The story of the Leyland Australia Moke Californian is a long one – and Mark Paget has managed to piece together this fascinating slice of Antipodean history.
By 1976 Leyland Australia had moved beyond recovery mode from the restructure and consolidation at Enfield. A new future in the marketplace, a rationalised fleet and profitability. For the remaining locally manufactured products a series of trim upgrade versions were about to arrive:
- Moke Californian,
- Mini SS soon followed by Mini LS, and
- Land Rover GAME
All required production line changes in addition to specific bolt-on components. However their structure and mechanical features remained essentially unchanged from the concurrent base model. Following a similar note were the established Moke utility (tray back) and subsequent Mini Sunshine. Either could be quickly created at a dealership from existing stock and a selection of Leyland Australia (LA) parts.
The badged Moke Californian arrives in 1977 creating a notable deviation from Moke’s established commercial looks. Truly pushing the product towards younger, fun and second new car buyers. Also raising Moke above the entry level car (poverty pack) stigma.
Previous Moke efforts with floral trim had been phased out, reverting to generic black. The home market Export Moke ceased production in 1973 and stocks long since exhausted. Leaving big wheel Moke almost back where it started. An ongoing series of progressive, minor changes had occurred to meet Australian Design Rules and production requirements. The badged Californian now presented a significant change and impact.
A standard MOKE badge above the grille and Californian decals on either side of the bonnet, white bumpers, wider wheels and blue trim being distinguishing features. Whether tongue in cheek or showing a proper appreciation of the market and product, the new styling reflected that of an off-road recreational vehicle.
What makes a Californian
- Bonnet side decals,
- Additional horn,
- Matching denim look trim throughout,
- Including the top with roll-up back window and side curtains,
- High back, fully padded and trimmed seats,
- White painted, styled bull-bars front and rear,
- Rear floor mat (black plastic tubing),
- White painted, 5.5” Sunraysia wheels, matching chrome wheel nuts and wheel centres,
- Tyre placard including the wider wheels and tyres,
- Wider brake drums and studs to accommodate the wheels,
- Rear wheel arch mud-flaps,
- MOKE front badge pop riveted to each rear mud flap,
- Sports steering wheel, and
- Optional metallic blue paint.
Seats are in fact the standard Moke tubular frame. Now with rubber seat diaphragm, fully foam padded and covered in denim look vinyl. Creating a one piece high backed front seat. In shape/outline the squab is not dissimilar to what could be found in concurrent Mini. As it’s still a Moke frame no slide or break option is present. An alternate fore/aft position is available via additional mounting holes in the base. Normal Moke continued with bare frames and incorporated head restraint.
Common Moke features for the period
All Mokes from this time (1977 – ‘78) present themselves as the big-wheel version and share certain aspects:
- Made in Australia,
- Pressed aluminium, anodised, MOKE badge, pop riveted to the front panel, above the grille,
- Clear plastic weather shields,
- Attach to the windscreen frame via studs and with a lower steady rod,
- Lift the Dots, twist locks and lower steel rod with rubber clips for side curtain attachment,
- Rubber shields for the CV joints,
- Lockheed hydraulics,
- Winter tread tyres,
- Conventional ply road tyres are still listed as an option,
- Rear bumper attaches directly to the body,
- Removable grille and matching front panel,
- Grille and dash panels in matching silver paint,
- So to pedal box, windscreen frame, weather shield stays, heater adaptor panel, external mirrors and arms,
- Square edge speedometer/switch panel with matching parcel shelves,
- Chrome/stainless ashtray for the front occupants, mounted in the dash vent panel,
- SMITHS UK black faced speedometer,
- With black painted round bezel, KPH only,
- Lucas sealed beam headlights,
- Lucas number plate light,
- Hella Australia sundry lighting,
- 2080 front and 2392 rear units being oddly similar to discontinued Lucas items,
- Reverse lights incorporated with the indicators,
- SMITHS UK heater demister,
- With matching dash panels for demist tubes and vents,
- Lucas rocker switches (except wipe, a rubberised twist knob),
- Anti-glare wiper arms,
- Crash padded sun-visors for both front seat positions,
- Side mounted petrol tank,
- Top fill with a large cap, evolving into the same tank with a small cap,
