2016 MOKE: A “Mini” Review

Alec Issigonis designed the original Mini Moke in 1959 as a military vehicle.  The Moke failed in this role, but over the years became a success as a fun car for warm climates.  Over the years it was built in England, Australia and Portugal.

1967 Mini Moke

 In 2012 Moke International  announced they were bringing back the Moke, or as they call it MOKE.  Working with Chery, the Chinese car manufacturer Moke international have updated the design with a target of the rental car fleets in small islands like St Barts.  The Result is the 2016 MOKE.  


2016 MOKE

Externally, the MOKE is about 300mm wider than the original, most of this width seems to be between the seats, you can see from these shots of the Red MOKE and the Blue Moke that the front seats are further apart on the newer car.

Under the skin, the changes are much more significant.  Power comes from a 1000cc 67HP twin cam 16v engine that on our car drives the wheels through a 5 speed gear box.  Save the 5 speed, this is a similar amount of power as a 1275 A series that was fitted to many Australian and Portuguese Mini Mokes.

Suspension is via MacPherson struts in the front and a trailing arm/dead axle arrangement in the back.  The engine and suspension arrangement have necessitated that the nose is longer than the original and the bonnet is a few inches higher.  Sitting behind the wheel it is clear you are not in a Mini as there is a lot of car in front of you.

Driving impressions?  Well first the good news, the handling, at least at the moderate speeds possible in St Barts was nice, the steering was nicely weighted and gave some feedback despite the power steering. The MOKE is heavier than the Mini Moke and is under powered, first gear being needed on many of the steeper roads.  The transmission was the major issue with the car we rented.  With only 1600 km on the clock, the transmission had a huge amount of backlash in the overall transmission, this made clutch engagement a noisy and difficult endevour.  A three point turn was accompanied by loud clunks at every change of direction. Add to this a very vague gear shift, particularly getting into reverse and the driving experience was unpleasant.  Sitting back  in to the fixed recline seat put the gear stick out of reach, so driving was more like being on the seat rather than in it.

Given the poor state of the transmission after less than 2000 km, you have to wonder how long these cars will last in a rental fleet.  A quick look around the car found a few rust spots, this is the worst one.

I was never so glad to be renting rather than owning a car that I thought I loved. 

I hope the car we rented is a pre-production example and is not representative of the quality that Moke International intend to deliver in the long term.  With improved quality and ergonomics, the MOKE could be a success in its intended market.

The good news is there is an alternative to renting a MOKE, it is to rent an Nosmoke, an electric Moke built in France, that more closely resembles the Mini Moke and seems to have avoided some of the negatives that the MOKE’s poor quality seems to have brought.  Sadly we did not get a chance to drive the Nosmoke, perhaps we will find them on another island.

2016 Nosmoke

St Barts

The island of Saint Barthélemy is only 12 miles from St Martin and whilst St Martin is the winter base for many superyachts, St Barts is where the owners come to play.

Each island we visit has its own character, St Bart’s is at the European end of the spectrum.  Mainly white, wealthy and cosmopolitan, St Bart’s could be a French island in the Med. 

We arrived on January 5th with the idea that the boats attending the big New Year’s celebrations would have started to leave.  The superyacht marinas in St Maarten, just about empty on New Year’s Eve, were filling up by the day we left.

The short sail to St Bart’s was complicated by the Causeway Bridge breaking down and blocking our planned departure through Simpson Bay on the Dutch side.  This delayed our departure to the afternoon bridge opening on the French side. We arrived at Ile Fourchue just a couple of miles off St Bart’s, just at sunset.

Ile Fourchue

 We picked up a mooring ball for the night before heading into the main port at Gustavia the next day.

We bumped into Peter and Patty from Serendipitous in the port office.  Jimmy Buffett’s Cheese Burger in Paradise was written at Le Select in Gustavia, so we naturally all headed there for lunch. 

Cheese Burger


Anse du Grand Colombier

That evening we moved the boat to Anse du Grand Colombier in the north of St Bart’s, a lovely anchorage, quiet, with great hikes to a lovely café with good coffee, fresh pastries and baguettes, we may have done that hike twice.

