From Spectreville To Sunset Boulevard

In Diamonds Are Forever, James Bond and Tiffany Case are driven from Nevada to Sunset Boulevard and The Beverly Hills Hotel by Felix Leiter in his Studillac. Leiter outlines the route they will take to get there:

“We’re doin’ all right so far,” said Felix Leiter. “Be at Beatty in ten minutes, then we’ll get on to 58 and be over the line in half an hour. Then there’s a long ride through Death Valley and over the mountains down to Olancha where we hit No6. We could stop there and get James to a doc and do some eating and cleaning up. Then just stay on 6 until we get to LA. It’ll be a hell of a drive, but we should make LA by lunchtime.

If you just look at a current map and try to figure out the route, you might be confused. You won’t see a Route 58 and you won’t see a Route 6.

The route today looks like this:

What used to be Route 58 is now called Route 374. As mentioned by Fleming it connects Beatty with Death Valley and route 190 through the Valley.

Here is 374/58 entering Beatty, which is a view the trio would’ve had while coming through.


They would’ve then headed on 374/58 towards the California border and the Sierras.


Then they’d be on California Route 190 and through Death Valley – the hottest place on Earth.


They’d have then come to the stop of Olancha – not really a town, just a stop.


From Olancha they would get on Route 6, which is now Route 395. This also would’ve provided more gougeous views.


You’ll note that Leiter said they would take 6 “until we get to LA.” Prior to a 1964 highway renumbering project, US 6 extended to Long Beach, CA along what is now US 395, California 14, Interstate 5, Interstate 110/California 110, and California 1

So, a closer look at the route shows that Fleming got the details exactly right in this case. It would be a neat drive to do today, at least until you got to the LA suburbs.

Nevada Ghost Towns of Spectreville and Rhyolite

Some of the principal action in Diamonds Are Forever takes place in a western ghost town. Bond is talking to cab driver Ernie Cureo, who fills him in on the habits of Seraffimo Spang:

“He’s daft,” said the driver. “He’s crazy about the Old West. Bought himself a whole ghost town way out on Highway 95. He’s shored the place up-wooden sidewalks, a fancy saloon, clapboard hotel where he rooms the boys, even the old railroad station. Way back in ’05 or thereabouts, this dump-Spectreville it’s called seeing how it’s right alongside the Spectre range-was a rarin’ silver camp. For around three years they dug millions out of those mountains and a spur line took the stuff into Rhyolite, mebbe fifty miles away. That’s another famous ghost town.

Tourist centre now. Got a house made out of whisky bottles. Used to be the railhead where the stuff got shipped to the coast. Well, Spang bought himself one of the old locos, one of the old ‘Highland Lights’ if y’ever heard of the engine, and one of the first Pullman state coaches, and he keeps them there in the station at Spectreville and weekends he takes his pals for a run into Rhyolite and back.

We read later that took about two hours to drive from Las Vegas to Spectreville. The town of Spectreville is fictitious, while Rhyolite was a real town.

John Griswold puts forth the theory that Fleming (mistakenly) referenced Spectreville when he really meant Rhyolite, seeing as how Rhyolite fits better for distance and time to drive there.

Griswold’s work is amazing, and I enjoy that he attempts to put every scene in the Fleming novels into context and make it “real” in terms of making everything in the stories fit together and be completely plausible. While I appreciate and admire that approach, my own is slightly more pragmatic. I like to look at the real places Fleming mentions and see what inspirations he drew from them when creating the fictional locations of his stories. To me, it’s simple, Spectreville was not real, but Ian Fleming got much of his inspiration for it from the town of Rhyolite.

For the real aspects – there is a Specter Range in Nevada, and it is where Fleming says it is. There is also a ghost town of Rhyolite, founded in 1905, (or thereabouts) and it is about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas. It is off of Highway 95.  So at 60 miles per hour, it would take about two hours to make that drive. Rhyolite has a house made of  bottles. The rail depot still stands.

Rhyolite Train Station
Rhyolite Train Station


Bottle house today.
Bottle house today.
Highland Light Locomotive
Highland Light Locomotive

1920 Stutz Bearcat Roadster

While James Bond is in the ghost town of Spectreville in Diamonds Are Forever, he spots this model car.

From behind the traditional sawn-off swing-doors, yellow light streamed out on to the street and on to the sleek black and silver of a 1920 Stutz Bearcat roadster at the kerb.

Stutz was an American luxury car manufacturer which produced cars from 1911 to 1935. They produced America’s first sports cars, and the Bearcat was actually a road-going version of a car that competed in the Indianapolis 500. They are among the most collectible of antique cars to this day.

