BLACKHAWK FARMS, IL - Everyone's well aware the former Chrysler Corp. set the standard for creating over-the-top concept cars that evolved into real stuff you could buy.

So stalwart Chrysler supporters will be gratified to know that the company's merger with Daimler-Benz AG hasn't squashed the "Let's-make-it-into-a-production-car" philosophy that in the last few years had made Chrysler concept cars so refreshingly relevant.

WAW recently met with some Chrysler executives and engineers at this sleepy Illinois road-course race track to gallop around in the latest crop of Chrysler-brand concept vehicles. As expected, the story we came away with - other than that driving million-dollar one-offs always is a hoot - is that DaimlerChrysler likely will hustle a couple of these into showrooms PDQ.

We're delighted to learn that the Chrysler Citadel hybrid is high on the "probably will be produced" list. We're led to believe that "probably" really means "will," in DC's production plans (say, '02).

The Citadel is a hybrid in both senses that the word is used in today's automotive climate: It employs hybrid power and is a hybrid, or "crossover," between a passenger car and sport/utility vehicle.

The company's LH large-car platform supplies the basic structure, but from there it all goes offbeat. A 3.5L SOHC V-6 grabbed from the 300M drives the rear wheels; the front wheels are powered independently by a Siemens Automotive-made 70-hp electric drive motor. The sleepless nights came from developing the controller strategy, says Rick Luzenski, DC Senior Manager - Vehicle Concept Packaging.

The overriding goal, he says, was to create a "performance" hybrid that would offer heady performance and all-wheel drive traction with the attractive aspects of light-hybrid operation.

Ditto the strong production-program signals about the rambunctious Dodge Charger, too. This car faithfully updates the classic Chargers without relying on "retro."

Forget the compressed natural gas (CNG)-fed supercharged 4.7L SOHC V-8 fitted in this show car, though. The jungle drums say Chrysler's considering a production Charger with a hulking overhead-valve V-8 from its next-generation truck-engine program. We even hear whispers of the magic word "Hemi" being revived.

Chargers with great big honking pushrod V-8s in the next millennium? Now there's a concept.