The phrase panda car refers to a small or medium-sized police car operated by British police forces. They are used for ordinary patrol work, with larger and more powerful vehicles being used for emergency response, Road Policing Unit duties and as Armed Response Vehicles
The first use of Panda cars seems to have been in Lancashire Constabulary area in about 1965, the Chief Constable described the use of blue and white Ford Anglia Panda cars in Kirkby in an article in The Times on 26 January 1966. These were blue with a white line painted around them. In 1967, the Dunbartonshire force bought two Hillman Imps (subsequently nicknamed 'Pinky and Perky') for escort duties on the A82 road; one blue and one white. The boot lids, bonnets and doors were then swapped to create a panda car style scheme.
In the 1980s police cars in the UK began to ordered in white to save acquisition costs, usually with orange or red "jam sandwich" reflective stripes. Today, patrol cars are painted in a variety of different colours, often with multicoloured Battenburg markings or stripes, although many forces still use a mainly white colour scheme. The name panda car or panda is still often used.
The panda is distinct from the "area car", a larger and more powerful vehicle which acts as support to the beat Constables, usually carrying two officers.
Current usage within the Metropolitan Police Service uses the term "panda car" to refer specifically to a marked car driven by a basic driver (i.e. one constrained to drive within normal traffic rules, and who may not use the vehicle's siren), as opposed to an IRV - "immediate response vehicle" - which could be exactly the same vehicle but driven by an advanced driver (i.e. one trained and permitted to disregard certain traffic laws and use the siren, as one would normally expect from police vehicles). The callsign attached to the vehicle for the duration of the shift should normally make it clear whether it is functioning as a panda or IRV at the time.
Many models of panda car have been or are used by British police forces. Among the most popular are or have been: