Man, Stranded In The Desert, Makes A Motorcycle From His Broken Car

The original story is in French, and the Google translate is very rough. Please forgive us if we don’t get this completely accurate.

While traveling through the desert somewhere in north west Africa in his Citroen 2CV , [Emile] is stopped, and told not to go any further due to some military conflicts in the area. Not wanting to actually listen to this advice, he decides to loop around, through the desert, to circumvent this roadblock.

After a while of treading off the beaten path, [Emile] manages to snap a swing arm on his vehicle, leaving him stranded. He decided that the best course of action was to disassemble his vehicle and construct a motorcycle from the parts. This feat would be impressive on its own, but remember, he’s still in the desert and un-prepared. If we’re reading this correctly, he managed to drill holes by bending metal and sawing at it, then un-bending it to be flat again.

It takes him twelve days to construct this thing. There are more pictures on the site, you simply have to go look at it. Feel free to translate the labels and post them in the comments.

Update: From [Semicolo] in the comments

You got the translation right, but there’s not just a swing arm that’s broken, there’s a frame beam broken too (not sure about the exact term, one of the 2 girder of the chassis).
He’s not far away but he has a lot of tools and other hardware that could be stolen if he leaves them unattended.

[via Reddit]

190 thoughts on “Man, Stranded In The Desert, Makes A Motorcycle From His Broken Car

  1. I don’t know, this seems like another version of the story about the couple who buys out a huge farm and the barn is filled with millions of dollars in cars. It turns out, he was just a car salesman who moved the cars he never sold into his barn and wanted to get pictures taken of them. So much for that.

    This is probably a similar story.

  2. For some, it would seem odd to consider hacking a broken car into a motorcycle rather than walking to the nearest village a good idea but if you ever tried to start a complex project, you would understand better.

    He originally figured it would take him three days to complete his project, about the same amount of time to figure out where he is and get to the closest village by foot, leaving all his belongings to whoever finds the car (which happens a lot faster and more frequently than you would imagine in a desert, as he said).
    After the third day of work on a project, the very last thing you want to do is abandon it, especially if you’re proud of it. Why not continue it?

    As far as food and water goes, he did have a tent, why can’t he have anything else he would need to go camping for a week? Any good camper could ration his food to last longer.
    Putting myself in that situation after reading the articles, most of the time would have been spent thinking and measuring to make it as efficient I can make it in little time and minimum amount of force (considering heat, water and food supply) while salvaging parts with near zero modification.

    A great deal of this build’s “ease” is due to how the car was made: a narrow centre beam supporting both axles, swing arms on all four wheels that can be mounted upside down and still fits in the centre beam, and a special motor that has a differential and drum brakes included in a nice small factory-made package. I don’t think it could have been done as “easily” with another car.

    Far-fetched: yes.
    Impossible: no.

    Thank you hackaday for bringing old, forgotten and sometimes misjudged stuff to young eyes.
    Keep on hacking.

    1. A lack of willingness by most commenters here to accept the story is due, I think, to an unfamiliarity with the 2CV, a simple, light vehicle that is easily dismantled. Think of all the variations the Model T was turned into by farmers and mechanics.

      My French isn’t that great, but good enough to get that the guy calls himself a doctor of African engineering with his diploma gotten through working in garages all over the desert Sahel region of west Africa. He’s a bricoleur, a person who takes bits and pieces and converts them into something useful.

      He wouldn’t have traveled into the desert, off-road, without having water, food, and tools with him, just as I, who live on the Northern Plains, always travel with a survival kit in winter and always have a complete collection of tools in the car. He probably tried limping the car along but it wouldn’t work in the rough terrain.

      I grew up in a refugee camp after WW II. Even if you had money, you couldn’t buy anything. My father made a stove for my mother out of rusty sheet metal and nails. His only tools were a hammer and chisel, which he had borrowed. When times got better, my mother was even able to bake tortes in that stove.

