The Moke Californian Is Officially Coming Back To America As A Highway-Legal EV But There’s Some Controversy

Moketop

Moke International has announced that it’s bringing a famed classic back to America with modern propulsion. The Moke Californian signals the official return of the famed Mini Moke to America. And it’s not going to be some low-speed electric vehicle for golf courses; this will be able to be driven on regular roads.

The diminutive Mini Moke has been around since the late 1950s. Back then, Sir Alec Issigonis had been working on the idea of a vehicle built from Mini parts and topped with a utility body. The idea was a vehicle that British Motor Corporation could use to compete with Land Rover’s military vehicles. A prototype was presented in 1959, but its low ground clearance and 848cc engine resulted in it failing to pass inspection with the military. BMC kept ironing out the design, but in 1962 the company found out that the military still wasn’t interested. The Mini Moke would instead be released in 1964 as a civilian utility vehicle.

The little Moke rose to fame through television, music videos and movies. George Harrison and Paul McCartney of the Beatles had Mokes. Owners also include the Beach Boys and even Frank Sinatra, James Bond films had an affection for the Moke, with the little vehicle appearing in You Only Live Twice, Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker.

Milmoke

The Moke was more than just a star vehicle, as it was also loved by everyday people, too. Mokes became farm vehicles, off-roaders, and beach cruisers. The original left America in 1982 before dying off entirely in 1993. Luckily the cruiser was brought back to life in 2012 with the help of China’s Chery Automotive and subsidiary Sicar Engineering. The resulting Moke International is said to hold the trademark to the original Moke as well as 100 other Moke marks. The company also manufactures the vehicles in the UK.

It has been building Mokes for some time, but now it’s ready to come back to America. And it wants to do it with the Moke Californian. [Editor’s Note: I’m guessing this could be legal under the Low Volume Replica Vehicle Manufacturer’s Act because these things sure as hell aren’t passing any crash test that doesn’t involve a sofa – JT]

Moke 00884 Edited

Moke International says that the original vehicle came in tons of different versions, but it thinks the most exciting and desirable of them was the Moke Californian. Sold for just a short five years between 1977 and 1982, it featured a few design changes that Moke says made it popular with fashion types.

This new Moke Californian looks old-school, but has some modern equipment under the skin. A 44 HP motor drives the rear wheels, which moves the less than 1,763-pound buggy to a top speed of 50 mph. Performance is described as zero to 34 mph in 4.3 seconds.

Electric Moke Californian Exterior

A lithium-ion battery of unspecified capacity is advertised to get the Moke 74.5 miles of range on the WLTP cycle. Of course, with a top speed that low, it’s just barely legal to drive on some highways. But it does mean that you can take it down regular roads. This is unlike LSVs, which are limited to roads not much faster than their 25 mph top speeds.

You get to drive the things from a helm featuring retro-style gauges and in seats with three-point belts. Those seats are waterproof, as are the vehicle’s speakers. Occupants can be protected from the weather either with a soft top or with a canopy with doors.

Electric Moke Californian Interior

If you’re scratching your head right now, thinking that I’ve been living under a rock, I’ll explain. You can buy a Moke right now in America from a company called Moke America. The company is known for releasing James Bond editions of its 25 mph-capped low-speed vehicle Mokes. So if you can already buy one in America, what’s with the “back to America” thing?

Well, Moke International says that Moke America isn’t the real deal, and that Moke America is actually infringing on Moke International’s trademarks. Moke America says that it’s held the trademark longer than Moke International, so it’s the true trademark holder. This has spawned a lengthy dispute in the courts, one that Moke America has already lost once. In 2020, The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board dismissed Moke America’s opposition to Moke USA’s (Moke International’s joint venture partner) registration of the Moke trademark in the States. The Board’s opinion is that Moke America failed to prove its assertion that it is the true trademark holder.

Moke America is appealing the decision, and Moke International filed a countersuit, alleging that aforementioned trademark infringement. The case is over two years old with the next court date in January 2023.

