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Emile Leray built working motorcycle broken car Citroen 2cv escape African desert

Brad Smithfield
Credit: Emile Leray

‘I put myself in what one calls survival mode. I could not have gone back on foot – it was too far.’

A Frenchman has found fame over 20 years later after pulling off a remarkable escape from the Moroccan desert – by building a motorbike just using parts from his crashed car. His amazing escape from the barren terrain saw Mr Leray single handedly rebuild his Citreon into a makeshift motorbike, in a dramatic escape which has seen him dubbed the most ‘extreme’ mechanic in the world.

In 1993 Emile Leray, then a 43-year-old former electrician, decided to go on an adventure and drive his Citroen 2CV from the city of Tan Ta and cross the Moroccan desert. However, not all went according to plan. After going off road Emile crashed his car and was left stranded in the middle of nowhere. Deciding that he wouldn’t make it out of the desert on foot, Emile decided to build a makeshift motorbike using parts from his now wrecked car.

His amazing makeshift motorbike allowed Mr Leray to travel to civilisation, where he was rescued by police. Credit: Daniel Denis of 2CV magazine

His amazing makeshift motorbike allowed Mr Leray to travel to civilisation, where he was rescued by police. Credit: Daniel Denis of 2CV magazine

He had enough supplies of food and water to last him around ten days. After carefully considering all the mechanical and physical hurdles he would have to get over, Emile starts work on his DIY motorbike, the next morning. He starts taking apart his Citroen, by removing the body, he used that as a shelter against the sandstorms. Working under the scorching sun in a shirt with short sleeves, he makes his own sleeves out of a pair of socks, and keeps working away on his ‘bike’.

His ingenious engineering saw him convert the car’s rear bumper into a rudimentary seat, shorten the chassis, and place the engine and gearbox in the middle to create a vehicle which somehow kept going long enough to transport him to safety.

But it’s the 2CV transmission that’s truly surprising – a drum drives the rear wheel by friction, and the laws of physics force Emile to drive it only in reverse. It seems almost impossible for someone to build a motorbike in the middle of the nowhere, in the middle of the desert. With no power tools, just a few basic tools, and no drills, blowtorches or welding equipment. But Emile Leray created his two-wheeler only by screwing the parts together.

The adventurer, and now a survivor began work on his unique project thinking he would complete it in three days time, but it took him three times as long and only succeeded after twelve days of hard work. With only 1/2 liter of water left, he started to ride his motorbike out of the desert. After a day of riding Emile was picked up by the Moroccan police force who took him to the nearest village. They also handed him a big fine because the registration documents for his car no longer corresponded to what he was driving – his car, bike thing.

Although his story appeared in brief on French television in the 1990s, Mr Leray did not publicise his exploits, and they only recently emerged again after appearing on a motoring website. Mr Leray, is living in northwest France.

Brad Smithfield

Brad Smithfield is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News