A little more than two years ago, a cover feature with these two Acura Integra GS-Rs would have never happened—EVER. It was just too perfect of a scenario. They both existed in one form or another, but for the most part, this was never meant to be. Why? Well, it is actually quite simple... No one thought Philip Sison would ever finish his '99 Integra (most didn't even know it existed), and Michael Cristi's '95 Integra was thought to be long gone. Michael didn't even own his anymore, and Philip's car looked to be confined to a set of jackstands for eternity. It's crazy that in '15, they can be joined serendipitously for our annual Honda Issue.
At a glance, both would appear to be similar but in actuality are almost polar opposites. They wear the face of the U.S. "bug-eyed" front end, but one is an early '94-'97 model and the other is the updated '98-'01 spec. The two are from California but hail from the opposing ends—NorCal and SoCal. Phil's DC2 is a completely new build with a K-series swap, whereas Mikey's is recognized throughout the Honda community and stays true to its B-series roots. The intake manifolds of the twosome have been replaced with four individual throttles each, but the underlying purpose of each also differs. Mikey's is a polished street cruiser on air suspension. Phil's serves as a more track-oriented Integra with a host of high-grade suspension components. One is form, the other, function.
Despite their many differences, how they came to be in their current form(s) is due to a cosmic sense of immeasurable personal value that they both have for their builds. To both these individuals, their Hondas are more than just simply "cars."
Phillip Sison's Integra, AKA "ATS Rosie"
Phil, better known as "Philthy," has been a longtime member of the famed NorCal car club ATS Garage—it was just never known to anyone outside of his circle that he actually had his own car.
"I actually bought this (Integra) back in '01. It was my first Honda," Phil recalls. "I was really into the import scene since the mid-'90s watching my older cousins and friends mod their cars, so I was stoked when I got my own car. Hindsight being 20/20, I can't believe it took over a decade to finally see the Integra in this state, but it definitely wasn't for a lack of trying. Life took over and I had some run-ins with some not-so-trustworthy individuals that really put my plans on hold."
Back then, Phil had big plans for the GS-R. He had a built B-series motor ready to go, but things went sour when he decided to have a shop repaint his car. He wouldn't go into detail as to exactly what happened, but you'll be happy to know that the shady business in question is no longer around. But whatever the reason, he credits the run-in with the paint shop for changing his perspective on building cars. It was during that dark period when he met and later joined ATS Garage. These guys not only gave him the motivation to push forward, but many of the individuals took time out of their own schedules to work on the Integra with him. Right by his side from the get-go was another important person who continued to give him the proper motivation: his good friend who would later become his wife.
"Judy was one of the first people who knew about this Integra in '01. She was just a close friend of mine back then, but I already knew she was the one for me. I even took her to her senior prom in this car! She always pushed me to build this car, and I don't think Rosie would be where it is today without her and my ATS family," Phil says.
He collected parts while the car lay dormant in his garage for a number of years. The guys would work on it whenever they had a chance, but he made the conscious decision to put the project on the back burner while he saved up for a greater investment: an engagement ring. Wedding planning took precedence over car building, and whatever extra time he had was spent helping his fellow ATS members put their Hondas together. "Watching my friends finish their amazing builds and seeing them enjoy the fruits of their labor really motivated me to finish my project. Once we cut the cake and the wedding bells tolled, I turned my attention strictly to finishing Rosie," he told us.
The Integra is appropriately nicknamed "Rosie" because of its Audi Brilliant Red tone. The Special Projects Motorsports P1 front lip/splitter combo, both bumpers, side skirts, and ITR rear spoiler were later additions re-sprayed by Sunny Wong from 515 Autobody. Rare Ganador Super Mirrors help add a touch of style to the minimalistic exterior, along with a carbon gurney flap mounted at the peak of the rear spoiler.