Electric Moke Californian Exterior (1)

Regardless of who owns what, I think what’s really cool is that fans of these little guys are soon to have another option in the marketplace. And, even better, the new Californian could be used for more than just a toy.

As of right now, Moke International hasn’t announced pricing or a release date, but the company sells Mokes in the UK for £29,150, or about $32,990. Further details are expected in the coming weeks.

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27 Responses

  1. So, Moke America claims its car to be the ‘official’ continuation of the Mini Moke, but given the Chinese connection I can’t help but point out that many companies in China on Alibaba are making reproduction Mokes with electric or ICE propulsion.

    I assume it’s a similar thing going on as with their low-speed EVs (like the Changli) where basic designs are shared between many local manufacturers, but I’d love to know more about the Eastern Wild West of Moke replicas, and how much Moke America draws upon these shared bodyshells and components.

    1. “…visibility was outstanding…

      Somehow that seems a bit of a left-handed-compliment kind of on the order of:

      “Doesn’t sweat much for a fat girl”.

      But back to the originally planned comment:

      Is that 25 mph American Mini-Moke a joke, bloke? At $32 K is a bespoke International Mini-Moke really a car for ordinary folk?

  2. I love the idea of this. I also love the idea of getting my MG Midget back, or an Austin Healey Sprite. For that matter I love the idea of big Healeys, and ’62 Alfa Guiliettas. I just don’t think any of them can be driven on American roads anymore.

    1. I owned a Triumph Spitfire in the early 00s and a Porsche 914 in the late 00s. Both were just fine driving on any roads I desired to travel. I would own either again today. I love tiny 4 cyl engines. Im currrently negotiating to acquire a Suzuki Sumurai tin-top any day now.

      1. I think the roads have changed very much, even since then. Both horsepower and GVW of a big fraction of vehicles out there have gone way, way up. Worse, both of those things tend to make a lot of drivers feel less connected to the road and less vulnerable to collisions. You make your own judgment about averag edriving skills but I think…it is not better. An awful lot of mirrors are not adjusted, if adjusted at all, to see cars smaller than the normal – I look at them and can’t see the drivers.

        I’m sure it depends on where one lives. Small interesting roads are not close to me, I-95 is. I once drove a MkIII Midget from North Carolina to New Jersey on 95. I would not do it again.

  3. Were the original Mokes actually sold in the US until 1982? That seems crazy late, given all the safety and emissions stuff that rolled out during the ’70s. The normal Mini only survived in Canada to 1980, and was done in the US in 1967, while the Austin brand as a whole died here in 1972.

    1. No, of course not. Sales probably ended in the early seventies. But they were built in Australia until 1981. Portuguese production lasted from 1980 until 1990, and then they were built in small numbers by Cagiva (!) in Italy until 1993.

      1. Its bizarre, all Moke USA/Moke International’s statements specifically refer to it returning to this market for the first time since 1982, not all markets, THIS market, and I am absolutely sure that is not accurate, but, it seems like they would have done the research. Only think I can think of is MAYBE some independent company imported a few grey market or something and sold them for use in industrial parks and university campuses.

  4. As a real Moke owner, I hate this things with a passion.

    And my 1965 gasoline powered, 34hp, 848cc Austin Mini Moke is still has a faster top speed of 70 MPH. I’m sure it will beat me down the line, but once 25 seconds have elapsed I will be doing 60 all day long… unless there is a hill… or a strong head wind…

    Still for what these things go for, if you get lucky you can get a real Moke on Bring a Trailer, or anything else that is acyually useful.

  5. I really hope the suburban ‘Murica dads in my area don’t realize these things exist. Bad enough with their jacked up not-a-golf-carts parking on sidewalks and dropping their dogs off the back at intersections….

  6. It doesn’t seem worth fighting over the “Moke” name in the U.S. I’d actually be more likely to buy a battery-powered Chinese toy if it came with a some endearingly goofy Engrish name. I mean, there’s still no way in hell I’d spend thirty grand on the thing, but it’s a slightly higher no way in hell.

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