Homemade motorcycle improvised out of a Citroen 2CV in the middle of the desert

This badass chopper was (apparently) hand-built by Emile, a Frenchman whose Citroen car broke down in the middle of the northwestern African desert, and who built himself a motorcycle out of the parts, without any tools. Here's the Imgur gallery, and an accompanying Reddit thread. There's a Hack-A-Day has a rough translation from Chameaudacier's site:

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.

MOTO page 2 - CHAMEAU D'ACIER - Emile LERAY (via Neatorama)

(Images: Daniel Denis, 2CV Magazine)


  1. Oh my god, I am so underprepared for the postnuclear wasteland.  But at least I have all this spiky leather clothing.

  2.  I have a feeling some steampunk enthusiast is wetting themselves over this. Probably worth significantly more now as a decoration than it was originally as a car.

      1. It’s obviously post-apocalyptic, but steampunkers tend to be a very inclusive bunch.

  3. Hmm.  Smart enough to take his car and turn part of it into a motorcycle, but not smart enough to avoid heading ill-prepared into a WARZONE and not smart enough to reconsider his previous decision when an opportunity like roadblock offers another chance…

    Don’t get me wrong- the technical achievement is impressive, but the lack of common sense that led to requiring this technical solution is all too common in many technically-minded people.

    1.  Don’t judge. You weren’t there to weigh the possibilities or know just how compelled he was to get to his destination.

      The dude is awesome.

      1. I don’t understand this position people take on not judging others.  We judge others all of the time, and at least judging them based on their actions and choices is honest, as opposed to judging them based on characteristics beyond their control.

        In this case, he took a 20 year old car, that from the looks of the parts wasn’t in the best repair to begin with, into a dangerous situation without a plan, and when handed his lemons made lemonade.  Sure, he’s quite handy, that’s not in dispute.  His putting himself in harm’s way when he could have avoided it is my complaint.

        As to judging him, it’s fine that he chose to risk himself and that he managed to extract himself from that risk, but that doesn’t mean that I have to have a net-positive view of what he has done when the situation was at least partially of his own making.  I am allowed to form an opinion based on what’s been described, and that opinion is net-negative.

        1. We judge others all of the time

          I judge this man an utter badass, not that I think the opinion of the peanut gallery, be it net-positive, net-negative or net-surfing, like my own flabby self, is of any consequence to him.

        2.   But his memoirs will be so much more entertaining to read than yours. 
          Or interesting epitaph. 

          And people live there birth till death at a greater risk and less opportunity than this man, who at least had a POS car. 

          I’m inspired by this young fitter. 

          1. If you want to talk about memoirs, read the author’s introduction in Slaughterhouse 5.  Vonnegut’s war buddy’s wife points out the folly and mistakes and youthful naïvete that these now-veterans conveniently forget about when they reminisce about their pasts.

            I’m generally not interested in reading someone’s memoirs.  It’s very easy to view the past with rose-tinted glasses, conveniently ignoring the self-inflicted pain, the self-doubt, and the paralysis through indecision that everyone feels.

            This guy made a foolish mistake.  He managed to survive it.  It’s interesting, but again, it’s not worthy of celebration.  If his memoir, assuming he would write one, actually includes acknowledgement of his own folly then maybe it’d be worth considering.  If he fails to acknowledge his part in being in this situation in the first place then it’s not worth reading.

        3.  “I don’t understand this position people take on not judging others. ”

          Because, in this case, you don’t have enough information.
          Judge people you know intimately all you want.

          1. Judge people you know intimately all you want.

            Just don’t expect to know them intimately anymore.

        4. TWX: You are putting your self in his position and assessing the situation based on what you would do. If it had been you driving that Citroen, you would have turned around
          when you saw that road block, and you would have been safe and sound. You are weak. Thankfully it was not you who was driving that Citroen, it was a badass adventurer named Emile who doesn’t make the predictable and normative choices of the standard model civilian robot, instead acting with inspiration and a force of self determination that withers the nuts of those poor individuals whose inner warrior has been long caged and fettered by a regime of soul crushing moderated sensibility, those individuals who sadly will never find themselves in the most ancient of human conditions, facing the blind death stone alone, with nothing to help them but their hands and their own head.

