Moke 50th

When John Finucane bought his 1966 Mini Moke it was in a sorry state. Now it is superbly restored and an excellent example of one of the earliest Australian-assembled Mokes – with one or two small modifications.

Back in 2003, John owned another Moke that he was looking at restoring, but, as is common, the floor was completely rotten.

“There were virtually no panels about, not like you can get now” John explained. “So I went hunting for bodies and a mate of mine came across one at a clearing sale near Grenfell. I went up and had a look at it and we had to scrape out all the old ploughshares and things to get to the floor to have a look at it. The engine and front end were all sitting on the ground, out of the Moke. The head was off the engine; the motor was seized. It was a mess. The Moke was painted yellow and chocolate brown and the hood had yellow polka dots painted all over it.”

But, importantly, the body, including the floor, was in remarkably good condition, so John offered the farmer $1,000 to buy it before the sale. “The bloke said no, so I took a trailer with me, and my box trailer to gather up all the pieces, and a couple of mates came with me and we went up for the clearing sale. I bid $200; a bloke went $250; I went $300 and that was the last bid.”

When he got it home, John stripped it down and sent the body off to have it sandblasted and painted. “It was a really good body. I had the body sandblasted and had it painted by Frank Hiscock Smash Repairs in Cootamundra. He’s a vintage car enthusiast and he had a twin-cam MGA and a TC, so he took a fair bit of pride in doing the paint work.”

Meanwhile, John rang the farmer to ask if he had the original driver’s handbook for the Moke. “He rang me back 20 minutes later and said he had the instruction book and one of the registration certificates for it too”, John recalled. “He asked me what I was going to do with the Moke and I said I was going to restore it. He said, ‘there’s only one condition on me sending you the book and that is that you bring it out to the Henry Lawson Festival (at Grenfell) when it is finished’. So I agreed and gave him my address and he posted me the book.”

The paperwork revealed the Moke, chassis number 1029 (the 529th one assembled in Australia) was sold new from Nash’s Garage in Grenfell to J.J. Fowler & Sons on 22 April 1966. John was only the car’s second owner, buying it on 29 November 2003.

Australianising the Moke

The Mini Moke was launched in the UK in August 1964 (see Issue 8), with over 90% being exported to sunnier climbs.

Six of the 848cc engined UK Mokes arrived in Australia in early 1965 for local evaluation. However, where the UK Mini had been adapted for Australia with few changes, it was a very different story with the Moke, as Roger Foy, former Experimental Department Road Proving Manager, explained.

“The Moke was a completely different kettle of fish. It looked like a go-anywhere vehicle, but it wasn’t, and there were a lot of changes we needed to make before we were happy with it. It was indeed a minimalist specification, lacked performance, gave a hard ride, and lacked ground clearance, making it little better than a standard Mini in dirt road conditions.”

With the Mini Van using the 848cc engine it seems logical that the Moke, a similar-sized commercial vehicle, could do the same. However, as the Moke was intended to be used in rougher country by the likes of farmers, on construction sites and in mines, it was decided that the 998cc engine was required for the extra power and flexibility offered.

Another concern was the standardisation of the 998cc engine, released with the Mini De Luxe in March 1965 – although it would be another couple of years before the Mini Minor and Mini Van also used the 998cc, while the Cooper S of course retained the 1275cc engine.

It was also felt that the UK Moke had insufficient ground clearance and under-engine protection, so the Aussie version had the suspension raised a little and a steel sump guard as standard fitment. There were also nifty little rubber CV joint shields, that bolted to the front wheel hub.

A second engine steady was fitted to the left side of the engine, which reduced problems of the lower engine mounts breaking when the Moke was used in rough conditions. A lower differential ratio, of 4.133:1 (the standard Mini was 3.765:1), was also fitted, which provided better traction for off-road use.

The hood was greatly improved, with the rear widened to the full width of the Moke body. The rear window was also redesigned to give four small Perspex windows instead of two long horizontal windows. The profile of the roof was also changed so the rear-most, unpainted, hood-bow leaned forward, instead of slightly backward, and the rear of the hood also leaned forward, instead of being vertical. This improved the look of the car considerably when the hood was up but, more importantly, gave better weather protection.