- Waste (lap) seat belts by TRW Australia,
- Front floor mat (black plastic tubing),
- 13” pressed steel road wheels,
- Body panel pressings to accommodate the 13” road wheels,
- Wheelarch width extensions, rear arch extensions,
- Suspension components specific to 13” road wheels,
- Longer rear arms, welded spacer block front arms,
- Sump-guard with matching sub-frame attachment points,
- Externally mounted spare wheel,
- Mounts to body via single bent rod and captive nut,
- Folding vinyl-cloth roof over galvanised steel tube bows,
- Matching trim for seat facings and canopy,
- Centrally mounted, black plastic rear view mirror mounted to top rail of windscreen frame,
- Left and right external rear view mirrors,
- Mounted on tubular arms attaching below the windscreen,
- Plain, black rubber rear mud-flaps,
- Front wheel arch mud-flaps,
- Electric windscreen wash,
- Four speed gearbox,
- Synchromesh on all forward gears,
- Rod change shift,
- Gearstick passes through the forward end of the tunnel, just short of the toe-board,
- Left hand upper engine stabiliser,
- Captive nut seat belt anchorages for front and (optional) rear seats,
- Most (not all) captive nut anchorages for of the (optional) rear seats,
- Lucas multi-function trafficator (39719, not the shorter Mini Mk3 item),
- Incorporating self cancelling indicators, horn and high beam dip (manufactured without provision for flash),
- Wilmot Breeden Australia steering lock with incorporated ignition switch,
- RVB horn,
- With the advent of twin circuit brakes, a mechanical stop light switch and revised pedal box, and Preslite wiper motor,
- Two speed wipers with self park,
- Operated by a rotating switch with rubber knob.
- For all right hand drive models:
- Camgears/TRW Australia Mini steering rack, and
- Matching tyre rub on the inner wheel arches.
Actually available for Californian – virtually nil, save for metallic blue paint. Even for concurrent standard Moke – almost nothing.
The company didn’t appear to consider Moke worthy of accessorising, not even offering a cigarette lighter or side curtain stowage bag. Mentioned in the fine print of the concurrent Moke brochure are mesh headlight protectors. Formerly standard equipment on big wheel Moke. The front passenger grab handle had also been deleted. Although panel holes were still punched and passengers still tended to hang on to anything in reach. This included the bendable windscreen frame and stowage strap for the rolled side curtain. Price and disposable income appeared to preclude standard Moke owners upgrading their new car with Californian features. Not that these appear to have been offered as a choice.
Whether still pursuing the commercial aspect or that some States offered cheaper registration (road tax) for lesser seating capacity, the vast majority of Mokes were only two seat. Each home market vehicle is fitted with a Compliance Plate. Each plate quotes factory seating capacity. Owner allusions to factory fit rear seats rarely match the Compliance Plate. As Leyland Australia paperwork, particularly parts and after-sales support is so poor it’s hard to know if there ever was a matching rear seat arrangement or kit. Front seats will bolt in to the standard holes in every buckboard. However the headrest (not present in the original 1960s design) presses against the rear window, creating an obstacle when the top is folded. Of note is that Australian Moke rear seats were intended to have an additional support bracket bolted to the floor between both seat’s forward inner mounting holes. By 1977 the captive nuts for this bracket had been omitted and holes remained unpunched. However, just try finding this bracket in the parts book. Similarly, front seats have provision for lap-sash seat belts. The shoulder anchor being inside the rear arch.
Try finding reference material…
Second row seat headrests were not a requirement and the accepted arrangement is for the early design of front/rear seat (bare frame, no head restraint provision) to be used. Presumably an owner going this far would be looking for matching trim. Once more we meet the folly of the parts division. Such trim is known to exist but how extensive stocks were… Undoubtedly dealers, pressured by salesman eagerness (greed) fitted whatever was quickest/cheapest to hand and looked relatively neat. Whether this be local knock ups, front seats or whatever could be found, with a quick trip to the local trimmers if need be. The application of Australian Design Rules (ADR) beyond Canberra or the vehicle manufacturer’s gates, tended to be ignored for many, many years. Creating a rather contrary culture to straightforward regulations which persists today.
