We humans are wonderfully nostalgic creatures. Michael Sabo’s face lights up when he talks about his past. “My first Corvette was a ’63 roadster (that) I constantly worked on throughout my senior year of high school,” he says. (His father, Frank, owned a Sunoco station in Catawissa, Pennsylvania.) “Most of my money went to parts, upkeep and gas. Sunoco 260 was 51 cents a gallon!”
It wasn’t a long affair though. “During my junior year at Penn State I married the most beautiful woman I ever met,” he continues. You know where this is going: a Corvette isn’t exactly a family car. So Michael sold his beloved roadster to give his new brood the best chances. But despite having to drive rusty heaps in the meantime, he’s the first to admit that it was a wise investment. “After 2 1/2 years of marriage we had our first child, followed by three more every two years.” He also got four grandkids out of the deal. There’s a common narrative arc in the collector-car market. Michael’s goes like this: “When all the kids were finished with their college years I decided to get back into Corvettes.” He did that with a ’67 coupe that he restored at the Corvette Center south of Colorado Springs. “It was great because they allowed me to work on my car as much as I wanted,” he says. He built a new 502 crate engine as a 540. “It put out 731 lb-ft of torque and 702 hp,” he enthuses. But it too was a short-lived affair. “We needed some new siding on our house and a lot of concrete work,” he says. “I tell people our home is surrounded with Corvette siding and Corvette concrete.”
But Michael’s also restless. When he talks and moves it’s with a sense of urgency. So when the planets realigned, he couldn’t help pondering his next project. Only this time he set his sights big. Real big. The Corvette may be his favorite model, but his very favorite one is the Grand Sport. And not one of those special-edition packages of late, either. Grand Sport as in one of the five cars GM produced in 1963 to compete in the Grand Touring classes. But he’s also pragmatic. As he put it, “I was very confident I couldn’t afford a five- to seven-million-dollar car.”
Michael explored a few replica options but none had the air of authenticity that he craved. To be fair, the things that made those cars undesirable to him actually make them technically better: modern chassis and suspension and so on. But Michael was after that experience, which means he wanted a car more like the original. And the company building a car like that is Duntov Motor Company (DMC) in Farmers Branch, Texas.
For those who don’t know the story, DMC acquired GM’s blueprints and the molds pulled from Grand Sport #002, the most intact of the five original cars. What’s more—and we know some historian will take us to task over this—the DMC Grand Sport is faithful down to its components. If plans called for an original Corvette part, DMC uses it. If they called for a custom-made assembly, DMC reproduces it in every visible way.
Whereas a replica outwardly looks faithful to the original, DMC’s is essentially indiscernible from the first five Grand Sports. What’s more, DMC has the official blessings from General Motors. These are the reasons why the company can call its cars continuations. As in they’re a continuation of the original series. Michael’s is 021, the 16th continuation built. Of course, hard-nosed purists will debate whether that deserves any merit but all agree—even those purists—that a continuation is the closest a mere mortal like us will ever come to owning one of the five Grand Sport Corvettes.
Judging by appearances it’s obvious that Michael wanted to make his car his, so to speak. Sure, he was into the power thing but he took a different tack. He had McCabe Motor Sports in Peyton, Colorado, build a naturally aspirated 427, but out of a small-block. It’s all top-shelf: Scat crank, Callies connecting rods and Mahle pistons. The thing even runs a dry-pump oiling system with a Peterson pump.
Nobody’s real forthcoming about the custom-grind Comp hydraulic roller tappet cam but we know the hand-ported heads started as 235cc 23-degree Air Flow Research pieces. And because Michael’s a power junkie, we also know that it makes 586 lb-ft of torque at 5,400 rpm and 700 horsepower at 7,000 rpm. That’s no easy feat so he relies on good friend Bill Winkelbleck to keep it dialed in. But he’s aware of his urge to overdo things so he had Tom Stack paint the Latin phrase “coram Deo” (before the face of God) on the rocker covers. I mean, if you’re going to drive something so potentially wicked, it’s probably a good idea to have good rapport with your maker.
The 1 7/8-inch headers and 4-inch-diameter side pipes that Larry Knapp built contain the ruckus … barely. Michael also specified a TREEMC T-56 Magnum rather than a Muncie. It spins a 3.70:1 gear on a Positraction carrier in, of course, an original Corvette housing. He didn’t go the stock route on brakes, however. A set of Tilton master cylinders in a Wilwood assembly activate Wilwood four-piston calipers and 12-inch rotors. A set of 15x9 and 15x10 Duntov Racing Wheels—basically Bogart Racing Wheels’ D10 centers bolted to two-piece rim assemblies—mount Mickey Thompson 26x10.00R15LT Sportsman S/Rs and P255/60R15 ET Street Rs.
The Audi Ipanema Brown Metallic finish leaves no doubt that Michael wanted this car his own. Robert Ediger at Robert’s Autobody in Colorado Springs applied the PPG formula. The cockpit has maybe half a yard more material than a real Grand Sport. Knowles Trim Shop in Colorado Springs clad it in Brick, a tan Nissan/Infinity leather color. A set of G-Force five-point harnesses keep Michael and passenger safely pinned in the Kirkey seats. He commands the car by a Grant 14-inch Classic Corvette steering wheel mounted to an ididit column. AutoMeter Custom Shop gauges offer feedback on the monster at the helm of the car.
We humans may do nostalgia well but there’s one thing we’re not all that great at: accuracy. Meaning we tend to remember only the good parts of the things we’re fond of. Take the Sunoco 260. Yeah, it was 102 octane, but only by the old RON standards. By current AKI standards it’s about 95 octane. And in today’s terms, the $.51 Michael spent in the late ’60s is about $3.75 today. No, the 93-octane I just bought ain’t exactly 95. But I ain’t complaining, either; it cost $2.55.
The gas is a good metaphor for the car itself in the sense that it seems like it was so much more attainable back then. Yeah, when new, a real Grand Sport cost a lot less than five to seven mil. But to own one even then took people so prominent that we know their names. Yet here’s a regular guy like you and me … and he gets an experience that everyone but wealthy team owners were shut out of half a century ago. Here’s the bonus: the small-block in it churns out horsepower unthinkable by 1960s standards, the so-called golden age of the muscle car. And depending on how it was built, a mill like that could do it on the same gallon of 93-octane fuel that we can buy for less than $3.
As the saying goes, nostalgia just ain’t what it used to be. If Michael Sabo isn’t ecstatic about that, he sure should be! Vette
Photography by Chris Shelton