A set of side-screens, made from the same material as the roof, was fitted to the sides of the windscreen, which greatly reduced the amount of rain entering the cabin. Side curtains were also redesigned and available as a $30 optional extra for the set of four.

The original side curtains had an interesting fitting arrangement, that was later changed. A stretchy, plastic-coated cable slipped over hooks that were part of the hood bows and, for the front curtains, hooked into small holes near the top of the windscreen surround. The front curtains could also be rolled up and left attached to the hood, though only at low speeds.

Apart from the basic body structure, suspension and wheels, the rest of the Aussie Moke was vastly different from the UK model, especially inside.

The seats were completely different from the British model, being padded green vinyl canvas slung over tubular seat frames, with the seat base tied underneath with cord, while the back was a single-piece that pulled down over the frame. A modicum of fore-aft adjustment was available by bolting the seat in one of two preset positions.

The cushions sagged to a lower overall height than on the UK Moke, making you feel more sitting in the Moke rather than on it, but provided ample support and a significant improvement in comfort. This in turn meant the upright was slightly higher on the occupant’s back, giving better back support as well.

A second set of identical seats could be specified for the rear of the Moke.

As a safety measure, the Australian Moke came standard with two basic lap-only seatbelts – four if the rear seats were specified.

The central dashboard was flat at the base with sharp corners, as opposed to the UK Moke’s curved corners, and was flanked on each side by a handy parcel tray.

The windscreen wiper was a different design and the Aussie Moke came with two windscreen wipers as standard and two sun visors – the UK Moke only having one of each.

The wiper switch was therefore fitted in the dash panel and the plunger-type windscreen washer moved to a small bracket mounted under the corner of the dashboard.

The Aussie Moke also came standard with the passenger grab handle – also known as the Holy Cow handle, Panic handle, Jesus bar or Shit Grip – which was an option on the UK Mokes, supplied with the optional front passenger seat.

Outside, the major difference was in the mounting of the front and rear bumpers. The front bumpers on the UK Moke mounted straight to the body, which would have caused damage to the body with even a low-speed impact.

The Australian engineers came up with a much more satisfactory and sturdy design. The galvanised tubular bar was welded to solid brackets that then passed through holes cut in the front panel and bolted directly to the subframe, which had been modified with mounting plates welded to the upper leading edge.

The rear bar has the same brackets as the UK model, bolted to the rear of the body. But, importantly, the Aussie Moke has an additional support in the centre, which also bolts to the floor, that finishes in a tow hitch welded to the bar for additional support.

The tow bar was quite adequate for pulling small trailers, but was not sturdy enough for heavier loads. As a result, many have been strengthened over the years.

Colour schemes were also quite different, with Australian Mokes available only in Empire Green and, in much smaller numbers and only on special order, in Champion Red (1967) or Sandown Red (1968). This compared with UK Mokes that were sold initially only in Spruce Green – a slightly different shade from Empire Green – and, later, Old English White. Where British Mokes all came with wheels painted Old English White, Aussie Mokes all featured Silver Birch metallic wheels.

With its expected agricultural and industrial uses in mind, wire mesh grilles for the headlights were standard. So too was a fuel filter inside the filler.

Another, more subtle, difference was the identity badge on the front panel. British Mokes had a simple rectangular alloy badge that simply reads either Morris or Austin. Aussie Mokes were only available under the Morris brand, with the front badge being longer, with rounded-off ends, and reading “Morris-Mini-Moke”. Mokes ordered for overseas markets could also be specified as Austin, though apart from the badge were identical.

So sweeping were the many changes that a new design office number was allocated by BMC Australia, being YDO7. Although the Moke’s body was assembled in Australia from Completely Knocked Down (CKD) kits, and some other parts also came from the UK, all the parts required for the changes mentioned above were supplied locally. 

To read the rest of this story, grab your copy of the magazine from your local newsagent (in Australia) or subscribe today for either the digital copy or the printed version.


The BMC Experience Issue 17. Apr-Jun 2016 Magazine

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