Modern classics

Saving and restoring a Peugeot 406 Coupé pushed me to my limits – but I’m glad I did

by Gavin Braithwaite-Smith
7 July 2022 6 min read
Saving and restoring a Peugeot 406 Coupé pushed me to my limits – but I’m glad I did
Photos: Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

Many of us dream of stumbling across a classic car in a barn. A former race car lying beneath layers of dust, or a forgotten family saloon dressed in a cloak of cobwebs. The promise of discovering a lost Lotus or an abandoned Alfa was the carrot I’d wave to dupe my children into joining me on long walks or cycle rides in the countryside; I have my eldest son to thank for finding the Peugeot 406 Coupé V6.

This is one of those modern-ish cars that is becoming increasingly hard to find, despite the fact its heavenly shape was the work of Pininfarina. My son spotted the car sandwiched between a Suzuki Vitara and a leylandii bush, less than a mile away from the Devon/Somerset border on the fringes of Exmoor. “It’s for sale, Dad,” he shouted, as he slammed on his brakes, stopping just short of flying headfirst over the handlebars. My wife and youngest son cycled on, only to return 20 minutes later to find us talking to Jan, the car’s owner. They were wearing looks that said: ‘Oh no, here we go again.’

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The Peugeot was bought new in 1999 by Jan’s late father following a win on the pools. He walked into a Peugeot showroom in Kent and asked for the best 406 Coupé money could buy, but he didn’t want any dealer stickers or number plates. It’s why I have a Cliffords of Sidcup key fob in pristine condition; I don’t think it left the original leather-bound handbook cover during his custody of the car. Jan told me how her father would dispense with slow-moving campervans and caravans on the North Devon link road; he was a guy you wouldn’t mind getting stuck behind on your favourite B-road. Not everybody buys a Honda Jazz, Nissan Note or Kia Venga when they hit retirement.

Peugeot 406 Coupe hedge

Ownership of the vehicle passed to Jan when he died, but not before an attempt to sell the car. The wad of history contains a blue post-it note with the words for an advert written in 2015: ‘Peugeot 3000 Coupé; silver grey metallic. November 1999; from new owner. Leather heated front [seats] with electronic adjusters. Electric windows. Full size spare wheel; all tyres OK. 12 months MOT. A few knocks etc, hence the price; £1200’. On the back of the note are two words: ‘PHONE DOCTORS’…

It must have been difficult for Jan to say farewell to something that had been a significant part of her father’s life for twenty years. Aside from the ‘for sale’ notice, written on a piece of cardboard, faded by the Exmoor sunshine, she had done nothing other than to contact We Buy Any Tat for a quote. If the price had included collection, she may have accepted it. Without wishing to be melodramatic, I might have saved the Peugeot from a date with a crusher. There were times during the restoration when I wish I hadn’t, but more on that in a moment.

Jan was pleased that I was giving her father’s Peugeot the chance to live again, but it was still distressing for her to say goodbye. It was hard seeing tears in her eyes as I signed the paperwork, but it made me even more determined to complete the project. That was three years ago; it’s lucky I didn’t put a time limit on my promise to restore the car to former glory. Crossrail has got nothing on me.

I should confess that anyone with experience in recommissioning could have completed the project in a matter of months. For me, it was a venture into the unknown. Aside from basic maintenance and light cosmetic work, I’d never attempted anything on this scale; I was cutting my teeth on the Peugeot. Chatting with a friend at last year’s Festival of the Unexceptional, I was told about a chap with far more experience than me who was restoring a 406 Coupé. Hearing that it was the hardest car he had worked on wasn’t music to my ears. At the time, the car was still a long way from completion.

The delivery of the Peugeot in June 2019 was the first recorded instance of the transportation of Exmoor moss to Dartmoor. One side of the car was caked in the stuff, having cosied up to a leylandii bush for the best part of three years. I’m not sure why I used the ‘two bucket’ method rather than a pressure washer to remove the green coat from the Satellite Grey paintwork, but it restored some much needed dignity to a car named ‘Beautiful’ by its previous owner. I’d like to say that this swift and successful transformation set the tone for the rest of the project, but it didn’t.

What followed were instances of the car fighting back, with even the most trivial of tasks turning into little nightmares. I call it the ‘Paula Abdul’ syndrome, because every time I took two steps forward, the project seemed to take took steps back. It has changed my opinion of cars advertised with full dealer service history, because despite the Peugeot coming with a folder filled with mostly main dealer receipts, I don’t think the car has ever seen a drop of copper grease. Nothing could be removed at the first attempt, although I do concede that being exposed to the ravages of the Exmoor weather won’t have helped. The fact that it was laid up on hard standing probably saved the underside from terminal corrosion.

Even the simple act of replacing the discs, pads and the calipers turned into a lengthy tug of war between the tools I had at my disposal and the parts’ steadfast refusal to budge. A seemingly simple thing stopping you in your tracks is even more annoying than tackling a more complex task. Top tip: make sure you’ve purchased the required tools before you start a project. Putting jobs on hold while you wait for delivery of an essential tool is frustrating. Not a problem for proper mechanics, but a lesson learned for an amateur like me. Another top tip: invest in a good breaker bar; I couldn’t have completed this project without one.

Initial progress was cut short by the winter of 2019, followed by the pandemic. While some people used the lockdown to enjoy new hobbies and benefit from the furlough scheme, I spent most of my time keeping the freelance fires burning. I was lucky to have supportive commissioning editors; others in the industry were less fortunate.

