I don’t use the Brooklyn Broadway El or the Nassau Street line that much, but when I do, I stand the greatest chance to see a variety of MTA subway cars. Most of the trains on the J/Z line are R160s, produced within the decade, many of which are still new enough to have that “new car smell.”
But sometimes, I’ll get an R-32 car with its corrugated stainless steel exterior, a model that is now in its 54th year of service after its 1964 debut. More rarely I can get on an R-42 car, like the one shown here, which is in its 49th year of service and likely to see a 50th. The R-42
was the last subway car was among the last subway cars made by the St. Louis Car Company, which was in business from 1887 to 1974. It was also the first fleet that was completely air conditioned. Only two R-42 trainsets run on the Jamaica line as of 2018.
The R-42s were overhauled in 1987-88 and mostly replaced by incoming R-160s in 2007. The cars’ most prominent moment came in the 1971 movie The French Connection, in which Gene Hackman as Detective Popeye Doyle, driving maniacally on Stillwell Avenue, 86th Street and New Utrecht Avenue, pursues a French drug dealer who had commandeered a train running on the West End line (today’s D train).
All R-32 and R-42 cars still in service are due to be replaced by incoming R-179 cars within the next few years. Because of the bench seating they’re not my favorite remaining old subway car — that title goes to the existing R-46 fleet.