Amongst the pre-owned Jaguars and Rolls at one Savannah Highway dealership, there are new topless four-seaters priced less than $17,000 that hark to the days of beach riders and surfing music.

The open-sided models from MOKE America emulate the 1960s era dune buggies of the same name built by British car makers. Luxury Cars of Charleston picked up three MOKE America versions from a Palm Beach, Florida, distributor in late April, believed to be the first ones in South Carolina, said Richard Lane, co-owner. Cruise Cars in Sarasota, Florida, is the manufacturer.

"It's sort of nice to have something new," said Elaine Lane, co-owner with her husband of the pre-owned auto outlet on Savannah Highway.

The new MOKEs, popular nowadays on Caribbean islands, differs from the half-century-old predecessors in a couple of ways. They are electric vehicles as opposed to gas engines to meet U.S. emissions standardss. Rather than all-road cars, the roadsters are considered low-speed vehicles, with a top allowable speed of 28 mph and designed for streets with speed limits of 35 mph. The dealers noted that the new MOKE suits people who want a vehicle to drive and carry beachwear and coolers around their neighborhood or a gated community such as Kiawah Island. The buyers also may want a sleeker style than a golf cart with extras such as seat belts and optional Bluetooth accessible audio systems.

The models can travel 40 miles on a charge, and the vehicles can be juiced up with a standard plug at home. A full charge takes about eight hours, the time of an overnight plug-in, Richard Lane said.

"What they are doing is really trying to customize it," said Elaine Lane, as buyers can add features such as cloth seats, Bimini tops and various colors including red, white, light blue and black exteriors.

The low-to-the-ground vehicles weighing 2,200 pounds are "much safer than golf carts," Richard Lane said. He's looking to sell around three MOKEs a month, with prices starting at $16,975, over the next 10 months.

The new MOKEs can be customized with original paint jobs, varieties of seats such as tall backs, and upgraded audio systems such as additional speakers, says Michael Hanley, business operations manager at Luxury Cars of Charleston, who offered a test drive on nearby West Ashley streets.

The original British dune buggies— loosely based on the Jeep — date to 1964 and were named the Mini Moke, Austin Mini Moke or Morris Mini Moke. They stayed in production until 1993 as a four-seat convertible or two-seat pickup.

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