Californian like standard Moke comes with a tow-bar. Both use the same small hole diameter not common these days. Neither have an accessory wiring loom available nor provision for the safety chain. One key point is however, that the Californian’s tow bar and bumper are significantly weaker than the galvanised pipe arrangement of Moke. The galvanised standard pipe being capable of enduring far more than the mass of the Moke to which it’s attached. Factory ride height also placed the tow bar above normal draw bar level. Creating a minor inconvenience when hitching. The vehicle’s user handbook doesn’t mention anything beyond notional towing capacity. Period, Moke specific, aftermarket accessories (within Australia) are limited to hard top conversions. Typically one business per state offering their own unique design, almost none of which were factory (LA) approved or supported.
Certainly Ford UK understood accessories. More than a decade earlier Mk.1 Cortina had provision for a radio, lighter and clock. Plus optional blower demister or heater. Base product could also be upgraded to remote gearshift. The Japanese followed suite and Australia was littered with reliable Asian products in the mid 1970s. All with provision
to upgrade via plug and play genuine part, including their commercial range. Otherwise an ongoing enticement to someday fill that radio blanking panel with whatever you could afford. Disposable income may have been nothing like today. However basic marketing says you show the client what to spend it on. A reality that was open to but ignored by LA on their product. A subsequent Moke accessory brochure lists and pictures Hella spotlights. An absolutely stunning gloss colour picture. How you were supposed to mount or wire in your top dollar accessory was left for the fairies or cobbler’s elves to deal with.
Moke is equipped with temperature sender and voltage stabiliser as standard. Even the additional gauge wasn’t listed as an option, nor a service bulletin issued for a dealer fit. Despite some brilliant design achievements, Leyland Australia Parts and Accessories Division frequently fell short of the mark. Seemingly never offering what could bring a given product up to competitor’s levels – hazard lights, rear seats, radio, cigar lighter, tow ball, laminated windscreen… Items which in most cases were already on the shelf but with no sales effort behind them.
Regretfully there isn’t a factory publication that can be relied upon for identification. Certainly not one for the layperson to use. Workshop manuals contain virtually nothing in this area and parts lists have far too many errors and simply wrong information. This is supported by Australian Parts Lists and Australian Workshop Manuals (Paget 2013).
Straightforward structural changes identify the correct period for any given Moke. In this instance:
- Additional wheel arch precessing for square Hella Australia tail lights,
- Removable grille and revised front panel pressing to mount the grille,
- Mounting brackets for heater, vents and dash upper panel, and still with the top fill petrol tank.
- Other, essentially bolt on items may narrow the period and can be Californian specific: trim, bumpers wheels etc.,
- Appropriate emission control and tyre placards, a Compliance Plate being present, pop riveted to the bulkhead (nowhere else) with a body code and serial number matching what’s stamped into the radiator vent panel,
- The body code will decode as higher level Moke, and the Compliance Plate might clearly state Californian as the model.
Body codes > 1978
Since 1973 the company attempted a fourteen character sequence (soon progressing to fifteen). The body code (prefix) followed by the serial, frequently quoted as one. Any interposed forward slash (/) doesn’t count as a character. There were no separate serial numbers for Californian. By serial alone car 11111 could be a Moke, 11112 a Californian and 11113 a Utility… The prefix has to be decoded for identification. Skipping the minutia of detail the prefix breaks down to:
- 018 – Moke
- F0B – Precise period body/vehicle details
- ADR compliance code, number of doors, body type – buckboard
- Some company internal documents list X in place of F. This tends to be the default character when providing an example.
