Hank, the CamperCar

Meet Hank! This is my 2003 Toyota Matrix. My ride from A to B between guiding and canoe instruction gigs, as well as paddling festivals every weekend in May/April & September/October, the goal was to find the perfect balance between versatility and functionality –

I wanted to be able to sleep comfortably, with minimal setup hassle – to reduce the temptation to power through long drives, and to have my own space in the hubbub of seasonal work and festival season.

I wanted to be able to fit passengers – I can still seat 4 (albeit it’s a little cozy!).  The backseat bench is split 60/40, and the bed is built on the 40% side, leaving two seats accessible.

I wanted to be able to go car camping, without having to pack! My kitchen is permanently setup, the tables are easily accessible, a spice rack & plastic bin store all the staples.

Here’s how I accomplished this criteria:

DISCLAIMER – I sleep very comfortably with room to spare, but… I stand up to barely over 5’2″. Don’t try this at home, big kids.


It’s a continuous project that’s never quite done. My jigsaw skills got infinitely better, and I learned that I’m a “measure once, cut twice” kind of person! Many tries, many power tool lessons from my dad, and many, many hours of day dreaming went into this final layout.

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Three parts: kitchen box, permanent slats, and removable large panel.


IMG_4024The box is the base of the bed and the shell of the kitchen. Stays in place with a hose clamp attached to the anchor on the left above the platform, and an L-bracket in the bottom right corner.

Pretty easily removable to access the spare tire.

The middle panels of the bed platform sit on the kitchen box, and are secured by two removable pins.  This means that no single piece of wood runs the length of the car. In case of an accident, the kitchen box would easily separate from the panels, which would pop off of their anchors.

The uprights that support the panels are secured to the floor anchors for the backseat which I removed.

The edge of the middle section has a slot for the removable sleeping panel to rest in.  The other edge sits on the driver’s seat.

















Bungee with a hook keeps the bedding contained for travel.



The bed is slightly wider than my thermarest, and leaves me with enough height to sleep flat, or on my side.  It took one night to get used to sleeping this close to the roof, but otherwise I’ve been impressed with how comfortable the height is.



(In the photo below – the space on the left is tall enough that I can sit comfortably to read a book , put on shoes, etc. It’s the “mud room”)


My bin of food or clothing (depending on what I have it set up for at the time) fits under the bed, underneath curtains and bug nets are kept in place with bungee cord. Underneath the bed panel fits a large gear bin.

Food/cooler is normally accessible from the rear of the vehicle, the middle section is clothing, and the front storage is gear accessible from the side door. The footwell of the removed seat is storage for repair kit, tools, etc…


This “junk drawer” was easily made from an old for sale sign, simply hot glued together. It sits on a slider made of the same material, and utilizes the awkward-sized space above the wheel well, to keep little bits & pieces from disappearing into the vortex of stuff.


The simple addition of hanging storage keeps things readily available that I can grab in the middle of the night – a light, toque, car keys, etc.







A small plastic pipe, heated and shaped, serves as the curtain rod. They are hose clamped to the handles, and secured with wire to the ceiling at the front. The side curtains hang permanently, while a separate curtain hooks onto the front, wrapping around the front seats and completing the blackout.

DSC_0759DSC_0754DSC_0760 Curtains secured 







DSC_0410This picture shows the bug nets that allow me to sleep with the windows open. Using noseeum netting, I cut out two pieces in the shape of the door. Sewing them together, but leaving the bottom open, creates a “pocket” that slips over the entire door. This allows me to open & close the doors without having to mess with the netting. The front nets have an elastic that goes around the mirrors, to keep the bottom of the net tight to car.



As seen above, there are two tables:

  • The larger one is cut to the shape of the car exterior, and sits on the edge of the bumper. Rope hanging from the hinge slides into two slits on either side, and holds the table in place. While I wouldn’t trust it with a huge pot of boiling spaghetti, it is solid enough to explode gear and food out of the back hatch. This panel is stored with my bed panel during travel.
  • DSC_0771 –  The smaller one slides out from under the kitchen, which is a game changer as it’s always super easily accessible. I’ll put it out even just to set my coffee down while rooting around for a piece of gear.  I have glued on a small wooden stopper to keep it in place.

DSC_0778– A slit on either side serve as anchors for the removable dish drying  apron


DSC_0769  – This is the “wannigan”. The top shelf holds all my pots, pans, & bowls. Underneath (left side) I have a sealed bin for snacks (the small ones that I want to grab as I’m running to the river) . In front of that, a small container keeps my tea and coffee contained. To the right, by taking out the interior clear bin, dishwashing supplies will remain in the white bin, which  can serve as a wash basin. The clear container holds my stove, fuel, etc.

  • In front of that, the spice rack swings closed:

DSC_0766 I have attached a mesh pouch to the front and back of the spice rack, which holds all the utensils.


DSC_0772 After removing the jack (it lives up front with other emergency supplies), there is quite a lot of sneaky storage underneath the bed, beside the wannigan. This normally stores anything from canned food, to coffee filters, or hides chocolate coffee beans & beer.


IMG_4627 2IMG_5172IMG_4794 2Ideal for mac & cheese pit stops on long drives…





…and pancakes by the ocean






AH! THE MOST IMPORTANT PART! Hank’s the centre of Hanks’s signature look is really completed by the door handles…let’s call them statement pieces:


















Hope this answered the questions for those who are working on their own daydream.

With love,

Willa & Hank


2 thoughts on “Hank, the CamperCar”

  1. Willa! I love Hank! He’s sleek, yet sturdy, . . . comfortable, yet streamlined . . . has wisdom with age but still that sporty feel – the perfect companion!

    I hope you enjoy many happy years together!

  2. When I bought a Matrix in 2003 one of the attractions was the large, flat, plastic loading area that was long enough to sleep comfortably at 5′ 9.75″.
    Such a great car for outdoor adventuring!

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