STEPHEN BAYLEY Gives Verdict on Resurrection of Iconic Mini Moke’s New Design


The Mini Moke – an antique that in its day never quite performed as expected, only sold in modest numbers, and hasn’t been produced for nearly half a century – needs to be revived. What does this resurrection tell us?

“Icon” is an abused term, but not in this case: few artifacts better express the values ​​of their age. However, be aware that sequined loons and Cuban heels may not be far behind.

The Moke was designed as an inexpensive utility vehicle for the military. A 1965 copy, registered HLT 709C, was memorably driven around the spooky Portmeirion by Patrick McGoohan in the cult television series The Prisoner, which first aired in 1967.

Converted for McGoohan to a playful beach car specification by Wood & Pickett (who also made luxury Minis for the boulevardiers of King’s Road in London), no car better captures the bizarre mix of anxiety and fun, frivolity and danger and counter-cultural glamor that was the ’60s.

And there can be no deeper assertion of the Moke’s iconic status than in the fact that, a year after McGoohan was imprisoned on television, a Dinky Toy model went on sale.

But in 2021, it’s not just the Moke that is a messenger of the automotive past. Today there are people who will sell you a “new” (in fact, remanufactured) Jaguar E-Type, another emissary of the ’60s.

Iconic: the Mini Moke will be resuscitated with power steering, a heated windshield and waterproof seats. Pictured: The original Mini Moke known for its lack of doors and windows

In the age of fake news, it’s significant that what car collectors are calling the ‘restamod’ movement (which sees classic vehicles upgraded with modern undercarriages) is making strenuous efforts to achieve authenticity – even though this authenticity implies degrees of fantasy and invention, which improve considerably over the original.

the new Moke, costing around £ 24,000, manufactured in Nuneaton and assembled in Cerizay in the commune of Deux-Sèvres in the southwest of France, arrives with innovations including power steering, waterproof seats and a heated windshield. An electric version will be available soon.

But the original, which went on sale in January 1964, was a derivative of the 1959 Mini.

Much of the Mini’s extraordinary appeal lies in a unique appearance: for reasons of economy, the welded seams and hinges of its bodywork are left exposed, creating a sort of subconscious utility chic.

The unique interior door bins proved useful for storage, but were there because, as an economy, the Mini didn’t have hand-wound windows.

The same extreme functional logic was applied to the Moke. Like the 1948 Land-Rover, it is, artistically speaking, an exercise in pure geometry.

Katie Moss drives with Sadie Frost in a yellow Mini Moke while in France in August 2019

Nothing is being done to excess. Everything is there – or not there – for a reason. This is because the Moke not only lacks winding windows, but also the doors themselves. If you wanted a description of laid-back simplicity, look no further.

Ironically, when Moke creator John Sheppard met Mini designer Alec Issigonis at the British Motor Corporation in 1955, their first plan had been to build a Citroën DS competitor, the ultra “goddess”. – sophisticated and luxurious from France. . But instead of a motorized deity, they produced a car-horse hybrid.

“Moke” is the slang of the 19th century to designate the donkey: a real workaholic. In France in 1966, Citroën introduced a similar concept: the Méhari plastic is based on the two farm horses. (A ‘mehari’ is a fast dromedary.)

There is something about the name that appeals to 60s populism, and maybe to us too. This is what the French call mud nostalgia, or the love of mud. Not literally mud, but some sort of slum. In Italy, the contemporary Fiat Jolly – no doors, surrey top in candy stripe, wicker seats – explored similar territory.

But, being Italian, the car aimed more at fashion than function. While Mokes and Meharis were in professional hues such as Gordon’s Gin Green and Sahara Dust, Fiat Jollys came more often in the pastel colors of luxury ice.

In addition, some consumers – even in the anti-war era – appreciate the iconography of the military.

The future: what the new Mini Moke looks like with several modern upgrades and features

Around the same time McGoohan was roaming Portmeirion in his Moke, author Tom Wolfe was explaining that in Manhattan, if you found a young man in a military surplus parka and parachutist cap, he would almost certainly be a Harvard graduate, not a bum.

In California, as soon as he could, Arnold Schwarzenegger purchased an AM General HumVee for road use. The Moke makes the same appeal to rugged functionalism: its front bumper is a simple tubular bar.

As if to confirm the ineffable appeal of this most basic machine, Diana Rigg also drove a Moke in The Avengers. In 1973, Roger Moore used one in Live And Let Die. Britain’s greatest graphic designer, Alan Fletcher, drove a white Moke everywhere.

To update us with scent, Gwyneth Paltrow drives a Goop – and possibly scent – branded Moke around Los Angeles. In Saint-Tropez, there is even ‘Le Garage Mini Moke’, and the good chic good kind Hotel Sezz rents them out to its painfully cool clients. Original mokes remain popular in Caribbean resorts.

Mondeo Man is now a thing of the past. But will he be replaced by Moke Man, a recycled hominid from the mid-60s?

Mondeo Man’s khakis and polo shirt can give way to pool slides and Love Island swimsuits; but what are the main reasons for Moke’s awakening?

To me, it’s a tributary of the same roaring stream of irrationality of consumers that gave us the current SUV fad.

There is something about the bulky proportions of the SUV that gives cars an engaging playful quality: they look like toys! In our anxious times, we crave innocent toys.

even more so if you’re as small as the Moke, a miniature SUV. Its sheer size and hassle-free simplicity exerts enormous appeal.

But unlike an SUV, a Moke has only limited possibilities. The Army dismissed him as more or less unnecessary, and his only occupation with the Forces was to run around the decks of aircraft carriers.

The Moke has very little functionality, but that’s why we love it. What we have is not so much a car, but a testimony of faith.

As mainstream cars become more and more sophisticated, more arguably electric, and more hampered by the emotional guilt of the user and the vengeful legislation of the authorities, the playfulness of the Moke becomes very appealing.

Especially at 20 mph mandatory, dreaming of a simpler past and Diana Rigg in her leather pants.