Cars you probably never heard of - The VAZ-1111 Oka, the Russian kei-car
As in most communist countries, the car manufacturing in Soviet Russia was far behind the technology offered in western nations. So it came that up to the 80s, the Zaporozhets was Russia’s people’s car. But by that time it already was extremely outdated, featuring a rear-mounted air-cooled V4 engine with 30 to 40hp and the 60s styling. So it was time for a new “car for everyone”.
Development started in 1983 and in 1988 the car finally got introduced. It was initially powered by a 650cc two-cylinder engine delivering a power of 29hp. The whole concept was widely inspired by the Japanese kei car class and just like those it was intended to be cheap enough, so that everyone in the country would have the chance to own a car.
Compared to the Zaporozhets it was a big leap in modernisation, with a front-engine FWD layout, a hatchback body style and disc brakes in the front instead of drums all around. Later on in 1996 the engine got updated and the displacement increased to 750cc, power output went up to 33hp. For the last production year 2008 the car received a Chinese 1000cc fuel-injected Inline3. Throughout its production time it was sold under various brand names, the VAZ-1111 or Lada Oka, the SeAZ-1111 or even the KAMAZ-1111.
What actually was very remarkable about the car is that it was developed to suit every automotive need a person could have for the smallest price tag possible. SeAZ specialised on specifically making cars for disabled people, such as a version for people without legs, a version for people with only one leg and a version for people with only one leg and one arm. VAZ built the normal versions and the commercial versions, such as the Toima pictured below. Believe it or not, the Toima actually was available in special versions for the police and the ambulance.
There also were versions for amateur racers with factory fitted roll cages, called the Oka Junior (entry level) and the Oka Sport (semi-professional).
Even an electric version was offered.
But because a company called TTM thought that still there were people without the fitting Oka version, they developed an offroad model for the Taiga.
Of course the car had some downsides too, probably the worst being the safety. In a crash test, done by ARCAP, the car received a 0 star rating out of a possible 4. On the other hand this result was foreseeable for a car that small and developed in the 80s. Most kei cars of that time wouldn’t have been any better.
All in all it did exactly what it was supposed to. It became the Russian people’s car and in my opinion, making such a variety of versions so that everyone could own a car suiting his/her demands gives this tiny car a special place in automotive history.