But the piston engine is, in fact, a great engineering achievement. It left steam engines in the dust as a matter of energy efficiency and performance (turbine/jet engines are external combustion, and they are marvellous too). In its story slightly longer than a century, it has successfully powered the most disparate vehicles and fixed installations all over the world- land, sea, air; from the scorching heat of deserts to the freezing cold of Antarctica.
Piston engines come in a huge variety of sizes and shapes: from the tiny but fast & furious 2-stroke nitro engines employed in RC vehicles, to the gigantic diesels that move ocean ships around*. This V10 4-stroke petrol engine instead propelled the Ferrari F1 car to its victory in the 2003 championship; it produces some 900 hp at 19 000 rpm and has to last a few hundred kilometers at least. Top Fuel dragsters have supercharged engines that generate over 7000 hp, burning a mixture of nitromethane and methanol as fuel. The downside is, such a monster has to be rebuilt every run even if it doesn't blow up - a not so uncommon occurrence. This aircraft engine made a good deal of difference during WWII.
Small petrol engines, 1 to 2 liters displacement, are the most common power plants for small cars in Europe, Japan and increasingly the USA: they provide good performance, great fuel economy and a durability of 200 000 km; but for maximum durability I suggest an oilfield mechanical rig power engine - slow, but steady and sure.
Piston engines can run on a variety of fuels: hydrogen, methane, natural gas, gasoline, diesel, biodiesel, kerosene (word is that Jet-A makes a passable substitute for diesel) methanol, ethanol, nitromethane... and the low-quality fuels available in backward areas. Also the success of liquid hydrocarbon fuels is easy to understand: they are cheap, do not require advanced technology (at least the basic versions); are easy to handle and store; they are not too dangerous nor toxic - and pack a considerable amount of energy per volume unit.
And let me tell you, against the odds the piston engine will remain with us for quite some more time.
*The article says the engine is built by a Japanese company, but the writing on the signs in the factory is clearly Korean.