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The return of OKA – A legendary Australian off-roader

After nearly 10 years out of production, Perth-based four-wheel drive manufacturer OKA is making a comeback.

While it’s not a household name by any stretch, OKA is well known by some in Australian 4WD circles. In particular, it’s a popular, if hard-to-find choice for those wanting to build a big and capable off-road motorhome for long-distance and remote-area touring.

Founded in 1986, OKA has been producing a small volume of cab-over style 4X4 trucks in Western Australia, with off-road capability and payloads far greater than your average 4X4 ute.

While the OKA has plenty of loadspace and payload for hard work and serious recreation alike, its length and width don't preclude it from driving tracks that something like a Toyota LandCruiser can fit down.

For reference’s sake, an OKA single-cab chassis is 5648mm long, sitting on a 3190mm chassis. It’s quite tall at 2508mm, and has a huge load space (3713mm x 2000mm) thanks to its cab-over configuration.

While most 4X4 utes have less than one tonne of payload, the OKA is able to triple that: a 3600kg tare weight and up to 6500kg of GVM means there is up to 2900kg of available payload.

Heavy-duty equipment does come with a heavy-duty price tag. You can expect to pay around $150,000 for an OKA, depending on what kind of specification you opt for. And because of their nature, OKAs are highly customisable.

Along with single cabs, OKAs can be had in dual-cab, multi-cab, van and bus configurations.

And while new OKAs are currently available to buy, they are mostly built to order (with around two months lead time). As time progresses, the company is slowly ramping up capacity and capability to offer an Australian-made alternative to the likes of a Mitsubishi Fuso, Iveco Daily and a variety of other cab-over style light trucks with off-road capability.

OKA is also developing a new model, called the RT. This will carry the same dimensions as the current NT model, but will have a new look, increased capability and more technology at its disposal.

A short history of OKA

OKA was originally founded in 1986 by Mike Walker. The idea came from, as the story goes, a group of mining executives, drinking beer as they sketched a basic design on a beer coaster. Fast-forward to the early 1990s, and the first XT model OKAs were rolling out the door to miners, farmers, fire fighters, 4WDers and government bodies.

The company grew through the 1990s, going public on the 7 December 1994, to the tune of $5.15 million. After 250 XT models were made, the new LT model brought significant mechanical changes and updates.

A total of 449 OKAs were built over the years at the company's facility at Bibra Lake, south of Perth, before financial disaster struck. Along with finding a loyal following in Australia, around 30 OKAs were exported overseas to 12 different countries.

The company stopped trading in 2012, after a forensic audit in 2011 revealed alleged misappropriation of funds by senior management, and stolen intellectual property.

Mr Paari Vell, a Malaysian businessman who owned OKA at the time, proceeded to mothball the company, looking either to restart it in Malaysia or sell it to a buyer in Australia.

And in the meantime, supply of this unique Australian-made off-roader dried up.

Dean Robinson formed a new company: OKA All Terrain Vehicles, and took ownership of the OKA brand in 2017. Since then, he has been busy slowly building the business up into something bigger. Along with the new RT model in development, the company is also remanufacturing existing OKAs in its R-Series line and supplying a steady stream of parts and spares for exisiting owners.

OKA Today

Although the look and premise of the OKA hasn’t changed, many of the components have. The older Perkins diesel engine has been replaced by a more powerful and more efficient common-rail Cummins engine, which makes 138kW at 2500rpm and 700Nm between 1200-1700rpm from it’s 4.5 litres and four cylinders.

Additionally, an Allison six-speed automatic transmission replaces the old manual gearbox. Running through Dana differentials of varying sizes (depending on specification), power gets to the ground via big 36-inch tyres suspended by leaf springs all-round.

If that's not big enough, the OKA can be fitted with gigantic 42-inch tyres.

These changes, Peter says, makes the OKA ‘sweet as a nut’ to drive.

While most are being built to order, There is currently one OKA ready for sale: a single-cab cab chassis, for $150,000, plus on-road costs. From there, it can be optioned with a variety of gear, body styles and configurations. Virtually everything is customisable, as Peter explains:

“I’m building a six-wheel drive for a client at the moment, which is going to be a motorhome. It's about a $400,000 deal. It's got enough fuel to go 3500 kilometres, and 800 litres of water. It's got 11 tonne GVM, but we won't get to that. I'm just welding up a frame for a dead weight load of four tonne, for trials.”

There is only a team of four at OKA at the moment, but the potential of growth is big. Alongside 4WD enthusiasts with a healthy budget, the utility and layout of the OKA lends itself perfectly to government, fleet and commercial work.

So while OKA is a brand with some history and runs on the board, it’s now running as a lean startup waiting for a big break.

"All I need is one phone call from the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, and that would change.” Peter said enthusiastically.

"OKA is currently being considered as a 1.4 (tonne water capacity) tanker for use fighting bush fires with brigades state-wide. A locally designed and built solution for firefighting, what a great idea. And it comes with a proven track record.”

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