Thunderbird is marking its 40th year in the market, a considerable length of time for a rear-wheel-drive, two-door coupe in a world of front-wheel-drive, four-door sedans.

That will change in 1998, when the Thunderbird is built off a front-wheel-drive Taurus platform. But that is then, this is now, and let's enjoy the car as it is while we can.

Whoever said you can't teach an old dog new tricks didn't have the wherewithal of Ford engineers in mind. With anti-lock brakes and traction control, who cares if the 'Bird is pulled from the front or pushed from the rear.

With traction control and 16-inch performance tires (an all season performance 16-inch tread is optional for only a few bucks more), you grab thepavement and keep going and just in case you get a bit too aggressive or if the unexpected should arise, the anti-lock brakes bring you to a sure stop.

With the Japanese-built 3.8-liter, 230-h.p., supercharged V-6 you'll have ample opportunity to put the traction control and 16-inch tires to good use. Quick, quiet engine, but you have to suspect a Ford-built 32-valve V-8, the preferred engine choice, eventually will find its way into the car once it shares the Taurus platform.

Very nice car. Above average performance yet respectable 18 m.p.g. city/24 m.p.g. highway mileage with 4-speed automatic; good interior room with comfortable seats that hold you in place; split fold down rear seats to increase cargo room and allow you to haul the skis inside; and dual airbags.

You'd think the Thunderbird Super Coupe would be hotter than it is. Some dealers say the car collects more dust than its less powerful but far less expensive Thunderbird LX running mate.

To promote Thunderbird sales when its Big Three rivals were bringing out midsize front-drive models, Ford sharply reduced the price of the LX a few years ago, but not the Super Coupe. While the base engine in the LX is only a 3.8-liter, 140-h.p., V-6, the optional engine is a 4.6-liter, 205-h.p., V-8. So a consumer could settle for a V-8 with 25 h.p. less than the supercharged V-6 and get a Thunderbird for about $5,000 to $6,000 less than the Super Coupe.

Our test car started at $22,735. A preferred equipment group with speed control, power locks and the supercharger ran $960; automatic transmission ran$790; keyless entry, a very stiff $215; luxury light group with illuminated visor mirrors, illuminated entry system and power antenna, $325; front floor mats, $30; power seats, $290; AM/FM stereo with compact disc player, $430; andleather seats, $615. Add $495 for freight.