What did mom and dad say whenever you left the house as a teenager? Always have your phone on you, know where you are going, and make sure to check in. A French auto enthusiast by the name of Emile Leray may have broken a few of those rules back in 1993 when he decided to take a solo tour of North Africa in his own car – a Citroen 2CV. If you know anything about Northern Africa, the bulk of it is pretty hot. There’s a lot of desert, and a lot of space to get lost in. When Leray’s car broke down in the middle of one of those vast deserts, well, he had to rely on his own DIY survival instincts in order to get through it. So what did Leray do in order to survive? Well, he took his broken-down Citroen 2CV and turned it into a Steampunk masterpiece. Unbelievable right? Well, we’re just getting started.
Emile Leray poses with the car that would soon become his own Mad Max inspired motorcycle.
Leray’s tour through Northern Africa was going swimmingly when his car began to rumble, rattle, and ultimately stall out. He had started his journey in Morocco, in the city of Tan Tan, before heading to the Western Sahara. Upon entering the Sahara, Leray was confronted by the local military who tell him that he cannot continue any further due to potential danger from a conflict between Morocco and the people of the Western Sahara. Being a rad dude who doesn’t care about authority, this doesn’t stop Leray. Leray sneaks across the border and is on his way. Things are looking exciting until Leray goes off-road, hits a large rock, and eventually breaks down.
If you’ve seen the first Iron Man film then you know how Tony Stark escapes captivity in the Middle East. He creates an iron suit out of scrap, with no tools, in the middle of the desert. Leray apparently thought that movie was a great guideline to his own survival. The Sahara has average daily temperatures of up to 120°F during the hotter months while freezing temperatures occur every night during the colder months. If Leray was going to survive then he had better be sure to work fast. He was lost and, unknown to him at the time, a full 10 kilometers away from the nearest source of life. So what does he decide to do? He stripped his Citroen 2CV down to the parts in order to make a Steampunk inspired motorcycle. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with surviving in style!
A French magazine explaining the different elements of the motorcycle.
Leray decides to brainstorm his concept by sleeping overnight and starting in the morning. When he wakes up his mind is filled with ideas. He’s going to survive this thing and become a legend in the process. Leray starts by stripping the Citroen of its body which comes in handy as a makeshift shelter from the raging sandstorms that keep blowing through. Leray doesn’t really have a tool kit with him so he is beholden to what he can do with a hammer, some elbow grease, and a hacksaw. Not much to work with but, as you’ll find out, it was enough. All of this work was accomplished while wearing little more than his own tastefully European speedo. Gotta stay cool, right?
Emile shows off his desert fashion while stripping the Citroen down for parts.
The first thing that France’s Tony Stark does sounds simple but is anything but: he flips the wheel arm of his Citroen upside down and attaches it to a smaller chassis. His engine and gearbox are summarily installed right in the middle. Upon doing this Leray finds out that his 2CV transmission, which operates by friction generated by the rear wheel, can only be driven in reverse. Alright, what’s another hurdle to clear at this point? Work continues and Leray comes close to exhaustion. In order to attach the metal parts together without real tools, he has to puncture them with his own hammer – a rigorous task in the sun and heat. Still, Emile Leray perseveres. His bike was going to be built and he was going to survive, dangit.
It’s not beautiful but the ‘Desert Camel’ slowly comes together.
Leray had assumed that he could finish creating this motorcycle in roughly three days. That turns out to be nowhere close to the truth. It takes Leray 12 days worth of backbreaking, sweat filled, work in order to create the motorcycle. He calls it the ‘Desert Camel’ upon completion. When it’s finally drivable, and down to less than a quart of drinking water, Leray takes off. It works! Only a few hours later, back into civilization, Leray is pulled over by the local military for operating an illegal road vehicle. You can probably only imagine his face when he got the ticket.
And we’re off. The Desert Camel takes 12 days to create, from scrap, in the middle of the Sahara. Impressive, Emile.
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