About three years ago, a friend gave me a 1995 Peg Perego GAUCHO kids ride on car. I was pretty excited, the kid’s first car, and it’s an off-roader. But after finding it was a 6v vehicle with an on-off pedal and needed near-continuous charging, the shine wore off. Its age and living outside also means the electrical system was less than reliable. Let upgrade this Perego Gaucho!
Limitations of the Gaucho
There are a few major problems with the standard Gaucho. The torque is limited by the 6v motors meaning off-roading, or long grass, is simply a no-no. As soon as you put two kids on, those batteries flatten pretty quickly. Driving the ride on is pretty difficult for a small child when the throttle is on or off. And the switches that control the drive speed, brake lights, and acceleration are not IP rated, and the contacts quickly oxidise.
Most of the current range of Peg Perego off-road toys are 12v and considerably more powerful than the 1995 version. I plan to overcome some or all of these Per Perego issues with a mixture of an upgrade to 12v and a more reliable method of controlling the car’s speed.
The first step is to add a ‘solid-state’ motor controller which uses transistors to vary the output. These days a motor controller for light use is straightforward to find. I’m using the one in the picture above purchased from AliExpress. It was incredibly cheap, at £6.33 delivered. I couldn’t make my own controller for that price.
I’ve gone for a 60A controller. The car currently has a 40A fuse on each battery, but the peak draw is normally around 30A with 15A across each motor. Doubling the voltage will reduce the peak current draw, so this controller is more than man enough. This controller will need a pedal in addition, and we’ll come to that in a minute.
Upgrading the Perego wiring
The wiring is pretty much all going to need replacing. The original wiring utilises non-stabilised PVC, which degrades over time. Add years of high current draw and associated cable heating, and the resistance of the wires is just going up and up. For this project, I’m using cable and connectors from my favourite automotive supplier PoleVolt.
Tearing Down the Perego Gaucho
The vehicle is a mono chassis with a separate body shell. Okay, I’m stretching that description. It’s a plastic box on a plastic box. The design is simple, but clearly, some thought has gone into it. Before we can start to upgrade the Peg Perego Gaucho, we need to take it apart. The complete strip-down and removal of existing harnesses take about half an hour. I wish all my projects were this simple!
To operate the motor controller, it needs a 0 to 5v input, which drives the motor duty between 0 and 100% duty. The controller is supplied with a 100k potentiometer across a 5v supply. This allows using a typical hall effect pedal that uses a sensor and magnet to change the output depending on its position.
To fit this to the car, I’m using a fairly big plate on the underside to spread the load of small feet, putting the pedal to the floor. The plate on the left side of the picture is 2mm galvanised steel, so it should do the trick. The right-hand side of the picture shows the installed pedal.
One thing that had me stumped for a long time was that the pedal would output 5v when the controller expected 0v. Finally, after much head-scratching and some Googling, I discovered a neat trick. Rotating the magnet (outlined in red) flips its relationship with the sensor (green outline) and gives me the output I need to drive the controller.
Assembling the Perego upgraded electronics
To keep the electronics dry, I plan to install the main parts inside a waterproof enclosure. As you can see, it’s a pretty tight fit! In this image, you can see some of the other electronics I’ve included. There is an inline CTEK connection to make charging that bit easier. There is also a ‘Master’ switch that controls a relay which will fully isolate the battery.
Once the electronics were all assembled, I offered them up to the car and made sure everything was working before the final mounting of the waterproof enclosure. Fortunately, everything worked the first time without a problem.
Perhaps a simple addition, this switch panel puts the controls right in front of the driver. The switch panel replaces the original Perego ‘tape cassette’ toy that was in the dash. Like all the changes being made, there is no permanent damage to the car. The original wiring and accessories can all be put back in place.
Putting it all back together
I do like the look of this thing, nice and 80s if a little too much ‘Jeep’ influence. It’s pretty quick to go back together. In the process, I’ve also changed all the 6v filament bulbs out for LED.
The interior modifications are pretty subtle and easily reversed. Along with the horn, the original Perego lighting harness and switches have been connected to the 12v system.
The verdict on the Perego Gaucho upgrade
End to end, all the changes have taken around 6 hours to install, spread over a few weekends. The result is fantastic. The difference really is chalk and cheese. The kids have already taken it for a drive ‘around the block’, and now they have a throttle response. They seem to be far more cautious.
It’s pretty quick now, even with both kids in. The maximum duty is currently limited to 83%. Despite trying, I couldn’t limit it to 88% duty despite best efforts! It’s great tarmac and can now drive on the grass. Perhaps a little more torque would help as it struggles on long grass or big hills, but at least I don’t have to push anymore!
The batteries are still running out pretty quickly, but there are many power source options with a more conventional 12v electrical system. Maybe a bespoke LiPoFe4 battery pack? Or perhaps a couple of Makita 18v batteries and a voltage regulator. I guess the ultimate would be to take the 36v drive system from an electric bike and give the car some real power, but I suspect that might not go down too well!