A Survivor’s Tale – Escaping the Moroccan Desert Using 2CV Motorbike!

August 4, 2017

How did a French electrician manage to get back to civilisation after being stranded in the middle of nowhere; using parts of his broken Citroen 2CV to make a makeshift motorbike?

The Journey

When Emile Leray, an electrician in his 40’s from France, decided to leave the city of Tan Tan back in 1993 and cross the wild yet captivating Moroccan desert with his car, a hard-boiled Citroen 2CV, he guessed some minor issues could come up. He certainly did not expect the ordeal that was about to endure.

Leray was a seasoned traveller who had already explored most of Africa in no less than ten different ventures, who felt confident that he knew this region well.

A question that instantly emerges is why he picked that particular car and not something more… robust, like a 4X4 Jeep specially designed for off-road adventures.

An Original 2CV

An Original 2CV

Apparently Citroen’s 2CV was famed for its durability even in extreme terrains and was widely used by many locals on their trips across the desert. In fact, it had gained the nickname in the region of ‘Steel Camel’ since it would go virtually anywhere — on condition that you treated it gently. Leray admitted that this last point escaped his attention.

Starting his drive puffed with excitement and self-assurance, he left Tan Tan, but just a couple of hours later he was forced to stop at a military outpost. There, to his bitter disappointment, he learned he wasn’t allowed to drive any further.

The idea of returning to the city only exacerbated his disappointment, and thus he thought it would be great to go off road and move around the restricted area.

Getting Stuck in the Moroccan Desert

While travelling somewhere in the sun-scorched wilderness, and being no less than 20 miles from the nearest trace of human civilisation, his ‘devoted’ but worn out vehicle quietly reached its death throes: after a few hard bumps from the rocky terrain he lost control and crashed the car into a rock formation.

The crash broke the Citroen’s swing arm and wheel axle in half, putting an end to its off-road exploits.

Such an event would break most men, even those with an adventurous spirit – but Leray’s steely determination and patience carried him through.

He had at his disposal a small set of tools, supplies and water that could sustain him for a couple of weeks and, of course, his wrecked comrade. Knowing that no-one would come to his rescue (since no-one knew where he was), he decided to make the most of what was available and rescue himself.

Emile Leray in the desert

Emile Leray in the desert

Covering the distance on foot was out of the question, since he felt he did not have the stamina and physical strength to reach the nearest village. So, he put himself, as he eloquently described it, into ‘survival mode.’

After carefully weighing up his options, Leray concluded the best possible course of action was to take off parts from the broken Citroen, put them together and make a new vehicle.

The ‘Contraption’

While working mostly as an electrician, Leray knew a lot about machines and how to meddle with them.

Combined with his innate ingenuity and resourcefulness, this knowledge helped him form a mental picture of his improvised contraption. Next, he started pulling off parts and pieces to realise this design.

Naturally, the whole idea had to undergo several adaptations – like using the car’s rear bumper to make a rudimentary seat – but after ten days the main skeleton was ready.

The bike taking shape

The bike taking shape

Leray had to shorten the chassis, move the engine and gearbox in the middle and reattach the axles and two wheels.

Life in the Desert

While creating his means of rescue, Leray had also to make sure his provisions would last long enough. He consumed small amounts of food and closely monitored his remaining amount of water, drinking as little as possible. He also took off the car’s exterior and used it as a tent for sleep and rest.

The problem was that his contraption took more days to finish than he thought, making him wonder whether his provisions would prove adequate.

Finally, after 12 days of hard work and severe stress, he completed it – which proved a great relief, since he only had half a litre of water left.

Slowly, he turned the key, and his makeshift bike started moving.

His Miraculous Escape

As it turned out, Leray and the remnants of his Steel Camel were too hard to die.

After a day of riding, the Moroccan police spotted him and took him to the nearest village. They even decided to leave him with a heavy fine, since his car registration documents referred to a Citroen 2CV, not to a hand-made chopper!

Still, Leray was happy to come out alive from his ordeal.

Mr Leray today

Mr Leray today

Even though his fascinating tale made headlines and also appeared on French television in 1993, it was quickly forgotten, since Leray himself did not reveal the details of his feat.

Now almost 25 years later, his exploits have gone viral after they appeared on a motoring website.

Leray, now aged 62 and residing in France, has kept his self-made motorbike as a reminder of his courage and voracious thirst for adventures and travelling.

Many people, fascinated by his resourcefulness, see in him a personification of Marvel’s fictitious hero Tony Stark, the famed ‘Iron Man,’ who was renowned for his ingenious engineering skills.

 

Credits:

Alastair Miller / Rex Features

Emile Leray

Daily Mail

RELATED ACTIVITIES

Latest blogs

Best Mountain Biking Helmets for the UK in 2019
Best Mountain Biking Helmets for the UK in 2019 Whether you’re the type of mountain biker who likes to rumble along country lanes, or rocket downhill, there are times when the ground you’re on throws you unexpected bumps, ridges, or holes. Most of the time you’ll react in time, and in the right way to keep you upright and rolling on,
Best Value Mens' Cycling Helmet for the UK 2019
Best Value Mens' Cycling Helmet for the UK 2019 Broken arms and legs can heal, and a scrape or two will only add street-cred to you as a dedicated cyclist, but take a hard enough knock on an unprotected skull and you could be in for a life-changing experience. Not all helmets are created equal, and not everyone is able to throw money at
Best Mens' Cycling Shoes for the UK 2019
Best Mens' Cycling Shoes for the UK 2019 Serious cyclists need a shoe which will keep you warm & dry in cold, wet conditions; cool & comfortable on hot days; and which clips onto your pedal to increase control and power. Cycling shoes increase comfort, efficiency, control and safety. They are essentials for anyone interested
Best Reusable Water Bottles for the UK in 2019
Best Reusable Water Bottles for the UK in 2019 Taking in enough water each day is important not just for those who work-out every day or have active hobbies; it’s also important for the everyday functions of your body, regardless of what your day looks like. More and more people are realising this and have started drinking more water each
Best Luggage Sets in the UK for 2019
Best Luggage Sets in the UK for 2019 If you’re like us, you’ll put extra effort and care into getting everything you need into a single carry-on bag, in order to avoid the hassle and delay of checking bags, picking them up, and lugging them along with you at each stage of your travel itinerary. It makes it easier to make tight
Best Hiking Backpacks for the UK in 2019
Best Hiking Backpacks for the UK in 2019 Gone are the days of pulling on whatever bag you could find, lumbering cross-country with an aching body and dumping it down in misery every night. Thanks to the increased demand for minimalist and ergonomically designed backpacks, there are designs out there to suit every activity under the
BEST Bike Lights for the UK in 2019
BEST Bike Lights for the UK in 2019 Commuting by bicycle has become more than a fringe fad. With fuel prices higher than ever and environmental concerns growing, more people are leaving the car keys on the hook by the door, avoiding the crowded confines of mass transit, and opting for self-powered commuting. Not only do we get to
Best Dive Watch for the UK in 2019
Best Dive Watch for the UK in 2019 As a recreational or professional diver in 2018, it’s advisable to include a good dive watch with your gear, especially one with an integrated dive computer. It's the best way to stay on top of your dive parameters and stay safe. Since nearly all dive watches are analogue, they offer an