Graffiti-scrawled subway cars reached their peak in 1982, a year in which the MTA’s subway operations reached their nadir, with older cars from previous decades broke down regularly and track fires broke out frequently from homeless camps in the tunnels. (Today’s travails pale next to how bad the trains were that year.)
Perhaps no line was affected more than the Flushing Line #7 train, whose R-33 and R-36 cars were the flagships of the fleet in 1964 and 1965 when the brand new cars, painted in white and light blue, ferried World’s Fair-goers to and from the Willets point Boulevard station and thence to the Fair. By 1982 the shining paint scheme was long buried beneath graffiti tags and rust.
In the early 1980s the MTA hit upon a scheme based on negative reinforcement. The cars would be painted bright white and the thinking was that the graffitists wouldn’t want to deface cars painted such a brilliant white. R-33 and 36 cars where painted with a polyurethane compound that would be resistant to spray paint and markers. The repainted c ars were known as “the Great White Fleet.”
It did not work as graffiti scrawlers redoubled their efforts, seeing through the ruse. It wasn’t until later in the 1980s that the MTA and subways chief David Gunn instituted new protocols that removed graffiti while the trains were in the yards that any headway was made. At the same time, new colors were used including “Green Hornet” and “Gun Red,” a maroon color that eventually won out and became the standard color for the R-33 and R-36 fleet used on IRT cars including the Flushing Line. The Gunn Red cars came to be known as the Redbirds and continued on the Flushing Line until 2003.
Of note: the superior 1960s-designed TA logo, and the platform incandescent lamp.
photo: NYC Transit Museum