Californian Mokes

For most people the name “California” evokes images of sun, fun and surfing. When Leyland in Australia was looking to name a special version of the Moke aimed squarely at the youth market, the name Californian seemed an obvious choice.

From the time of its launch in Australia in 1966 the Moke had been marketed as a versatile workhorse, suitable for mining companies, builders, farmers, surveyors and anyone else they thought could use a light, versatile utility.

One group that was conspicuous by its absence from the marketing campaigns, and the group that seemed to be most attracted to the Moke, were young drivers who saw it as a fun vehicle and a break from the traditional.

But BMC had seen the potential in the Moke for use as a hire car, especially for the tourist trade in sunny climates. Whole fleets of Mokes were sold to such places as Darwin, Cairns, the Seychelles and some Pacific Islands. But it wasn’t until one large order for Mokes failed to be realised that the advertising really turned toward the youth market.

The “big-wheel” Moke (YDO8) was introduced in April 1968, and the Mk2 Moke, with the 1098cc engine and full-synchro gearbox, twelve months later. This was designated YDO18 and all Australian Mokes that followed, including the Californian models, were variations of YDO18.

However, only the 1971 Special Export “Californian” Moke was significantly different in body and mechanicals, and was given a different YDO designation.

Special Export “Californian” Moke

An order had been received from a car hire firm in the Virgin Islands for 100 Mokes. As the islands were controlled by the US, these Mokes had to meet US legislation, which included emission requirements not encountered in Australia at the time.

This would normally have meant a fairly expensive testing and certification process, but as former Road Proving Supervisor for Leyland Australia, Roger Foy, recalls the company already had the answer. “We had to comply with the US legislation and part of that was the vehicle had to complete 50,000 miles in US conditions to pass. We got to the point of getting Detroit and Michigan road maps, but in the end we didn’t have to do it, because it had already been done for the Austin America – the US version of the (Austin/Morris) 1300.”

This was essentially the same engine as used in the Australian Morris 1100S, but in the Austin America it featured an air pump and charcoal absorption canister to meet US emission standards. The main difference from the Australian-spec engines was that the head had holes drilled to accept the pipes from the air pump.

Also specified was a single HS4 (1½”) carburettor in place of the standard Moke’s HS2 (1¼”), and a larger air filter with curved inlet “trumpet” on the canister. This could be turned down to face the manifold, to prevent the carburettor icing up in very cold climates. There was also a larger capacity radiator to help cooling in the warmer climates – which was suitable for Australia as well.

The Virgin Island Mokes included some significant body changes from the standard Moke and were given the engineering designation YDO30.

US requirements meant independent parking lights and turning indicators, side lights with reflectors and reversing lights had to be fitted. Two-speed wipers and a hazard warning flasher also had to be included.

The wheel arch extensions were twice the height of the standard Moke’s, to fit the sidelights, and there was a unique step on the rear wheel arch for mounting the reversing lights.

The side-mounted fuel tank did not meet with US legislation for side-impact safety or the exclusion of fuel vapours in the passenger cabin (when the roof and side curtains were fitted) and had to be replaced with a conventional type – from the Austin Healey Sprite/MG Midget.

This fitted under the rear floor in the subframe cavity, with the filler located in the rear panel, which necessitated a length of filler pipe entering the rear cargo space. The number plate was relocated to a bracket on the rear bumper.

The downside of this tank is that it was only 22.7 lt. (6.25 Imp gallons), down from the standard Moke’s 27lt. The original tank location remained empty and still had no side covers, the only access into this space being via the removable plate under the side pannier (normally for access to the fuel tank). Another feature is of course the absence of a top filler cap or any hole for it in the top of the side pannier.

Unfortunately, by the time the body tooling had been done and the necessary 100 sets of engines and other parts, including left-hand-drive steering racks, had been sent from the UK, the hire company in the Virgin Islands had gone broke and the order was cancelled.

With considerable expense outlaid and all the required parts on hand, the only option for British Leyland (Australia) was to release the car locally, as a special up-market version.

This first batch of 100 Mokes had already been built in left-hand-drive form and these were converted to right-hand-drive, as confirmed by Leyland Service Liaison Letter (SLL) No 74, dated 30 March 1972.

As Australia didn’t have the emissions requirements as the US at the time, the air pump was deleted and the holes in the head for the piping simply filled with screw-in plugs. Mechanically, these Mokes were otherwise identical to the Virgin Island specification.

Some confusion exists as to the correct name for this model, as it is accorded various names in official Leyland literature and only ever carried a “Moke” badge on the front. The driver’s handbook lists it as “Emissions Control Model (Export)”, while the workshop manual refers to it as Moke Special Export and SLL 74 refers to it as Californian Moke.

With the December 1971 release of it in Australia, the marketing people came up with the name Californian Moke. These days it is usually referred to as the Export Californian, to avoid confusion with the later, and better known, Californian model, or with standard export Mokes.

A few cosmetic items were added for the local launch. Most noticeable were the roof and seat material designs used, in place of the standard Moke’s all-black. The most recognised was the orange and yellow floral “Bali” material. The other material is usually referred to as “black squiggles”, but it is actually a detailed design illustrating roses and called “Verve”.

There was a third material, of black squares and rectangles of varying sizes and density on white background, but apart from an early brochure I have not seen this material used on any Moke, nor found any other reference to it.

The Export Californian was available in six colours, Arianca Tan, Camino Gold, Cadiz (orange), Gambier Turquoise, Jet Red and Crystal White. Bali material was available with all colours except Gambier Turquoise, while Verve was available with all except Arianca Tan.