- 1 or 2 – model/trim level
- 1 = Moke or Utility, 2 = Californian
- M – Transmission
- Manual, four speed
- 09 or 12 – engine capacity range
- equating to 09 = 998cc or 12 = 1275cc
- Moke (998cc) 018F0B1M09
- Moke Californian (998cc) 018F0B2M09
- Moke Californian (1275cc) 018F0B2M12
Notably, left hand drive is missing from most publications. Probably a single, alternate character to what is listed. Power units are UK sourced, locally modified and save for the rocker cover, painted entirely in black. All baring a 99H (998cc) or 12H (1275cc) prefix stamped into the block. Where the original British engine number tag would have been. A curiosity is that most of the Australian 99H power unit prefixes (Mini and Moke) aren’t found in UK reference material. The full sequence decodes and identifies key features of the entire assembly, not just the motor.
All home market vehicles were equipped with a Compliance Plate. A Federal Government item that once fitted is not to be defaced or removed. Circa August 1976 a revised plate is
introduced without a raised (pressed) border. At roughly the same time stamped model titles are introduced. As a quirk of this period, LA changed from generic titles on Compliance Plates (e.g. MOKE for everything) to model titles. Hence from 1976 through 1977 Compliance Plates can be found embossed as LEYLAND MOKE CALIFORNIAN. This method is dropped by the start of 1978 and did NOT encompass the entirety of production from ’76 to ’79. Nor was it in play for the facelift range ’79 -’82.
Body codes 1978
The company now attempts to conform with the parent and international identification system. For a short period the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) has only fourteen characters. Production ends before progressing to 17.
- AK – Moke
- P or F – as the level
- P = Moke or Utility, F = Californian
- P – body type
- P = no doors
- B or D – engine cc group
- equating to B = 998cc or D = 1275cc
- 1 or 2 – transmission type/steering wheel side
- 1 = 4 speed manual, RHD or 2 = 4 speed manual, LHD
- 8 – model year
- 197 plus the given numeral = 1978
- Y – Australia
- Moke Californian (998cc, RHD) AKFPB18Y
- Moke Californian (998cc, LHD) AKFPB28Y
- Moke Californian (1275cc, RHD) AKFPD18Y
- Moke Californian (1275cc, LHD) AKFPD28Y
The first part of the engine number prefix remains unchanged (99H, 12H). However LA utilised a series of slightly different power units. Essentially buying whatever was current UK production at the time. Thus, the full prefix can vary somewhat.
Typical ADR numbers found stamped into the Compliance Plate of an Australian delivered Californian:
Code Detail Compulsory from date
- 1 Reversing Signal Lamps 1 January 1972
- 3 Seat anchorages 1 January 1971
- 4C Seat belts 1 January 1976
- 5B Seat belt anchorages 1 January 1975
- 6 Direction Turn Signal 1 January 1973
- 7 Hydraulic brake hoses 1 January 1970
- 8 Safety glass 1 July 1971
- 10a Steering Column (collapsible) 1 January 1971
- 11 Internal Sun Visors (fitted and padded) 1 January 1972
- 12 Glare Reduction (items in driver’s view) 1 January 1973
- 14 Rear Vision Mirrors 1 January 1972
- 15 Demisting of windscreens 1 January 1971
- 16 Windscreen wipers and washers 1 January 1973
- 20 Safety Rims 1 July 1970
- 22A Head Restraints 1 January 1975
- 23 New pneumatic passenger car tyres 1 January 1974
- 24 Tyre Selection (tyre placard) 1 January 1973
- 25 Anti-Theft Locks (steering lock) 1 January 1972
- 26 Vehicle Engine Emission (tuning placard) 1 January 1972
- 27A Vehicle Emission Control 1 July 1976
- 28 Motor vehicle noise 1 January 1974
- 31 Hydraulic Braking Systems 1 January 1977
All fall under the classification of 2nd. edition ADR and can be researched online as such.