  3. Okay, I wont go into the plausible or not part.

    This is my question:

    If he went through all of that so he wouldn’t have to leave stuff behind for vandals or thieves, where did he put it all at on the motorcycle?

  4. Actually the story is even more inspiring than that.

    They left out the part where the motorcycle broke down halfway home, and he had to save himself by turning it into a car again.

    1. No.
      What broke down was the military vehicle that was transporting the motorcycle back to Tan-tan.

      He didn’t make much mileage on it by the way.
      He left in mid-afternoon and stopped when it started to get dark (not mentioning time spent putting the bike back up when he fell) was discovered by military in the night, was asked to prove his story by showing them the car (didn’t succeed in pitch black, started again the next morning). He was then escorted back to Tan-tan in a truck with his bike.

  5. Hummm, I’m sure the build is possible and fun thing to do with a broken 2CV (I can think of better things.. Chicken Coup). But the desert stuff is nonsense, if it is true, he might be a very clever hacker, but a very stupid individual.

    From my experience of the desert in a far more deserted area about 300miles east was that even after driving off road in some of the most inhospitable places, kids and people appeared from literally no where to ask for bonbons or stilos.

    Driving on salt flats on the way to 40ft dunes, we stopped to play on the dunes and kids appeared withing 15min.

    This happened time and time again, even when we ventured well off the documented trails.

    If he was stuck, unless is was hidden or in a no go area (which from the map it wasn’t) I’m sure he would of been found within a day or two.

    Chris Scott, the Sahara overland adventurer states in his book that your chances of survival in the desert are far higher in a car (albeit broken) than a broken motorbike.

    Also water requirements are high, even with rationing, he would of still needed at least 2ltrs a say, probably more due to exposure and working in the heat, so where did he carry the 30ltrs in the 2CV… humm

    Anyway, he built it because he did not want to leave his tools…. humm even after the build where did he keep them, what if it broke down, he would of left his spares behind.

    If it is true, He was very stupid, so that riles me.
    If it isn’t true, then he is full of BS and that riles me.
    And what also riles me is the 20min of my life this has just eaten… ugh!

  6. Yeah, its possible. I’ve seen similar mashups being used in the wild as transport in the third world. He probably took his inspiration from other things he’d seen in Africa…Just because you dont see it in “civilization” doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I’ve personally driven (with my father) 130 miles without a front wheel, using logs as skids. It was the winter of 1978, i think. It was -40c, and it was either figure it out or freeze.

    With a little motivation, you’d be surprised what a person with a mastery of tools, metal, and mechanics can make.

    Though I possess the mechanical skills to do this under the conditions, i probably would not have attempted it (American)…but I know at least two french guys who would have tried, and one of them would have actually pulled it off for sure….if for no other reason than to prove that it cannot be done. I think its a French thing.

    1. Interestingly enough −40 °F = −40 °C

      Kudos on the improvised snowmobile. As a mechanic you’d adore working on a 2cv. After getting your head around the unconventional setup you’d wonder why all cars aren’t built like this.

  7. détails techniques dans 2 CV Magazine de mars-avril 2003

    The last line of the last page says there are more technical details in “2 CV Magazine” of March-April 2003. Does anyone have a copy?

    That might let us know if it’s a hoax or not.

    1. I used to have a copy and I do remember this, but two moves and a divorce later . . .

      Imagine my shock when I hear rumour that it was a hoax. Turns out most of these conspiracy theories are put forward by people who probably haven’t even seen a 2cv before and can’t tell the difference between a spring and a muffler.

  8. Yes, where did he keep these tools worth risking his life for.
    The military seeing him in a thong released him?
    How did he bend the metal so as to saw on the seam and flex it back and it held strong?
    Counter balance the car for removing the wheel with the busted swing arm and go slow for a busted frame and at 5km/h it still wouldn’t take you 12 days or 3 day to get where you need to be. You will use a lot of gas…
    It’s the bending the metal that bugs me, the energy he’d need to do it, you’d have more luck pounding a hole with a spike and chunk of steel.
    That seat looks not wide enough, if the road was that bad he’d broken his tailbone and given inspiration to southparks: Mr.Garrisons’s “IT”.