Surprisingly, except perhaps for the fact it was aimed at the leisure market and not the working man, the export Moke came without a tow bar, which was standard on the base model.

Although the Virgin Island Mokes were completed with the original low-back seats, and these appear in brochures and some early promotional photos of the Aussie versions, high-back seats with head restraints were a requirement of Australian Design Rule (ADR) 22, which came into effect on 1 January 1972.

According to SLL 74, the Export Californian Mokes were supposed to be fitted with vented oil caps, which did not always take place. Under the heading “Californian Mokes. Oil Filler Cap.” The service letter reports; “It has been discovered that non-vented oil filler caps have been fitted to some of these vehicles. Whenever there is a complaint of oil leaking from oil seals, the oil filler cap should be checked to ascertain whether it is the vented type. If it is the non-vented type, replace the filler cap with the vented cap, part number 13H 2296 (Austin 1800 types).”

The list price of the Export Californian Moke on release was $1,675, compared with $1,550 for the standard Moke, and in late 1972 had increased to $1,780.

For your money you got all the aforementioned changes, plus the steering wheel and windscreen frame painted in the body colour, optional (at no cost) stripes on the bonnet and side panels, a black vinyl spare wheel cover, anti-skid pads on the tops of the side panniers and front rubber floor mats. The wheels, hood bars, bumpers, passenger grab handles and seat frames were all painted in silver-chrome finish. A set of four matching side curtains was available for an extra $55.

The Export Californian also had small metal British Leyland badges fitted to the top-centre of the front panel, above the Moke nameplate. These were the same badges as fitted to the A-pillars of Minis at the time.

The model was discontinued in early 1973: the latest date I have seen on a compliance plate being April.

Interestingly, these Export Mokes were the only Mini variant ever available in Australia with a 1275cc engine and four-wheel drum brakes.

It is not clear exactly how many Export Californian Mokes were built, but evidence suggests the figure is less than 1,000 and perhaps as few as 900.

The featured Moke is chassis number 1203, dated December 1972, while the April 1973 Moke sighted is chassis number 1392. With chassis numbers beginning at 501, and continuing through the designation prefix changes (see below), this makes the April ’73 Moke the 892nd one built.

The Export Californian was the only Moke built in Australia that differed mechanically or in the body structure from the standard Moke.

A Name Reborn

Although production of the Export Californian had stopped early in 1973, and all Mini and Moke production moved from the Waterloo factory to Enfield at the end of 1974, the marketing men at Leyland Australia (as British Leyland Australia had become in 1973) revived the Californian name in September 1977.

This time, though, it featured the same 998cc engine as the standard Moke and was a cosmetic exercise designed to increase profits on what was then the cheapest car available in Australia.

Some of these cosmetic improvements did have practical benefits, such as: the wider “Sunraysia” spoked wheels and winter-tread tyres; front and rear rubber floor mats; larger “bull bars” front and rear; sports steering wheel; zip opening rear hood panel; dual horns; locking spare wheel nut and rear side mud flaps.

Others were purely for visual effect, including the denim-look seat and hood material, chrome wheel nuts and centre caps (with stick-on Leyland roundels), optional metallic paint and “Californian” decals on the sides of the bonnet.

Rear mudflaps also came with metal grille badges riveted to their lower edges, giving the only identification of the car’s type at the rear. However, these are not mentioned in any of the brochures or advertisements, but are shown in virtually every promotional photo of the rear of the cars and have been sighted on many Californian Mokes from the period.

The seats were the same high-back tubular seat frames with rectangular head restraint as used on the standard Moke. However, instead of the roped-on seat cushion and slip-over backrest, the well-padded seat was complimented by slip-over padded one-piece “tombstone” style covers. The patterned front looked very different from the standard seats, but the rear distinctly showed the underlying standard seat frame and head restraint.

The seats also included a short strap, that clipped into position, to hold the seat belt when not in use. As any Moke owner will tell you, simply letting it fall beside the seat is an easier way to keep it neat and handy.

All these extras seemed good value for $604 over the price of the standard Moke – being $3,599 against $2,995.

There were also larger, rectangular external rear-view mirrors on both sides, although some Mokes were supplied with one of the new mirrors on the driver’s side, and an original round mirror on the passenger’s side.

Although the new mirrors gave a much greater field of rear vision, their design caused them to vibrate badly at speed, rendering them almost useless. This vibration also caused many to crack at the locking screws. As a result, many Mokes, have been retrofitted with the earlier round mirrors.

This has led many people to believe that the fitting of one rectangular and one round mirror at the factory did not take place. However, some factory promotional photos from the period show Mokes with one of each mirror. Also, our feature Moke was bought new by the current owners (see page 70), who are adamant that the round mirror was on the car from new.

All advertising and brochures for the Californian stated that there were two new “paired” rectangular mirrors. It would be reasonable to assume that the supply of one round mirror on some Californian Mokes was done in error, but happened nonetheless.

The Standard Moke continued to have one round driver’s side mirror as standard, with the passenger side as an option, until November 1979 when all Mokes received two of the larger mirrors as standard.

During this period, all Minis and Mokes were only available with 998cc engines, imported CBU (Completely Built Up) from the UK.

The advertising was aimed squarely at the young, with such slogans as “Get your denim seat into ours”, “The latest look in denim”, “So much for so little” and “The Fun Machine – Moke Californian”.

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The BMC Experience Issue 11. Oct-Dec 2014 Magazine

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