Phil's interior represents a similar motif. Everything unnecessary has been removed. Perhaps his wife's boundless support means that she never intends to physically be inside the Integra ever again because there is no longer a passenger seat. The single Recaro RS-G bucket seat indicates a lack of intent to relive their magical evening at senior prom. The only surviving interior panels are Type R door cards and a matching center console. Exposed as visual eye candy for car nerds to enjoy is a complete motorsports-grade chassis harness handcrafted by Rywire. Floating on a custom-fabricated ECU box mounted under the dashboard is the latest AEM Infinity engine management system and RacePak SmartWire PDM. Steering the DC2 is an incredibly rare Vertex 325mm wheel. Affixed behind it is an AiM Sports digital display.
Staying true to the high standards of every ATS Garage build is the visual masterpiece hidden beneath the hood. One thing about every Honda representing the ATS namesake is that no one engine bay is ever the same as the next. At the core of the stripped-down and color-matched bay is a 2.0L K20A from a Japanese DC5 Type R. ASC Speed Metal provided its custom-fabricated expertise in the form of an aluminum oil breather and coolant reservoir. The main attraction of this potent setup is the four 45mm AT Power throttle bodies that feature adjustable runners. A high-flowing AEM pump delivers E85 Flex Fuel to 1,000cc injectors as a K-Tuned header drives exhaust gases straight to an R-Crew exhaust. Giving life to the engine electronics is a carefully handcrafted harness by Rywire. Unlike most of their premium engine harnesses, this specialized piece utilizes F1-grade Deutsch Autosport connectors.
Function fanatics need not worry as the suspension has received equal attention as the rest of the build. The classic combination of Ground Control coilovers and Koni dampers provides for a solid ride. Factory arms have all been upgraded to spherical pieces from Wicked Tuning and Function7. Bound to the five-lug Type R hubs are 17-inch Volk Racing RE30s in Diamond Black. Peering through the thin spokes is a pair of Brembo Monoblock front brakes, which require a custom CNC bracket to pair them with StopTech 328mm rotors. Providing some much-needed chassis rigidity is a custom four-point rollbar fabricated by Stanton Automotive. That, too, has been paint-matched and flows seamlessly with the rest of Rosie's bright red interior.
Nearly 15 years after he acquired his then-dream car, it made its first official appearance at the end of '14. Most will have built three to four cars by now, but Phil holds onto his Integra because it eclipses any simple material possession—to him and his wife, Judy, Rosie is a member of their family. More so, it is also an extension of the ATS Garage family. When the time came to put in work, Phil was overwhelmed by the helping hands of his ATS brothers.
"If I could take away one intangible thing from building cars with my friends, it is that this hobby isn't just merely about the cars," Phil explains. "The experiences you take away from the time spent are of the utmost importance. That is what keeps me passionate about it."
Michael Cristi's Integra
Michael Cristi's Integra has cemented its status in the Honda community since the mid-'00s. Some would even say the car was a bit of an "Internet celebrity" long before social media. Like Sison, Michael, aka "HeyMikeyyyy" or Mikey to his friends, also acquired his Integra in '01, but their paths couldn't be any more different. There was little to no downtime for Mikey's build, as he always added to his car and found himself constantly posting on message boards with new photos. His Integra has always been a bit of a controversial figure in the community-people either loved it or hated it. He was never afraid to experiment, and that is what made his build so recognizable.
Long before the current generation of cool kids was busy cramming every wheel that wouldn't fit onto their cars, Mikey and good friend Arnel Ortiz were busy making offset a "thing" on their Hondas. The Phaze2 car club from Southern California is made up of influencers who helped start the aggressive wheel movement in the early-'00s. Cristi was also responsible for introducing two-toned engine bays when he showed years ago with a brightly refinished gold bay. Whether you enjoyed their work or not, there is no denying that Mikey and his friends were the tastemakers of that time.
