Enthusiast Spotlight: Dario Orlando

May 31, 2008 1:23 pm

Born into an automotive family that traces it’s roots to back to the very early years of the Ford Motor Company, it was only natural that Dario Orlando’s destiny would eventually lead him to build upon the great automotive inspiration his family bestowed upon him.

Dario Domenico Orlando was born to parents Domenico and Alice Orlando at Mount Carmel Hospital in Detroit. Growing up in suburban Allen Park, Michigan, he solidified his roots in the automotive industry that eventually would lead to the creation of Steeda Autosports – the World’s largest exclusive producer of performance equipment for Ford Motor Company vehicles.

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Today, Dario Orlando is recognized by the Senior Management of Ford Motor Company as one of the most prominent names in Mustang performance industry today (along with the likes of Dan Gurney, Carroll Shelby, Parnelli Jones, and others) stating “…..he puts his experience into turning the Mustang into a world-class sports car. Today, Florida-based Steeda’s business spans the full spectrum of Ford performance upgrades, from professional and amateur racing to new turnkey vehicle packages.”

Proof that Dario takes the pursuit of designing, engineering, and building the best parts and vehicles very seriously.

The Formative Years

Dario’s families’ association with Ford Motor Company began in the early years his grandfather – Al Valeria originally started working for Ford Motor Company in 1910 – just seven short years after Henry Ford founded The Ford Motor Company. Initially an Industrial Manufacturing Foreman, Al dedicated himself to the Blue Oval by working for 46 years and never missed a day of work – a feat that exemplifies commitment and dedication and one that is rarely equaled today. Key to his commitment to Ford Motor Company was Al’s belief that for an honest day’s pay you must do an honest day’s work.

Dario’s father – Domenico Orlando, was also deeply involved with Ford Motor Company. After initially starting as a broomsweep in the post World War II expansion of Ford, he took drafting classes at a local University and was quickly identified as a natural talent at design by Senior Ford Management. After just six months into his Ford career, Domenico’s natural talents and drive for success led him to the famed Dearborn Design Studio’s of Ford where he was soon working with other great designers on advanced vehicles. Ford Management, awe inspired by his natural design ability eventually made him a Senior Design Stylist Director working on advanced concept, production, and race cars. Eventually his unique design talents found their way on some of the greatest vehicles of their time including:

  • The original Ford Thunderbird – The famed two seat roadster that became an instant classic and one of the most coveted cars of the 1950s. Domenico designed the …
  • Mercury Polomar Concept – A two-door hardtop station wagon that featured a roof with an opening rear section. When open, the rear seat rose and a small windshield popped up allowing the passengers to see over the roof. The concept car was named in honor of Mt. Palomar Observatory in California.
  • The 1964 ½ Mustang – the original pony car can trace many of it’s interior elements including the instrument panel, gauges, and even the door handle design to the creative hand of Domenico and his drawing board.
  • The Ford GT40 Mark IV (aka: The Ford J Car) – Domenico did extensive design work in the vehicle including work to incorporate improved aerodynamics, incorporation of advanced aluminum construction techniques. Dubbed the “all-American car” and. It was this same car that Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt drove to victory at 1967 Le Mans Race.

While Domenico was designing many great cars for Ford Motor Company, he and Alice also were instilling great wisdom and character into a young Dario Orlando who himself was very eager to learn from his father and mother. Domenico and Alice always preached to Dario that in life’s journey, you need to be a risk taker and not rest on your laurels….you need to be a man of your word and do what you say…..you need to take pride in your accomplishments…..you need to be a doer and not a slacker……and most importantly, you need to maintain complete integrity in everything you do. It was this type of upbringing that provided a sound basis for the character of Dario today.

After a fulfilling career at Ford Motor Company, Domenico Orlando’s continued quest for design led him to work assignment as an Advanced Designer for Chris Craft Boats in Florida. The entire family made the move to Boca Raton, Florida to start yet another stage in their life.

It was only natural that the passion Dario’s parents had for great design, high technology, great automobiles, and aviation would eventually find it’s way into Dario’s DNA as well. No doubt, it is these life lessons that have formed the character of Dario Orlando and provided him the foundation to further solidify his quest for automotive greatness.

The Driver Called Dario Orlando

Growing up, Dario developed a passion for vehicle design, mechanical engineering, as well as a love for automobiles, especially those that maximized their performance . Thru the years, this passion eventually led to the formation of Dario’s Foreign Car Service in 1975. Based in Pompano Beach, Florida and with a business plan that provided a steady income source from the repair and performance modification of vehicles, the same business plan also provided Dario the opportunity to finance his racing efforts – and racing he did! After getting his competition license at the young age of 19, he raced everything from MGs, Datsuns, and Toyotas, and in 1977, driving a bug-eyed Sprite won the South Atlantic Race Championship. In 1979 at the young age of 22 he competed in the FIA World Challenge for Endurance Drivers by competing in the 12 Hours of Sebring and entering the 24 Hours of Daytona driving an Alfa Romero GTV. During the years of 1980 thru 1984 Dario could be found racing in the South Atlantic Road Race series where he further honed his driving skills and passion for performance vehicles by winning countless races and championships and filling his trophy case with the many awards he has received.

