Saturday, October 19, 2013

Moke Classic versus New Moke.

An article I recently read trumpeted the return of the Mini Moke, the Austin Mini-based roofless runabout that appeared in the 1960s as a basic, low-cost utility vehicle. Originally designed as a poor-mans military vehicle (aka baby Jeep), it apparently proved to be rather useless in that role due to its low ground clearance that kept it from going off-road. It was instead marketed as a summer toy, a beach and resort buggy. It is in this role that it was a hit, and became a classic in many island countries.
This past summer I saw three in Portugal, and while the name was familiar, I don't believe I had ever seen one before. A little surprised to see three in a span of one week, I later learned that the Moke was originally produced in the UK in the 1960s, in Australia through the 1970s, and continued on in Portugal right up until 1993. So it would seem that a Moke sighting in Portugal, especially along the coast, isn't much of a surprise.
The Moke is as basic as a car comes. No roof. No doors. No trunk. No radio. The only apparent creature comfort is a simple heater, and later models had seatbelts to keep the occupants in place. There is no carpeting and very little interior trim, making the Moke an easy vehicle to hose out after a day at the beach. There is seating for four, and a rollbar over the rear passengers would provide some protection in case of an accident, but this really is a simple machine that was never intended for long-distance driving. Accepting that, it is clear that the Moke could be a very entertaining toy. A snap-on roof and side panels existed for some protection from the elements, but I suspect in most cases they stay rolled up at home. This vehicle wasn't meant to be covered!
I was only able to snap photos of one of the three that I saw, but it was the nicest, a spotless light blue version. Viewed from the front one could almost mistake it for a Jeep, from a distance, but from the side it looks more like a large bumper-car than anything else.
Over the years, several other manufacturers have offered similar beach-buggy type vehicles, such as Citroen with their Mehari, Renault with their Rodeo, and VW with their Thing. All have cult-like followings, and have become true collector vehicles that continue on in places where folks want to enjoy putt-putting along the seaside while working on their tan.
Apparently some feel that there is still a market for this type of vehicle, as the Mini Moke has been reborn as the eMoke. A partnership between Moke International (no longer a Mini brand) and China-based Chery Automotive / Sicar Engineering has seen the creation of an all-electric version of the Moke. The new model looks almost identical to the original, but is an all-new, modern creation with modern construction techniques and safety features... and even a radio! Unfortunately, in its transition into a 21st century vehicle, it also gained a 21st century price... well over $20,000 for the Australian version. While such a fun little car will certainly find some buyers, it is disappointing that the original market for the Moke (young guys and gals who want a smile-inducing buggy to hit the beach and enjoy the freedom of open-air motoring), isn't going to cough up 20 grand for a seasonal vehicle that has limited (120 km) electric range.
Despite the elevated price, car fans can still be excited over the rebirth of the Moke, and be glad that it stays true to its original mission of minimum vehicle for maximum exposure to the sun!

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