          1. I am very amused that you categorize me as weak when I have indicated I would avoid a known warzone, and have not indicated anything else.

          2. TWX, he’s judging you on about as much information as you’re judging Emile. It may have been foolish, it could also be he had no other choice.

        5. I get where you’re coming from, and I like to be the cynical asshole quite often… However, you’re complaining just for the sake of it, and making a fool of yourself in the process. 

          The amount of ingenuity and technical understanding this guy must of had is clearly beyond most, and that alone is worth a positive comment. Although traveling into a warzone through a desert sounds scary to you, he clearly knew what he was doing. Evidence being HE MADE IT.

    2.  His ‘common sense’ includes confidence in his own abilities to adapt to difficult circumstances, should they arise. He amply demonstrated that his confidence was well founded. Doing this kind of thing is an adventure, a type of activity that those afflicted with an over abundance of ‘common sense’ never experience. He appears no worse the wear for the experience, is not asking for assistance or sympathy, and has serendipitously created a rather terrific vehicle out of the wreckage that intrigues and delights many, including me. I’m not sure there’s anything negative here to really criticize him on, other than it’s not the sort of thing you would choose to do.

      1. I very, very much doubt that confidence played a part in spending the better part of two weeks disassembling a disabled car to build an escape vehicle.  I would expect that fear and desperation were a lot more prominent.

        He may not be asking for sympathy or assistance, but he is asking for acclaim.  I do not believe he deserves acclaim when the situation is one of his own making, when he shouldn’t have put himself into the situation in the first place.

        I guess that if one wants to celebrate his vehicle, that’s fine.  The circumstances in which he built it are no cause for for celebration though.

        1. The part of me that agrees with you, TWX, is the same part that similarly judged the fool James Franco just played in some ridiculous movie:  you go off alone into the wilderness and saw off your own damn arm, you only have yourself to blame.

          The other part of me, which agrees somewhat less, is the one that echoes the sentiment of “general badassery” elsewhere in the thread.  Building a mechpunk motorrad from the remains of your busted-ass whip – in the middle of the fucking desert – totally trumps hacking off a limb.

          Yes, yes… “move where the food is,” and all; but, this dude – however foolish – deserves at *least* an attaboy, brother.

  4. He did have tools. From his own blog: “ce docteur en mécanique africaine a tous les outils et les éléments pour réussir l’opération.”

    translated: “this doctor of African mechanics has all the tools and elements necessary to successfully complete the operation.

    still impressive, considering the tools in question were primarly a metal hacksaw, a round file, a hammer and center punch, and adjustable channel locks. Plus a few other odds and ends in his “boite a outils” (-> toolbox.)

    here’s a picture of him with his hacksaw:


    the bike is visible in the background. one has to wonder, was it the soldiers who picked him up that took the picture? of him in his speedos? kind of fishy, but anyway, very cool story.

      1. damnit, yes of course! the timer! duh. *facepalms*

        I’ve been made to look foolish a ubiquitous mechanical device. AGAIN.

    1. “was it the soldiers who picked him up that took the picture?”

      If that were true, it would either mean that the bike didn’t work and he just got rescued after a couple of weeks, or that the soldiers decided to be dicks and take  him back to where he started before taking his clothes and leaving him there. That would explain his expression though…

      1. “the soldiers decided to be dicks and take  him back to where he started”

        if you read the story, that actually is what happened. minus the taking of the clothes part.

  5. Let me see if I understand this right… Military checkpoint tells him to turn back for his own safety. Instead he takes his POS car off road. 

    Car breaks down within walking distance of a town but he decides to spend twelve days in the dessert. 

