The final livery ever to be applied to Class 104’s was the vibrant Network SouthEast (NSE) colour scheme. Deliberately designed to be eye catching and brash, the livery was both criticised and welcomed.
In a radical departure from the BR corporate Rail Blue, bodysides were light blue with a series of white, red and grey stripes running along the lower half of the vehicles stylishly sweeping upwards towards the cab ends. The gutter was also picked out in red and first class sections had a yellow line under the gutter. These multi-coloured horizontal stripes gained the design the nickname “toothpaste” livery. The chassis, bufferbeam, roof, cab dome and the corridor ends were black. The cab front end was all over yellow with the cab window surrounds painted black. A thin orange line ran at gutter level on the front and rear of the vehicle. “Network SouthEast” branding was located in the centre of the vehicle under the windows, and on the front under the centre cab window was the NSE “flash” logo.
The NSE livery was introduced during a revolutionary time in suburban London which had suffered from underinvestment from British Rail for decades. Radical new policies were required if the public’s perception of the rundown stations and rolling stock was to be changed. The NSE livery was specifically designed to provide an effective re-launched image at minimal cost, and was intended to be applied to all stock in use in the London area as the external element of a large scale refurbishment programme.
Eight Class 104 motor brake vehicles, 50429/437/455/470/477/479/539/540 were formed into four 2-car sets, L701-704, and painted into NSE during 1988/1989 in a life extension programme. Two centre trailer vehicles, 59163/206, were also painted and formed in sets with other classes of DMU. The livery lasted until the very end of Class 104 operations in 1993, and three of the vehicles which carried the colour scheme, 50437/455/479, were preserved.
Variations in the livery were limited. 50437/455/539, had larger black cab surrounds than the others with the black extending upwards to meet the cab roof dome. Just a month or two before withdrawal, the very last Class 104 vehicle in service, 50540, received a white cab roof dome and silver buffers by a depot fitter in a nod to the days (by then history) of Buxton depot practice.