Moke Jeeps, Made Famous by Brigitte Bardot, Come to the U.S.
Moke has opened a dealership in Miami
If you’ve been in St. Barts, you know them.
They’re the little jeeps the jet-setters and gypsies drive for a dip at Gouverneur Beach or a drink at Eden Rock.
You also know how to pronounce the name. (It rhymes with Coke.)
You may not know they’re coming to nearer shores. As of now, you can buy a $24,950 Moke in the U.S. They're street-legal despite their beachy looks and run on regular unleaded fuel.
“Interest level for bringing these to the U.S. has been wild,” said John Temerian, the managing partner for Moke USA. “People want experiential things, and this is one of those things that brings a smile to your face because it’s a sensory experience of sound and sight and open air.
The idea is that you can tailgate out of it at a polo match or hop around town in a sunny resort city such as Palm Springs.
“When you turn the key, it’s like you’re already on vacation,” Temerian said. It may as well be the company’s tagline.
These 4-cylinder, 50-horsepower rigs became famous among certain sets after photos surfaced of Brigitte Bardot sitting in one in Saint-Tropez and Hunter S. Thompson scoping the landscape behind the wheel in Grenada. James Bond even drove one—briefly—in Live and Let Die.
But the vehicles started much earlier, first commissioned by the British Army to the British Motor Corporation in the 1950s as a lightweight car that soldiers could roll out of planes—attached to parachutes, of course. The name comes from an archaic British term for “donkey,” the company says. Alec Issigonis, who designed the famous and successful Mini, led the original design team.
When the little cars failed inspection in 1959 (there were complaints about ground clearance and the weak 848cc engine), and further dismayed British Royal Navy officials who gave them a second look, they were commercialized by BMC in 1964 and sold as "Austin Mini Mokes" to cut company losses. But they still didn’t take: Fewer than 1,500 of the 14,518 units made were sold, and production ended in 1968. (Over its first 30 years of production, that sales total reached 49,937—far fewer than Issigonis’s real hit.)
Fast-forward decades of intermittent production under various names (Morris Mini Moke, Leyland Moke) in various locales (Portugal and Australia, among others) until a group of British entrepreneurs bought the brand in 2015 and started selling them as rental cars on the islands where they’d holiday.
A dealership in Miami is the latest location to join others in such dreamy places as Thailand, Dubai, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Seychelles, and the Maldives.
The modern iteration of the Moke is ideal for those locales. It has a steel body with four waterproof seats, an open top, and a retractable hood. It lacks both air conditioning and ABS, but it has a radio with USB functionality. Power steering comes standard; automatic transmission is optional. Top speed is 70 mph.
You can choose from seven colors, including red, black, and green (blue and yellow look best under blazing sun) or pay more to customize your own trappings, such as leather straps and bespoke upholstery. But you’ll have to be fast. For this first year of production, Moke will send only 89 to be sold in the U.S.