Tailfins, V-8s, Corvettes: The wake of an icon

The numbers speak for themselves: GM's U.S. market share has fallen from a peak of more than 50% in 1962 to about 19% these days.

"Costs got out of control, they weren't staying up to date with technology and they weren't delivering quality," said Chambers, whose Boston-based company is one of the nation's largest car dealers. "Meanwhile, that's what the Japanese do."

A big concern about a bankruptcy filing is whether it would taint the company and damage sales. So far, Chrysler's foray into bankruptcy hasn't driven customers away.

Chambers certainly isn't counting GM out yet. Detroit automakers have a history of making comebacks during hard times in the past.

"If I were going to make a statue of American industry, and I had choose one company, I suppose U.S. Steel would be a candidate," Syracuse's Thompson said. "AT&T would be a candidate. IBM would be a candidate. But in the end it would have to be a car company, and it would have to be Ford or GM, and I'd have to give it to GM."

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