Two-wheeled Citroen
May 22, 2012 9:51 PM   Subscribe

Though the currently circulating version of the story may be somewhat apocryphal, the truth is that Frenchman Emile Leray did in fact take apart a busted Citroën 2CV and refashion it into a working motorcycle.
posted by 256 (26 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
best post ever.... that is all.
posted by HuronBob at 10:00 PM on May 22, 2012

more here.
posted by HuronBob at 10:04 PM on May 22, 2012

Not quite as sexy, but in a similar vein, two german artists, Folke Koebberling and Martin Kaltwasser took a Saab 900 Turbo and turned it into two working bicycles.
posted by snaparapans at 10:29 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

And the damn thing probably still can't climb a hill with any sort of incline.
posted by schwa at 10:34 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

The motorcycle might be the most most interesting thing in that video, but it's a close call.
posted by LionIndex at 10:52 PM on May 22, 2012

But I didn't want to be exposed to where Citroëns came from!

Seriously? What?
posted by loquacious at 12:35 AM on May 23, 2012

I love this post but like the hackaday comments read it's unfortunately probably BS or an elaboration or recreation.

But then again, if he had a water source out there it's remotely plausible he did something like this with a hacksaw and hand tools.

He would have been totally space crazy or desperate to do it instead of simply trying to fix the original problem somehow, but stranger things have happened. Bush pilots have rebuilt planes with duct tape.

Come to think of it you'd have to be space crazy to drive Citroën into a war zone in a desert in Africa in the first place.

Also: Paging the MythBusters. We have a monster for you - and it involves hacking up old cars.
posted by loquacious at 12:49 AM on May 23, 2012

So next time I'm stranded in the Desert I know who to bring along, providing I have an old citroen of course.
posted by Prudentia at 12:56 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Come to think of it you'd have to be space crazy to drive Citroën into a war zone in a desert in Africa in the first place.

Actually, in his biography, Canadian General and confirmed motorhead Lewis Mackenzie, reminiscing about his early peacekeeping missions in the Sinai desert, fondly remembers driving a 2CV there.

In fact, short of a Toyota pick-up truck, I can't think of many vehicles more adequate than a 2CV to drive into a war zone in Africa. Light, extraordinarily simple to repair (unlike other Citroëns) and with an air-cooled engine (so, no radiator). Only drawback is that the skinny tyres probably aren't much use in the sand.
posted by Skeptic at 1:29 AM on May 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

Petit inconvénient inhérent à ce type de transmission, la moto avance quand le tambour de frein tourne en marche arrière, ce qui fait donc une moto aux performances maximales un peu étranges : 20 km/h en marche avant et 110 km/h en marche arrière.

posted by solotoro at 2:00 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I still think the Tryane II is the best Citroën mod.
posted by scruss at 4:29 AM on May 23, 2012

Also, this reminds me of one of the strangest automobiles ever produced: the 2CV Sahara. To obtain four wheel drive (and possibly also to give it some much-needed extra oomph) Citroën just dropped another engine and gearbox at the back!
posted by Skeptic at 5:05 AM on May 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

The 2CV apparently has a history of intrepid travel. The wikipedia article mentions the Raid rallies of the 1970s.
Sales of the 2CV were reinvigorated by the 1974 oil crisis. The 2CV after this time became more of a youth lifestyle statement than a basic functional form of transport. This renewed popularity was encouraged by the Citroën "Raid" intercontinental endurance rallies of the 1970s where customers could participate by buying a new 2CV, fitted with a ruggedising kit to cope with thousands of miles of very poor or off-road routes.

1970: Paris-Kabul: 1,300 young people, 500 2CVs, 16,500 km to Afghanistan and back.
1971: Paris-Persepolis: 500 2CVs 13,500 km to Iran and back.
1973: Raid Afrique, 60 2CVs 8000 km from Abidjan to Tunis, the Atlantic capital of Ivory Coast in West Africa through the Sahara, (the Ténéré desert section was unmapped and had previously been barred to cars), to the Mediterranean capital of Tunisia.
posted by zamboni at 5:36 AM on May 23, 2012

Wow, that two-motor 2CV is cool, in a wildly impractical kind of way. The homemade motorcycle is also kind of cool, though I'd guess the handling is peculiar at best with the seat way back behind the back tire.

