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NYC's Greatest Subway Cars, With Faux Wood Paneling And '70s Color Palette, Are Not Long For This World

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A few plants could really tie this car together. (Jen Carlson / Gothamist)

Recently my C trains have alternated between the new, sleek cars with blue seating and a polished glow, and something a little more vintage, what I like to call the Caldor color palette trains. You know the ones, with faux wood paneling and orange and yellow bucket seats. Bend your mind a little and you may see these things as downright cozy—sometimes they have those little "love seats" in back that face forward, a very conversational seating plan that makes me wish they fully embraced the design aesthetic of the decade and created a sunken living room subway design. They look like they belong inside of an old issue of Apartment Life magazine (just add plants!)—a refinished basement project your parents undertook in the 1970s. Anyway, I adore them.

For one, they have a more forgiving light compared to the blue ones, which seem to feature lighting that mirrors the cold, harsh glare of your iPhone. And secondly, these warmly-lit cars are undeniably retro, a throwback to an era of New York City that many fondly look back upon with rose-tinted glasses as new dystopian skylines change the look of what used to be a dirty ol' town. The subway cars feel familiar, and that is comforting, if nothing else.

For those unfamiliar with Caldor, by the way, this was a discount department store that sold everything from home furnishings to the greatest 1980s modular clothing line of all time. In the 1970s, they unveiled a new logo—the Caldor rainbow, an autumn palette that was already fully on trend for the time, and one that found a home in many parts of our life, including the subway.

New York Transit Museum officials told me these are the R-46 cars, and that the fleet (of around 750 cars) was manufactured by the Pullman Standard company between 1975 and 1978. "R-46 cars have a distinctive interior design, including orange and yellow plastic bucket seats; faux wood panels; and tan wallpaper with the seals of New York State and New York City." They added, "This wasn’t the first time riders saw this type of interior design. This design was introduced by the R-44 fleet, which was built by the St. Louis Car Company between 1971 and 1973." Those R-44 cars run on the Staten Island Railway these days, and if you want to catch an R-46, you'll find them on the A/C, F, R, or Rockaway Park Shuttle lines.

As for who designed these cars, it seems they were willed into existence by a number of factors: "The interior design of R-46 cars can’t really be credited to one designer... the design of each new subway car has always been influenced by the cars that came before it. It’s a collaborative process with input from New York City Transit, car manufacturers, industrial designers, and the commuters who ride these cars each day."

Sadly, the R46s probably aren't long for this world, they will begin to be replaced by the new R211s starting in 2020 (but you'll keep seeing them, possibly for years after that), according to the MTA. So enjoy the most beloved subway cars in NYC while you can...