It has been quite a long time since I have written any of our true survival story posts so it’s time to continue.
Today we are going to be taking a look at the story of French electrician Emile Leray who believe it or not, was able to build a fully working motorcycle from a broken down car that he could use to escape the desert.
If your vehicle is going to decide it doesn’t want to move anymore, the worst place that it could ever happen would be the desert but that is exactly what happened to this Frenchman.
It never needed to be a masterpiece, it just needed to get him to safety. It ended up doing both.
The Survival Story of Emile Leray
Emile Leray (now 70) loved to travel around in his little Citroen 2CV and the year of ’93 was no different for him as he left Tan Tan in Morocco on that fateful day. Leray drove straight into a military outpost but the Royal Gendarmerie (Moroccan military police) had nothing but bad news for him. They told him that he would have to turn around and head back to Tan Tan due to an upscaling of conflict between Morocco and Western Sahara.
Before leaving they asked Leray to take someone along with him as a passenger which Leray declined using his insurance as an excuse. Leray didn’t plan on heading back though and decided he could still make his destination with some off-road driving. This was his mistake.
Taking the 2CV off-road and speeding to ensure that he wasn’t followed took it’s toll on the vehicle. They are not designed for hard off-road use. They are reliable cars but only if they are used properly.
I decided to do it in a 2CV because, although it is not a 4×4, it is tough. In Africa, they call it the ‘Steel Camel’ because it goes everywhere, provided you drive it gently. I obviously was too rough because I broke it – Emile Leray
Getting out of the vehicle, Leray could see that the axle had broken along with one of the swingarms. These are parts that just can’t be repaired in the middle of the desert and he was as far as 20 miles away from any help. This is exactly where Lerays’ stored up knowledge and experience came into use.
He checked his supplies and found that he had got a hacksaw and around 10 days’ worth of supplies left but how long could he last in his situation?
It doesn’t really matter who you are, nobody will survive too long in the heat of the Sahara Desert and Leray knew that. He knew his time was running out and he knew that if he was going to survive this, he needed to act!
Early the next day Leray awoke as a man with a plan. He could use the parts from the broken down Citroën to build a bike and get the hell out of there. Simple right? Not quite.
The Citroën 2CV Teardown
We all know that in a desert situation water is obviously important but so is shelter. Leray started by removing the shell of the vehicle which he could use as a temporary shelter until his escape.
I could not have gone back on foot — it was too far. I put myself in what one calls survival mode. I ate less; I monitored my supplies of water and of food to make them last as long as possible. – Emile Leray
I just want to quickly remind you that Leray tore down his vehicle without any proper tools. He used other bits of metal to help remove the other parts of the car. For thick pieces, he would bend them, drilling holes with metal bits until he could create guides for the screws he salvaged.
A pair of socks were converted so that they could be used as protection for Lerays’ arms while using the hacksaw in the sun.
The wheel arm was attached to the chassis and the engine was added in the middle. The rear bumber was even turned into a seat for the bike. Leray initially thought it would take him about 3 days to complete but in reality, it was more like 12 days. By this time, Leray had only got about a pint of water left.
The Mythbusters Attempt
When someone does something unbelievable everyone will go out of their way to debunk it. The Mythbusters were very good at doing this on many occasions and I am sure that they jumped at the chance of trying to bust this one. Not so fast there boys!
If you haven’t heard of the Mythbusters before it is a TV program in which the team try to debunk a different myth on each episode. I remember even seeing a zombie survival one a few years back.
In the episode about Leray they tried to stay as true as they could to reality (without the desert). They couldn’t follow a manual to teardown the vehicle but that was the easy part. The part they failed twice at was making a bike from the parts.
- Attempt 1 – tried to make a two-person version and failed.
- Attempt 2 – tried to recreate Lerays’ bike from pictures and failed.
Before moving on let us just quickly break this down for you:
- Emile Leray – one brain, limited time, life or death situation, intelligent, success
- Mythbusters – two brains, unlimited time, experienced, intelligent, failed twice
Imagine this, you are close to death as you have just had to do the impossible to survive. You see civilization ahead, you’ve done it. It must be an amazing feeling. Only for Leray, he got pulled over by the police for operating an illegal vehicle.
I imagine the police have heard just about every possible excuse when pulling people over but I would love to have known what they were thinking when Leray started with his story.
If it was me, I would have been over the moon, military police or not, I was alive. But get this, they issued Leray with a hefty fine because the documents for the 2CV were no longer true for the bike. Survival or not it was still an offence but I am pretty sure Leray wasn’t too bothered about the fine.
Emile now wants to go back to where it all happened and try to recreate and rebuild the bike with a friend and capture everything on camera. You can find his YouTube channel here and please do subscribe to his channel to stay up-to-date.
Leray must really love a Citroën 2CV because he was back at it in 2006 when he used another 2CV and turned it into a boat.
I am not too sure that I have ever heard of someone doing such a badass thing before but Emile Leray, I take my hat off to you sir.