The fate of steam locomotives in West Germany was sealed as early as the new type plan for the German Federal Railroad in 1955. The electrification of the rail network had long term priority; diesel locomotives were planned for traffic on non-electrified routes or routes still not electrified. The V 200 that had already been built was planned to replace the large class 01 or class 44 steam locomotives; a projected V 160 was supposed to replace medium size steam locomotives such as the class 38, 55, 78, and also the class 50.
Compared to the dual-motored V 200, a powerful but expensive design, the V 160 was planned to be more economical with a single motor. New motors with 1,900 horsepower were already available as early as the development and decision phase, and they proved suitable in 10 prototypes built in 1960. The regular production locomotives in the well-known V 160 design, which actually stemmed from the V 320 that was never put into production, appeared in 1964. This defined the replacement for steam locomotives: The V 160 ran at 120 km/h / 75 mph and had steam heating. This made it the right unit for freight service and "old" passenger trains, but not for the new electrically heated passenger trains and for the speeds customary in electric locomotive operation.
The V 160 had to become faster and needed electric heating. Several concepts were developed for this, the common feature of all being an extension of the locomotive's length from 16.00 meters / 52 feet 5-15/16 inches to 16.40 meters / 53 feet 9-11/16 inches.
The V 162 was given a second motor with 500 horsepower, which powered a heating generator. It was also equipped with a stronger gear drive. The traction motor with 1,900 horsepower was retained. This relatively expensive solution was installed in 3 prototypes and then only in 12 regular production units.
The design for the V 169, one of the stars at the Munich Transportation Exhibition in 1965, was spectacular, but no less expensive. The heating generator was powered by a more powerful traction motor with 2,150 horsepower; the performance required for this was supposed to be balanced by a gas turbine with around 900 horsepower. The latter unit served as a "booster" in the partial and full load range. Another 8 improved locomotives were built 5 years after the prototype. Until 1978 they were the most powerful, fastest and most expensive DB diesel locomotives: 3,700 horsepower and 160 km/h / 100 mph.
The third alternative was the class 164: The heating generator was powered directly from the traction motor, and the latter was designed to be more powerful with 2,500 horsepower. A stronger gear drive and a hydrodynamic brake system offered reliability and safety at 140 km/h / 88 mph. A rational design with the latest components available in 1968.
The V 168 (initially, the V 160.3) was finally conceived as the V 160 with "retrofitting capabilities": It was initially equipped with standard motors with 1,900 horsepower as well as the latest gear drive and brakes. Steam heating was built into the regular production units, but the installation space was still large enough for a heating generator with its drive system.
In 1968, all of the DB locomotives were assigned new class numbers, and the significant "V" for "internal combustion locomotives" was abandoned (**).
Right at the start of Era IV, the DB took the decision about large scale production of diesel locomotives for the future. While the class 215 continued the procurement program of the class 216, the class 218 was finally ordered as the new standard locomotive.
The main production run of a locomotive was delivered starting in 1971, a locomotive that was built in greater numbers than all of the other members of this family of locomotives taken together. The technical progress compared to the first V 160 is unmistakable. The power of 1,840 kilowatts / 2,500 horsepower reaches the values of the class 220 / 221, which was no longer being bought. With a speed of 140 km/h / 88 mph and electric heating, this general-purpose locomotive has become a real universal locomotive. The fuel consumption is on the order of the original V 160: around 300 liters / 26 gallons of diesel fuel oil every 100 kilometers / 63 miles. Noise insulation and electronic controls offer the operating comfort of an electric locomotive for the engineer.
The 218 has been the DB and DB AG's most important diesel locomotive for over 35 years, and it has proven itself in all types of service - from heavy freight trains to the TEE. Economy and reliability have been exemplary even compared to the diesel locomotives on other railroads. More than 60% of the locomotives are still in service on the DB AG. A comparable successor class is yet to be defined.