The name comes from the Oka river in Russia upon which Serpukhov is situated.
This extremely cheap, lightweight and simple car has taken the plume of ZAZ Zaporozhets, the pariah of USSR automotive industry. Zaporozhets was developed in 1975 as the "people's car" and served its purpose for almost ten years as a low-end transportation and occasion for cruel jokes. There was only one Soviet car more basic, and that was the special vehicle for disabled people, SZD. Initially, when Serpukhov factory engineers came up with the project for Oka, they turned to their VAZ colleagues.
The tiny car was to be a replacement for the SZD and featured a simple motorcycle engine. Andrei Rozov, one of the lead VAZ engineers, designed a new one from scratch, but then decision was made to implement the "chopped in half" VAZ 2108 4-cylinder engine instead. It was 1983, and the first Soviet front-wheel drive automobile, the 2108, was ready to hit the market; so the Oka initiative quickly became the next "people's car" project, the one that "every factory engineer can afford".
The inspiration for Yuri Vereschagin, VAZ exterior designer that created Oka, came from Japanese Daihatsu Cuore. Tightly restricted by project specifications, he did his work hardly believing that the car is going to make it to serial production.
Nevertheless, its comparatively satisfactory technical characteristics and low price (as of now, it sells for about $3500) allowed it to lead a prolific career in the turbulent years to come.
As of 2006, there are four versions of Oka distributed: basic VAZ 11113 Oka made by either ZMA (Naberezhnye Chelny) or SeAZ factory (33 hp, 125km/h (78mph) max, 3.2 litres per 100 km), "custom" VAZ 11301 Astro (49 hp) and VAZ 11113-27 Toyma - commercial use subcompact with a cargo compartment instead of two rear seats.
In its evident city car role, the Oka is considered highly unfashionable, and is a clear statement of inability to buy anything more expensive. Still, it is widely used by local delivery companies. Its road agility and acceleration rate (quite surprising for its appeal) prevented it from taking Zaporozhets' place in folklore (which takes its delight in the awkwardness and slow speed of the former).