Ian Fleming certainly knew what he was doing by inserting this car into the ownership of Seraffimo Spang, as a Stutz Bearcat was a status symbol for the wealthy of that era, priced sometimes two to three times higher than other “average” cars of the time.


Silence Towers of India

In Diamonds are Forever, cab driver Ernie Cureo is dropping James Bond off at the Tiara, and offers some parting advice.

 …If ya got work to do in Vegas ya better wait till ya know ya way around. And watch the gambling, friend.” He chuckled. “Y’ever hear of those Silence Towers they have in India? They say it takes those vultures only twenty minutes to strip a guy to the bones. Guess they take a bit longer at The Tiara. Mebbe the Unions slow ’em down.” 

The Silence Towers in India. How many times have we read that passage and not really known what it was actually referring to?

The truth it turns out, is pretty gruesome. The Towers of Silence, or Dakhma are used by the Zoroastrians as a way of disposing of their dead.

The towers are usually circular, with a flat top and a pit in the middle. Dead bodies are placed on top of the tower, in full exposure to the sun and birds such as vultures. (Thus Cureo’s comment) Once the bones have been picked over and bleached by the sun, they are pushed into the center of the pit where they further disintegrate.


Again, Fleming sliding in a seemingly obscure reference, which when examined closer, brings a richness of sense and flavor to the books.

Las Vegas Tour With Ernest Cureo

When James Bond arrives in Las Vegas in Diamonds Are Forever, he hooks up with cab driver Ernie Cureo who brings him to his hotel, The (fictitious) Tiara, while showing him some of the other (real) hotels on the strip.

They passed a motel with a swimming pool which had built-up transparent glass sides. As they drove by, a girl dived into the bright green water and her body sliced through the tank in a cloud of bubbles.

The old Mirage Motel with its famous swimming pool.

“On ya right, The Flamingo,” said Ernie Cureo as they passed a low-lying modernistic hotel with a huge tower of neon, now dead, outside it. “Bugsy Siegel built that back in 1946.


Then here’s The Sands. Plenty of hot money behind that one. Don’t rightly know whose. Built a couple of years ago. Front guy’s a nice feller name of Jack Intratter


“Well then, here’s The Desert Inn. Wilbur Clark’s place. But the money came from the old Cleveland-Cincinatti combination.


And that dump with the flat-iron sign is The Sahara. Latest thing. Listed owners are a bunch of small-time gamblers from Oregon.


Then,’ he waved to the left where the neon was wrought into a twenty-foot covered wagon at full gallop, “Ya get The Last Frontier. That’s a dummy Western town on the left. Worth seein’.


And over there’s The Thunderbird, and across the road’s The Tiara.


(Thanks to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas University Libraries among others for the images.)

Saratoga Springs

After the events in New York City in Diamonds Are Forever, James Bond and Felix Leiter head up to the city of Saratoga. Bond is headed there to receive a payoff, while Leiter is investigating some shady racing practices.

They go from the Plaza, out to the Henry Hudson Parkway, through the Henry Hudson Bridge Toll, then through the Westchester County Toll and onto the Taconic Parkway.

Fleming writes that Bond stays at The Sagamore Motel which is right in Saratoga Springs. There is a Sagamore resort in the upperstate New York area, but it is 36 miles away from Saratoga Springs. The Sagamore in the novel is within walking distance (1/2 mile) of the Saratoga racetrack. Fleming might’ve been familiar with the Sagamore and “transported” it (or the name, anyway) to Saratoga Springs for the sake of novel.

Saratoga Race Course has been racing thoroughbreds since 1863, so when Bond and Leiter showed up on the scene, it had already been around for 90 years or so. The morning after their arrival, they head over to the track at dawn, to catch a look at Shy Smile.

Saratoga Race Course at dawn, close to the year in which Bond and Leiter were there.

That afternoon, Bond familiarizes himself with the track and betting process, then downing a few Bourbons and Branch Water with his dinner outside the sales ring.

The next day is Bond’s race – The Perpetuities Stakes. Bond settles in to watch his horse, never making the bet which he knows will now fail, thanks to Leiter.


