It's hard to deny the visual appeal of the Peugeot 406 coupé. Here was a car that, for around £20k when it went on sale in 1997, echoed the looks of many infinitely more expensive Ferraris.

So many Ferrari cues were visible in the design, in fact, that myriad stories began to circulate suggesting that the original design was for a Maranello product that had not come to fruition.

The theory was that Pininfarina had penned an entry-level Ferrari. Maranello dismissed the idea and, having snubbed Pininfarina, the concept was presented to Peugeot – with which the company had been working since 1951.

Reputedly, Pininfarina knew that Peugeot were likely to mass-produce the smartly styled coupé; not only would it be lucrative but it would also serve to prove how much of an opportunity Ferrari had missed.

When the chance arose at the Geneva motor show to speak to Paolo Pininfarina, the current boss of the Italian design house that bears his surname, I had to ask him whether the Peugeot really was originally a Ferrari.

"No," he laughs. "I think that the side line of the Peugeot 406 coupé, the rear wings, the doors and the nose, maybe you can say that it is part Ferrari DNA because that is also Pininfarina DNA, but more importantly it is Peugeot DNA."

Pininfarina flips a piece of paper bearing his schedule, looking for a blank area, and grabs a pen. He quickly sketches what's recognisable as a 406 coupé and gestures at the lines that form its profile.

"If you go back and look at the 504 coupé or convertible then you will see this shoulder line. There's a lot of good Peugeot design identity in the 406."

So while the hallmarks are there, they're a product of the former Peugeot styling and the design house rather than being the byproduct of any unwanted Ferrari styling exercise.

"It's definitely a masterpiece, though," adds Pininfarina. "I'd consider it at the level of a Fiat Spider 124. Almost timeless."

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