Around January '10, Mikey sold his DC2. There was nothing wrong with the car, but other priorities made it difficult to keep it. He was trying to build a business, and sacrifices had to be made. It didn't take long for the car to sell, and before he could give it a second thought, his nine-year relationship with the Integra was over. Mikey devoted his focus to other cars to satisfy that hunger of modifying cars—but it just wasn't the same.
"I don't know if it was really a bad decision to sell my [Integra]," Mikey reminisces. "At the time, it just made sense to. My business really took off and I got married to my longtime girlfriend, Christina. It got to the point where I was able to live comfortably and I started to wonder how great it would be if I still had the car that was there for me when we were struggling."
Fast-forward to February '13, Mikey decided to ask around and see if anyone knew where his Integra was. It had gone through several owners, but low and behold, someone actually knew where it was. He arranged to see his old baby and was utterly shocked it was still in a similar condition in which he left it—even his old turbo setup was still in one piece and the motor hadn't blown up yet. The current owner had no intentions of selling the car, but Mikey made an offer he couldn't refuse. Just a little more than three years after he parted ways with it, Mikey was reunited.
He immediately purchased a new set of wheels along with various parts here and there to make the GS-R his again. Though the car had stayed mostly unaltered, there were areas that needed to be addressed. Mikey admitted that he didn't know about the finer details of putting a solid build together in his younger years so liberties were taken. Now was the perfect time to do right by the car and re-create it in a way which it could live up to the expectations of its online persona. The time had come for the Phaze2 Integra to outdo its notoriety.
The first order of business was to get rid of its outdated gold engine bay. He pulled the B18C1 out and stripped the entire shell down in preparation for a complete re-spray. The exterior had been worn down over the years, so it needed a fresh coat of R-81 Milano Red. At the same time, he sourced a JDM Si-VTEC Integra front and had the lower lip molded to the bumper for a one-off look. The fenders and rear quarter panels had definitely seen better days, so the experts at Auto Explosion reshaped them to smooth out the body line, but gave them a bit of room so the 16x8.5" CCW D11Ls could fit. The engine bay saw the most drastic corrections. All unnecessary holes were welded shut, unused studs were shaved off, and the entire area smoothed out.
For a brief few months, the B18C1 was still turbocharged. Every removable engine component and accessory was either chromed or polished, including the Garrett turbo housing. The entire car had looked better than it ever had, but for Mikey, it just wasn't clean enough. "I really wanted my engine bay to look as clean as my boy Arnel's Civic, but the turbo setup just wasn't cutting it," Mikey says. "The individual throttle bodies he had at the time just made his (engine bay) so much cleaner so I pulled the turbo off. I found a set of TWM ITBs for a good price and had the entire car towed to Arizona so RC's Garage could work their magic."
With the bulky turbo arrangement out of the way, his engine bay looked cleaner than ever. The 52mm throttles were taken apart so that each adjoining piece could be polished and a Private Label Manufacturing Tri-Y header was chromed before installation. The archaic distributor and spark plug wire combo were upgraded to a modern Rywire Coil-On-Plug setup, which uses RSX ignition coils helping provide better power to the ignition while also giving a more streamlined look. When paired with the Locash Racing valve cover, also dipped in chrome, a more novice enthusiast would need to take a second look to see if it was actually a B-series engine. Jorgie-Built created custom hard lines and plumbing for the Integra. He even went as far as shape a new curved hard line for the throttle cable. The only remaining engine mod left from the early days are a set of HKS cam gears. It not only serves as an interesting contrast against all the mirror-like chrome on the motor, it is also a visual reminder of what the Integra once was and how far it has come.
In an era when it is popular to build a halfway shitty car and request Internet fame like it were a friend on Facebook, it's refreshing and heartwarming, to see two builds like Phil Sison's and Mikey Cristi's. They embody a much more important perspective. Their builds hold value that is much higher than any price tag or quantifiable "like" tally on social media. One is a story of perseverance and the other a tale of redemption. Two Hondas that appear to be similar, but couldn't be any more different, yet they share a space here today because of something lacking in so many automotive builds today—Heart.