Example: LEYLAND MOKE CALIFORNIAN, 018FOB2M09/18517, complianced 8/77, seating capacity 2, met ADR 1, 3, 4C, 5B, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 20, 22A, 23, 24, 25, 28
To add a little confusion, Moke continually flitted between a commercial vehicle and passenger car. ADR for commercials tended to lag behind that of cars. By this time the company tended to keep Moke inline with Mini. Therefore equipped with twin circuit brakes yet not formally issued ADR 31. What occurred for overseas sales varies depending on destination, time and executive staff inclination on any given day. In most cases the standard Australian product or with slight deviation was exported. As such, retaining a Compliance Plate.
Known body colours (virtually any concurrent base model colour):
- Scarlet O’Hara
- Crystal White
- Am Eye Blue
- Yellow Devil
- Jade Green
- Silver Blue
Plus colour/shade evolutionary changes (replacement colours) such as Signal Red replacing Scarlet O’Hara, Squadron Blue… In white, bumpers didn’t receive an alternate colour, so your car was all white, if slightly different shades.
Under bonnet decals:
- emission control,
- LA brake fluid,
- SQ36 coolant corrosion inhibitor, and
- tyre selection & pressures.
All of these are printed on foil with a self-adhesive backing. Leyland Australia didn’t find it necessary to include a part number with the printed text. Nor did they find it appropriate to illustrate or even mention many labels in parts books. Not even the locally mandated items. Dealer stock decals or plates were no longer in vogue and only the last of the larger old school companies appeared to be still using them. Rear window transfers were being phased out but not really surpassed by self adhesive. Not that there was any long term place to attach one to a Moke anyway.
Your new vehicle was issued with:
- Two Wilmot Breeden ignition keys,
- Owners handbook,
- Emission control supplement,
- Passport to Service,
- Bottle type screw jack and a wheel brace.
Plus a dealer issued plastic wallet. Twelve month parts and labour warranty and the first service (only) was free. Though it’s a little unclear when it was first available, a big engine version is introduced. This creates 1275 Californian. Most appear in the following (facelift) period, 998cc is by far the more prevalent.
What makes a 1275cc Californian?
Take a 998 cc Californian and substitute: 1275 power unit, and a somewhat improvised local exhaust system, disc brakes and accompanying changes to rear wheel cylinder diameter (UK Mini), non assisted, so learn to push hard or wear out standard pads regularly, revised road wheels (drum brake stamping fouls the calliper), and add a 1275 grille badge (998 doesn’t bare a capacity badge).
The larger engine was also offered for standard Moke. Further relegating Californian to a trim upgrade model. Overlander magazine’s article (May 1979) evaluates a 1978 Californian. Clearly pictured is the underslung front bumper, plus top fill petrol tank with large cap. With true journalistic integrity it also has ‘boosted rear brakes’. Essentially a precursor or fill article for the 4WD version that’s being released in August! Still, some good period pictures.
Compliance Plates quote an abbreviated date (month/year). Essentially what the assembled vehicle complied with the day the plate was affixed. This is not the date of manufacture, although it may be close. Californian was apparently announced in 1976. As yet I haven’t encountered any with a compliance earlier than 1977.
The BMC/L-A Heritage Group presently offer something similar to a BMIHT Heritage Certificate. However this is little more than them acknowledging that the details you’ve provided are correct for a given car and a decode of any data on the Body or Compliance Plate. You send them a picture of what you’ve got and they look at it… Where a certificate is issued, model descriptions etc. are based on company executive concepts, not those of marketing/sales. No explanation or correlation is provided, save for any informal email correspondence. Therefore even after death, the company still perpetuates myth and mystery.
In providing this service the Heritage Group have managed to identify various fakes and quash many owner misconceptions. So a certain level of validity and value is present in the service provided.
Features still applicable today are emission control. Crankcase ventilation and placarding had been in force for several years. 1975 saw the introduction of evaporative loss control, notable by the charcoal canister in the engine bay. 01 July 1976 introduced the air pump and accompanying handbook. Whether you view it as trying to cause an after-burn to residual hydrocarbons in the exhaust port or simply trying to dilute the tailpipe readings with air, the engine bay now became decidedly more crowded.
The popular and simple modification at the time was removal of the drive belt. Once the warranty had passed most emission plumbing met with butchery. Certainly very few cars encountered the equipment being deleted to a level where it was difficult to spot if it was ever fitted. Other mandated features such as incorporated reverse lights or the heater (providing the required windscreen demist) faring no better.
