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Emile Leray’s miraculous escape from the Sahara desert

Emile Leray is a French engineer and adventurer who has performed some incredible feats of ingenuity and survival. One of his most remarkable stories is how in 1993 he managed to escape from the Sahara desert on a makeshift motorcycle made out of parts of his broken-down car. This is Emile Leray's survival story...

Emile Leray was on a solo trip in Morocco in 1993, driving his Citroën 2CV, when he hit a large rock and damaged his car’s chassis. He was stranded 20 miles from the nearest village, with only enough food and water to last for 10 days. He had no radio, no phone, and no spare tire. He was facing certain death in the vast and harsh desert.

Emile Leray and his broken-down Citroën 2CV. Photo credts: Emile Leray

But Leray did not give up hope. He decided to use his skills as an electrician and his knowledge of mechanics to create a new vehicle that could carry him out of the desert. He spent 12 days and 11 nights working on his project, using tools such as pliers, hammers, saws, and drills. He removed the body of his car and used it as a shelter. He took three wheels from his car and attached them to a frame that he shortened and fixed with axles. He converted the rear bumper into a seat and put the engine in front of it. He placed the suspension on the rear wheel and rigged the ignition to the handlebar so that he could control it like a motorcycle.

Emile Leray and his makeshift motorcycle. Photo credits: Emile Leray

Leray’s makeshift motorcycle was not perfect, but it worked well enough for him to ride across the desert. He faced many challenges along the way, such as sandstorms, heat waves, scorpions, snakes, and wild animals. He also had to deal with hunger, thirst, fatigue, and loneliness. But he never lost sight of his goal: reaching civilization.

Surprisingly, on his way to Tan-Tan, Leray was stopped by the police and fined 4,550 dirhams (450 euros) because his creation didn’t conform to the specifications of the Citroën 2CV.


Emile Leray presents the motorcycle he constructed from his Citroën 2CV car at the Midwest Dream Car Collection in Manhattan, KS, on October 4, 2019. (Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group

On the TV show MythBusters, which airs on the Discovery Channel, the hosts, Adam Savage and Jamie Heineman, tried to make a motorcycle from a 2CV. In episode 227 named “Transformers” (season 5), they got their hands on a 1967 Citroën 2CV and drove it to a landfill in Kirby Canyon, California. There, they took it apart, keeping the engine and gearbox.


After learning about Leray’s original design, Heineman and Savage tested if the transformation could really work to see if the story was true. Even though their finding on MythBusters was that it was a myth, meaning they thought it couldn't happen, other people have tried it and had more success.

Leray’s miraculous escape from the Sahara desert made headlines around the world. It also inspired many people who faced similar situations or who admired Leray’s creativity and courage. Leray still owns his motorcycle today, along with some other inventions that he has made over the years. He says that he is always looking for new challenges and adventures.



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