Driving a Shoebox Ford That’s Secretly a BMW, Makes More Power Than an M3

Many of the old-school American cars that may have been reserved for enthusiasts back in the day have now become mainstream thanks to social media. And examples range from, say, a late 1960s AMC AMX to a 1987 Buick Grand National GNX. Now, if you wish to stay original, the pre-muscle era offers plenty of what many would call diamonds in the rough, and the 1949 Ford, aka Shoebox Ford, is one of them, even though this one has a an E92 BMW base!

The ’49 was Ford’s first all-new design after WWII. However, as is the case with its archrival, the Hudson Hornet (this one has a Viper V10), the pontoon styling, which was regarded as low and sleek compared to the pre-war cars, is not something enthusiasts accustomed to more modern Americana will instantly click with.

And while some fans of these retro models will tell you the driving is a key part of the whole experience, you’ll have a hard time convincing most drivers not to judge 1950s cars by newer standards. So, as a builder, how do you handle that, do you even care?

An enthusiast named John Malo, who runs Maniacs Garage, has found a way to answer both “yes” and “no” to the question by dropping the chopped body of a 1949 Shoebox Ford onto a 2008 BMW 335i.

The looks? As you’re about to find out, the aesthetics of the project are considerably more polarizing than those of the standard car. As for the go, the tuner-friendly platform that is the E92 BMW means this thing can keep up with brand-new performance machines!

2021 SEMA debut and 2023 updates for the Ford Shoebox body-swapped BMW 335i

Following two years of work—a small team put the car together on weekends—the Born49ain (yep, Born Again) 1949 Ford-BMW was completed and made its debut at the 2021 SEMA show.

And with Shawn Davis from Autotopia LA having recently gone for a drive in the BMW-modded Shoebox Ford, we can now talk about the driving experience this Franken-project delivers. But first, let’s go through the tech details of the body swap, shall we?

The whole build started on what is essentially pocket money for a serious machine: the 1949 Ford, which has been given a roof chop with a shortened body 20 years before John got it, only cost $1,000. And the 2008 BMW 335i Coupe, which his trainer had crashed, wasn’t much more expensive at $2,500.

The specs

The shortened body, which had lost 7 inches to accommodate that chopped roof without the latter being elongated, came within 1 inch of the E92’s wheelbase. And with the rocker panels of the Ford coming just a little over those of the BMW, that 3 Series coupe is all there from the beltline down. Of course, a roll cage built around a 3 Series rollover hoop that fit the new roof height goes from the front all the way to the back to ensure proper protection.

The BMW N54 3.0L straight-six lost its rather small factory twin turbos in favor of a 62mm Garrett unit, and it now makes 612 hp and 489 lb-ft of torque. In the future, the engine is getting an E85 setup, so you can expect a considerable power boost.

The ZF 6HP (Tiptronic in Bimmer talk) six-speed automatic of the 335i is still fresh enough to delight, especially since the lever is now a BMX handlebar with the bike’s brake still attached and in use. And, with a bit of fantasy, the manual mode makes the whole thing feel like a sequential shifter.

Slotted and drilled 335i-spec brakes mean the stopping power is on par with the rest of the vehicle, while aftermarket coilovers spice up the handling.

The eclectic mix that is this build also involves one-off Hostile wheels: basically, these are bro truck wheels that come in a 20×12-inch size up front and in a 20×14-inch size at the rear. Cue the 345-section rear Toyo tires.

For 2023, the BMW-ized Shoebox Ford got a new set of wider tack-welded fenders that are inspired by the… riveted-on fenders of the JDM realm, as are the front lip and side skirt extensions. The rear spoiler is more NASCAR, though. And if you enjoy these odd combos, here’s a NASCAR V8 powering a Hakosuka Nissan GT-R over in Japan.

As for the interior, we’ve got a mix of BMW parts (instrument cluster), Ford bits (the ’49 dash), fabricated units (the extended center console) and random-cool bits like the UTV see-through sun visors, which are here to cope with the lowered roof.

How does the ’49 Ford body-swapped BMW 335i drive?

As stated above, Shawn slips behind the wheel for a drive through LA, but if you’re looking for that sweet abuse, this naturally comes from John himself.

Shawn naturally compares this to the many muscle cars he’s driven and one of the things that stand out the most is the massive traction—hey, matching those 345-section tires with less torque than that of a top-tier muscle machine has its benefits.

The vehicle is fast, but not crazy fast, while it can also serve as a cruiser and even a daily driver. Sure, those Lexan side windows may not be easy to operate, but the AC still has its German efficiency!



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