    1. Going slow with one of the drive wheels missing is a given. Max speed would be 0mph. Bending metal just requires heat and leverage. Humans have been doing that since 4000bc.

      Lance Armstrong managed on a saddle that was narrower and with no suspension, mind you Lance was testicularly disadvantaged.

      1. “Going slow with one of the drive wheels missing is a given. Max speed would be 0mph.”
        Not so. His bike hack included locking one side of the differential. This some modification also solves the missing drive wheel problem. You wind up with half the torque and twice the speed in an already anemic car, but it’s heaven compared to what he did.

  9. personally if i had wanted the engine and my tools so bad i would have used (half) the friggin DOOR as a skid, just twist the support that normally frames the window around the suspension like a twist tie and your good :)

    brake line, electrical cable, and ebrake cable can all be used as twist tie / rope

  10. I can’t find a explanation in English but but just from the photo I can see what he did and how this was actually pretty easy to do.

    So I’d say it’s real.

    The car is essentially a metal box stuck on two beams that independently connect the front and rear suspension on either side. The 20 hp horizontal twin air cooled engine just bolts to to these two beams up front and directly supplies power to the front wheels through a simple gearbox transmission and two brake hubs on either side of the engine.

    All he did is remove the metal box, unbolt the engine, eliminate the right beam with it’s damaged suspension. He used the left side alone with it’s two working wheels, re-bolted the engine to the single left beam further back, and left the front suspension intact with it’s working steering.

    He then rotated the rear swingarm 180 degrees so that the rear wheel now rests directly under the left brake hub where it comes off the engine tranny assembly. This is important. Even though the rear swingarm now has no shock or suspension the weight of the engine and frame now rests on that wheel because the brake hub sits right on top of it. looking at the picture you can see the right hub above the wheel. The other side is identical it’s just the hub rests on top of the tire.

    When the transmission is now engaged it turns the brake hub which then rotates the wheel the opposite direction just do to the simple friction of the hub being on top of the tire. In order to get it to go forward all he had to do is run it in reverse. Do to the original layout all the transmission controls would still be right in front of him. All he had to do is make some kind of steering rod, a seat, throttle control, and then mount the tank on the beam in front of the engine with a gravity feed.

    Think of it as more of a mule then a motorcycle. He was stuck in the North African desert with all his tools and possessions. If he walked out they would of been gone and the car stripped before he returned. He made a simple device that could be driven at about walking speed or a little above, that with the front suspension intact could carry all his gear even over a rough road surface. Brilliant!! So simple there was no doubt that it would work.

  11. As a disclaimer I should say I’ve never seem a 2CV and I’m just guessing on few things like the HP, after seeing the pic and thinking about it all day. I’ll say one thing after looking it over, now I want to buy a 2CV.

    1. It’s one of the best cars you can buy. It’s in my wish list from long ago. I like more the mehari though, it’s the same chassis/engine, but with a different body.

      1. With you on the Mehari, although I have to share something I recently learned. I thought a plastic-bodied cut-down 2cv would be lighter, but with the sub-frames etc it’s around 100lbs heavier. So the A-type would still be the smart choice off road.

    2. These guys restore 2cv A-types (original shape) and Mehari (plastic-bodied variant). I think they also have a couple Ami and Dyane (Other variants).

      I’d choose a Montana Green 1969 Mehari or a 2cv Texto in 1982 Charleston colours.

