Sitting in the residence of the Robles' on a June afternoon is like a scene out of the first Fast & Furious movie. As you walk in the door to their townhome in Tempe, Arizona, there is this familiar feeling that starts to wash over you, like walking into a childhood home. The entire space is inviting, and immediately it feels like you're in the company of close family. Everyone gathers around the dining room table for a casual afternoon lunch. The photographer, the writer, Jesse, our significant others, and Phil and his wife, Helen, sit down to enjoy each other's company. Jokes immediately start to fly and everyone is in good spirits. It becomes reminiscent of that early '00s scene in the Fast & Furious when the cast all gathers around the table as "family." Needless to say, there is something special in this house—and it isn't even the cars.
Obviously, the Robles have built some wicked machines, but what's important here isn't that a father and son each happen to own a fast car; it's the environment from which they came. Speed runs in the Robles' veins, undoubtedly. Phil began telling his story all the way back to his youth, having grown up in a family with cool cars in the mid-century era. He recounted buying his first car, a '65 Ford Mustang and said, "From that point on, I could never really leave a car alone." He, of course, modified that car and learned some of his mechanic skills by lying in the dirt while swapping out parts. Then after some time, he joined the military, which took him around the world. (This detail becomes important later in the story).
During this early period, Phil realized the responsibilities of adulthood; having recently married, beginning a family, and traveling the globe for Uncle Sam suggested there might be more to life than tinkering with cars. Subsequently, after a painstaking four years, he saw the light and realized that wasn't going to work for him. Life was going to be incomplete without a little speed, or at least some style, in his life. His resume of cars runs the gamut: American muscle, German, 4x4, Saab, British, Japanese he's done it all, and the one pictured on these pages really is his magnum opus.
After some global traveling through the military, bouncing around the U.S., the orders were delivered to the Robles family to pack up life in Phoenix and head to Okinawa, Japan. This was initially devastating to the family and they hesitated to leave, but the government was in need of Phil's service.
In the early 90's, a young, impressionable Jesse got moved to Japan, and the Fast & Furious parallels grow deeper. While in Japan, Jesse learned to drive stick at an early age on his dad's modified Mini Cooper. This event undoubtedly whetted Jessie's lips to drink the Kool-Aid. How could he live surrounded by all these amazing machines and not want to take part? What's more, Japan, in the mid-'90s, was ground zero for drifting. During these early days, there were quite a few kids living on U.S. military bases, and a couple of them went on to become rather famous American drifters.
Jesse was in the eye of the storm at this point in his life. From here, there was no turning back, the writing was on the wall, the petrol was in his veins. Like many young boys fueled with extra-high octane, he was kicked out of school. He was a rebel on the streets. His parents, who weren't insensible in this situation, decided some homeschooling was in order, and they carefully crafted lessons for him at home during the day. At night, Jesse got his education in the garages and streets of Okinawa—an education to last him a lifetime.
It's obvious where Jesse's car craft comes from, despite there being many years between now and his nights on the streets of Japan. His car doesn't feature some crazy livery, no sponsors here, no pro dreams, yet still commands attention. His raw street style radiates and the casual onlooker can appreciate the efforts sitting before them. This car didn't begin life anywhere near the final form here.
Starting from a bone stock, clean S13 shell, Jesse relived his days in Japan by tearing every nut and bolt from the car, gutting it, swapping it, beating on it, then repeating. He knew a simple build would never satisfy him, so he jumped in the deep end very early on. He had an SR swap for quite some time in the car before being bit by the JZ bug. He and his father both rode in their friend Mike Burns' S13 and both of them walked away with an insatiable thirst for more power. Given the cautionary tale of blowing budgets and complicating matters, Jesse sold his SR with little plan for the 1JZ swap and embarked on a two-year build with the promise of bigger and better in mind.
Jesse already had a stylishly built car, but he wanted something extra. He always kept style in mind first, and with that attitude drifting is a perfect fit for him. The whole mentality of drifting is "how cool can I make something look," and Jesse learned from his dad that tasteful styling is important. Couple that eye with the raw need for speed both these men possess and a beast was born. Jesse's car styling is sublime, in that it is so carefully crafted and natural that it almost goes unnoticed. TE37s are one of the most classic Japanese wheels of all time and DMAX bumpers with over-fenders are timeless in the S-chassis community; he pulls everything off flawlessly.