The company’s fine-print statement would be ‘constant product improvement’. Simple reality is that product wasn’t exactly the same from beginning to end: how gulp valves are operated, front bumper mounting, what size is the petrol cap and filler neck, engine number prefix 99H 905 AJH, 99H 889 AJH, 99H 860 P…
Heater demister, matching dash panels and matching structural changes to the body were already in play before Californian. Similarly, rectangular Hella Australia stop/tail/indicator light units and a single, remote reverse light had been replaced by square Hella Australia tail lights. Reverse now being incorporated within both indicators. Accompanied by new rear wheel arch panel pressings to accomodate the taller (4-3/4” sq.) light units and omitting the previous remote mounting bracket. 1977 introduced twin circuit brakes. This included brake fail and hand brake warning lights (revised dash pressing).
Early production utilised the same sports steering wheel as Mini SS/LS. This subsequently transitions to a proprietary brand, aftermarket wheel. Concurrent standard Moke and Mini are equipped with the British three spoke wheel. Mini S has the upmarket version with leather cover and stainless inserts on each spoke. Some of which appear to have been fitted to Californians, possibly as a stopgap. None of the wheels are intended for outside use. Though the Mini SS/LS wheel is probably the least durable.
An evolutionary change occurred to front bumpers. The rear remained mounted directly to the body. Whereas the bodywork eventually lost the through front panel mounting holes. Subframe brackets were now underslung, requiring a new bumper, hardware and subframe. This occurs during 1978.
A late transition is the introduction of a small petrol filler cap. The body aperture remained unchanged. A 1979 facelift was pending. This encompassed revised body panels pressings made from Galvabond, revised bows and mountings, trim and upper seat belt anchorages. Plus progressive minor changes including heater and wiper motor.
Myth and mystery
There is a propensity for owners, repairers and some authors to parrot fables instead of applying accuracy and fact. Today we find a lot of absolute fantasy portrayed as truth, especially with assistance of the interweb. As with countless Land-Rover owners who insist that everything is a Defender, including Series III. Any Kombi with a piece of wood and foam in the back is a Campmobile. For Moke, every second vehicle is now a Californian!
Actual facts, like correct/legal tyre rolling diameter or ride height for a big wheel Moke are almost totally ignored, refuted or denied. To give some justification to those who have quoted factory documentation in the past, there are notable differences between executive decree and production. Hence the term Californian is plastered, through some company documentation and is in fact referring to the earlier Export Moke (1970 > ’73). As with the standalone Australian Moke parts list (PUB1029). Various pages are boldly titled CALIFORNIAN. Which would have caused some considerable consternation after the badged Californian was introduced. Like many hierarchical and layered organisations, the company failed to employ fixers/fire-fighters to sort out problems resulting from the pyramid’s structure.
The replacement list PUB1029R, makes some effort to correct or further confuse this, creating the new title of L.M.C. 1275 Moke (Leyland Motor Corporation) for Export Moke. Specific pages are now retitled 1275. By this time the new, badged Californian was entering the market. Soon followed by a 1275 offering. Company naming conventions in practise, are appalling if not farcical. Chinese whispers as formal information dissemination is regretfully accurate. For whatever reason, LA executives did title the Export as Californian, at least on one retail brochure. Why and when, appears to be lost to time. This earlier incarnation of Moke bore nothing more than the standard Moke front badge. Confused? You probably should be.
Parts books are notorious for ‘No Illustration’ and particularly the body section for poor print quality. This period also introduced a seemingly endless procession of text only parts supplements. Deciphering the intended model let alone what part was being described became an art form.
Californian then and now
Where do you start? There doesn’t appear to be too many real Californians left and many are a train-smash collection of random parts and patchwork repairs. The passing years haven’t been kind to Mokes in general and in particular, Australian Mokes.
