Deja vu is a 2006 action thriller starring Denzel Washington and Jim Caviezel. I only saw part of it once, but I remember it being interesting in a mid-2000s sort of way. It belonged to that period in action movies where they were trying to be more cerebral, probably as a result of The Matrix or Equilibrium. Actually, wait. I screwed up. I’m supposed to be talking about the other type of deja vu. That feeling you get when what you’re experiencing now feels like its already happened. Which, helpfully, relates very much to the car we’ll be talking about today. This is a 1984 Mini Moke.
But first, some history. Our old buddy Alec Issigonis got it into his head during the 1950s that the one car the British army really needed was, and I’m not making this up, a Mini Cooper. Not a stock Mini, of course. No, the military Mini would be safer and more durable than the car of choice for common criminals. So, in a blindingly safe move, Issigonis removed the Mini’s doors and roof. Shockingly, the British armed forces were less than enamored with this decision, which left Issigonis out in the cold. But he decided that instead of scrapping the project, he’d sell his new unholy matrimony between a jeep and a Mini to the general public.
I said “car” earlier because that’s exactly what the Moke is. The British government at the time classified this as a car, which meant that it had to be taxed as such. Mini, on the other hand, wanted the Moke to be designated as a commercial vehicle, which would dodge the tax and sell more units. Here’s where that creeping sense of deja vu comes into the picture. Awhile back, we looked at a car called the Citroën Mehari, which shares a lot in common with this here Moke. Both are jeep-like, both have military origins, both are painted white, and both are based on iconic people’s cars. But the Mehari was classified as a truck, which meant it dodged taxes (and certain safety regulations). As a result, the French car outsold the British car nearly three to one, in the first victory of France over Britain since the Hundred Years War. I think.
That is not to say that the Moke is without its merits. Much like the Mehari, the Mini found a loyal following among the beach resort communities of the Mediterranean and southern California. Which makes it appropriate that I stumbled upon this particular example on Mykonos, the Greek island known for its distinctive architecture and impressive collection of tasteful shirts. The Moke’s total production run spanned almost 30 years, from 1964 to 1993, and during that time it was produced in three separate countries. I believe this one is a later example, which means it’s a Portuguese Moke, but you could have also had an English Moke or an Australian Moke, depending on what year you got. Engine choices are pretty standard for British cars of the time period, with displacements ranging from 850cc up to 1275cc (this one’s a 998cc developing almost 40 horsepower). All were transverse four cylinders, which makes sense given the layout of the standard Mini. And all that power went to the front wheels through a four speed manual transmission.
Okay, so the Mehari beat the Moke at the end of the day. And, quite frankly, the Jeep leaves them both for dead. But the objective competition doesn’t matter here. There’s a strange irony in vehicles designed for war but used for vacations. The Jeep, the Mehari, and the Moke all fit that role. Something about their cloth tops, their roll cages, make them iconic “down the shore” vehicles. Not for storming the beaches, but for combing them. The Moke’s lack of doors just screams at you to hop in and go for a drive. You don’t just feel the wind in your hair, you feel the sand too, and the spray of the ocean. You feel the mist on a foggy morning, and the mosquitoes on a warm evening. The Moke, whether it intended to or not, belongs to a class of indisputably summer-y vehicles. And I can’t think of a better car to end this trip to Greece with. Happy fall, everybody.
- An early prototype for the Moke featured a two-engine layout. Each engine powered a separate axle, making it four wheel drive. Kind of like a Tesla, actually.
- The Moke actually did briefly serve in the military for the Australian armed forces, but as a fringe vehicle.
- That centrally mounted speedometer really calls to mind the huge gauge that they fit to modern Minis.