Hiking to the Boulangerie

Bas and Agnes on TiSento hosted Ingomar, Serendipitous and Kinship for a sundowner, it was great to catch up with everyone.

A few days later we went back to the main port of Gustavia, where we rented a car for a day trip around the island. This is not our normal way of getting around, but we have found these really hilly islands with their tiny, twisty roads quite unsuitable for cycling. We had seen several of these funny-looking open, miniature jeep-like electric cars on the road, and really wanted to drive one. They are called a Moke – see :



The rental place only had gasoline models available, so we took it anyway and headed off to explore the island, and have a picnic at a scenic lookout. Wow, what a beautiful island…and clearly one with lots of money! It has some spectacular scenery, and a beach around every bend. Tourism seems to have developed in a moderate way so they are not all spoiled by huge hotels and crowds. The super-yacht crowds come with their own hotels, and obviously spend lots of money ashore supporting the local economy. In turn, they seem to take real pride in making their island look nice. The waterfront is well done up, the towns are clean and well-maintained.

The rental Moke was a disappointment – it was a 2016 version made in China and drove terribly and with less than 2000 km on the clock it seemed to be about to fall apart at any second. That said, it was still lots of fun to zoom around in an open car on those crazy roads with spectacular views at every turn.

We went out to the airport to watch the planes, and what a hoot that was!  Another crazy Caribbean airport with a very short runway and a killer approach, coming in low right over our heads as we stood on the roadside watching. Check out the video we shot:

The takeoffs are almost as hairy.

We had a great time in St Barts, next we head off to St Kitts as we wend our way south.

A Side Trip to Saba

Once I saw the Shard’s Distant Shores episode on Saba, it has been on my bucket list of places to go.  This time of year, there is too much wave action in the anchorages to be comfortable so we decided to fly.

Saba is a rock in the sea, small in every dimension other than up.  Until you see it in person it is hard to comprehend.  Approaching in the plane you see a 2855 ft mountain raising in front of you as you fly at just 2000ft from St Martin.  Flying in a Twin Otter, the landing into the worlds shortest commercial runway was anticlimactic, the pilots do this many times a week and have it all under control, we exited the runway having used less than 200 meters of the 400 meter runway.  For reference, a US aircraft carrier’s flight deck is about 330 meters. 

 Our taxi, piloted by Donna, headed up The Road, that is its name, for there is only one road that goes between the villages, winding our way up the hill from the airport to Hells Gate and then on to Windwardside.  The office for our accommodation,  El Momo Cottages was 46 steps up from the road where Donna dropped us off.  We were booked in to the “Cottage in the Sky” that was a further 120 steps up the hill.  We got lots of exercise on this trip.


We arrived on Christmas eve so we explored Windwardside to find restaurants that would be open over the holidays and we made a reservation for Christmas day. 

On Christmas day we climbed Mount Scenery, 1064 steps and about 1700 ft from Windwardside to the summit.


The track is well built and other than the amount of climbing is an easy hike.  The views from the top are amazing.

Saba is very green, rain forest covers much of the island.


At the top, a cockerel seems to have taken to sharing visitor’s picnics.


We had a great dinner that night at Chez Bubba, we bumped into a couple we met at the top of Mount Scenery and we had a great night.  The food and service were excellent. 


Saba is a place of simple names, Windward side is the second largest community on the island and is located on the windward side.  The Bottom is the largest settlement, and on Boxing Day we walked “The Road” to explore it.

The Road clings to the edge of the hills with spectacular views, arriving high over The Bottom.

 The Bottom has sea access with a small harbour to the south and “The Ladder” to the west.


The Ladder was the way all people and goods came before the harbour was built.  Today, cruisers use The Ladder to access the island from moorings in Ladder Bay.  The Ladder is actually stone steps that lead about 800 ft up from the bay to the bottom.

 The Bottom is home government offices, the hospital and to the medical school that provides a lot of income for the island.

The flight back to St Martin was just as memorable, the pilots use every inch of the runway, coming close to the edge of a large drop into the ocean.

Landing, we had a great view of the bar where we took the photo of the Airbus A340 landing.

We had a great time in Saba and if we have a chance we hope to come back with the boat in the spring.