1977 is the start of the badged Californian and the vast majority are the extremely capable 998cc. A Moke with correct tyres, operating pressures and ride height doesn’t handle like a Mini. Though certainly not the terrifying wallow associated with a Ford Escort the first time a corner is negotiated. Moke doesn’t have to hesitate for driveways, speed bumps or potholes a large car could deal with. Uniquely Australian road debris nor the hard gravel shoulder at high speeds on narrow roads isn’t a problem either. Though the tyre placard includes a warning about continuous high speed travel on winter treads. Load space and carrying capacity is more than adequate for a two man wilderness adventure.
The petrol cap relied on a simple cork seal as with Mini. Similarly it sealed just as well, although occupants were far closer to the fill point. The manufacturer never attempted an improvement nor was this taken up as an aftermarket offering. The factory canopy and curtain arrangement wasn’t brilliant by a long shot. Common sense attributes such as the document flap were functional if limited. A header rail seal had been introduced and though limited, did reduce the amount of water ending up in your lap. However the assembly worked dramatically better than any aftermarket offering since. Spitfire, B, Midget, MX-5… have also been presented with rubbish substitutes, along with equal to or better than factory fit replacement tops. Moke has typically been offered rubbish and nothing. Certainly no off the shelf products, identifying precise model/application, with a direct fit to the correct vehicle. At best you’ll receive a bespoke ‘artist’s impression’ of what the factory top never looked like. Alternately an expensive boat canopy and curtains. Denim look vinyl hasn’t been reproduced. Though there have been the intermittent offerings of something similar in a different grade of vinyl.
A poor area from new is the lack of rustproofing and this not being a popular dealer up-sell. Mokes aren’t particularly rust prone but entry level cars are known to attract neglect. Rear floor mats are bolted in place by the seat belts. The otherwise functional rubber mats act as a rubbing block for trapped dirt against paintwork. The seatbelt’s buckle can provide a nasty surprise if you just hop into the car. Mud flaps are sightly improved over the earlier generic rubber rectangle. The rear wheel arch surround controls a certain amount of splash. Though the now deleted protection strip in front of the rear arch creates a stone chip area the rubber was intended to prevent. Wiper slow speed is achieved by a length of resistor wire in series with the standard gauge. A short length that couldn’t cope with the associated heat. Creating one obvious, oddly coloured, frazzled wire in the engine bay.
Hella Australia light units become notorious as water traps. The resulting corrosion and their delicate plastic construction creating no end of fun. The general design was widely used in commercial applications, allowing components to be sourced or salvaged by keen owners. General Motors and Jeep Australia plus a variety of bus manufacturers utilised this generic platform. However the LA product was unique. Both bulb holders being twin filament and with a short, colour coded loom to connect to the vehicle.
Column controls hadn’t caught up with British Leyland’s 1976 facelift of Mini. The 1960s issue of some States prohibiting headlight flash resulted in all Minis and derivatives having a trafficator without such provision. A British (SMITHS) Mini heater is mounted under dash on a slightly more acute angle. A water trap is created in the main chamber. Adding drain holes is wise, before they add themselves. More than a single coat of black paint over bare steel also helps. Heater taps no longer needed to be removed from power units on the local assembly line as with Mini. A rear window with zipper was a notable and usable feature over standard Moke. The 1275cc motor did provide more torque. With standard gearing the main benefit would be less apparent effort to maintain high speed. Disc brakes meant some level of pedal height would remain between services. Not requiring the driver to simulate a morse key as with all round drums.
Moke had already been acquired by rental companies. There was no apparent hesitation from any of the majors in adopting this new, dearer model. Frequently sign written with corporate logo as mobile advertising in addition to the actual hire. Despite three Moke badges being fitted, the vehicle manufacturer’s name didn’t appear anywhere on the body or trim. Only the corporate icon on road and steering wheel centres.
Newsagents also updated their existing Moke or VW Country Buggy. The daily rag being thrown from an open, moving vehicle becoming somewhat of an icon in itself. Being one of the few commercial operators, Newsagents also discovered a design fault in big wheel Moke. Longer trailing arms posed extra stresses on pivot pins. Equating to additional wear in the bearing area, exacerbated by lack of regular lubrication. Though eventually resulting in catastrophic failure of the pin at its shoulder. Not dissimilar to what Minimetro would incur a few years later.