    His main reason for staying is he didn’t want anything to happen to his car. So, he destroys the car to make a POS motorcycle. 

    Makes perfect sense. 

    1. His car was not a POS. Yes, it’s a bad thing that part of the suspension system broke but that could happen to any vehicle in a rugged environment. But it has one huge advantage that you can’t get out of a modern car: simplicity.

      Vintage vehicles are much easier to hack than a modern computer driven ride. You break a swing arm in a modern Jeep, there is no way in hell you’re going to be building a motorcycle out of the surviving parts. Best case you’re going to be dragging that thing back to town on the three surviving wheels and won’t have nearly as fun a story to tell your friends later.

      1.  It was a very modern and technologically advanced car.  
        In 1948. 
        It was designed to be affordable, serviceable, off-roadable. 
        Not the very worst choice for such a trip. 
        But really, by moderately modern standards, a piece of shit car. 
        Have you driven one? Uphill? 

        He gets mad style points from me. 

        1. I believe 2CVs had to go backwards up steep hills, right? Because of the front wheel drive.

          There’s also the 2CV Sahara, which had 4 wheel drive because it had a second engine in the back, which tells you pretty much all you need to know about the nature of the 2CV.

      2.  You break a swing-arm in a modern jeep, you move all weight possible to the opposite corner and even overhang as much as possible, take the tire off the offending corner, use a chain, strap, or winch cable to tug the offending suspension component as far off of the ground as possible, and if 4wd without locked differentials and locked wheels, unhook that axle from the transfer case.  Drive out of there on three wheels.

        There are plenty of photos of wheel-less vehicles being driven on three- this would be much the same.

  6. Everyone who’s proud of downloading the Flashlight app for their smart phone on the first try, go stand in the corner.
    This is what technology is for.

  7. Old French cars are marvels of simplicity.  My Renault Cinq (several generations more modern than the 2CV) had rubber springs.  And the ride was great.

    That car was a 1980 and still had a dash-mounted manual choke knob for starting.  Because it’s simple.

  8. Hmm…. Cory, there’s a pair of channel locks and a hacksaw in the photo set.  You probably oughta line-out the “no tools” part of your post.

    The 2CV is like the old air-cooled volkswagens – so simple and elegant that you can do stuff like this without CAD/CAM or a drillpress.  I can remember fixing beetles on the side of the highway with a swiss army knife and found materials…  nothing as extreme as this, though!

  9. Desert, check. Funky homemade vehicle, check. Nearly-naked vaguely-hippie-looking white dude, check. It’s Burning Man, North African edition.

    It’s fitting that he started from a 2CV, a vehicle whose extreme simplicity makes this kind of thing possible. He’d have been SOL with a more modern vehicle.

    I’m somewhat flummoxed by his thinking: the North African piste basically eats vehicles anyway, but he decides to leave the track and strike off off-road through the hamada? In a 2CV? How did he not expect it to fall apart? And then we get this bit: … he’s a few tens of kilometers from Tan-tan, which he could reach on foot, but he’d be taking a risk by abandoning a vehicle that is certainly in a bad way, but still capable of arousing greed … In the desert, nothing is ever really lost, especially for those who know how to find it.

    So he doesn’t want someone to steal his ancient, partly-wrecked 2CV, so he demolishes it himself to make a Mad Max-style motorcycle that can get him to the next town? On what planet does that make sense? 

    I like the fact that even though he carefully transferred the license plate to his new vehicle, he was given a fine for “the offense of importing a non-compliant vehicle”.

    1. Apparently he didn’t care about his broken down 2CV, but about the tools and hardware he had stashed in the back. 

      That said, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of cargo space on that vehicle, so I’m not sure what exactly he packed in it that he couldn’t have just stuffed in a makeshift backpack. 

