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After 83 years of storied history and with a huge following for its famous older models, Pontiac on Monday became the highest-profile victim of the U.S. auto industry crisis with General Motors Corp's announcement the brand would cease to exist in 2010.

The death of a brand that captured the imagination of generations with the Firebird, Trans Am, Grand Am, Grand Prix and GTO -- the latter immortalized in the song "Little GTO" by Ronnie and the Daytonas, which reached No. 4 in the U.S. charts in 1964 -- left car enthusiasts stunned.

"If you're a car lover then this has to come as a real shock," said automotive historian John Montville.

But after years as a high-performance brand producing legendary models, industry experts said the brand's recent decline and lack of investment by GM had sealed its fate.

"Pontiac had become a repository for anything GM could muster," said independent auto industry analyst Erich Merkle. "It's very sad. But my sadness is for the brand as it was, not for what it had become."

GM also plans to phase out other brands sold in the United States. It plans to cease production of Saturn vehicles, sell the Hummer SUV line and will let Swedish brand Saab go independent after its reorganization.


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