Decades on, interest in Mokes doesn’t seem to have abated. Though today there is a distinct contradiction. Would-be and many present owners still imagine Moke to be cheap. Whereas the average asking price for a road going Moke is well over $10,000 (AUD). The further contradiction within this is that many of these high priced Mokes would never pass a honest/accurate vehicle inspection for registration (MOT, WOF, RWC, Safety Certificate…). Collapsed suspension, missing safety features, missing emission control equipment, use of CHOKE (Chinese pseudo Moke) parts and home-made modifications. Just a few of the key faults blatantly apparent on many pricey, road going Mokes offered for sale. Plus the almost classical rust repair of over-plating with sheet steel.
Suspension bump stops are supposed to have clearance between the tower when parked on level ground. Not achieved by the tower being stove in. Owner speculation over just about any point is rife within the Moke community. As yet I haven’t encountered any definitive resource of information for Australian Moke or any Moke for that matter. Many Moke parts are unavailable. Many of the common Australian Mini parts are also unavailable such as the TRW/Camgears steering rack and its major components. For owners willing to put in the research, correct body fittings can be found in stainless. Matching Pozidrive, mushroom head, set screws are available and more than affordable. Doing the job well, as is infrequently found on Mokes, is possible, just not always easy.
I certainly find any unmolested Moke viable as an everyday car. Even with maintenance intervals being short and fuel economy poor, compared to a modern small car. Acceleration, top speed, handling and long distance cruising ability is as capable as ever in a well maintained Moke. Front and rear legroom is suitable for anyone up to 6’. On long trips you will need to stop every two hours or so for fuel. This happens to coincide with the government recommended break time for long trips. The factory heater does keep your knees warm, defrost your fingers when you shove them up the vent or provide a convenient place to hide your wallet when at the beach.
The constant battle for certain parts too regularly becomes overwhelming. Tyres being a good example. Resulting in the car sitting for some time until the problem can be rectified. Present day owners may not want winter tread tyres made from unobtainium but dropping rolling diametre 2 > 3” can have considerable knock-on effects. Or when the trafficator breaks and all you are offered is a reproduction of the incorrect UK Mini part or something less. This can go some way to explain why many present day cars are such a collection of random parts. Within Australia, virtually none of the common Moke replacement parts have been addressed.
‘Californians’ by owner/seller definition are seemingly everywhere. Far more than the company ever produced. Actual Californians, let alone unmolested, are decidedly less frequent to encounter. Too cheap for too long, with new and used Moke being an entry level car for many a year.
The company took Moke, an established icon in itself and made it more notable. A remarkable achievement and one that has lasted. Regretfully the vehicle manufacturer’s efforts to support and capitalise on its product, in this instance were exceptionally poor. For whatever reason the Australian Mini range was relegated to a lot of quite simply half-assed supporting detail. Just ask anyone who has tried to use a Leyland Australia Mini Workshop Manual. The relevant Moke parts list having almost as many pages with ‘No Illustration’ as those that are illustrated. Whereas other L.A. products such as P76, Tasman and Morris Nomad have acceptable to excellent supporting documentation.
Moking is fun. Moking in a well maintained Moke is brilliant. You’ll never forget it. Certainly classless and by today’s standards more than spartan, even in the trim upgrade Californian. Still traffic competitive, daily runabout, capable tow vehicle, mobile workshop or weekend cruiser. Light off-road ability with some driver skill and a heavy foot. A little hard on fuel and difficult to get tyres for. If it’s raining drive faster. Sunny, then put the top up before you get barbecued. It may not be a XK-E but the impact to those on the outside is similar.
‘Moking wasn’t a Wealth Hazard’
- The cars : Leyland Moke Californian – all you need to know - 1 July 2020
- The cars : Land Rover GAME Series III development story - 9 July 2018
- Minis overseas : Australian Mokes (2015 update) - 10 October 2015