Portuguese Mokes

30 June 2020  |  Admin

1. Background

Jim Lambert was working as worldwide Quality Manager for Land Rover Overseas Manufacturing in 1981 and was one of those involved with the decision to end Moke production in Australia.

Initially production began as a short term solution to complete a quantity of CKD kits that had been exported to Portugal in the period just before production of the Moke ceased in Australia. These kits came to the attention of Jim Lambert who suggested that maybe a recently decommissioned British Leyland assembly plant in Portugal might be a suitable home for continued manufacture of the car. The plan was to offer them for sale and if successful, continue with manufacture of the vehicle.

The decision was taken to continue with production and the presses and jigs were shipped from Australia, and in July 1983 production started at the IMA (lndustria Montagem Automoveis) factory in Setubal. Portugal seemed the ideal location for production of the Moke. Labour costs were low, the car was nearer its principal markets in the Caribbean, and, most crucially of all, the Portuguese government's system of import quotas meant that for every Moke exported an additional Metro could be imported.

2. Production

Production started under the banner of British Leyland Portugal Ltd at a plant at Setubal with bodyshell manufacture sub contracted to IMA. However by the end of November 1984, Moke production was in a mess. Accordingly, in mid 1984, management recruited the recently retired Jim Lambert as MD of what was by now called Austin Rover Portugal to sort things out. Heightened labour unrest at IMA continued, which had damaging consequences upon production. Jim Lambert arrived just in time to see the plant declared bankrupt. This culminated with IMA's final closure on December 28th 1984.

Austin Rover pondered whether to discontinue the Moke but would have incurred high scrap costs of 260 vehicles in KD packs in the UK, 45 vehicles unpacked at IMA but not assembled and 28 vehicles in various stages of assembly. This was a total of 333 vehicles.

Jim Lambert put forward a salvage contingency plan to the Austin Rover Group in February 1985 to complete the 333 vehicles in another bodyshell assembly manufacturer called Batista Russo at Vendas Novas (the ex MAN truck plant),100 miles from Lisbon. This plant had been researched in October 1984 as a possible successor to IMA if Austin Rover wanted to continue with the Moke. The salvage plan was accepted and on February 14th 1985 all parts, equipment and part finished vehicles were moved into Batista Russo to carry out a "run out" operation. The first production vehicle left the plant two months later on April 17th 1985 and the last vehicle to leave the plant as per schedule was on 6th December 1985.

During the run out operation, it became evident that his team could produce some 30 vehicles a month consistently, to higher quality standards, and at lower cost than previously. Batista Russo was a reliable plant operation and if the Moke could be cost effective, Jim argued that it still had a future. So he began to think in terms of continuing Moke production. However there was one major obstacle as the Moke was being built to the specification that had evolved in Australia, with a number of costly modified parts.

The Australian 13 inch wheels were mainly to blame, as the special trailing arms for the rear suspension had to be manufactured in Portugal at high cost. There were further complications because alterations to the steering rack and to the front and rear wings were also required. The differential used on the Moke also had a ratio unique to the Moke and was supplied in small numbers to Portugal alone.

A continuation proposal based on using standard Mini parts was put to the Austin Rover Board and approval was given in August 1985 for Moke 86 to become a reality.

Following a 1985 production of 392 "Australian" Mokes, the first of these new specification cars rolled off the Vendas Novas line in February 1986. Local Portuguese content was around 50 per cent by parts value with hoods, interior trim, roll cages and bumpers all being manufactured by the same sub-contractor in Oporto, as were the body pressings and the petrol tank.

In the first five months of 1986 537 were produced by the slimmed down Vendas Novas workforce which was more than in any of the preceding years. Following a large order of 1000 units to France and 250 cars to Spain, Jim Lambert exploited his old BL connections and managed to acquire additional welding equipment at no cost from the companys mothballed Belgian factory at Seneffe. With this, he was able to plan a doubling of production, moving from five to ten cars per day, equivalent to around 2,000 per year, with the possibility of raising this to 12 cars daily if need be.

But the Mokes future was by no means certain and at the end of 1987, the Portuguese quota system was dismantled, meaning that Austin Rover could freely import its cars into Portugal. This meant that the Moke would no longer be of use as a way of getting extra vehicles into the country and had to stand or fall on its sales and profitability.

At first, all the signs were good. The Moke had been given a galvanised body for 1988 and continued to sell well, with a production of 2,301. But sales fell sharply in 1989 in face of increasingly strong Japanese competition and Rover was becoming concerned that the Moke didn't fit into their product range at a time when they were trying to shift the image of Rover up market. The decision was taken to cease production in July 1989 with only 1230 cars made during that year.

Total Portuguese Moke production was 8171.

3. Specification

The initial batch of Portuguese Mokes were very similar to the last Australian Mokes with Californian and Standard models available as before. The only noticeable differences between the Portuguese 13 inch wheel Mokes and their Australian predecessors were the light units at the front with a combined main beam and sidelight unit and at the rear with a rectangular Lucas unit

The 1986 redesign saw the return to standard Mini running gear which included a low compression 998cc engine so two star fuel could be used by hire company cars, the regular economy ratio Mini gearbox with a standard 3.44:1 differential and running on 12 inch wheels. The move to 12 inch wheels meant not only that normal Mini trailing arms could be used but also that the Moke would come with front disc brakes as standard. The specification also meant that subframe assemblies and wheel/tyre sets could be shipped ready assembled from Longbridge, further saving costs.

The roll cage was redesigned and this now served as the hood frame as well, removing the need for separate hood supports. The redesigned roll cage also gained a crosspiece and so was not only more rigid but was also better adapted to carrying surfboards and the like.

There were other changes that helped to make the Moke a neater, better presented and more harmoniously trimmed vehicle. Seats and hood were now the same colour, as were the roll cage, bumpers, grille and wheel trims.

Quality was clearly improved and with only minor changes, this model continued right through to the end of the production. It was available in 2 and 4 seater forms. All other fittings were options/extras, depending on the destination country.

4. Engines

Portuguese Mokes all used the standard A series 998cc engine

5. Colours


6. Identification

The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) can be found stamped on the bulkhead behind the air filter. It can also be found (together with colour and trim codes) stamped on a plate in the engine bay, pop riveted to the radiator surround or guard.

British Leyland and Austin Rover Mokes VIN numbers start: TW7 XK

The first two of the last 6 digits of the number give the year of manufacture. They are reversed so 38 is 1983, 48 is 1984 etc.

7. Model Identification Summary

British Leyland/Austin Rover Moke (1983-1985) 13 inch wheels, flared rear wheel arches, Single head / side lamp unit, with separate indicator. Reversing and Fog Lights.

Austin Rover Moke (1986-1988) 12 inch wheels, flat back panel, integral hood frame and roll cage.

Austin Rover Moke (1988-1989) From July 1988 vehicles were zinc plated. Other changes include single stowage bin opening, body coloured roll cage and white bumpers.

The presses and jigs were shipped from Australia and in July 1983 production started at a recently decommissioned British Leyland assembly plant in Portugal