I've always kind of wanted a 2CV. One time as a teenager three of us picked one up and turned it sideways in someone's driveway as a joke, and I remember being startled at how ridiculously light it was.
posted by Forktine at 5:39 AM on May 23, 2012

zamboni: "1970: Paris-Kabul: 1,300 young people, 500 2CVs, 16,500 km to Afghanistan and back."

Damn, I want to do that.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:46 AM on May 23, 2012

item: "And what the fuck is up with that video?"


(And I love it.)
posted by dunkadunc at 5:50 AM on May 23, 2012

I love this post but like the hackaday comments read it's unfortunately probably BS or an elaboration or recreation.

But then again, if he had a water source out there it's remotely plausible he did something like this with a hacksaw and hand tools.

He would have been totally space crazy or desperate to do it instead of simply trying to fix the original problem somehow, but stranger things have happened.

HuronBob's link adds a lot of plausibility. Reportedly, it took him ten days to make the bike. He didn't have a water source, but he probably had a water tank in the car (the link says that, at the end, he was at his last litre-and-a-half). And the front axle was busted, which doesn't have any easy fix (the 2CV is front-wheel drive).
posted by Skeptic at 6:23 AM on May 23, 2012

Isn't a CV-2 already by definition a "working motorcycle?"
posted by three blind mice at 7:03 AM on May 23, 2012

I'd like the steampunk people to note how this piece of machinery manages to look pretty bad ass without having clockwork gear wheels glue-gunned all over it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:07 AM on May 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

The oldest known Citroën Dyane in North America is slowly returning to the earth in my back yard, taunting me with the memories of all the fun we had.

The A-series, which includes the 2CV, the Dyane, the Ami, the Mehari, the Bijou, the Fourgonette, and a few odd foreign renditions on the theme, may have a raw, shedlike quality in their appearance, but when you peel back the paper-thin sheetmetal that surrounds the mechanicals, you're looking at a technological tour de force on a level of innovation that's unique.

Issigonis may have brilliantly packaged the Mini, but the engine in there is the same A-lump that's in every other British car out there, and VW may have been sort of innovative if you didn't mind periodically winching your Beetle out of the woods, and Dante Giacosa's Fiat 500 may have been the first car you'd actually love like a child, but no one but Citroën ever threw the book out so completely in designing a car, at least until they did it again in '55.

My daily drivers were Citroëns until 2000, when the bottom fell out of my personal economy and absurd statements of joyous poetry were laid aside in favor of a pleasant little four door economy sedan with air conditioning, but in all three of my Citroëns, from the Dyane to my super-illegal-in-the-USA GSA to my DS, I never once had to leave a car on the side of the road. The GSA was flawless until customs caught up with me and my illegal diplomatic tag (A note to French car-loving miscreants: If you're going to fake a French accent and feign ignorance of the English language to a cop, there's always a possibility that the cop will be fluent in French and you will get in trouble). The DS was mostly flawless, with the exceptions of two story-filled roadside adventures in rural Georgia on a three thousand mile road trip.

The Dyane? Well, I had one major oil leak that I repaired on the side of the road with the cork from a bottle of Pernod, one run-down battery that was not a problem because you could start the car with the supplied lug wrench, and my car had a bad habit of ejecting passengers in the right rear seat in low speed turns if they didn't heed my warning not to lean on the door (with no injuries, mind you).

My car was a rescue, a rusty, ruinous mess that I found in derelict condition behind an defunct dentist's office in Waldorf, Maryland with an ailanthus tree growing in the engine compartment, and I took it completely apart, found a used chassis to replace the existing one, and built it back into running condition over the course of a summer in what I refer to as my auto mechanics boot camp. Had a few parts missing, but I was so desperate to get my French on that I drove for a couple months with the windshield duct-taped in and I never was able to find the little collar that firmly held the steering column on the little knurled knuckle on the rack, but it seemed to hold pretty well.

