Morocco, 1993. Emile Leray is an expert French traveler who has travelled far and wide all across Africa for at least 10 times. That year, he decided to face alone the expanses of sand and rock of Sahara Desert, visiting the western part on a Citroën 2CV. He left Tan-Tan behind him, the last citadel before the deep desert.
On the outskirt of the city, the royal guards inform him that he cannot leave, because of the growing political tension between Morocco and Western Sahara, which was object of contention in the South of the country. Guards command to take a passenger with him and to go back to Tan-Tan. Emile refuses by making up an excuse, that being his car insurance didn’t allow him to carry more than one passenger at a time
He came back on his Citroën 2CV and decided to enter a side street. That was an unbeated track that he was hoping it would lead him to the Desert by passing through the South. Although this car was not a 4×4 vehicle it was so powerful as an engine to the point that it was known as the “Iron Camel” by locals because of its unquestionable qualities of resistance in extreme conditions. The amount of food that Emile took with himself was for about 10 days, duration that was supposedly sufficient for him to cross the Desert.
After an undefined number of hours of driving, enough to be distant from any city, something unexpected happened.
Emile hit a rock and broke a wheel and the axle-shaft
The car is impossible to use. Any chance to escape the spot by foot is denied as is he way too far from any place at all. Emile is there in the Desert, alone, with just 10 days suppy to find a solution. The man, whom in France worked as an electrician, decides to go for a risky attempt:
Building a motorcycle from scratch by using the parts of his car
First of all he starts off by taking off the car body to create a shelter from Desert storms and the sun. The he begins a hectic work of construction of a two wheels vehicle which could grant him to come back to civilization.
The days go by with him focusing on his work, while rationing his food and protecting his body with only his own t-shirt. The African heat is devastating and Emile adapts his socks as sleeves to not burn his arms. He had no electronic devices to help himself with and the look of his motorcycle was not that pleasing from an aesthetical point of view. Nevertheless, he eventually manages to come up with a 2 wheels bike-like transport that gives him the chance to run away from certain death that he was otherwise destined to.
He used part of the chassis as a supporting structure, on the front side he places instead a wheel with a primitive steering system. At the centre he puts the engine, battery, gearbox, and finally the brake drum, which starts the back wheel only by friction. The motorbike runs by inserting reverse gear.
Once the “Mad Max” transport was done, Emile takes the Eastern road, hoping to reach some centre. The bike was extremely tricky to ride, with no suspensions let alone used on a rough track such as that one in the Desert. He falls a few times from it and what he carries along is just half a litre of water and no food whatsoever.
After about a day of riding something unexpected happened, but this time on the bright side: on the way he bumps into a Moroccan police patrol (probably roaming after refugees) that come the the aid and return him to Tan-Tan.
Emile is safe. His “Desert Camel”, as he named his motorcycle, has taken him back to civilization
Despite the situation, the Moroccan gendarmerie fined him for having driven a vehicle which was different from the one reported on his insurance. Emile didn’t mind the penalty and took it as some sort of prize.
Today Emile is 60 years old and he lives in France, where he has kept his “salvation vehicle” as a precious relic.
To better understand how the Leray’s vehicle was functioning, Discovery Channel recreated a similar one. You can watch it here below