      The suspension blows the mind. People here have been confusing it with a muffler but it’s actually a spring within a spring mounted horizontally on the chassis so the vertical travel of the wheel isn’t limited by the space under the wing. Would rarely bottom out on the roughest terrain. Also you can alter the height of the car with the tower jack & wooden choc (supplied) the starting handle (supplied), 9mm spanner & long nose pliers (you’re gonna have to bring your own.) First time I tried lowering my old 2cv (I was a student and lowering was ‘cool’) took me one sunny Saturday afternoon and that’s with breaks. By the end of the college year I got it down to 1½ hours.

  12. You guys are all wrong. My dad crashed his twin-engined plane in the desert and managed to construct a single engine plane from the parts and fly to safety. Oh wait a minute… that was a film. This story is bulls**t too. Great build though.

    1. I concur. If they can make a movie about a guy who had a rock on his hand for 127 Hours in the desert . . . why not? And in this one Leray doesn’t even have to cut his hand off, just his leather pants.

      Richard Dean Anderson for the starring role? Perhaps not in that loincloth though.

  13. I have a simple point. Why all the extras? Why tape up the handle bars. I mean, think about it. Why waste the 5 mins and the energy to wrap tape around a piece of metal, that at most, you’ll be holding on to for a few hours. Why a kick stand? But even that I could POSSIBLY understand. But if you are truly in a survival situation I certainly wouldn’t waste my time puting a license plate on it! Who gives a damn if I get a ticket! I’m alive an back in civilization!

    1. No, you have three uninformed, but seemingly reasonable questions, followed by your faulty reasoning.

      “Why all the extras?” This is an assumption.

      “Why tape up the handle bars.” (using a period does not make your question a “point.”)

      If you have ever spent 5 minutes raking a lawn with a rough, wood handled rake, you would know why you would want to cushion the potentially rough metal edged steering control to be used on an experimental vehicle over rough terrain with no medical assistance available. (You must also be intelligent enough to understand why you don’t want to injure yourself when in such a crisis situation.)

      “Why a kick stand? But even that I could POSSIBLY understand.”

      Certainly you would understand and wouldn’t even bring up this question if you had ever built a single project. So for this I will make my point by asking my own question.

      Would it be easier to install and check fit of an 80 pound engine and trans axle on a frame that is level and stationary, or on a frame that laying in the dirt at an angle and will allow no support for you to let go of it while you are trying to bolt it on?

      “But if you are truly in a survival situation I certainly wouldn’t waste my time puting a license plate on it! Who gives a damn if I get a ticket! I’m alive an back in civilization!”

      You last point here is a bit naive. The world is not one big homogeneous love fest, and never will be. At least not until the “Great Hacker in the Sky” decides to finish up his experiments…

      War zones, and the areas adjacent to them, are very easy to die in.

      The purpose of the plate was strictly to prove his legitimacy. Keeping the plate means he had some visible identification from a distance, and therefore got a ticket for an illegal modification instead of a bullet 500 meters from his destination for being mistaken as a guerrilla or insurgent.

      Phantom Of The Router

    2. i’ll give him the taped grips – holding onto a monster like that would at minimum, blister the he|| outta your hands, either numbing them or blistering them into uselessness..
      the kickstand – probably not a major waste of time to bolt on whatever extraneous piece of metal was laying around for the sake of stabilizing his build platform; although unless it’s collapsible, it might be more dangerous than just lifting the thing onto a box or something temporarily.. (i once over-leaned my motorcycle to the point of having the kickstand hit the road, chucking me into a ditch)..
      but the license plate?.. whaaa?.. it serves absolutely zero purpose.. get outta here with you your, “but you might meet unfriendly people” BS – point is, if you get stopped by ANYone, then you’ve made civilization, period, end of story! even a 5min effort would be totally wasted and downright stupid in a life or death survival sitch..
      the plate ruins it completely for me – i call total Bu||sh|t..

  14. Yeah … after see this one thing is true that it gives inovation ideas to our brains . If we are in trouble we have to use available resources in very smart way .

    Nice Work geecks .. great job.

