In the history world of automotive design, the line between hit and miss is often a fine one. After all, there are a million ways to configure a good car, but even more ways to create an ugly one. The fact is, cars were created by a committee of people with varying degrees of good and bad taste, and it didn’t take much to slip one way or the other. For example, a car might’ve had a good overall shape or body line, but was ruined by a heinous grille, goofy bumpers, unflattering roofline, or awkward wheelwells. Rooflines especially—that’s one of the biggest killers for any body style. And then there were those cars that looked good as is, but were practically begging for the design cues to have been pushed just a bit further to take them from good to great.

This is the type of stuff that occupies the mind of veteran custom car designer Keith Kaucher. In between his main work as a custom car and hot rod designer and automotive illustrator, Kaucher likes to keep his imagination working by performing quickie photochop-style sketches on cars that are lacking that certain something, or could just use a bit more punch.

Take the fully rendered ’74 Matador in the lead image for example. The ghosted image in the background shows the big-bumpered, bug-eyed beastie that was actually offered to the American public. The basic shape of the body remains unaltered other than the elimination of the awkward B-pillar in favor of a hardtop treatment and slight reshaping of the rear quarter window like that of a Marlin, but most strikingly, Kaucher reimagined the offending frontend with a more traditional-style AMC nose with a grille very reminiscent of an earlier Javelin, and a vented hood that flows with the original fender line. The rearend loses the big goggle-like taillights in favor of a simple light bar. See how little changes can make a huge difference? Sure, ’70s 5-mph impact laws may not have allowed the bumpers to be quite so small, but we’d have been happy with even a rubber nose like a ’70s Camaro. Could this have been the car that kept AMC afloat? We’ll never know.

These quickie photochops aren’t Kaucher’s normal high-quality digital renderings; these are more for his personal use, his brainstorming sessions if you will, to get the idea out before it slips away. But we actually kind of like that for this type of “what if” customizing. And as usual, if you decide to reimagine your own project and build any of these, be sure to send us an email!

One designer shows us how eight great cars could have been even better.

Fastback Cougar

First-generation Cougars in general are good-looking cars that we’ve always been fond of; after all, we are building a ’67 XR7 named Max Effort. Essentially created as an upscale version of the Mustang, ’67-70 Cougars had the same basic chassis, all the same powertrain options, and were generally better equipped in terms of creature comforts and accessories, but they never enjoyed quite the same following. If we could zero in on one thing that really could have been a definite improvement over the original, it would have to be the formal coupe roofline. The Cougar was never offered with a fastback roofline like its Mustang brethren, despite actually being a NASCAR competitor in the short-lived Grand Touring circuit.

Rather than go for the obvious Mustang roof swap for the ’67-68 version, Kaucher opted to use a scaled-down roofline borrowed from the ’68-69 Torino fastback, including the shape of the rear quarter window. For the ’69-70 version, Kaucher went with a more era-appropriate Torino-esque roofline.

In both cases the result is a fastback Cougar that looks completely natural, far more aggressive, and makes us seriously wish Max Effort could be a fastback. If we could ever find a roof … Considering that the Mustang fastback has always been more popular than the coupe, we wonder if the Cougar would have enjoyed a larger following with these roofline options.