The design for the Mini Moke was conceived concurrently with the ADO15 Mini project. It was apparent to Alec Issigonis that the compact, self contained, transverse front engine / transmission unit with Moulton suspension would be suitable for specialist uses. In the late 1950s the British Army were looking for a small, lightweight, air portable, economical and cheap runabout. It had to be capable of being air portable, lifted by helicopter, dropped by parachute, being packed flat and able to carry four men with light arms or demolition equipment at up to 60mph. It also had to be small and light enough to be manhandled over difficult terrain. The air portability was a key consideration and the Moke was designed so it could be stacked three-deep in a Beverley transport plane.
The lightest tactical vehicle at that time was the Austin Champ and a contract for such a military vehicle would have been very lucrative for BMC. By mid 1959 seven prototypes were running, even before the launch of the Austin Seven and Morris Mini Minor. They consisted of an 80 inch punt type steel bodyshell with open sides onto which the front and rear Mini subframes were bolted and weighed only 2½ cwt. They had a 37bhp 948cc engine but lacked the side-panniers of the future production Moke. They also had the fuel tank and the spare wheel tucked behind the rear seat. The front seat was a simple bench which was welded in place to improve rigidity of the simple punt-like body.
At the same time, Longbridge published a booklet about the "BMC Light Inter Communication Car" which introduced the Moke and gave its specifications. The booklet explained that although it was designed primarily for use on roads, the Light Inter Communication Vehicle had considerable cross country ability. If it became stuck, it said that two soldiers could lift it free and that four men could carry even the Moke if need be. The Mini’s subframe construction was said to give easy maintenance in the field and the 40mpg fuel consumption was claimed to increase by no more than a third when used off road.
Military assessment continued and the Moke was tested by the Army, the Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force. The response was lukewarm although the RAF reported that the Moke could be adopted as an air transportable vehicle for use abroad, provided that it had full weather equipment and a towbar.
BMC responded to feedback from the forces and during 1960 a revised Moke was built which had a shorter wheelbase, stiffer suspension, sump guard and boxed in sides. The revised model had a shorter wheelbase of 72½ inches, giving a length of 110 inches or 100 inches with the bumpers and spare wheel removed. But by 1963 interest from the military for the Moke had all but disappeared. It was incapable of tackling steep gradients when fully loaded, had only a limited off road ability due to its front wheel drive design and suffered from a chronic lack of ground clearance with the tiny 10 inch wheels, making it useless for off road work.
Following the rejection by the military, BMC began to redesign the Moke as a civilian mode in 1963. It reverted to the original 80 inch configuration, received side panniers first seen on the short wheelbase prototype and a standard 848cc engine instead of the 948cc unit used up until then.