Work on the Peugeot restarted in earnest in the summer of 2021. Adam White (@mr_adamwhite on Instagram and adamwhite on YouTube) took the bumper away to be repaired and resprayed, but only after it took me a weekend to remove. Blame rusted screws, bolts, fixings and whatever else was used as a temporary fix following an encounter with a pheasant. Replacement Peugeot 406 Coupé bumpers are expensive, so Adam’s generous offer to repair mine was greeted with open arms. Having considered fitting mesh on the lower section of the bumper as a tribute to the pheasant, the chicken wire was replaced by a genuine grille sourced from Slovakia. A sticker on the underside of the compartment on the rear shelf is my homage to the previous owner and his run in with the pheasant.

Some tasks were less painful than others. Replacing the alternator was surprisingly straightforward after following a YouTube tutorial, even if the over-tightening of a bolt necessitated the sourcing of an obsolete part. I took the opportunity to purchase a new belt tensioner from Peugeot, an expensive but worthwhile investment.

At the opposite end of the pain spectrum, removing the oil filter caused almost as much grief as the brakes. Having tried all the tricks in the book, on the advice of Kenny Smith I purchased an Irwin Vise-Grip heavy-duty locking chain clamp. It made mincemeat of the task, catapulting it to the top of the list of my favourite tools.

Replacing the otherwise excellent Michelin tyres due to age-related cracks was a wrench, but I was determined to send it to an MOT with the best possible chance of a first-time pass. A pre-MOT inspection revealed no horror stories, only the need for a new section of brake pipe I’d failed to notice. The mechanic was full of praise for the rest of the work, which was a much needed pat on the back after the long slog.

A shortage of mechanics meant that the Peugeot was pushed to the back of the queue as the garage prioritised customers who relied on their cars for work. I gave up refreshing the MOT history website after the first week, but two months later I was given the news I wanted to hear: it passed. Annoyingly, it failed the first attempt due to inoperative washer jets, but if you’d have offered that to me in 2019, I’d have taken it.

Work is ongoing, but I’m left with a 406 Coupé that feels more special than any of the other 60 or so cars that I’ve owned. I poured my blood, sweat and tears into this car (with help from Adam White, my son, and anyone else who assisted along the way), so driving it feels incredibly special. The flipside is that I’m acutely aware of how much stuff is down to me, so it feels more fragile than the cars I’ve left in the hands of experts. Something will go wrong – most likely the automatic transmission – it’s more a question of when not if.

For now, I’m enjoying the thrill of driving something that was on the verge of becoming a beautiful garden ornament. Even a 406 Coupé with a ‘few knocks etc’ is a thing of beauty. The next step is to return to Jan’s house and do my best impression of Cilla Black as I surprise her with her late father’s moss-free Peugeot. The best things in life are worth fighting for.

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  • Obie Dett says:

    Excellent work, you should be proud. Peugeot greatly under-rated much like poor old Rover.

  • Rich Bass says:

    Great achievement and a true overlooked gem of its day. How I wished I could have owned one in their prime.
    Must have been one of those passion projects – a loss leader that somehow made it to production anyway… for a short run.
    Sadly not many will be left now after a generation of wear/ aging.

    Thank you for saving this one!

  • Trevor Chenery says:

    I thought they had all rusted away, like the early VW Sciroccos.
    Beautiful car.

  • Yer daa says:

    Aye except they are zinc phosphate dip primed before being painted, So no or very little rust on them.

  • Stephen Brooks says:

    I bought a near mint late 03 V6 auto early this year and have been replacing various little bits a pieces in order to make it near perfect. Parts are getting harder to come by so when a very solid and straight early 98 car was offered to me I grabbed it as a parts car. The fronts are different as are the V6 engine and transmission but beggars can’t be choosers. I love them. Drives beautifully.

  • Jan Moss says:

    Made me feel quite sad reading this. I am in the process of selling my husbands 406 3.0 coupe on his passing last year. He has owned it since new. No MOT and electrical problems. I am not a mechanic or electrician so have to pass on. Hopefully to someone who will restore him. It took us all over the uk and Europe over the years. Brill car. If I could find someone to fix it I may be tempted to keep. Nice to hear that the coupe lives on.

  • Chris Jackson says:

    I’ve owned a 406 coupe Y743OHU for 3 years and it’s one of only 35 still on the road. It’s sailed through last three mots. I would love to buy a two litre as a spares car so as to keep mine on the road. If you’ve got one going, let me know. Mine is used all year round and has 136000 on the clock.

  • Gilles says:

    Great work, having been a 406 coupé fan and owners for the past 18 years (having owned a 2L and currently a manual V6 gen 1 in diablo red, I can say that keeping these beautiful cars on the road is as rewarding as the drive. I have various other cars from a Porsche 911 997 c2s, to a BMW Z4 3.0i and an Vectra Estate (doggy car) but I still adore driving the coupé! Vive la résistance! Btw, for help in restoring, go on the various 406 coupé club forums on Facebook and the 406coupéClub on the internet, you will have lots of tutorials and a lot of people with tons of experience in the car😉. Great job, keep at it, it’s worth it👌

  • Ann Evans says:

    I have a red Peugeot 406 V6 (2000) Coupe which I have owned from new. It only failed its M.O.T, on one occasion and broke down once. I use it every day. It is still very beautiful with the black leather interior in perfect condition. I had a complete respray three years ago due to the lacquer becoming brittle and peeling. The problem is now getting replacement parts. I had to have an exhaust specially made. I still lover this car.

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