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Moke Is A Great Beach Buggy

A low-speed electric car with high style.

If the Moke looks familiar, it has a long history. It was first developed as a variant of the original Austin Mini, rebodied for use by the military (it was designed to be small and light enough to be dropped out of planes). Its sedanlike ground clearance and lack of off-road ability cut short its military career. However, it found a second calling as a sunny-weather runabout for the yachting set, beachgoers, and swells everywhere living la dolce vita. That’s the kind of appeal that endures, and the original Moke’s life span extended from 1964 into the 1990s, with the vehicle being produced in half a dozen different countries.

At least in the United States, the Moke has been reborn as a battery-powered low-speed vehicle (LSV). (Moke America sells it in overseas markets with a 1.0-liter inline-four.) That LSV classification means it’s subject to different rules in different states, but New York is typical in that it’s legal to drive on any street with a posted speed limit of 35 mph or less. That meant the surface streets of Manhattan were our playground, but the West Side Highway, for instance, was off-limits. In comparatively lawless Connecticut, however, there are no stated restrictions, so theoretically, one could drive the Moke on the Connecticut Turnpike, although the vehicle’s 25-mph top speed might make that a dicey proposition.

However, that proved to be not much of a limitation in Manhattan, where the current “Vision Zero” push to reduce auto/pedestrian accidents has brought stepped-up enforcement of the 25-mph speed limit that’s in effect on most city streets. In the Moke, we could drive foot to the floor without running afoul of the law. At least, we could when the traffic was moving.

While the Moke can keep up with the (legal) pace of moving traffic in Manhattan, with an electric motor mustering 20 horsepower and 70 lb-ft that is motivating approximately 2300 pounds, it doesn’t jump off the line the way even the humblest electric cars usually do. Once you’re up and rolling, though, it’s fun to nose the Moke through traffic. Although it has an inside rearview mirror and dual convex side-view mirrors, the entire vehicle is so open that it’s easier to just turn your head to get a bead on your surroundings. And yet the high, wide side sills mitigate the feeling of vulnerability.

Bounding along the Meatpacking District’s cobblestone streets, the Moke does a decent job of absorbing bumps, but the suspension allowed a fair bit of body lean during a quick jog around an errant deliveryman. Like the original, this Moke is front-wheel drive.

The high-back seats are hard plastic, and although the driver’s chair slides fore and aft, the steering wheel is at a fixed, buslike angle, making for an arms-out driving position. For those riding shotgun, the cage member connecting the top of the windshield header to the main roll hoop at the center of the cabin makes for a natural grab handle. With no doors, hopping in and out is easy, using the wide sill as a step plate.

The sparse dashboard includes a wildly optimistic 60-mph speedometer, a battery-charge-level indicator, and an optional stereo head unit that accepts Bluetooth and USB inputs. Between the seats is a simple console with one cupholder up front, a shift lever, and a handbrake. The shifter includes forward, neutral, and reverse positions, so when parking, one needs to select neutral and set the handbrake.

The rear seats are just roomy enough for a six-footer to sit behind a similarly sized driver, and behind them is a shallow cubby with a lockable plastic lid. It’s just big enough to stow the optional folded fabric top—side curtains also are available—and the charge cord. That cord plugs into a standard 120-volt outlet, and recharging the four sealed lead-acid batteries takes approximately eight hours. Moke America claims a range of 40 miles, which, for a vehicle like this, is probably sufficient.

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