The story of father Phil's Civic backtracks quite a ways to Jesse's senior year in high school. After returning from Japan, Jesse was in need of a car. So, like any sensible teenager, he bought a 6th gen. Civic, the pinnacle of reliability, simplicity, and economy. Then he grew tired of it, and sought out a 5th gen. Civic, which he felt was more appealing. Phil offered to buy the EH for a fair price and then Jesse took ownership of the '92 hatchback you see here. Eventually, Jesse grew tired of Civics altogether, and offloaded the car to his dad. Rumor has it this Civic actually, technically belongs to Jesse, however it's what Phil did with it that makes all the difference in the world.
Phil got his first taste of real racing in a Porsche 914 during a lunchtime clinic with NASA. He then turned his daily driver, with AC and very simple mods, into a car he took to the track. After a long time in HPDE 3, Phil had to decide between moving toward race group or moving into the time trial group. Based on the fact that all the race group cars "looked like shit," he went into time trial. No wonder where his son gets his own style from...
Phil's car is obviously a thing of beauty, and we'll get back to the speed side of things shortly; however, something here needs addressing. When you see Mr. Robles walking around Scottsdale Pavilions, a weekly car meet, he is a completely unassuming import enthusiast. He looks like a cowboy, whose son dragged him to some car meet on a Saturday night. Then when you find out he's the owner of this immaculate Pandem widebody Civic, it's easy to assume he has deep pockets and he just asked his son what parts were "cool to buy." The truth is this man crafted his son's eye for style and every bit of this car is part of his own vision. He has lived style longer than most people reading Super Street have been alive. Honda or not, he does it better than most who've ever lived.
It's insane to really understand that a car this good looking is meant to be beat on at the track. Phil is no slouch around the track either, having set records here and there through the years. It is a purebred race machine that can go to SEMA on display and win car shows with a little elbow grease. Phil cut his teeth in HPDE with a low-powered car and with years of driving under his belt, changed and added parts to cut more time from his laps. Up until recently his Civic was NA and I personally remember wondering, "how fast could this thing be with 200hp and slicks?!" The reality was, Phil ripped. He would lean on every millimeter of slick underneath his car to run insanely fast lap times.
Much like his '65 Mustang, Phil couldn't leave his Civic alone for long. He wanted to find the next step in this endless build. Turbo power was the only thing left, and this meant a huge step in performance. Nearly doubling the power on only 11psi of boost shows the capability of this mad machine. Coupling the increased power with a sequential Quaife means Phil plans to decimate all previous personal bests. As a matter of fact, there is some more intense aero development in the plans and rumor has it he wants to attend WTAC in Australia with some of the most legendary time attack drivers in the world. With the direction this build has taken, it could undoubtedly hang with the best, down under.
These two cars serve greatly different purposes. These two men are greatly different people; however, the fuel that runs through them is the same. Their DNA is shared. Their passions mirror one another. Each car is stylistically unflawed. Each car absolutely tears up the track on command. These cars are almost as rare as this family. They are show stoppers, but underneath the elegance is something raw and primal. Having lived and breathed Japanese air and exhaust, the Robles' have an extra keen eye for style. They've lived what is so many people's dream, but they haven't squandered their opportunity.
A final moment in the interview reveals their thought process into their cars, which really encapsulates these two builds so beautifully. Phil wanted the Pandem kit for his car the minute he saw it. He cut and chopped his fender-wells again and again until the car sat low enough for his taste, yet it still retained full function. Both of them nodded in vehement agreement when discussing how to get a car as low as possible.
This pairing of like ideals and this moment of shared, undeniable passion illustrates the depth of this father-son love for cars. They continue to fuel one another's motivation as they each search for that crescendo of perfection in their build. In the end, they are doing what every father and son hope to: they enjoy each other's company, they enjoy their greatest hobby together, and they've created a lifetime of memories that can live on just a little bit longer. Cheers.