Imagine driving through the Moroccan desert, alone in your car, when your vehicle collides with a rock and the chassis and axle are destroyed, 20 miles away from the nearest town. It was 1993 and the reality faced by Frenchman Emile Leray, who didn’t want to risk making the journey back to the nearest town on foot.
After initially starting his journey by leaving the city of Tan Tan in Morocco, Leray began to travel further into the Saharan desert before being confronted by a military outpost. Leray was informed that he is not permitted to continue his journey past the outpost due to the rising conflicts between Morocco and Western Sahara. The military personnel stated that Leray must return to Tan Tan, taking a passenger back with him. To avoid this consequence, Leray contested an insurance issue that interfered with him being able to take any other passengers in the vehicle.
Turning his car around Leray drove away in the opposite direction, at high speed, to make sure he wasn’t pursued by the military. Leray’s plan was to bypass the outpost by circling around them and continuing his journey onto the original path later. However, after venturing off the path on uneven terrain, it didn’t take long before the car had hit a rock and began to break down – leaving Leray stranded in an unmarked part of the desert.
Speaking to The Times, Leray stated “I wanted to do it off road because I had travelled round Africa about 10 times, so I knew the region well and therefore had no concerns…I decided to do it in a 2CV because, although it is not a 4x4, it is tough. In Africa they call it the ‘Steel Camel’ because it goes everywhere — provided you drive it gently. One must not be rough. I obviously was too rough because I broke it.”
As the Citroen’s swing arm and axle had been broken, Leray realized there was no chance of repairing the car back to a usable standard to continue the rest of his journey. To make matters worse, he only had a hacksaw and several days’ worth of water left to last him. Leray needed a new plan!
His plan was this – convert the battered Citroën 2CV into a Mad Max-esque motorcycle.
The next day, Leray began work on his makeshift motorcycle. He kept the body of the Citroën to use as protection and shelter from the desert sandstorms, whilst by day he worked on dismantling the rest of the car. His initial estimate of the project length was 3 days, though in reality it took him a lot longer than this to complete – 12 days.
Working in the searing sun, LeRay converted a pair of socks into sleeves to shade his arms before using his hacksaw to shorten the chassis. Once he had done this, he worked on adjusting and re-attaching the axles and two wheels, until he finally was able to insert the engine and gearbox into the middle of his contraption. At this point, Leray had only a pint of water left.
Whilst it seemed the odds were against him – he often lost his balance on the machine (as the seat was made from the Citroën’s rear bumper). Leray had managed to begin his journey back to civilization, until once again, he was picked up by the Moroccan military.
Whilst this should have been a relief because the military brought him back to Morocco, speaking to The Times, Leray revealed: “…. They issued me with a fairly hefty fine because they felt that the registration documents for the 2CV no longer corresponded to the bike. In their minds it was an offence. It was very expensive.”
Photography by Alastair Miller
Emile Leray now 62, wants to revisit the desert and attempt to recreate the vehicle with a friend and this time, he wants to capture the modification on camera.