Very successful Norton and Moto-Guzzi motor cycle racer, who dabbled briefly in four-wheeled competition racing a Maserati 250F in 1958.
Ken Kavanagh was a very successful Norton and Moto-Guzzi motor cycle racer.
In 1953 Ken Kavanagh became the first Australian to win a GP in the premier class of two-wheel racing. Kavanagh beat British legend Geoff Duke in a rain-lashed Ulster 500cc GP at the Dundrod circuit in Ireland on August 15. It was an epic 2½-hour, 386km battle between Kavanagh, on a works Norton, and Duke, on the dominant Gilera. While Duke held the early lead, Kavanagh hit the front soon after a mid-race refuelling stop and pulled away as heavy rain began to fall. He moved to Italy shortly after taking that win.
Kavanagh spent three years racing a Norton and later raced for Moto Guzzi, MV Agusta and Ducati. .
Apart from his 500cc success, Kavanagh had already been the first Australian to win a world championship GP, the 350cc Ulster race at the 25km Clady circuit, and won three other 350cc GPs, including the first victory by an Australian at the notorious Isle of Man in 1956.
The 500cc win was the first GP triumph by a rider from outside Europe and marked the first time Duke had been beaten on European soil. Other greats Kavanagh also raced against other future F1 drivers Mike Hailwood and John Surtees.
Kavanagh also dabbled in Formula One in 1958. He bought the ex-Fangio Maserati 250F (2527). He entered two Formula One Grands Prix in 1958 with his 250F, firstly in Monaco where he failed to qualify, and in Belgium where he missed out as he destroyed his engine in practice, a pity as he had qualified well in 20th spot. He drove in a number of non-championship races with a best finish of 6th in the Grand Prix di Siracus.
He returned to Australia in the summer of 1959-60 and became the first rider to win on a Ducati in Australia.