Bond has agreed with Leiter to give the payoff to the jockey of Shy Smile for ditching the race. For this, he has to head to a most un-Bond-like place, the Acme Mud and Sulphur Baths. Reading Bond’s pure disgust for the place gives you the shivers he experienced:

Outside the bus the smell of sulphur hit Bond with sickening force. It was a horrible smell, from somewhere down in the stomach of the world. Bond moved away from the entrance and sat down on a rough bench under a group of dead-looking firs. He sat there for a few minutes to steel himself for what was going to happen to him through the screen doors and to shake off his sense of oppression and disgust. It was partly, he decided, the reaction of a healthy body to the contact with disease, and it was partly the tall grim Belsen chimney with its plume of innocent smoke. But most of all it was the prospect of going in through those doors, buying the ticket, and then stripping his clean body and giving it over to the nameless things they did in this grisly ramshackle establishment.

The place was likely something like this establishment:

Saratoga Sulphur and Mud Baths- Eureka Park Saratoga Springs

Bond went through the entire experience, getting and seeing a bit more than he wanted.


The above picture is from a different establishment, but it gives you idea of what Bond experienced in the bath. This one is even nicer than the experience Fleming describes for Bond. He describes the beds as “coffins” in the novel.

After meeting Felix back at the Sagamore Motel, they go to dinner at “the ‘Pavilion’ , the only smart restaurant in Saratoga.” Whether this is a reference to what is now the Pavilion Grand Hotel, which has been some business in some shape or form since the 1800’s, I’m not sure.

After dinner, Bond and Leiter talk about their next stop – Las Vegas.


In Diamonds Are Forever, after smuggling in the Diamonds and taking Tiffany case to dinner at 21, James Bond spends the day in his Astor hotel room writing his report to M. He takes a break for dinner.

Bond sent the cable ‘Collect’ via Western Union, had his fourth shower of the day and went to Voisin’s where he had two Vodka Martinis, Oeufs Benedict and strawberries. Over dinner he read the racing forecasts for the Saratoga meeting, from which he noted that the joint favourites for The Perpetuities Stakes were Mr C. V. Whitney’s Come Again and Mr William Woodward Jnr’s Pray Action. Shy Smile was not mentioned.

Voisin was a famous Park Avenue French restaurant that operated from 1913 until the late 1960’s. Originally located at 375 park Avenue, that building was torn down and the restaurant moved in the early 1950’s to 575 Park Avenue – which still exists as The Beekman.

The meal was pretty standard for Bond – the Martini’s, Eggs Benedict and the strawberries – a meal replicated in some form or another several times throughout the novels.

Also of note is the reference to William Woodward, Jr. This was a friend of Fleming’s who he met at their mutual friend Ivar Bryce’s farm in Vermont. In Andrew Lycett’s biography of Fleming, he says that Woodward and Ian had a “cool, sardonic friendship.” Fleming also pronounced him “one of the best Americans he had ever met.” Fleming also told Woodward that he should divorce his wife – advice that actually might’ve been the right thing to do.

Woodward also introduced Fleming to the Studillac. After Woodward’s shocking death, Fleming honored Woodward by writing him into the book as well as by using the Studillac.

Here is the interior of Voisin, just as James Bond would’ve seen it:


Also see: Remembering Voisin, The Always-Moving French Restaurant

Jimmy Cannon

Famed U.S. sportswriter Jimmy Cannon found his work making its way into an Ian Fleming James Bond novel. In Diamonds are Forever, as Bond and Felix Leiter are making their way to Saratoga, Leiter is explaining to Bond about some of the horse-racing history of the town, and pulls out a Jimmy Cannon column to give Bond more background.

“You ought to know about it yourself,” said Leiter. “Used to be a great place for the English-the belted ones, that is. The Jersey Lily used to be around there a lot, your Lily Langtry. About the time Novelty beat Iron Mask in the Hopeful Stakes. But it’s changed a bit since the Mauve Decade. Here,” he pulled a cutting out of his pocket. “This’ll bring you up to date. Cut it out of the Post this morning. This Jimmy Cannon is their sports columnist. Good writer. Knows what he’s talking about. Read it in the car. We ought to be moving.”

Leiter left some money on the check and they went out and, while the Studillac throbbed along the winding road towards Troy, Bond settled himself down with Jimmy Cannon’s tough prose. As he read, the Saratoga of the Jersey Lily’s day vanished into the dusty, sweet past and the twentieth century looked out at him from the piece of newsprint and bared its teeth in a sneer.

Lily Langtry, or  Jersey Lily, was a “semi-official” mistress of the future Edward VII. For a time, she was involved very much in thoroughbred racing. The Mauve Decade is a reference to the 1890‘s.

