‘Only in Russia’: Story of the Sherp All-Terrain Vehicle

PHOTO by  Alexei Danichev / RIA Novosti
Inventor Alexei Garagashian, in an interview with Afisha.Daily, talks about his life and the spectacular All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) that stunned the internet and earned him the admiration of experts the world over

A few days ago the spotless, post-apocalyptic Sherp ATV – an off-roadster that resembles a life sized Russian Tonka toy – drove the internet into frenzy.

The first show to pick out videos of the monster motor was BBC program TopGear and the vehicle was later featured on tech sites such as The Verge.

TopGear: “Think of it as a tiny tank, or an extreme off-road buggy. It’s designed to work in extreme environments, getting you to places no other vehicle can manage.

“Huge, self-inflating, patented tires that measure 1600 x 600 x 25 and sit proud of the front and rear bodywork mean that the Sherp can mount obstacles of 70cm plus – or at least do a summersault in the process. Under the floor a proprietary Kubota four-pot 1.5-litre turbo diesel provides 44bhp of sheer brute force.

“But even with that, we can safely say that the Sherp isn't particularly quick, managing just 45km/h on land in the higher ratios of the 5-speed gearbox and only and 6km/h on water – because it also swims… obviously.

“It weighs a mere 1.3 tonnes and the bodywork is essentially a steel tub with some transmission bolted to it. It’s safe to say, that maintenance should be fairly easy.”

It turns out that self-made engineer Alexei Garagashian is responsible for the spectacular all-surface beast. Afisha talked to the racer, traveler and romantic about his life and engineering novelties.

Alexei Garagashian:

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“As a child, when all boys were kicking a ball around, I was more inclined to stay home and play with toy building blocks. Later, I became obsessed with bicycles and tried to pack them with all sorts of accessories. They looked more like a Christmas tree but ultimately lacked technical efficiency. By the time I reached eighth grade I’d put together a full-suspension bicycle. Then there were a lot of motorcycles – around 20 I’d say. I got seriously involved in altering and improving things like suspension – it wasn’t just a little tinkering.

“It wasn’t until I moved to the countryside at 25 that an ATV became a necessity. I was staying in an abandoned village with almost no infrastructure in the Leningrad Oblast, so I set about designing my first off-roadster.

“Money was always in short supply, which meant I couldn’t always get the parts that I needed. I had to scrimp and save a lot and had to make do with some old stock, which is why the initial designs were very spartan. Things improved slightly when I sold my first ATV and then had money to buy better quality parts. At the time I harbored the idea of an SUV dual axle and longitudinal engine from a jeep, but I used ones from Oka and UAZ cars and it still worked fine. I often recommend this design to the all-terrain DIY-ers who write to me for advice.

“Of course, back then I wasn’t blessed with the technical capabilities to produce something like Sherp, although I had already drawn up the blueprints for the project. Only after opening my own workshop in St. Petersburg could I actually carry the designs out. A long evolutionary road to development ensued and every subsequent vehicle was a step up. Its unorthodox design is what makes the Sherp unique, and the fact that it offers enough space for two people to sleep in. I’ve driven many ATVs but a true revelation came after spending a night on my own inside it. No famous car brand like Honda, Toyota or Mercedes would ever manufacture such an all-terrain vehicle – given the lack of demand. Russia is the only suitable market for it.

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Demonstration of the Russian-made amphibious vehicle Sherp on the bank of Lake Ladoga, Leningrad Region

“Sherp is the first vehicle to get on the assembly line. I’d tried my luck with two prototypes before – a motorcycle and a moped – that were going to be produced by the Red October plant but it turned out to not be economically feasible. For the second year in a row I’ve had partners taking care of the production and sales, whereas I only work on design and development. If you want to get a quote, ask them (the standard model is about $65,000 – Editor’s note).

“Since mass production kicked off, I’ve been swamped with work so had no time to travel. I’ve also been busy with a new concept design of a freight ATV, but I can’t reveal the details just yet. We have a six-month trip planned for 2017 to take four Sherps on a 10,000 km journey through the rough terrain between St. Petersburg and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski.

“If I had to work only for the sake of money it would be different. By engineering the vehicle I do what fires my imagination and create what I wish to drive myself. Of all ATVs I’ve tested personally, Sherp has performed the best. No other producer is at this level. But of course it’s not entirely flawless, some ATVs have other advantages, be it more room or more speed.

“Sales have been on the rise. Currently Sherp vehicles are bought by individuals for traveling, hunting or fishing. It could also serve well to companies working with power lines and heat pipes. They often employ costly tracked vehicles. It is one thing when you move heavy housing or drills, but I have witnessed three men carrying a single can of paint. As far as I’m aware, we haven’t sold any ATV abroad but there is a demand.”