the army, a few four-wheel drive Mokes were made by the addition of a second engine and transmission at the back of the vehicle with linked clutches and gear shifters. This did nothing for the ground-clearance problems, and mechanical complications discouraged development beyond the prototype stage. This vehicle was called "The Twini" and was shown to the US Army—again with no success.
Three of these vehicles were used by the Brazilian Army after being captured during the 1969 Rupununi Rebellion from Guyanese rebels, who had crossed the border into Brazil.
An early British Moke 1967 Austin Mini Moke (North America)Eventually BMC gave up on the idea of selling the Moke to the military, and in 1963 the decision was made to build a civilian version, targeting farmers and light commercial applications. Several prototypes were built in 1963, one of which is still known to exist in Pinner just outside London, England. The Moke was launched onto the British market in 1964. The British Customs and Excise department decided that the Moke should be classified as a passenger car rather than as a commercial vehicle which meant that it attracted purchase tax, reducing sales in its intended commercial market.
The Moke attracted attention as a 'cult' vehicle as a result of the unprecedented success of the Mini and through media exposure in the popular television series The Prisoner, as well as in the Traffic song "Berkshire Poppies." Despite this, of the 14,500 British Mokes sold only about a tenth of them stayed in Britain. Mokes continued to be made in Britain until 1968. 1967 Mini MokeBritish-made Mokes were fitted with a low-end 850 cc engine, detuned to use low-octane fuel. They used the same suspension, gearbox and 10 inch wheels as the standard Mini. In the initial offering, passenger seats, grab handles, heater, windscreen washer and a removable canvas top were all optional equipment delivered separately from the vehicle. Owners had to bolt these optional extras onto the vehicle themselves. The base price was GB£405.The 'Mk I' Mokes had a single windscreen wiper and a floor-mounted headlight dip switch, and the only colour available was "Spruce Green". In 1967, the 'Mk II' Moke added a passenger-side wiper. Horn and headlight controls were moved onto the indicator stalk. These later British Mokes were also available in white.
The John Player & Sons cigarette company ran a team of Mokes in autocross competitions on grass tracks through 1968. These vehicles were equipped with rollover protection and used the Mini Cooper S 1275 cc engine.
The Moke was built in Australia from 1966 to 1981 where it was originally marketed as the Morris Mini Moke and from 1973 as the Leyland Moke. Initially Australian Mokes had the same 10 inch wheels as British Mokes and Mini saloons, however these were soon replaced by 13 inch wheels with longer rear trailing arms, which made them more practical for gentle off-road or beach use than the British version. The solid metal seats of the British Mokes were replaced with tubular-framed 'deck-chair' seats. This variant started with a 998 cc engine which was switched in mid-production to 1098 cc. In 1976, with the advent of new anti-pollution requirements (Australian Design Rule 27A), the locally manufactured 1098 cc motor was replaced by an imported version of the 998 cc motor with an air pump and exhaust gas recirculation, which had been developed to meet UK anti-pollution requirements.
For a brief period around 1972, Leyland Australia produced a variant referred to in Leyland literature as "Moke, special export", but commonly called a "Californian", which had a 1,275 cc engine and was fitted with side marker lamps and different rear lights to conform to US FMVSS standards. The fuel tank from the Austin Sprite or MG Midget was fitted beneath the rear load area, replacing the standard tank mounted in the left sidebox. The export Californian was readily recognisable by its roof and seats, trimmed in 'Op-pop verve' black and white tiger striped vinyl or 'Orange Bali' vinyl, which looked rather like a fruit salad, and was briefly marketed to the 'flower power' culture in the United States.
The name "Californian" and the 1275 cc motor were resurrected in 1977 for Australian market Mokes with denim seat covers, more comfortable seats (which concealed the same basic frame within), spoked wheels and complex tubular bumpers (known as 'roo bars').
Australian Mokes were exported to many countries, and pioneered large-scale exports of Australian-made vehicles. Leyland Australia made much of these exports in its advertising. The use of Australian-made Mokes by the Israeli Army (complete with a machine gun tripod mounted in the rear) attracted controversy and media attention.
From 1975, a pickup version of the Moke was produced, with a 1.45 x 1.50 metre (55 x 59 in) drop-sided bed which protruded behind the back of the vehicle, and a cloth top over the cab area.At least two four-wheel drive Moke prototypes were manufactured by Leyland Australia in the late 1970s, but unlike the British version, these used just one engine. Leyland were planning to market this version, but Moke production in Australia ended in 1981 and all that remains of the project is one of the prototypes which is now owned by an enthusiast in Western Australia and a modified differential crownwheel with gearteeth cut in the side to drive the rear tailshaft, in the personal collection of a Melbourne Mini specialist.
In 1977, a 1,275 cc Cooper S-engined Moke (sponsored by Coca-Cola) was entered into the Singapore Airlines London-Sydney Marathon. The car was driven over 30,000 kilometres (18,600 mi) over 30 days and finished in 35th place.
1984 Portuguese Mini-MokeAs Australian Moke production wound down, manufacturing was transferred to British Leyland's subsidiary in Portugal, which made 8,500 of the 'Californian' Mokes in their Vendas Novas plant between 1980 and 1990. Initially these Mokes were identical to late model Australian Mokes; very soon, however, they were altered to use then-current British production Mini saloon components, including the standard-length Mini rear trailing arms and the 12 in wheels with modern low-profile tyres, which the saloon had acquired during the Moke's absence from Europe.
In 1990, British Leyland (by then called Rover Group) sold the "Moke" name to Cagiva—a motorcycle manufacturer in Bologna, Italy. Production continued in Portugal until 1993, when Cagiva transferred the tooling to their factory in Italy with the intention of restarting production in 1995—which they never did. Since Cagiva did not own the "Mini" name, the 1,500 cars they built were sold simply as "Mokes".This brought the total production run of Mokes and Moke derivatives to about 50,000.