The sun is beating down relentlessly, there is no shade, and very little water. Help is only a mere 20 kilometers away, but walking isn’t really Emile Leray’s thing. Rebuilding cars into something more interesting is.
So when Leray’s Citroen 2CV broke down in the Moroccan Desert, he did what he does best. According to the Great Big Story, Leray built a motorcycle from his broken-down car, so he could ride off into the sunset in style.
Why walk when you can spend weeks building a motorcycle?
Emile Leray’s adventure began in 1993 when he left Tan Tan in order to drive across the Moroccan Desert. Everything was going according to plan until he reached a military outpost called Tilemsen. There the military told him that he needed to turn back and return to Tan Tan. There was a brewing conflict between Morocco and Western Sahara, and it was no place for a civilian.
Leray decided he didn’t want to return to Tan Tan, and chose to go off-road in his Citroen 2CV instead. It’s not exactly designed to go off-road like the legendary Jeep Wrangler or the Nissan Frontier Desert Runner, but that didn’t stop Leray.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Leray stated, “I decided to do it in a 2CV because, although it is not a 4×4, it is tough. In Africa, they call it the ‘Steel Camel’ because it goes everywhere, provided you drive it gently.”
It wasn’t desert tough, however. The Citroen 2CV was actually designed to work the farmland in France, not the rocky terrain of the Moroccan Desert. Leray’s beloved 2CV was no match for the Moroccan Desert, and he found himself stranded.
In spite of the joke in the intro about how Leray could have just walked, it’s important to note that hiking through the desert isn’t nearly the same as taking a stroll through a city park. The heat alone would be enough to kill someone.
Since this wasn’t his first trip to Africa, Leray wasn’t a new tourist who thought he could simply hike out. Leray told the Daily Mail, “I could not have gone back on foot — it was too far. I put myself in what one calls survival mode. I ate less; I monitored my supplies of water and of food to make them last as long as possible.”
Rather than give up hope, History Garage reports that Leray used his socks to make sleeves, and then stripped the car body to use as a shelter. Leray then began to tear the Citroen 2CV apart and hand built a motorcycle using tools he had brought with him.
It took him 12 days, and he was almost out of water by the time he was done. Leray was delighted when he finally reached Tan Tan, the very place he was trying to avoid. The police were not so thrilled to see him, however. They charged him a fine of 4550 Durhams (or 450 Euros) for driving a motorcycle, and not the Citroen 2CV he had registered.
What else has Emile Leray built?
Emile Leray’s friends reportedly refer to him as “Doctor of African Mechanics.” It’s a name that’s well-earned. He frequently takes broken down cars that are destined for the junk yard, and makes something amazing out of them.
Most of his new creations are built from Citroen 2CVs, which Leray seems to have a soft spot for. He’s created several items using one, such as goggles made out of rubber from the 2CV’s seat, a table saw, and a rugby ball.
One of his coolest creations is a boat. There are plenty of science fiction movies that portray a car that can double as a boat, but Leray actually did it. He flipped the 2CV’s body onto the hood, and created a seat on top. He isn’t as well known for this creation. It might have something to do with the fact that he did it on a whim, and not because his life was dependent upon it.
Leray does have one regret. He has yet to turn a car into a plane. Considering everything else he has created, he might manage to make one yet.
‘MythBusters’ try to build their own motorcycle
When the MythBusters learned of this story, they just had to try it out. Jamie Hyneman and
Adam Savage thought it would be impossible to take the Citroen 2CV apart using basic hand tools, but they were pleasantly surprised.
The hood of the Citroen 2CV slid off with little effort. The doors and seats soon followed, all without having to use a single tool. The few pieces that did need a tool required only the basics. No special tools like some automakers are notorious for. In fact, it took only one hour to fully disassemble the car.
The guys did manage to create a motorcycle, but required two people to operate it. It also looked nothing like Leray’s motorcycle. They managed to ride it 30 ft before crashing it, and it was obvious to see why. Rather than building a seat like Leray did, they used a tire for a seat that kept throwing it off balance. This in turn made it impossible to ride. The guys then decided to go back to the drawing board for round two.
The second time, Hyneman and Savange bust out the power tools. Why? Because they knew they could build a motorcycle using simple tools. Why make it harder the second time around? Plus, anyone who’s seen the show knows the guys really love their tools.
They took a peek at Leray’s design, and followed it this time. Not only did the motorcycle work, but they were even able to ride it. Sure it was only 100 ft, but they did it. The one complaint the guys had was it was hard to balance. That matches what Leray said, because he admitted there was a bit of a learning curve in how to ride it. Even so, the MythBusters were unconvinced the story was real.
Even though the MythBusters weren’t convinced doesn’t mean Leray couldn’t have done it, however. It wouldn’t be the first time the MythBusters have been proven wrong, after all. They swore that square tires couldn’t work, but the guys from Whistlin Diesel did it. Sure they completely ripped the front wheel and fender off, but they managed to go 50 mph.
The truly tragic part of this story is that the motorcycle Leray built is one of a kind. While there are some great bikes you can buy, Leray’s is apparently too difficult to rebuild. That being said, it just shows what a genius Leray is.