One Of The Coolest Cars In Baja Survived Burning To Bare Metal

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The Herbst Truggy “Land Shark” AKA “El Tiburón” is reckoned one of the winningest, ugliest and least-killable cars in desert racing. That image may have been slightly tarnished when it turned into a Baja bonfire. But two months later, here it is looking badass all over again.

What’s that? You want to see it on fire first?

When OffroadXtreme covered the crash as it happened, they suggested “the muffler exploded which resulted in the carbon panels catching on fire.” Nobody was hurt in the incident but, obviously, the car did not finish the 2016 NORRA Mexican 1000 it was competing in at the time.


Race car builder Mike Smith originally built the Shark in 1995 for Jerry Herbst. The same Herbst family that maintains the Terrible Herbst chain of gas station/convenience stores you might recognize if you’ve ever driven around the south western corner of the country.

The racing team’s resume is ridiculous, you can see something like 40 desert-racing victories accredited to the car on


The Shark was designed to be “simpler and stronger” than the other cars in its class, Kilian Hamlin explains on Race-Dezert, “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.”

Straight axle, big tires, little frame welded around it for a person to fit. Sounds like a winner to me!


The “shark” theme and design is credited to a master fabricator Mike McQueen, who also built other iconic racing vehicles for Parnelli Jones and Bill Stroppe, Paul Newman, Walker Evans, and the Honda factory off-road team.

Apparently McQueen punched some holes in the body to get more air flowing over the headers and decided they looked like shark gills. That plus the pointy noise inspired the team to stick some teeth on and El Tiburón was born.


As it stands now, the 5,900-pound vehicle is made out of a 4130 chromoly tube frame wrapped around a 454 cubic inch Ford V8 and Turbo 400 transmission. Its 39 inch tires are sprung with custom-made shocks providing 30 inches of travel up front and 34 inches in the rear. The full spec sheet is on Race-Dezert.

Here are some shots of the pre-fire version in action:

The Shark’s frame, suspension and architecture pretty much look the same as they did before the truggy burned down. Desert racers are made modular for a reason—they take a beating (remember what our Trophy Lite looked like after the Baja 1000?) but they’re usually not as hard to rebuild as they may look.


The hard part of building something like this designing a frame and suspension system that will provide the right level of rigidity, safety and performance. Or paying for somebody to do that. But bolting a new engine, shocks and computer in? Just wait until the embers cool off and get to work!

Well, maybe it wasn’t that simple. How much heat can a steel frame handle before it needs to be replaced? Regardless, I’m glad to see the Terrible Herbst team is coming back with a vengeance.