  15. This story reminds me of a comment once made by Bob (Gilligan’s Island) Denver; “The professor could build a nuclear reactor with a pineapple and a couple of coconuts, so why couldn’t he fix a three-foot hole in a boat?”
    I’m sure this motorcycle could be built, but why bother if survival was the issue? Just fix the broken car!

  16. if it was me i would of made a uni cycle and peddled my way back to the where ever he was going, holding in one hand some snacks and the other a bottle of water. 12 days of peddling and he would of been home.

    so instead he wasted 12 days of making up a COOL bike and pretty much starving to death making the bloody thing look good.

    i am waiting for someone to be stranded at sea now and find out someone made a bloody hovercraft or something out of twigs…or a dead shark…

    sounds like BS but hey some people are crazy and it could be one of those crazy stories that are true.

    1. That’s the GSA, ID and DS. If one of the trailing arms at the rear snapped off you could probably drive so long as you drive stupid. One of the front leading arms snap and it’s game over.

  17. In fact, the engine is attached with the wheels. But he did it with the brake (I don’t know how to say it in english, it’s not the disk brake, it’s the old one). This story is completely true, he prove how he made the hole in the metal (he call it ‘the african way to do it’) on tv. So yes, it’s stupid, yes, it’s not very useful, yes, it go only 20 km/h; but it’s true. (I hope you’ll understand my english ^^)

  18. Initially he tried to make a mini copter.However last minute he realized that he cant get lift from the tiny radiator fan and so he opted to connect the thingammagig to the gurgitator and awaaayyyy we go!

  19. If he made a bike out of a car in a few days that’s nice. But wouldn’t be easier to fix the car with the tools he has, tied long tools for stability. Where does he put all his stuff on that bike? Was his decision to do it if it saved his life my hat off to him

  20. Followed the link from the Ner-A-Car article, but had to comment. To me, this looks like a stunt or a bad solution. He probably did it, alone, in the desert, but certainly didn’t have to. He could have removed the wheel from the bad arm, jammed that side of the differential, wedged the swing arms on the good diagonal for maximum ground clearance (I’m assuming he tore the hydro-pneumatic suspension lines), and piled up a ton of ballast onto the back corner on the bad diagonal. The car would thus be tipped away from the bad corner with sufficient ground clearance to make the frame damage a non-issue. The differential would put out 2x the normal RPM, so it’d take a bit of clutch-slipping to make up for the lower torque, and he’d have to go slow (because the desert is still rough terrain). Anyway, the 2CV is famous for it’s ability to limp on three wheels in emergencies–something any 2CV fanatic would know. Even if the frame rail were twisted up, compromising the car’s torsional rigidity, he could have hacksawed the worst of it out and adequately stiffened the car by other means. Making it a tricycle would have taken AT WORST (from the story’s description of the problem) 3 days. But driving a 2CV on three wheels hasn’t been newsworthy since the 1950s, but TWO wheels in an emergency? He probably had the idea as a daydreaming teenager, and either staged it or chose it as the most interesting possible solution to a real problem. Crazy arrogant car nut.

  21. There are several reasons why I don’t believe this. The main one is: Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to walk the 20 miles to wherever he was going? He’s expending more energy and taking more time to build this motorcycle than it would take to walk. If you are walking at a steady rate of 3 mph, it would take 6.5 hours to go 20 miles, but instead, he takes 12 days to ‘convert’ his car into a motorcycle.

    Before anyone says anything about walking through the desert, think about spending 12 days in it expending tremendous amounts of energy building this. Come on now, how can do many people be so gullible.

    1. He certainly made the bike, but it’s such a silly solution compared to walking or making simpler repairs using the same techniques, I have to conclude that he either staged it, OR had been waiting for years to have an excuse to turn his 2CV into a motorcycle in the wilderness–likely inspired by older tales of 2CVs limping home on three wheels after terrible breakdowns. Anyone with that same knowledge of the car and ability to improvise tools should have come up with better solutions. His solution was devised to be memorable.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.