Ken Kavanagh: Australian motorcycling legend dies

Rider Profile

Ken Kavanagh checks the air at the 1953 Belgian GP.

Ken Kavanagh, the first Australian to win a World Championship Motorcycle Grand Prix and the first to win an Isle of Man TT, has died in Italy, aged 96.

Kavanagh left his native Melbourne in 1951 to try his hand in Europe and by the season’s end had scored four podium positions in GPs – performances that saw him quickly signed up by the illustrious Norton works team. He raced for the British factory team in 1952 and 1953 before defecting to Moto Guzzi and moving home to Bergamo, where he lived ever since. In 1956 he scored his, and Australia’s, first Isle of Man TT victory in the 350cc race. Ken went on to race the legendary Moto Guzzi 500cc V8, before sensationally quitting the team to join rival Italian team MV Agusta. The relationship with MV was bitter from the start and forced him out of motorcycle racing and into a Formula 1 Maserati. After a major crash at Goodwood which destroyed the car, Kavanagh returned to bikes, riding for Ducati – a partnership that saw him return to Australia in the 1959/1960 summer season. The deaths of several close friends, including Australian Bob Brown, prompted him to call it a day at the close of the 1960 season. He made a complete break from racing, opening a dry cleaning business in Bergamo and raising his three children. He recently went into a care facility near Bergamo, where he passed away just before midnight, local time, on Tuesday 26th November.

Issue 85 of Old Bike Australasia will carry a full story on the remarkable life and times of Thomas Kenrick Kavanagh.

All star group. Taken around 2000 on the Queensland Gold Coast, Tony McAlpine (left) Jack Ahearn (rear) Bob Mitchell (right) and Ken Kavanagh seated on the Manx Norton.