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Real-Life MacGyver Builds Working Motorcycle Out of Car That Broke Down in the Desert

This is one of the most unbelievable stories I have come across in a while, and had my doubts about its authenticity at first, but after reading about it on some reputed websites, my worries were put to rest.

The story was recently made public by Reddit user ‘Naruhodo‘, who linked to a bunch of photos of a Mad-Max-style motorcycle apparently built out of the parts of a broken-down Citroen 2CV, by a man stranded in the Sahara Desert. Pretty unbelievable stuff, only it turned out to be absolutely 100% true. It all happened back in 1993, when Frenchman Emile Leray was on a solo trip in Northern Africa, driving his specially prepared Citroen 2CV. His car broke down in the middle of the desert, tens of kilometers from the nearest settlement. To survive, the French MacGyver created a motorcycle out of parts of his broken down car.

So here’s how it all happened: Emile had left the city of Tan Tan, in Morocco, and was driving his Citroen 2CV across the Sahara. Upon reaching a military outpost, he is informed by the Royal Gendermerie that he cannot continue further, due to new developments in the conflict between Morocco and Western Sahara, in the area beyond Tilemsem. Left with the option to go back to Tan Tan and asked to take a passenger back with him, the Frenchman refuses invoking an insurance problem that doesn’t allow him to take any passengers. He turns his car around driving at high speed, to make sure he isn’t followed by the military, and decides to by-bass their post by circling around and returning on the original trail later. After venturing off road, on rocky and bumpy terrain, it doesn’t take too long for his car to break down, after brutally hitting a rock. Emile is now stranded in the middle of nowhere.

The Citroen’s swing arm and wheel axle were broken, and Leray knew he wasn’t going to be driving it anywhere, anytime soon. He had food and water to last him about ten days, but the nearest human settlement was tens of kilometers away, too far for him to reach on foot. The French adventurer decided his only chance of survival was to construct a working vehicle from the parts of his broken-down Citroen 2CV. If only he had an arc reactor, he could have built himself an Iron Man suit and things would have been much simpler. But alas, reality is much crueler than superhero movies…

After carefully considering all the mechanical barriers he would have to surmount, Emile starts work on his DIY motorcycle, the next morning. He starts dismantling his Citroen, by removing the body, which he then uses as 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 tinkering on his Mad Max-style creation. He fits the wheel arm upside down on a smaller chassis, adding the engine and gearbox in the middle. The French adventurer does all this knowing he needs to reserve some space for the battery, gas tank and his luggage, and without neglecting the arrangement of the steering system. 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 motorcycle in the middle of the desert, with 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. To make the needed holes, he bent the pieces of metal to a 90 degree angle and weakened the thinner areas using a hacksaw or a round file, puncturing them with the hammer and punch.

 Emile in classic desert wear. If you look closely at his right hand, you can see the string he uses to operate the camera

The adventurer began work on his unique project thinking he would complete it in three days time, but he only succeeded after twelve days of hard work. With only 1/2 liter of water left, he managed to ride his motorcycle (called Desert Camel) out of the desert. On his way to civilization, Leray was actually pulled over by the Gendermerie, for driving an illegal vehicle. Now that’s what I call a real-life story fit for a movie.

Check out Emile Leray’s website (in French)

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