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.
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.
Speaking of fastbacks, first-gen Camaros were only ever offered as coupes, but what if GM had decided to stretch the roof back a bit? Now Kaucher isn’t suggesting that ’67-69 Camaros aren’t great looking cars, but the artist in him couldn’t help but wonder what one would look like. The answer is pretty darn good! Matter of fact, there was at least one styling exercise for a fastback roofline in the studio back then, and we’d further bet that it looked a lot like this. We wouldn’t trade the classic first-gen Camaro for this, but then again we wouldn’t be upset if these had been produced. It actually lends a more legit 1960s competition-bred vibe. We’ve seen Camaros built pretty much every way imaginable, but no one has yet ventured to reshape the roof. We’re hoping this rendering by Kaucher inspires some enterprising metal shapers out there to cut one up.
There’s a plurality of Mustang lovers who consider the golden age of the classic ponies to have ended in 1970, with the possible exception of the ’71 Boss 351. In our opinion, the ’71-73 Mustangs aren’t really bad looking cars at all, but they just weren’t good follow-ups to the ’64-70 cars. So assuming that the big body is a given, Kaucher pondered what could be done to minimize the expansive nose that seems long and flat enough to land planes on? While leaving the rest of the body alone, he decided to follow the equally enormous Daytona Charger’s lead (as well as the ill-fated Torino-based ’70 Ford King Cobra) and gave this clean ’71 an aero nose, but kept a small open grille area that would aid cooling on a street car. Mustang cognoscente might also recognize the fender’s now have the distinct shape of the original Mustang II concept car. The result is a car that may be polarizing, but we seriously wish had been built.
Panteras occupy a very unique space—they’re somewhere in between an exotic and a muscle car. On paper the idea seemed perfect: a sleek Italian body by De Tomaso, and a Ford 351 Cleveland mounted mid-ship. And while they’ve always enjoyed a loyal following, Panteras were never quite the hit Ford had hoped. Perhaps the body was a bit too Italian. So Kaucher endeavored to muscle it up a bit with strong cues taken from various Mustangs, such as the body cove, and reshaped quarter window. We particularly like the altered quarter-panel that gives the Pantera more rear haunch and the one-piece aero nose. We’re fairly split on this one since we like the original Pantera shape, but Kaucher’s version does have more FoMoCo DNA in its design, which might have helped American buyers connect more with the radical styling. Which do you prefer?
Built from 1963 to 1966 by Chevrolet performance tuner Bill Thomas with covert assistance from GM’s performance group, the Cheetah was meant to be a Cobra killer, and plans were in place to build a street-going version of the Cheetah. Unfortunately, only a handful of the race cars were ever built before the factory burned down. The project could have been restarted, but GM pulled their support and mid-engine racers like the GT40 were already rendering the Cheetah obsolete on the track. But imagine what an incredible street car it would have been! Borrowing design cues from midyear Corvettes, Kaucher lengthened the wheelbase, smoothed down the roofline, reworked the rearend and nose to give the car more flattering proportions, plus added fullsize doors. We love the final execution of this Cobra killer, but the problem for GM is obvious: the Cheetah might have ended up being a Corvette killer as well!
GTO Sport Wagon
The blasphemy! The horror! The … wait, that actually looks pretty darn good. Many people have cloned GTO wagons out of Tempest or LeMans wagons in years past (including our sister magazine High-Performance Pontiac), but not from a Firebird. We’re usually lukewarm at best on muscle car wagon conversions, but we have to admit this F-body–based version not only looks factory, it’s probably the best phantom wagon we’ve ever seen. Most of this Firebird remains factory, and the wagon section could have been created using a scaled-down version of a Chevelle wagon roof. Matter of fact, that’s what Kaucher used to create this photochop. We’d actually be looking for one of these cars if it existed.
Bonus: The 1975 Plymouth ’Cuda
A version of this one was actually one step away from being built! These Plymouth ’Cuda styling mock-ups from May of 1969 show just two possible design directions that Plymouth was exploring for the ’75 ’Cuda. As we all know, new Federal crash standards were just around the corner, and killed many of the cool bumper and front end designs that were on the table. In the end, though, a very conservative customer focus clinic in Cincinnati hated the production-ready design, and that ultimately put a stop to the ’Cuda. These photos were originally published in our Sept. ’07 issue (see “The Fish That Got Away”) in a story written by the late, great Paul Zazarine.
“Shoulda Been” Model Kits!
Want to build your own without hacking any steel? Kaucher Kustoms offers resin models of the fastback Camaro as well as a ’69 Camaro Sport wagon, a ’64 Caddy Sport coupe, and way cool Euro ’62 Thunderbird Turin. Want to see what those would have looked like? Check out PopularHotRodding.com!