    2.  He could have piled the weight on the opposite corner, cut the body off the offending corner if necessary, and probably found a way to immobilize the CV shaft for that wheel, assuming it was a rear-wheel failure, and let the open differential push the other wheel.  Immobilizing that wheel could have been as simple as tying it to the body so that it couldn’t spin, assuming getting it up high enough to avoid dragging it on the ground.

      If it had a limited slip differential, he might not have even needed a wheel on there, if he kept his torque down, as the clutches in the differential might have been strong enough.

  10. The rear wheel of this bike is being friction-driven by the outer casing of the left hand drum brake on the side of the gearbox. As the engine and gearbox is mounted facing forward, using the 4 forward gears will propel the bike backward, and the single low reverse gear will drive the bike forward.

    In other words, while this geezer may look like Jack the Biscuit stood in the desert with his ragged trousers and post-apocalyptic motorbike, he is in fact going to be travelling either very slowly indeed, or the wrong way.
    Incidentally, I drive a 2cv myself, and it’s an splendid machine. Mine has taken me into the heart of the Sahara and out the other side twice, and as also survived a couple of fires and countless other hardships.

    The site doesn’t mention if he broke a front or rear swingarm, but I find it highly dubious that he couldn’t continue after a fashion (and with 4 forward gears) by simply removing that swingarm, and redistributing weight until the car didn’t fall over. He may, therefore, be a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

    1. I like the 2CV a lot.  I’m a big fan of simple machines that achieve a lot using good design and minimal materials.  I’ve read that French cars, and Citroens in particular are popular in Africa because they’re rugged and easy to fix.
      It’s too bad that an extreme vehicle hack like this is such a jaw dropping wonder to us.  Time was when the technical smarts to pull off a stunt on this scale were relatively common.

      1. The French-speaking parts of Africa still exhibit a few creaking old 2cvs, usually in awful condition (yet still going). Morocco is still overrun with Renault Fours 4s, and the DS is remembered fondly anywhere were corrugated roads persist for it’s ability to traverse them in unparalleled comfort. Inevitably, however, Japanese and Japanese-derived Chinese stuff is king of the road now. Oh, and Mercedes.

        1. When I was in Mali, it was mostly old French cars and Toyota Landcruisers. Especially when you got to Timbuctoo. When we left Timbuctoo, the line of cars for the ferry across the Niger was all Landcruisers, except for one Toyota Hilux. On our way back to civilization, we encountered a lot more Landcruisers, the occasional truck, and one other car: a Mitsubishi 4WD, which had broken down. And nobody had parts for it.

          Rumour had it that even if you were stranded in the middle of the desert, some camel riding nomad would have parts for your Landcruiser.

      2. Although technical know-how of this nature is perhaps declining, I’d say the decline in the sort of machinery to which this sort of creativity could be applied is more likely to blame. I can’t think of very many other cars still on the roads in any number (at least in Europe) which would be at all sympathetic to this sort of hack.

    2.  Thanks for clearing that up. I kind of had that impression of his setup, but couldn’t pick out enough words I understood to make sense out of the text. It does seem like a trike, retaining most of the original vehicle, might have been a better fix. Wouldn’t look nearly as post-apocalyptic, though!

      1. If he’d broken a rear arm, the trike is an easy trick with a 2cv. You just need to take the surviving swing arm and attach it to the other side of the car to that which it was originally fitted, and it places the one remaining rear wheel in the near-enough dead centre of the vehicle. In fact, he’s already done this, front and rear, to achieve a stable motorcycle.

        Creating a trike with one one front wheel using a 2cv is a bit more troublesome, as it’s a front wheel drive car.

        He shouldn’t have even needed to do that, though, just remove all the bodywork from the affected corner to lighten it, then fill the opposing corner of the car with rocks and luggage.

        The look is amazing. My 2cv (with all four wheels still attached) looks rather post-apocalyptic itself. I like flatter myself that it’s the worst thing on the road with an MOT certificate.