Of Jimmy Cannon, Sports Illustrated wrote “there can be no question that he ranks with Ring Lardner and Red Smith among writers who changed the face of the sports page.”  Cannon was pure New York, pure Manhattan, he lived, worked and died there, spending most of his time in one of three spots – a baseball stadium, a boxing arena or a bar. He wrote for the New York Post and the New York Daily News among other publications. Very much a Fleming type of guy.

The column that Fleming has Bond reading in this passage is an actual Jimmy Cannon column, from 1954.






In Diamonds Are Forever, Felix Leter picks up James Bond outside the Plaza – near the horse-cabs – in what Bond believes is a black Studebaker convertible. After Leiter gives Bond a demonstration of the abilities of the vehicle, Bond is impressed.

“Well I’ll be damned,” said Bond incredulously. “But what sort of a car is this anyway? Isn’t it a Studebaker?”

“Studillac,” said Leiter. “Studebaker with a Cadillac engine. Special transmission and brakes and rear axle. Conversion job. A small firm near New York turns them out. Only a few, but they’re a damn sight better sports car than those Corvettes and Thunderbirds. And you couldn’t have anything better than this body. Designed by that Frenchman, Raymond Loewy. Best designer in the world. But it’s a bit too advanced for the American market. Studebaker’s never got enough credit for this body. Too unconventional. Like the car? Bet I could give your old Bentley a licking.”

Growing up, I had assumed the Studillac was a Fleming creation – something that perhaps existed, but not in any real volume. My dad had put a Chevy 350 engine into a Pontiac Grand La Mans, so I knew that this type of thing was possible, but not on the scale of the Studillac, which was a small sensation back at the time of this book.

 Taking advantage of the gorgeous design of the Studebaker body, which as mentioned was designed by Raymond Loewy – “The Father of Industrial Design” – the Studillac built on that with the addition of the V8 210-250 HP Cadillac engine which gave it the performance that Bond witnessed.

The small firm that turned these out was Bill Frick Motors:


Bill-frick-motors3(Hey – Marchal Headlamps!)

The car was reviewed in a number of automobile publications, including Mechanix Illustrated and Popular Science:

1953-07 PS Studillac1

1953-07 PS Studillac2

1953-07 PS Studillac3

1953-07 PS Studillac4

1953-07 PS Studillac5

1953-07 PS Studillac7

Taconic State Parkway

In Diamonds Are Forever, James Bond and his good buddy Felix Leiter take a road trip from Manhattan to Saratoga.

“Almost due north up the Hudson. In New York State. Just south of the Adirondacks and not far short of the Canadian border. We’ll take the Taconic Parkway. There’s no hurry, so we’ll go easy.

Leiter impresses Bond with his car, the Studillac, and then they’re off and running.

They wrangled cheerfully over the respective merits of English and American sports cars until they came to the Westchester County toll and then, fifteen minutes later, they were out on the Taconic Parkway that snaked away northwards through a hundred miles of meadows and woodlands, and Bond settled back and silently enjoyed one of the most beautifully landscaped highways in the world, and wondered idly what the girl was doing and how, after Saratoga, he was to get to her again.

The Taconic State Parkway was built beginning in 1927, and the 105.3 mile highway was completed in 1963. From the beginning it was meant to show off the wonderful scenery of that part of New York State. It was built as a road to drive on and enjoy, rather than to make good time. The excellent Wikipedia entry on the Parkway shows the lengths the engineers went to:

Landscape architects like Gilmore Clarke worked closely with engineers and construction crews during the Taconic’s construction, often on site. Some features of the road’s design address practical considerations and increase safety. Curves that climbed or descended were banked to increase vehicle traction and permit better drainage. Likewise the curves in undulating terrain are located to reduce blind spots at crests and keep the sharpest turns out of valleys. These also make sure that views of distant landscapes open up on downgrades and on long curves, when they are less distracting.

Closer to the road, on the northern sections in Columbia and Dutchess counties, the road was routed to showcase a nearby view of wooded hillside or a farm. Since trucks were not permitted on the road, in many sections tree branches overhang the roadways, creating a park-like feel. The curve of the northbound Amvets bridge over Croton Reservoir echoes the surrounding hills. On the medians and berms, plantings were carefully planned to maintain continuity with the surrounding woods. On the descent into Peekskill Hollow in Putnam Valley, the trees and shrubs above the retaining wall on the east side were transplanted from the path of the highway, which retained the appearance of the local forest and saved money. Overpasses, both carrying roads over the parkway and carrying it over roads, were faced in native stone. The grade intersections, usually a feature engineers tried to avoid, helped keep local east–west routes open and connect the parkway to the landscape it traversed.

Bond certainly enjoyed the scenery during his ride with Leiter.