Simanaitis Says

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RECALLING THE AUSTIN MINI MOKE

WHO CAN FORGET the Mini Moke? Certainly not me, because had it not been for this minimalist offspring of the Austin Mini, I would likely not be writing SimanaitisSays today. Moke has already made an appearance here in “From Sea to Shining Sea,” a trek about which I wrote, “Partway across the vastness of Delaware, I realized I had made a dreadful mistake.”

Today’s Moke tidbits are prompted by my recently perusing a Bonham’s & Butterfields’ catalog from its Quail Lodge auction, August 12, 2010. The catalog itself is heading toward vintage status of its own.

Moke Origins. As described in the Bonham & Butterfield catalog, “Originally conceived by [Sir] Alec Issigonis as a further use of the innovative Mini drivetrain, the Mini Moke was proposed as a lightweight military vehicle for off-road and airborne assault use.”

I suspect the British brass took one look at Moke and said, “Not bloody likely,” or worse. Its tires were too small. Its ground clearance wasn’t much. And can you image 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein being motored around in one? Monty was nicknamed The Spartan General, but really now.

Demobbed, Then Mobbed. The catalog noted, “Popularized in the television series The Prisoner, the Moke took on a pop culture persona in the Sixties and Seventies.”

Indeed, Moke was the darling of Swinging London in the Sixties. And it became the rental de rigueur in places like Catalina, California, and the Caribbean in the Seventies. St. Thomas was where I had my first Moke, in the Eighties. Newport Beach, California, was the destination of my second one, purchased in New Jersey in 1990.

A Racing Heritage. Over the years,” the catalog continued, “it has also proved to be eminently practical with racers as a pit car and local runabout.”

The Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, Phoenix, 1990.

Do you suppose my November 1990 lapping at Bondurant’s influenced Moke popularity with racing teams?

Now you tell one.

The Bonham & Butterfields Moke came to auction from Mike Amalfitano’s Amalfi Racing. Mike, who passed away in 2009, was quite the enthusiast, with a Porsche 910, 917, 962, and other fascinating cars in his collection.

This and the following images are from Bonham & Butterfields The Michael L. Amalfitano Collection, Thursday August 12, 2010, Quail Lodge, Carmel. California.

The catalog noted, “It is an original lefthand drive Moke intended for export…. Power is from the standard Mini single carburetor engine and it is finished, as many Mokes have been, in brilliant colors, bright red with tan vinyl upholstered seats and a black plastic top. It is an early production example with a single windshield wiper and floor-mounted dimmer switch.”

I forget the original color of my St. Thomas Moke, also an original one. Its refurbishing was in British Racing Green with Cream trim, applied, note, with two different brushes. My stateside Moke was a conservative off-white with dark green seat pads and light blue top.

“For enjoyment,” Bonham & Butterfields noted, “it has been fitted with a stereo system and has a heater, a somewhat superfluous accoutrement in view of its generous open sides without curtains.”

Gad, a heater! My November cross-country taught me the meaning of Wind Chill Factor. And, to repeat a tale I delight in sharing, when two ladies at a Blue Ridge Parkway gift shop saw the car, the following conversation ensued:

“Young man, that car of yours doesn’t have any windows.”

“No, ma’am, it doesn’t.”

“It doesn’t have doors either.”

“No, ma’am, it does not.”

“Well, what do you plan to do when it rains?”

“I guess I’ll just have to trust in the Lord.”

“Yes,” said one of them brightly, “it’s said the Good Lord looks after babies and fools.”

By the way, the Bonham & Butterfields Moke fetched $16,965. My two Mokes gave me words to treasure. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

One comment on “RECALLING THE AUSTIN MINI MOKE

  1. Michael Rubin
    March 30, 2020

    A Mini Moke and beachfront place in Hawaii seem a perfect combination right now.

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