The Panda car came about to give British police beat officers more mobility in their communities. One of the last of these special cars is now in Australia.

 In the 1960s the Lancashire Constabulary was the second-largest policing force in Britain, behind London’s Metropolitan Police (The Met). Under Chief Constable Col. Eric St. Johnston, the Lancashire  force was very innovative in trying new approaches in policing, particularly with the use of police cars.

It was they who first introduced white police cars, in 1958, to better stand out on the motorway, and later Day-Glo orange cars for even more visibility. They also introduced white caps for their officers, again for better visibility and safety.

In the early 1960s, Kirkby, on the outskirts of Liverpool, had introduced the Unit Beat System, or Unit Policing. The idea was based on the concept of the traditional “beat”, where police officers walked through their community and got to know the people, providing positive reinforcement while acting as a visible deterrent. Unit Policing worked in much the same way, but with the constables in cars and covering much greater areas, patrolling rather than just responding to call-outs.

St. Johnston was replaced in 1967 by his subordinate William Palfrey (aka “Palf”) who embraced the Kirkby experiment in 1966, as a means of making the under-staffed Lancashire police more efficient. 

As Malcolm Bobbitt reports in his book Police Cars; “Obviously, there was no requirement for Traffic Patrol type vehicles, nor those used for Flying Squad duties. What was needed was an inexpensive and economical family-type car.”

 “Several ideas had been discussed about what colour scheme to adopt: both black and white were deemed unacceptable because, it was decided, the vehicles should convey a positive identity. Oxford Blue was suggested…but was considered too dark a shade and ultimately either pale blue or turquoise were preferred. In making the cars even more identifiable it was suggested they had white doors with a corresponding white stripe across the roof, this emanating from an idea St. Johnston had seen in Chicago where police cars were painted in contrasting colours.”

175 Ford Anglia cars, with 997cc engines, were ordered and at a public launch, with the cars and drivers lined up in a 999 formation, one of the attending journalists quipped that the cars looked a bit like pandas – so the name Panda cars was universally adopted.

One of the main reasons that Lancashire opted for the Anglia was because it was built locally at Halewood, on the outskirts of Liverpool.

The programme was a great success and was quickly adopted by other police forces across Britain. “By 1968 two-thirds of the British population was policed by this method”, Bobbitt reported. Most of these also adopted the Panda colour scheme, though with some variance in the colour blue and others without the white stripe over the roof, leaving only the doors painted white.

There was also a significant amount of variance in the equipment used, the types of “POLICE” roof signs and flashing lights and other signage on the cars.

As it was the Chief Constables who decided which vehicles to purchase for their region, it was not surprising to find some showing similar loyalty to their local manufacturers. Birmingham, for example, purchased a fleet of Austin A40 Farinas, while others opted for the space-saving Morris or Austin 1100, but for simple cost effectiveness many chose Morris Minors. 

“The fundamental reasons for introducing Unit Policing were often lost in the pressure to uphold the law generally and the role of the Panda car became more that of a police runabout than an intrinsic tool in area policing”, Bobbitt explained. “However efficient Unit Policing proved to be, there was no substitute for foot patrols, in terms of direct contact. Throughout Britain the Unit Beat system was eventually abandoned and in some cases, sooner rather than later.”

By the early 1970s the Panda cars had run their course and been replaced by newer methods of policing. 

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The BMC Experience Issue 13. Apr-Jun 2015 Magazine


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