Dario’s stealer performance on the race track was noticed by Ford Motor Company very early into his professional career. Keenly aware of Dario’s driving skills and his unique aptitude for vehicle tuning and performance both on the track and off, Ford Motor Company hunted him down and subsequently contracted him to be a lead test driver for the development of the European/US Merkur XR4TI program. In this role, Dario worked very closely with Ford Motor Company’s top engineers from around the world in the development and refinement of the vehicle’s suspension elements and engine tuning – with the intention of creating the best possible performing vehicle possible in it’s class. This was a prelude to other future collaborations that Dario would later have with Ford Motor Company in their quest to develop performance and race vehicles. It was a relationship that still continues to grow and foster as evidenced by Dario’s obsession for creating the very best performance automobiles and parts and accessories for Ford Motor Company vehicles.

Performance driving has always been a passion for Dario, although thru the years, Dario has had a variety of “white knuckle” experiences on the racetrack. Whether it was piloting the 1999 #20 Steeda Mustang at speeds of over 180 mph on the Sebring straightaway or hitting an unseen oil patch at over 140 mph and an ensuing 360 degree spin at a Daytona race, one thing he has refined over the years is a keen ability to pursue his goals and never—ever give up. Racing is a sport that has beaten many in their pursuits of victory, but Dario can proudly claim that Steeda Autosport equipped vehicles have won more races, set more records, and claim more championships with production based Mustangs than all of his competitors combined! More than Saleen, Shelby, and Roush together can lay claim to. What else would you expect from a man that has ancestry that is connected with Ford for almost 100 years.

Today, Dario still drives performance vehicles daily. It doesn’t matter if it is a weekend race at a local track, a blast down the dragstrip, or even the occasional street match-up – you can always find Dario behind the wheel of a performance vehicle taking it to it’s limit. He personally is involved in the design, engineering, testing and evaluation of all Steeda Autosport products and vehicles, constantly providing feedback to his outstanding team of Engineers and Developers in the quest of producing the very best products possible for his customers.

Further proof that racing is his true life’s passion !

The Start of Steeda Autosports

In 1988 Dario had the idea of creating a special high performance and limited edition Mustang line of vehicles that he wanted to call the “Sebring Mustang” series – no doubt naming it after the famed racetrack he had been so successfully at. Unable to legally obtain the “Sebring” naming rights for this special vehicle project, Dario with a check in the amount of $1,400 bought the naming rights to Steeda. Formally a manufacturer of high end tennis equipment, Steeda under the direction of Dario Orlando, was about to make a huge transformation from a company associated with a racket sport, to one that would provide the foundation for the development for what has become today the World’s Largest Exclusive Manufacturer of performance equipment for Ford Motor Company vehicles.

Initially the company produced a limited variety of aftermarket performance equipment for enthusiasts as well as limited production run of niche performance Mustang vehicles. The first Steeda Mustang, a 1988 model, today still makes historic appearances at various shows and races around the country.

Thru the years, the designing, engineering and development of “best in class” performance parts at Steeda Autosports has become legendary. Nobody in the industry today can even come close to the level of perfection and performance that Steeda has instilled into the vast array of performance parts they manufacture under strict ISO 9001-2000 guidelines. With a product portfolio that has grown to include thousands of parts, Steeda has grown to be the single best source for performance parts for Ford Motor Company vehicles today.

Their collection of serialized vehicles has grown dramatically from that initial 1988 Steeda Mustang to today a portfolio that includes Steeda Mustangs, Fusions, Focus, and F-150s and will continue to grow with additional product offering in the near future as Dario is fully committed to supporting Ford Motor Company and it’s customers. Ford Motor Company has recognized Steeda Autosports as having “…..a fully engineered, super high-performance (vehicles) that can deliver Ferrari—like acceleration for only a fraction of the cost.”

Dario’s continued support of Ford Motor Company is further exemplified when in 2007, Dario announced a massive corporate expansion of Steeda Autosports that will supplement their current World Headquarters in Pompano Beach, Florida. Valdosta Georgia was chosen as the site for a 25 acre automotive complex that will initially include a 100,000 sq.ft. facility housing engineering and marketing offices, as well as additional manufacturing and warehousing facilities. Scheduled to open later in 2008, this facility will be the most modern and up-to-date aftermarket facility in the world and will include a 1.2 mile test track, brake test area, and skid pad. With varying road surfaces, the complex will be extensively used to test performance and NVH characteristics.

Further proof that Dario takes his pursuit of Ford performance very seriously and that he is fully committed to servicing Ford Motor Company’s customers and enthusiasts for their performance needs. Many people might rest on their laurels, but Dario’s never quit attitude instilled into him by his father, provides the stage for great things to happen in the future.


Dario Orlando is a man that firmly believes in honesty and integrity in everything he does. From the mantra instilled in him from his ancestors, he has learned that honesty and integrity with yourself and others is the key to ones personal success and attainment of true happiness in life.

Often quoted as saying “You can’t buy a winning Team – you build a Team” he has chosen to surround himself with the great people at Steeda Autosports who all share the same winning attitude, integrity, and character beliefs he has so that together they can continue to pursue their mutual goals with a commitment unlike any one else.

It is no doubt that Dario Orlando, the Leader of the Team at Steeda Autosports, is a driving force in the Ford Performance world today.