The deserts of northern Africa can be a serious danger to anyone looking to pass through them. The harsh winds and scorching heat of the Sahara can drain a person’s energy and make them delirious, essentially guaranteeing death by dehydration.
An adventurous French traveler named Emile Leray tells the story of when he became stranded in the Sahara in 1993 and had to rebuild his car into a makeshift motorcycle in order to survive.
Odditycentral.com reports that Leray had set out from the city of Tan-Tan in Morocco. He was driving an old Citroen 2CV, a French economy car model produced between 1948 and 1990. The 2CV was famously joked about for being exceptionally slow with poor acceleration. Although the car is quite slow and lacks in horsepower, according to Top Gear, it had earned a reputation for being able to weather a variety of rough terrain.
Leray was driving across the Sahara, intending to adventure across the Moroccan desert in his 2CV. He encountered a military installation and was informed that he would have to turn back. When he asked why, he was informed that the area ahead was too dangerous due to conflicts going on in Tlemcen. Apparently, he was also asked to take a passenger with him and return to Tan-Tan.
Leray reportedly refused to take the passenger, citing insurance concerns, before hurrying away from the outpost hoping not to be followed by any military personnel. After traveling out of sight of the outpost, Leray decided to circle around and bypass the installation to continue his adventure. He turned his car off the road and onto the rocky desert terrain.
NY Daily News reports that it wasn’t long before he crashed his 2CV into a rock. “In Africa they call [the 2CV] the ‘Steel Camel’ because it goes everywhere – provided you drive it gently,” Leray said in an interview with The Daily Mail. Although Leray had traveled around Africa about ten times, his misfortune led to his becoming stranded. With a small number of supplies and his broken-down car, Leray says he put himself into “survival mode” in order to survive, conserving his water and supplies to make them last longer.
The nearest village was around 20 miles away, and Leray was confident that he would never make it on foot through the desert. He knew he had to think of a solution before he started running out of water.
Being an experienced electrician, Leray decided to dismantle his 2CV and use the parts to create a makeshift motorcycle. He started by removing the body of the 2CV and using it as a shelter to sleep in while working on the bike.
Leray shortened the chassis of the vehicle before reattaching two wheels. He installed the engine and gearbox in the middle of the chassis. After twelve days of painstaking work, his motorcycle was ready for a test drive.
With only half a liter of water remaining for his own survival, Leray started riding his new device back towards civilization. He fell off the seat, which had been constructed from part of the destroyed 2CV’s bumper, numerous times. He was riding for about a day when he was picked up by Moroccan police and transported to a nearby village.
Leray’s story quickly became popular on social media as people shared the photos he had taken of himself while stranded. His sun-baked, half-naked form huddled over a pile of car parts quickly became a viral sensation, which he never capitalized on. He appeared briefly on French TV during the 90s but never wrote any books or articles about the adventure.
Leray was handed a hefty fine after being retrieved from the desert, as his insurance no longer matched the vehicle he was driving. He is now 68 and resides in northwestern France.