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Cult classic Moke car returns to Miami

John Temerian, Moke USA’s managing partner, drives a Moke through Wynwood, July 6, 2017. The iconic vehicle from the ‘60s and ‘70s once counted the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, George Harrison and even James Bond among its fans. Moke USA re-launched the car in the U.S. this year.
John Temerian, Moke USA’s managing partner, drives a Moke through Wynwood, July 6, 2017. The iconic vehicle from the ‘60s and ‘70s once counted the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, George Harrison and even James Bond among its fans. Moke USA re-launched the car in the U.S. this year. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Miami, with its beach weather and fondness for retro, has a new car to love. The iconic ’60s Moke has relaunched with the slogan, “Always on vacation,” and has almost sold out this year’s U.S. stock of 89 cars.

The open-air beach buggy — typically in bold colors like orange and yellow — began limited distribution in May to the United States out of Miami-based Moke USA. The car was made famous in the ’60s and ’70s as a favorite among celebrities and the social elite, and once counted the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, George Harrison and even James Bond among its fans.

A trio of car-lovers is restarting the brand in the U.S., after spotting the relaunched version in the Caribbean and bringing it here.

The new U.K.-produced design from Moke International is more modern and slightly bigger, but keeps close to the original look and feel, including the vintage gauges on the dashboard.

Already, Miami celebrities are paying attention.

“It’s unbelievable to drive one, it’s the coolest thing,” said David Grutman, the owner of Miami nightclubs LIV and Story and who placed one of the first orders for the new Moke.

Grutman recognized the car from vacations on the Caribbean island St. Barthelemy, where the car is often used for rentals, and “freaked out” when he saw a model on display at the Miami Moke showroom, 2100 NE Second Ave. After test-driving one for a few weeks, he purchased a light blue model.

“Because of the South Florida weather, it’s great because it’s all open and free. It brings you back to that vacation mode in your head and takes a lot of stress away,” Grutman said.

The new Moke has a top speed of around 72 mph and a dual overhead-cam 4-cylinder engine. Updates to the design include power steering, USB outlets and a stereo system, which — like the seats and rest of the car — is waterproof. It retails for $24,950, though the price can rise to $30,000 with optional features or $40,000 with bespoke requests.

Miami’s climate and culture make the city an ideal launching place, said Moke USA managing partner John Temerian, whose family has been repairing, restoring and dealing in cars for more than 50 years. “You have an incredible intake system for individuals from around the world who are here for fun. And I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world that has the combination of such luxury and beach spirit.”

The target demographic, said Temerian, already owns two or three cars. “This is something they keep at their vacation home,” he said. “This is a toy, a way to go to the corner store and get groceries, or take something off your yacht.”

Originally, the car was designed for the British Army in the late ’50s but instead found a cult following as a beach vehicle. About 50,000 vehicles were produced in the U.K., Australia and Portugal over the next several decades before production ended in 1993 after increased competition hurt sales.

Until recently, Moke devotees had to gather in specialty forums for tips on where they could hunt down the cars and how to restore them.

Steve Sutter, who lives in Boston, purchased a yellow 1974 model 10 years ago and had to ship it across the Pacific Ocean to get it from Australia to his then-home in San Francisco. In the summers, he uses it almost daily. “I love the size of it and it has this feel of summer and outdoor and fun,” he said.

“It’s particularly easy to do errands because you step out of it onto the sidewalk,” he said. “It gets really good mileage. It gets tremendous looks. We get asked constantly about it.”

When people asked for advice on finding one, he would point them to eBay, although it wasn’t easy to find one there.

But after a British company revived production overseas and began selling the car in 2015, one of Moke USA’s partners, Alan Lazowski, had the idea to bring the vehicle to the U.S. market after seeing the car abroad that year. The three partners, Lazowski, Temerian and Jordi Ricart, already owned and ran Curated, a Miami company that consults on and sells European collector cars.

“In my circles, I started mentioning [the Moke] to people, and it was almost like talking about an old family relative,” Temerian said. “It was surprising how they still loved the Moke, their faces lit up.”

After gauging interest, they formed Moke USA and ordered the first prototype the following year.

While not everyone recognizes the mini jeep-like four-seater, those who do often have an immediate reaction, said Temerian.

When the first prototype arrived in the U.S. in December, Temerian said, “anywhere we went, someone pulled us over and asked us, ‘How do I get one?’” Several prospective owners even followed their car directly back to the dealership. The company has received over 400 emails in its first few months from people looking to buy or distribute the car.

“It’s one of those things that it’s not a car, it’s definitely a piece of culture,” Temerian said.

Moke USA has partnered with dealers in Palm Beach, Key Biscayne and Fort Lauderdale and is currently in talks with dealers in North Carolina, Malibu, the Hamptons and several other locations — their market is “anywhere someone wants to enjoy nature, sun, and a sensory experience on a coastal city,” Temerian said.

But those longing for a piece of this nostalgia will have to act fast or be patient.

The company has sold 22 cars and has about 50 sales pending, leaving less than two dozen cars of its 2017 stock left. Next year it plans to import 350, including electric models, with the idea to double that number the following year.

“It’s not a mass-market car,” Temerian said. “It’s hand-built for heritage and quality.”

Moke in Miami

What: Moke USA

Where: 2100 NE Second Ave., Miami

Information: 305-290-3440 or www.mokeinternational.com/mokeusa

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