Herbst Truggy – El Tiburón

There are some vehicles that change everything. The Herbst Truggy is one of those vehicles. It not only challenged Class 1 rules but its form over function aesthetics set a tone that celebrated and revered its ugliness, rebelling against the idea of pretty, perhaps non-functional design.  It’s an idea that carries through today as we scoff at new vehicles thinking, “I wonder how long until it breaks?”

Ready to slow dance?

The Herbst Truggy embraced and evolved the idea of having truly “Unlimited” class restrictions, an idea that has challenged some of the best manufacturers and engineers in the world and sent them home scratching their heads. Off-road is the only form of motorsport left in the world that is truly “Unlimited”, a fact that is to be celebrated.

The Herbst Truggy is the steroid pumped Brock Lesnar of off-road racing, both terrifyingly brutal and satisfying.  We worship its strength. Affectionately known as “El Tiburón” or the “Land Shark”, its classic war plane style nose glossed with of a full set of shark teeth ready to chomp on anything that gets in its way has become one of the most distinguished vehicles in off-road racing.

The Truggy  immediately devoured the competition, taking back-to-back Baja 1000 victories, numerous Baja 500 wins, and multiple championships. It literally took years for the competition to catch up. Not only did it crush the competition in Class 1 but it consistently shamed the Trophy Trucks as well.

Originally built for Jerry Herbst to race Class 1, the Mike Smith designed Truggy was designed to be simpler and stronger than the current class 1 cars by eliminating the plunged rear axle in favor of the tougher solid rear axle of a Trophy Truck. The Truggy started with 37 inch tires but grew to 39 inch tires once they were available to take on the massive holes of Baja. Mike Smith not only designed and built the truck but hand-built custom shocks until larger shocks became a standard.

It is the late Master fabricator Mike McQueen who is actually credited for coming up with the Land Shark livery. After punching holes to allow airflow to the header, he stepped back and noticed it looked like gills on a shark which perfectly complemented the pointy nose. The teeth were added from there.

El Tiburón’s brutish looks mask many of its innovations, like the upper Uniball joints with unlimited angle.

Most recently, the Herbst Truggy burnt to the ground during the NORRA Mexican 1000 but the Herbst and Mike Smith have vowed it will be rebuilt and raced again.

Owner Terrible Herbst Motorsports
Builder Mike Smith Fabrication
Date Completed 1995
Chassis Mike Smith Fabrication
Weight 5,900 lbs
Wheel Base 125” / 3,175 mm
Track Width 96” Front, 91” Rear


Engine Patton Racing Engines, 454in small block, Ford V8
Cooling Ron Davis Radiators
Exhaust R.E.F. Unlimited, Stainless
Plumbing Brown & Miller Racing Solution
Transmission Culhane Racing Transmission Turbo 400
Driveline Driveline Unlimited
Brakes 13” Brembo 4-piston calipers
Fuel Cell 64 gallon Harmon Fuel Cell, Weldon fuel pumps


Tires 39 x 13.5 R17 BFGoodrich KR
Wheels 17” Ultra Xtreme Wheel
Paint/ Graphics Airbrush- Gator Graphics / Vinyl – Patrick’s Signs
Body McQueen prototype
Front Suspension A-arm, Mike Smith solid piston Bypass shock, Mike Smith coilover, Mike Smith Racing shocks, 30” travel
Rear Suspension  Solid axel, 4-link, trailing arm designs, Chrisman 11” third member, 34” travel, Mike Smith Solid piston bypass shock, Mike Smith coilover, Mike Smith Racing Shock
Steering Steering box, Power Steering Solution pump, Smith ram
Paneling Carbon, Aluminum
Wiring  Tom Oliva, American Wire Harness
Lights KC HiLites


Navigation Lawrence GPS, Leadnav Systems
Communication Kenwood 50w Radio, PCI Intercom
Seats Cobra Technology
Safety Simpson harnesses, Mastercraft Safety window nets

Photography by: Vincent Knakal // Mad Media

Matt Martelli

Founder of Mad Media, a multidisciplinary creative and marketing firm and CEO of Off-Road Racer, UTV Underground, The Mint 400, The California 300, and Dirt Co. Matt is one of the biggest influences in Off-Road Racing today.

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