The History of the 3208 Caterpillar Marine Engine

Founded in 1899, the US-based company, which designs, produces, markets, and sells various types of equipment and financial services, is known for its worldwide dealer network. It is also the world’s leading producer of diesel and natural gas engines. In 2009, Fortune magazine ranked the company as the number one company in its industry and 44th on the Fortune 500 list.

During the 1960s, the company introduced the 1100 medium truck engine. It became the 3160 marine engine. However, it suffered from various issues, including a design flaw that caused the gear to spin when the hydraulics were engaged during a prop strike. Like the 3160, the 3208 also has a similar issue with the gear’s design. Although the company has improved the strength of the 3160’s bottom end, it still has a similar issue with the 3208’s camshaft gear.

About the Caterpillar Company

The company started by exporting its products to other countries, such as Mexico, Canada, and Argentina. Through its products, the company gained valuable experience during the First World War.

During the war, the company’s armored vehicles were frequently used to transport artillery pieces. Engineers from the British Army saw the potential of using the company’s track-driven vehicles as armored tanks.

When the war ended, Holt Caterpillar decided to sell its tractor business to a competitor known as Best. Due to the depression, the company was forced to form a new company called the Caterpillar Company in 1925. The company’s various models were painted yellow, which was a distinct color from the other cars.

The Beginning of the 3208

The Caterpillar 3208 diesel engine was originally a 225-horsepower V8 engine with a cubic-inch capacity. It was not equipped with cylinder liners, so many engineering firms modified it by adding rings and blocks instead. The modified engines were referred to as throwaways, and the makers claimed that this was one of the criteria that was considered when designing the new engines.

Although it was initially marketed as a turbocharged version, major changes were made to the 3208 in 1981. These included the addition of three-ring pistons, stronger internal rotating components, and better water and oil pumps. The cooling system was also improved by adding a seawater pump and a heat exchanger. Other features such as the expansion tank and thermostats were also modified.

Initially used in various applications, such as boats, the 3208 became a popular marine engine for larger vessels. Due to the 3208’s various features, many larger pleasure boats and yacht owners started using twin-charged engines.

Unfortunately, despite the various improvements, the 3208 was still too much of a gas-guzzler for modern marine applications. In 1999, the company discontinued the 3208 due to its failure to meet new emissions regulations.

Caterpillar "3208" V-8 diesel engine. | Diesel engine, Cat engines, Cool  trucks

Through a collaboration with Ford, the companies produced the 3208 in 1975. It was initially used in various heavy truck applications, such as garbage trucks and tractor-trailers. It also made its way into construction equipment and school buses.

The 3208 was also used in various other applications, such as power plants and marine vessels. Due to its widespread use, many vehicles equipped with the 3208 remain in service even after the engine was discontinued.


The 3208 is powered by a four-stroke V8 engine that features a 125-millimeter stroke and a 114.3-millimeter bore. It can be equipped with various cooling system capacities. The 3208’s displacement ranges from around 10 to 15 liters. Its cooling system can handle up to 56 liters of water, while its lubrication system can handle up to 12 liters.


There are three different power ratings for the 3208 engine. The lowest output model is capable of producing 210 horsepower, while the most powerful version has a power output of 435 horsepower.

Compression Ratio and Other Details

The compression ratio for the different output models of the 3208 is 16:1. The 3208 was originally equipped with a cast iron camshaft. In later versions, this component was replaced by a steel one. It was also available in both non-turbo and turbocharged versions.

Introduction to Caterpillar Tractors

Construction of the company started in 1911. It was reportedly named after a farmer who watched a test run of the vehicle. The farmer said the tractor moved like a caterpillar.

The 3208 has proven to be reliable and inexpensive. One of the most prominent examples of this is the Lifeboat of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which is powered by the 3208 and its twin-turbocharged diesel engines.

Final Thoughts

Although its original design was a throwaway engine, the 3208 has been used in various applications. Most notably, it was used in boats. Due to its reliability, some vessels have been able to run for thousands of hours with the 3208 engine.