    3. Right, like he’s going to be able to “simply [remove] that swingarm” without any tools.  He’s stranded in the desert!

      1. Scratcheee! Sorry this reply is a bit late.

        He as already removed all four swingarms, and reattached two of them on the other side of the chassis.

        The swingarms can be removed and reattached in a few minutes, using nothing but  a large flat-bladed screwdriver, a rock, and the starting handle.

  11. While designed in 1948, it remained in production, in Europe, until the early Ninties. Which is to say, while an old design, it did not loose it’s relevancy in the modern world.

    I own one myself, and I’ve driven it all over Africa and the Middle East without serious complaint.

    EDITED to say: This post was supposed to be in response to Ipo, further down the thread.

    1.  I’m fond of the deux chevaux. 
      Somebody drives one by my house every day, its sound makes me look up and smile.  My SO thinks it’s cute. 

      When I call it a POS I don’t mean to be too derisive, but when you’re driving one on an Autobahn, in winter-slush, trying to have a conversation over the racket, the term seems appropriate, no? 
      Does to me. 

      I would totally want to have a new vehicle built around the same design principles that created the model A, the beetle, the beamer R bikes and the deudeuche. 
      It’s empowering to have a ride that one can work on oneself. 
      Even better than having the money to pay for road service.  

  12. Here is a translation that should do the trick.

    Left caption:
    The seat (“selle” is a specific term for a bicycle or motorcycle seat) has been built with a rear bumper end, enveloped with dashboard felt, and assembled with orange tape in a pretty way.

    Middle caption:
    The right drum brake has been blocked, so that the differential could transmit all of the power to the left one.

    Right caption:
    The front directional wheel is the only one to have a suspension.

    (For “pot de suspension, see part #3 on this webpage: http://www.mirebalais.net/article-19057848.html)


  13. He must have been inspired by Antoine de St. Exupery pilot in Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince.)

  14. This is the most amazing story of survival I have heard in years, and I collect these things. I just want to see this thing in action, at least via video.  I don’t care he couldn’t go very quickly, or keep upright because he was going so slow, all I care about is that he survived long enough to fabricate the thing and then demonstrate it to the world. Madness!

  15. The bike is cool.
    Also, I rather like the fact that the first few photos make it look like it’s a tiny model rather than a full-sized bike.

  16. Now I’m hearing Lord Humongous with a cheesy French accent.

    Just valk away mon cher, et ve giff you a safe passaageway in ze wastelands. Just valk away- et zere will be an end to ze horreur.

  17. Watch out for the kid with the stainless steel boomerang.  He’s a sneaky little booger.

  18. “Un projet qu’il avait sans doute dû imaginer depuis longtemps, mais sans avoir eu l’occasion de le concrétiser.”

    “A project he had no doubt long imagined, without having had a chance to make it a reality.”

    “il emmène avec lui une boîte à outil, des roues de secours, des boulons, des vis, mais aussi des barres et des tubes.”

    “he brings with him a toolbox, spare wheels, bolts, screws, but also steel bar and tube.”

    Dude’s a maker, he’s chopped these “deuch” before. He’s got food, water, tools & materials, skills, time and a well-developed sense of adventure. He went looking for an opportunity to exercise his craft, and he found it. Chapeau!

  19. since nobody’s pointed it out yet, there is whole subculture of these sort of motorcycles known as “ratbikes” or “survials” . Granted not many are as extreme as this 2CV project, but there’s still fine examples of post-apocalyptic steampunk maker culture to be found on sites like http://ratbike.com

  20. This is a cool hack but really, it goes 20km/h (just faster than a 5 minute mile), has no suspension and no cargo space…he also spent 12 days building it.  I am pretty sure that he could have just grabbed some food and water, fashioned himself a backpack and sunshade from materials from the interior and made it back to civilization faster than the route he took.  A friction drive on the rear wheel like that offroad with no suspension would be a real pain to ride.  Plus the heat from the exposed engine at such a low speed would fatigue you/make you perspire more than simply using your legs…

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