by Kevin Walsh

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

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”



Marc May 22, 2020 - 9:48 pm

I’m sorry, but that white paint job just looks wrong.

redstaterefugee May 23, 2020 - 10:08 am

“Today’s travails pale…” Really? Look at this & get real:


Stop enabling a corrupt & incompetent political establishment before everyone who can will vote with their feet (as I did).

Kevin Walsh May 25, 2020 - 8:38 am

I consider the subways’ present condition temporary at worst because of unique circumstances of a pandemic combined with indifferent/incompetent leadership. At least the coronavirus will dissipate in the fullness of time.

Peter May 25, 2020 - 12:52 pm

And the indifferent/incompetent leadership will NOT dissiapate in the fullness of time.

redstaterefugee May 25, 2020 - 10:15 am

Kevin, please wake up. I’ve been following NYC’s decline in the NY Post & even before the term COVID – 19 was coined subway crime was atrocious; during winters the subway system looked like a rolling mental hospital ward. If you love your children would you let them misbehave, act out, & cultivate bad habits? The worst part is seeing all that mayors Koch & Giuliani did to improve the city’s finances & quality of life discarded, kicked aside for the sake of some dysfunctional new orthodoxy. Unlike fifty years ago this is not limited to NYC alone: the blue states are a defiant mirror image of the red states. Compare Florida’s response to COVID-19 to NY’s: life vs death. It would be nice to see a post COVID-19 NYC awaken & demand better leadership but too many fear the social media that they’ve allowed themselves to addicted to. It looks like you’re in for a “cruel suimmer”:

Kevin Walsh May 25, 2020 - 6:05 pm

Red State Refugee: interesting points, but exhortations to “get real” and “wake up” earn you no points with me.

Matt C. May 27, 2020 - 10:07 am

Will you please stop? The city is not “in decline.” It‘s far from it and it’s not likely to return to that state any time soon. Please find a more appropriate channel for your political comments and let those of us who love and enjoy NYC do so in peace.

Ron S May 23, 2020 - 11:50 am

The basic logic of painting cars like an empty canvas during a grafitti epidemic escapes me.

Andy May 23, 2020 - 11:59 am

Transit historian Brian Cudahy, writing in his book Under the Sidewalks of New York about painting the subway car fleet white, commented that only General Custer received worse advice. How true.

In the background of the photo is Shea Stadium, where the Mets also were suffering through one of the team’s low points in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before the nucleus of the 1986 world champions was assembled. The Mets’ rise to stardom occurred as the graffiti epidemic was subsiding.

John May 23, 2020 - 4:18 pm

In 1964 it was still the TA. About 1966 the MTA was formed using bridge tolls to subsidize what was the TA.

Andy May 25, 2020 - 1:17 pm

MTA officially began March 1, 1968. Remember the day well.

Ed Findlay May 24, 2020 - 12:57 am

I swear they chose that ugly and idiotic paint scheme just to appear to be doing something because they looked foolish for having graffitied trains going by on national television during Braves games as they’d get shown during breaks in the action…

Nothing more of a motivator than national humiliation and politicians breathing down your neck to try to make it look like you’re doing something instead of actually doing it!

Nunzio May 24, 2020 - 10:10 pm

I spent a lot of time in the subway in the late 70’s and early 80’s. It may’ve been dirty and decrepit, but unlike today, you actually could reliably get where you were going without massive and ever-changing detours; and the trains were much faster. I’d take the 70’s/80’s any day. You could walk between the cars…even ride between the cars! Nothing beat standing on the platform of the Park Place station of the Franklin Shuttle as the train would come rumbling in, and the patched-up wavy wooden (felt more like cardboard) platform would do a jig beneath your feet! The subway is boring and stodgy today- wouldn’t ever set foot in there again.

Matt C. May 27, 2020 - 10:20 am

You might be alone in that opinion, haha. The never-ending detours and construction today are the result of maintenance work that should have been done in the 70s and 80s but wasn’t. They’ve actually done a lot of signal upgrades recently that have allowed them to increase speeds in a lot of places. It may have been more interesting back then from an urban explorer’s point of view, but i think most people probably prefer the cleaner, safer system of today—myself included. As a sidenote, I was surprised to find that a lot of Chicago’s el stations still have wooden platforms that seem to have held up nicely. I wonder why there seems to have been a big push to get rid of them in NYC?

Jeff May 25, 2020 - 9:48 am

I have a different experience than Nunzio above, I had to go from 179th St to Hunter College in the late 70’s- early 80s. I’d change from the F to the N at Queens Plaza. Many times 3-4 G trains would go by, empty, before a packed N would arrive. It made travelling to school hell. On top of that were the problems with the Rockwell trucks under the new (then) R42s, so there were problems with F service also.

Kevin Walsh May 29, 2020 - 11:21 am

Comments on this page are getting too political and hostile, FNY isn’t about that so I’m cancelling future comments on this page.

Comments are closed.