In the early ‘70s, The Merrymen – a popular calypso band from Barbados – released the ‘Mini Moke Song’. It was a catchy little ditty about the hottest thing on four wheels at the time.

“Coming down the road in a Mini Moke,
Is a sight to see – beep beep,
Look out when they blow that horn,
It’s a Mini Moke junkie.”

Throughout the Caribbean, the rag-top open-air, boxy auto was a hit, particularly in Cayman where Cico Rental Car Company had 10 in operation by 1966. The Mini Moke was motoring at its most basic: resembling a serving tray on wheels with a windscreen and the simplest of seats, it was also instantly recognisable. In the always-warm Cayman climate it was great fun for taking down to the beach and exploring Cayman’s few paved roads and bush trails, which were more potholes and dead coral rocks than graded thoroughfares in that era.

In many ways, the Mini Moke was a sort of four-wheeled motorbike, the perfect beach buggy.

The Moke was born in response to the British Army’s search for air transportable vehicles. It was certainly light and compact; particularly with the windscreen down, but the front wheel drive, small wheels and low ground clearance did not give it sufficient mobility. Experimental four wheel drive Mokes were built with two engines and transmissions – power at each end! The general idea was to design a utility version of a lighter weight Land Rover, capable of being packed in crates to be dropped from the sky with a parachute or lowered by helicopter.

By the end of the war, thanks to typical government red tape, orders for the Mini Moke fell through and the military lost interest. However, that was not the end of the little car that could; the Moke went on to become a cult classic.

The late Steve Foster surveys a row of Mini Mokes at Cico rental car agency in 1969.

In the early 1970s, a Mini Moke was the first motor vehicle to be driven on Pitcairn Island, a British Overseas Territory, making it the most remote car on Earth. If you know your geography, you’ll see that Pitcairn is one of the most isolated islands on the planet and if you know your history, the island gained fame based on the mutineers who settled there in 1790.

The Mini Moke was chosen as Pitcairn’s first car because it was the only off-road vehicle that could be lifted by the island’s only crane (there is no dock or airstrip at Pitcairn). The rough terrain and heavy rainfall proved too much for the Moke and it soon broke down. Eventually, a second Moke, and later a third, were sent to the island. As time went on, the three became one when spare parts ran out. The island’s sole vehicle remained running until at least 1988.

Absent from Cayman’s roads for nearly four decades, the Moke is now back. It is no longer tagged with the “Mini” up front; now it is just a Moke. If you want to hear the ‘Mini Moke’ song, do a search on YouTube for ‘Mini Moke – The Merrymen’. For a Moke ride, stop by Avis in Cayman and rent yourself a piece of history.

2 COMMENTS

  1. This article brings back fond and not so fond memories. When I arrived in early 1969, the mini mokes were a common sight all around George Town, but especially early morning or early evening. They were not driven by tourists and only infrequently by residents. The drivers were MRCU employees sporting a large cannon like object pointed out of the rear of their vehicles. This was known colloquially as the “fogger”, an apt description as it spewed out a dense white fog like mist of insecticide aimed at our mosquito residents, but woe betide any pedestrians in the vicinity who would soon be coughing and spluttering.
    It was however a necessary evil in those days, as I never forget the first week I arrived, staying at the now deceased La Fontaine hotel on West Bay Beach. When I parked I had to sprint for the hotel entrance as I was immediately surrounded by a dense black cloud of starving mosquitoes.
    Life in those days however had it’s compensations, almost zero crime and no drugs apart from the odd ganja spliff. Residents never had to lock their doors and we could buy almost any goods in central George Town from Comart, Byrite, Kirk Supermarket, or the Merren store. Now it’s all t-shirts, jewellery, duty free and cruisesheep junk.
    Yes, we have had progress over the years, but at a price.

  2. The Mini-Moke was indeed an iconic part of Cayman in the 1960’s & 1970’s. My favourite Moke memory is that they were the milk “truck” of the day. Caribbean Farms (based in Pease Bay) used Mokes, decorated in popular “flower-power” patterns of the day, driven by beautiful milk-maids dressed in hot-pants and go-go boots, to deliver daily supplies of fresh milk to subscribers!

    Unfortunately the Mokes also evoke a more unsettling memory as a result of being involved in several fatal accidents, mostly involving tourists, which ultimately led to them being banned from Cayman’s roads. Hopefully, they will be operated more safely now. Hope we’ll soon see VW- based dune buggies back again too!

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