I was running up the Taconic State Parkway, on my usual indirect route to Massachussetts, singing along to Brazil '66 on the ol' boom box, just enjoying the distant sound of the thump-thump thump-thump thump-thump of the big joints in the road that had been neatly paved over by the next time I was there, when I hit a particularly large pothole that gave me a nice big bounce (Citroëns do not lurch), and in one sudden change of perspective, the rusty lawn-chair style frame of my seat snapped at the base and I flew backwards into the back seat. Compounding this issue was the fact that I'd been heartily holding on at ten and two on the wheel at that moment, and in that instant of being catapulted, I yanked the steering column right off the knurled knuckle, so I was suddenly reclining on the back seat of a driverless Citroën with a disconnected steering column at 55 miles an hour on the Taconic State Parkway.

This being an untenable position, I had to think quickly.

Jumped up, grabbed the wheel and tried to force it down as quickly as I could. Fortunately, I'd had the top back, but the giant Vietnamese coolie hat I was wearing to minimize sun damage caught the wind and was intent on garroting my with the tie strings. Because A-series cars have heavily-castered steering, good ol' Voltaire (of course I name my cars) was neatly tracking the crown at the center line while I screamed like a little girl and forced the column back in place. Pulled over, swapped my broken driver's seat for the non-broken passenger seat (all seats in a 2CV/Dyane are removable, for function), and found in the process that the missing collar had been under the passenger seat all along, so I bolted it on and went on my way.

That car was the motoring version of Pippi Longstocking in its way, and every time I pulled on the cable that operated the starter and manually engaged the starter dog with the flywheel (fuck you, solenoids!), the sound of that beautiful, indestructible boxer built to tolerances so precise it didn't need gaskets just sang a song to me about all the great adventures left in the world.

I can't say I believed the motorcycle yarn as it's been related, but I don't care. If you've never owned a 2CV, you'll never quite get it. These aren't vehicles—they're ideas, whole cloth, and high concept stitched together with just enough exploded star stuff to make you think they're real, corporeal beings.

On the side of the road, there's always a way home again.

From that day on, too, my steering never felt better.
posted by sonascope at 7:23 AM on May 23, 2012 [22 favorites]

sonascope, my uncle Tim lives in rural northern Minnesota. An *ahem* "character" who lives nearby only drives Buick Opels, from which he removes the seats. He sits on top of a plastic milkcrate to drive, which can be easiy moved aside to grant access to the motorcycle in the back of the car. The motorcycle, you see, is carried along for emergency transportation when the current Opel (inevitably) dies.

My uncle is a burly fellow, and said one time this guy gave him a ride to work at the taconite mine where they were both employed. I cannot now recall whether he sat on a lawn chair or the floor of the car, but I can find out for you.

Oh, and the guy has a semi trailer full of broken snow-throwers, and got into a fight with local officials when it turned out he was "storing" old transformers and such on his property. (Of course, meddling environmental officials characterized his storage methods -- viz., leaving them out in the rain in a field -- as unacceptable, but isn't The Man always trying to keep you down?) He is single, ladies.

My uncle is the purest born story-teller I know, and on the occasions he has told us about this guy I get light-headed from laughing too hard to breath.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:51 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Next stop: the Plymouth-Dakar Challenge.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:22 AM on May 23, 2012

Then they found out he only designed MODEL motorcycles...
posted by gottabefunky at 10:25 AM on May 23, 2012

Whenever someone mentions the 2CV I am reminded of The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. A few choice quotes:
It was a battered yellow Citroën 2CV which had had one careful owner but also three suicidally reckless ones. It made its way up the driveway with a reluctant air as if all it asked for from life was to be tipped into a restful ditch in one of the adjoining meadows and there allowed to settle in graceful abandonment, instead of which here it was being asked to drag itself all the way up this long gravelled drive which it would no doubt soon be called upon to drag itself all the way back down again, to what possible purpose it was beyond its wit to imagine.


She held the car grimly to the road as it negotiated the bends with considerable difficulty and the straight sections with only slightly less. The car had landed her in court on one occasion when one of its front wheels had sailed off on a little expedition of its own and nearly caused an accident. The police witness in court had referred to her beloved Citron as "the alleged car" and the name had subsequently stuck.


She found the nearest parking space she could to her front door, which was about thirty yards distant. She climbed out of the car and carefully omitted to lock it. She never left anything of value in it, and she found that it was to her advantage if people didn't have to break anything in order to find that out. The car had been stolen twice, but on each occasion it had been found abandoned twenty yards away.
posted by jedicus at 4:26 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

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