Earlier this year, we wrote an article about the subway line that ran just for the 1939 World’s Fair and a reader commented that he had a model of the subway car and wanted to know more about it. Looking at the photographs he sent, the reader’s model actually appears to be the subway cars used for the 1964 World’s Fair, which were painted an aqua blue color in line with the branding for the event. His subway cars are the R33 WF (World’s Fair) model, of which 430 were commissioned for the event.

The R33 trains came in several models and are known more colloquially as the Redbirds based on their repainted color scheme following what was known as the “General Overhaul,” overseen by David Gunn, the General Manager of the New York City Transit Authority starting in 1985. He was inspired by the colors of the Broad Street line in Philadelphia and the red paint color was sent to New York City courtesy of the Philadelphia transit authority. Along with a color change, the R33 trains became air conditioned with the overhaul.

After the World’s Fair, the R33 WF’s ran predominantly on the 7 line until 2003. Following retirement, many Redbirds have ended up serving as reefs in the Atlantic Ocean but one World’s Fair car, number 9306, was put into the collection of the New York Transit Museum in 1976 – which is why it’s in its original color scheme. Advertisements for the World’s Fair Subway at the time read, “From the Blue Arrow to the World’s Fair.” One of these World’s Fair trains is located in the New York Transit Museum.

World's Fair Subway Car-1964-Model-R33 WF-St. Louis Car Company-NYC

The R33 cars were built by the St. Louis Car Company and the World’s Fair model had slightly larger windows than other R33 cars, The trains had a very 1960s design with the rounded design elements and a great Transit Authority TA logo. The interiors were also light blue with metal straphangers and a patterned floor.

You can see more details in the model sent to us by reader Mike Tumlin:

World's Fair Subway Car-1964-Model-R33 WF-St. Louis Car Company-NYC-001

The signage on the side of the model says World’s Fair Times Square Local. The R33 WFs came in pairs and the car numbers 9586 and 9587 you see on the model trains reflect actual World’s Fair trains that became part of the New York Transit Museum collection around 2013, held in the 207th Street Railyard for a time, and went on a vintage subway ride run in 2014 along the 7 line. That being said, cars 9586 and 9587 are actually in the signature Redbird color, not the World’s Fair scheme. Their interiors are beige and gray.

World's Fair Subway Car-1964-Model-R33 WF-St. Louis Car Company-NYC-004

According to Mike, his model “is two cars long and sits on tracks. Every detail matches the pics of the full size trains that I have found online. It is a light blue and is still in the case that was built for it. Any info at all to help me establish provenance I would greatly appreciate. The man I bought it from traded for it back in the 1970s.”

Finally, here’s a vintage television advertisement for the World’s Fair subway line with the catchy song that includes the lyrics: “There’s a good time feeling in the air on the subway special to the World’s Fair.” The ride cost fifteen cents.

Let us know in the comments if you have more information about the models themselves!

Next, see vintage photos of the 1964 World’s Fair and check out the Secrets of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

3 thoughts on “The Lost 1964 World’s Fair Subway Line and Cars

  1. There were two groups of cars referred to as “World’s Fair” cars. The R-33 cars were single unit cars, numbered 9306-9345. There was another group of World’s Fair cars built under contract R-36, numbered 9346-9523, and 9558-9769, all with Picture Windows. (The missing numbers had standard windows, and were used on the IRT lines in Manhattan and the Bronx; those cars, along with cars from the R-12/14/15 series displaced the last pre-WWII subway cars from mainline IRT service in 1964. The R-36’s got air conditioning in the 1980’s, but the single-unit R-33’s never got a/c…in their later years, these cars were stored in the summer months…in cooler weather(and pre-ac), the trains ran as 11-car trains. These cars ran into the first decade of the 21st Century, then were retired by new cars built to allow for 11-car trains.


    1. One of the R-33s is preserved in its World’s Fair livery for both the Transit Museum’s historic fleet and the occasional fantrip. My daughter and I rode briefly in that car on the trip I discussed. However, the lack of a/c on a July day was too tough to bear, so we switched to the R-36s for the rest of the trip.

  2. I grew up riding those trains to Shea Stadium and back, and remember the strip maps inside the cars, as well as the heat during mid-summer…but not crowding, as I went to see the Mets between 1977 and 1983, when they truly stank on the field.

    They still have a string of those trains for excursions, and I took my daughter to one, which got us into the old New York State pavilion in Flushing Meadow Park. There was also a tour of the Hall of Science’s exhibit on the two World’s Fairs.

    My father went to the 1940 World’s Fair, which was no longer the “World of Tomorrow,” as the world of today was the world of World War II, and “tomorrow” brought more horror. That fair was “Preparedness and Democracy.” The pavilions of the combatants had been closed — as some of them had been conquered. Dad was not allowed into the Texas Pavilion. He only found out why 40 years later, while watching a documentary on that fair, which revealed that the pavilion’s chief attraction was scantily-clad women (by the standards of the day). Grandma was quite the prude.

    There are no pavilions any more, but my daughter and I had a great time in the historic train and trip.

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