How a French electrician turned his 2CV into a motorcycle to escape the Sahara

The MythBusters failed to reproduce it, but Emile Leray made it and even got a ticket from the rozzers for it...

Designed to replace horses and carts

The history of Citroen 2CV is long and well known, so here are the major highlights. It was created to replace the the usual horsey mode of transportation in rural France with the idea of improved mobility and faster economic growth. Featuring engines from 9 to 29 horsepower, it was still faster than a cart. The weight was just around 600 kilos, thanks to an innovative frame and the use of very thin steel in the body. The suspensions were long-travel and very soft, allowing it to be drivable where paved roads haven't reached yet. It was cheap to produce in various versions (cargo vans included), cheap to run and very easy to maintain.

It's kind of a funny story

Well, not really. But a survival story - sure. Emile Leray is an electrician and in the 90s he used to travel regularly in the Moroccan part of the Sahara, between villages. He was driving his trusty Citroen 2CV, which in this part of the world was named "steel camel" for the ability to go anywhere as long as it's driven gently. On his way from the city of Tan-Tan towards Tilemsen he was stopped at a military outpost of the Royal Gendarmerie and being told to turn back, because there was an ongoing conflict between Morocco and Western Sahara, and his safety could not be guaranteed. The gendarmes also insisted for him to take back a passenger to Tan-Tan, but Leray refused, referring to an insurance problem that wouldn't allow him to take any passengers. He then turned his car back and, making sure the military wasn’t following him, turned off the road to bypass the military outpost and get back on his journey. But then, disaster struck!

A real-life Tony Stark

The detour he took was, however, very uneven and bumpy, and soon he ended up losing control of the car and hitting a rock. The collision left the 2CV with a broken axle, broken swing arm and damaged chassis. With food and water to last around 10 days, Leray decided not to risk getting disorientated or suffering a heat stroke in the unforgiving dessert sun and instead opted to engineer his way out of this pickle.

β€œI could not have gone back on foot β€” it was too far. I put myself in what one calls β€œsurvival mode.” I ate less, I monitored my supplies of water and of food to make them last as long as possible.”

With his limited toolkit, including a handsaw, a hammer and few basic tools, he dismantled the body to use as a shelter from the elements and decided to turn what's left of his car into a motorcycle. Leray started by shortening the chassis and then attached the axles and the two wheels. He added the engine and the gearbox in the middle. After twelve days, he finished reworking his car into a motorcycle with just a few basic tools and no blow torches, welding machines, or drills to help him. If he had to join any two parts, he would just screw them together instead. To make holes for the screws, he bent the metal at 90 degrees angle, weakening it using a hacksaw or a round file, and then puncturing it with hammer and punch. He made the seat with the car’s bumper and after 12 days he was left with only half a litre of water.

Expensive end to an inspiring adventure

When his bike was finally ready, he drove for a day only to be picked up by the Moroccan police. They drove him to the nearest village, but gave him a hefty fine of 4550 Dirham (~430 Euro), because his license documents were for a car and not the motorcycle he was driving. His extreme mechanical abilities in a survival situation were compared to the Marvel superhero Tony Stark. The show MythBusters even tried to replicate his engineering, proving that it's possible, but failed to make it drivable after attempting a different configuration. Emile Leray still keeps his lucky 2CV motorcycle as a memento from the days when he had his unexpected, yet interesting adventure.

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Comments (9)

  • It’s amazing what men can do when in survival mode.

      23 days ago
  • Amazing! Great story. We need more inspiring tale like this one.

      24 days ago
  • Great story!

    I enjoyed reading it, thanks!

      24 days ago
  • What an amazing story!

      23 days ago
  • That is ingenuity at its best and craziest !!! Way to go Emile !!

      23 days ago