Old Marine Engines



MODELS 278 and 278A

And the Winton Engine Models 248 and 248A

Article by Preston Cook

Side View of a 12-278A Skid Mounted Engine and Generator

Railroad Tug designer Joe Hack with the builders model of the Virginian Railway Tug W. R. Coe, which he designed for TAMS, inc., powered by a sixteen cylinder Model 278A Cleveland Diesel Engine. Photo by Preston Cook, copyright 2007.



The Cleveland Diesel Engine Division of General Motors was the former Winton Engine Company, one of the pioneer builders of diesel engines in the United States, which GM acquired from Alexander Winton in 1930. Winton Engine had been one of the largest builders of marine and industrial diesels in the country throughout the 1920s. At that time GM also purchased Winton Engine's largest customer, Electro-Motive Company, which subsequently became the Electro-Motive Division of GM, which was for many years the world's largest builder of diesel locomotives.

The Cleveland Diesel Model 278A diesel engine was the result of a series of design progressions from the Winton 201A engine, which were done under the direction of Charles F. ("Boss") Kettering, the head of the GM Research Laboratories in the late 1930s. Boss Kettering was also the principal developer of the Detroit Diesel 71 series engine, the Electro-Motive 567 series diesel, and the Cleveland Diesel 268 and 268A engines. The 201A engine had achieved widespread recognition for its early role in the dieselization of the railroads, and was also used in US Navy submarines constructed in the late 1930s. In service the 201A was found to have some shortcomings which were addressed with the development of its immediate successor, the Model 248 marine engine for the U. S. Navy. That engine was subsequently increased in cylinder displacement as the Model 248A, and was then partially redesigned for production simplification as the Model 278. The Model 278A was introduced early in World War Two and provided a further increase in cylinder displacement and horsepower output. It was carried in the Cleveland Diesel product line through the late 1950s.

The 278A engine was built in six, eight, twelve, and sixteen cylinder versions, all of which were Vee configuration. It is a two-stroke cycle uniflow aspirated diesel, which uses an engine driven roots blower to supply air to the cylinders for combustion. In these Cleveland Diesel engines as in the predecessor 201A engine, the roots blower is located on the front of the engine, which was convenient for marine applications. The similarly sized Electro-Motive Model 567 diesel engine, used by that GM Division in their locomotive products, was designed to drive roots blowers from the rear gear train, allowing them to be located over the engine power coupling, and freeing the front power takeoff to allow its use in driving separate accessories.


Cross Section of the Cleveland Diesel Model 278A Engine


The Cleveland Diesel Model 278A was extensively applied in U. S. Navy vessels, including late wartime production of fleet submarines, destroyer escorts, fleet tugs, auxiliary tugs, harbor tugs, and amphibious warfare vessels including some LSTs. It was also a popular engine in the early postwar years for use in commercial tugboats and railroad tugs. The design was further developed in a strengthened crankcase as the Model 498, which used a freewheeling turbocharger in series with the engine driven roots blower to boost the horsepower rating. Very few of the Cleveland Diesel Model 498 engines were constructed.

The construction of over 2000 Model 567 engines by the Electro-Motive Division of GM for wartime Navy LST production, many of which had not been installed at the cessation of hostilities, resulted in the intrusion of surplus 567s into the postwar marine market. The Electro-Motive engine was an excellent performer, of simpler construction than the Cleveland Diesel 278A, and parts were readily available as it was widely produced for railroad use. As a result the EMD 567 gradually displaced the Model 278A from the marine industry, resulting in Electro-Motive becoming GM's larger builder of marine engines in this size range, and leading to the demise of the Cleveland Diesel Engine Division, which was eventually absorbed by EMD. The last few Model 278A engines were built by EMD at La Grange, Illinois after the Cleveland Diesel operations in Ohio had been phased out.

Article and page design by Preston Cook, ©2009 by T.E.S.


This is the cover art of the Cleveland Diesel Division of General Motors sales catalog for the 278A engine, issued around 1945.


This illustrates two Cleveland Diesel Division sales promotional knives with engraved images of their diesel engines. The knife at the top features a Model 498 engine and the knife at the bottom displays a sixteen cylinder Model 278A.


A skid mounted Model 248 with generator, the predecessor of the 278A.


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