One of the late 70’s, early 80’s icons of automotive beach culture in Australia has been relaunched. Along with the Holden Sandman and the VW Beach Buggy, the Mini Moke was of the common automotive links to sun, sand and surf in the great sunburnt country that I remember from my youth. The ultimate spec model was even called the ‘Californian’, to reflect the epitome of beach culture of the time (maybe even still). As a kid, I recall the Northern beaches of Sydney being awash with Mokes and any visitor to Magnetic Island in Queensland over the last 20 years will likely regale you with their own Moke adventures.
Now let’s make it clear from the outset, I love Mokes’, I’ve owned a couple (the blue one in the photo is mine) and a couple of Minis as well. I reckon the Moke is the biggest example of ‘Smiles per Miles’ you will ever get. It is very hard to take life seriously when you are travelling along in a Moke. A ride in a Moke is often an assault on the senses (you can reach out and touch the roadkill) and nearly always a bit of a giggle.
Despite production ending in Australia in the early 80’s as the design rules passed nearly every level of safety the Moke provided (or otherwise), production continued on in Portugal via Cagiva into the 90’s. Now, an Australian venture has announced that they will launch a re-invented version of the Moke in conjunction with Chinese manufacturer Chery and its subsidiary Sicar Engineering. Updates include a 1.0 litre fuel injected engine, 9 inch disc brakes (the original wheels were only 10 inch!) and extensive roll over protection. Down the track it is intended to receive air-bags too. All for $22,999…
…and there’s the rub. That’s not cheap. Yes it’s wider and longer than the original, which is supposed to make it a genuine 4 seater, but I had one, it had 4 seats, all engineered and sat 4 very comfortably. Rear legroom was expansive in fact. So at $23k for a slightly bigger, but really no better-equipped remake of the original, who will buy it? Yes, some will move into garages in Portsea and Sorrento as permanent holiday house runabouts. Likewise Byron and Noosa will have some take up residence, but will it take off? Personally I’m a touch sceptical. The best examples of original Moke Californians are not far off that mark in the online classifieds and they often stick around for months and months, so demand is not exceeding supply.
However, the distributors say it will also be launched in Thailand, the Caribbean, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and then onto Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Fiji and Vanuatu. Should they get good dealers in these markets they may just take off. Lots of resorts will probably put them on as pick-up/drop-off cars, and others still will be sold to become estate runabouts and yacht tenders in much the same way the Fiat Jolly filled that role years ago.
I really would like to see them succeed, because I love Mokes. They’re great fun, they thumb their nose at practicality in about 100 different ways and it is guaranteed to get people chatting to you wherever you stop (even when stopped in traffic), but I think their time has passed, at least in Australia. A lot of people are simply not prepared to put up with the idiosyncrasies of that type of car these days.
If you think I’m wrong, I’d love to hear why, ‘cause I just can’t see it myself.